IF 2020 improv festival logo

The University of Guelph’s IF 2020 Improvisation Festival is being called a phenomenal success, attracting a global audience of more than 2,500 viewers from some 50 countries.

Organized by U of G’s International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI), the international festival began Friday, Aug. 7 at 8 p.m. and ran for 24 consecutive hours.

More than 150 artists from over 20 countries offered creative improvisation over the span of the online event. In addition to the online attendance, countless others tuned in through radio stations.

The creations ran the gamut of improv artistry, from innovative spoken-word pieces and dance, to a diverse array of musical inventions involving voice and traditional and electronic instruments.

Performers were paid for their work and the event was free for all to watch.

“I’m thrilled with how it went,” said IF 2020 artistic director Ajay Heble, IICSI director and professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies. “We are continuing to hear from people from all over the world who tuned in. They are telling us about how inspired, provoked, charmed, moved, or transported they were.”

Heble said one aspect of IICSI’s mandate is to create a meaningful sense of community and just such a community was created during the festival. He said it was particularly important for people around the world to have such an experience in a time of social isolation related to the pandemic.

“For some artists, we heard that this was the first time they had been prodded to create art during this challenging time, and they were grateful for that opportunity.”

Festivals and community organizations around the world worked in partnership with U of G on the festival, which received funding from a number of sources, including U of G’s COVID-19 Research Development and Catalyst Fund, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and Musagetes, an international arts organization.

Performances took place in a range of settings, from studios and stages, to small rooms and outdoor spaces. Performers were from across Canada and all around the world, including Mexico, Singapore and Hungary.

“I really enjoyed being a part of this festival,” said Japanese pianist and composer Satoko Fujii. “Since March, I had so many gigs and tours cancelled. I lost the chance to play with others and also to be in festivals where we could meet up and listen to each other. IF 2020 gave artists a very interesting and fun experience, sharing our performances even when we were so far away.”

Montreal-based performer Thanya Iyer said IF 2020 gave artists a much-needed opportunity to share their work.

“It meant so much being able to come back to something that was a beautiful part of our usual life, especially during a quarantine when the world has been going through a tough time and life feels unreal,” Iyer said. “The range and diversity of what people contributed was so beautiful.”

Heble said the event set out to foster a way to “imagine the world anew” and showcase some of the ways artists have continued to find compelling and resourceful ways to create community and share the power of creativity during a difficult time.