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Presenter Spotlight: Giovanni Alva

On Saturday, May 14th, 2017, the Global Improvisation Initiative (GII) Symposium will welcome Giovanni Alva, the Artistic Director of Latinx Improv based in Portland, Oregon, to Chapman University where he will moderate the "Multilingual/Multicultural Improv Within and Beyond the U.S." panel. Latinx Improv will also be performing TELENOVELA on Thursday, May 11, as part of the Coup de Comedy Festival at UC Irvine (to reserve a free ticket for this performance, go to: Alva has done groundbreaking work with multilingual and multicultural improvisers to present improv in several different languages. He has worked with Cuban students at the Milagro Theatre in Portland and with Latino, Filipino artists, and sign language improvisers in San Diego. To learn more about his career and success, we asked him a few questions:

What is the most memorable moment in your career?

Teaching an improv class to Cuban students visiting from Cuba who were special guests of President Obama. It was my first time facilitating an improv workshop completely in Spanish. It was a dream come true.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Mark Pentilescu once asked the whole class why we were doing this. Why we were here. Why theater? Why improv? He said that the day you answer that question honestly is the day you'll start succeeding in what you want to do.

How do you incorporate the skills you have gained through improvisation to your daily life?

I strongly believe that if you practice and live by three simple rules you can be the best improviser, the best sibling, the best friend, the best partner, the best employee, the best employer, and the best human! The three rules are: #3 - It's not about you, it's about your partner. #2 - Accept and Advance, and #1 - Listen.

What are your favorite rituals, warm-ups, or exercises in your work?

16 Count is my favorite warm up to start and end rehearsals with but also before a performance. It syncs everyone to the same note.

How do you make your work accessible to audiences (non-improvisational or an international audience or


By working with the Latinx community for most of my life, I have been going to the mercados, restaurants or family gatherings where I talk to people about my work. I even play games with the kids and get them interested that way.

If someone were to introduce your ensemble, what would you like them to highlight?

Latinx Improv was born from the deep desire of the Latinx community who wanted to see improvisation in their mother language with their own people on stage.

How did your ensemble start?

Latinx Improv started in Portland, Oregon, but has roots in San Diego since Underground Improv, thanks to Mark Pentilescu. When I started Latinx Improv, I knew that I would have to come back to San Diego to finish this ensemble.

What makes your ensemble unique? Our Latinx roots. We all have diverse experiences and our own style of acting that compliment each other. We are an ensemble and not one of us is the star. Latinx Improv is the star. Together.

What is your rehearsal process like?

We practice the fundamentals of long form Improv with a few short form structures. Then we do a telenovela and talk about what worked and what needs improvement. We all help each other be our best. We also do a lot of physical movement so we aren't just talking heads.

What do you feel are the strengths of your ensemble?

How different we all are. We all have special gift and talents, which complement one another. We can really build from each other and help bring it back.

Can you give us an example of a mistake made in a performance and how the group dealt with that?

Once we set to perform our version of the Armando, which we call Pulp Fiction. The audience was mainly college students at a festival know as KCACTF. Most of the suggestions that we got from the crowd were things like dildos and sex. So when I went up, instead of asking a suggestion from the students, I asked the people at the bar to give us a suggestion. The suggestion was dildo. We took that and ran with it in a slightly more mature and honest way, which was still very funny to the audience, even though we just didn't give them the dirty bits I'm sure they were expecting. We made it work.

How do you make your work accessible to audiences (non-improvisational or an international audience or inexperienced)?

We rehearse in public places like parks. Not only does this help cut costs but it also helps us connect with the community because they come up, ask questions and/or join the rehearsals.

What is the most memorable moment in your ensemble’s career?

Hearing that people enjoy how we transition from Spanish to English. Some get the whole show, some get half. But that's life: you know if you're in the streets and someone is speaking a language you don't know, that's magic, if you are open to that gift of course. All your senses get a little high from that cause. But it can also be scary if you're not used to putting yourself in those situations. So we like to think we help people get used to those uncomfortable situations.

Picture taken by Alva at KCACTF Region 7 in Boise, Idaho, 2015, from his Fundamentals of Long Form improv workshop.

Members Marian Mendez and Vero Núñez with founder Giovanni "Geo" Alva at a radio interview in Portland.

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