July 14, 2021

Café Improv is Back with Music, Poetry, and More

STEP UP TO THE MIC: A local tradition for more than three decades, Café Improv returns to the Arts Council of Princeton with an outdoor performance on Hinds Plaza July 24.

For more than 30 years, performers have taken center stage at Café Improv, typically held on the fourth Saturday of the month at the Arts Council of Princeton, to have their music, poetry, or comedy heard in public. After 16 months, the show returns with a special edition outdoor performance on Hinds Plaza Saturday, July 24 from 2 to 5 p.m. The performance is free and open to the public.

The genesis for Café Improv was to create a “listening room” — a safe space — for music and spoken word. “We attempted right from the start to provide an environment where the music and art was respected,” said Tom Florek, Café Improv co-founder. “As a musician, if you perform in bars, you often encounter places that are not really open to hearing your work. From the beginning, we wanted to grow an audience that would be focused on the performance, and we think we have succeeded to a great degree. Café Improv takes pride in being a haven for performers to feel at home performing original works and sharing their poetry to a large and appreciative audience.”

Café Improv began in 1990 when the late John Irving contacted Robin Middleman, who was the assistant director of the Arts Council of Princeton, and asked whether the Arts Council would be interested in hosting an open stage. Irving enlisted Florek and Beth Bacon, and the three began running the event monthly, using borrowed microphones and speakers in a small room. The admission price was $1, which went toward coffee, tea, soda, and popcorn for the performances. After a short time it became apparent that Café Improv had outgrown the room, and in January 1991, it moved upstairs to the Arts Council’s Loft Theater (now the Solley Theater) where it has been ever since.

In 1998, the Café Improv crew discovered that Princeton Community Television had an office in the same building. Florek knocked on the door and suggested that the show be broadcast live. To this day, it remains a popular Princeton TV weekly broadcast. In 2015, Princeton TV upgraded their signal to high definition, and Café Improv became the first regular show to be broadcast in HD.

Café Improv will be missing one its founders when it returns, as Irving passed away in December 2020. The show on the 24th will include a special performance from two of John Irving’s adult children, Anne and Geoff, who grew up performing on the show. The show will also feature many local favorites such as Roia Rafieyan, Spook Handy, Bill Ihling, and Happy Joe Canzano, and provide attendees with details for a fall series of performances.

For more information, visit artscouncilofprinceton.org.