Spotlight Interview: L.E. Zarling
L.E. Zarling is the creator and star of Wisconsin Laugh Trip, a fantastic solo improv show based on her travels around the country. She is based in Richmond, Virginia, and will be performing on Friday night at this year’s Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Zarling discusses her pre-show rituals, the inspiring Richmond comedy scene, and why “Kiss Off” is best Violent Femmes song.
You’ll be performing your solo improv show, Wisconsin Laugh Trip, at this year’s fest. (We were lucky enough to have you perform that show with us at Countdown Theater in NYC earlier this year. Thank you again for doing that!) Tell our Tampa audiences a little about that show, and how it came to be.
Wisconsin Laugh Trip came from Wisconsin being the theme for Countdown Theater’s January shows. I took the show I was previously doing — Rough Draft — and mixed it with some Wisconsin-based one-person sketches. Laugh Trip combines my love of Wisconsin with all the things I’ve seen and done around the country. So lots of characters from around the country, but through my Wisconsin point of view.
The show is so named, we understand, because you’re a Wisconsin native. What do you think makes Wisconsin unique?
Wisconsin is uniquely charming and friendly. The Germans had a word for this: Gemütlichkeit, which means the idea of a state or feeling of warmth, friendliness,and good cheer. Other qualities encompassed by the term include coziness, peace of mind, and a sense of belonging and well-being springing from social acceptance.
You currently perform out of Richmond, Virginia’s Coalition Theater. Tell us a bit about the improv scene in Richmond.
Richmond has a great stand up and improv scene going. I’m super proud of some of the experimental stuff coming out of the scene like Wisconsin Laugh Trip and my friend’s sketch show Trash Bang! Just stuff that is bold, risky, aggressive and funny. Definitely not your standard 20-minute improv sets.
You’re a fantastically talented solo performer. What, in your opinion, are the keys to a successful solo performance? How do you prepare for a show? Any habits or rituals?
I’m sorry….I’m going to need a few days to get over being labeled “fantastically talented”. OK. I hate to break it to everyone but I have no tips on preparing. I like to hang around in the green room, chat to people or whatever. Talk to me before a show, I’d like that. As for doing a successful one person show- my feeling is that if I’m not nervous about doing a show, I probably shouldn’t be doing it. I’m still a little nervous about W.L.T. so I guess I’ll keep going.
PRO TIP: You can do anything you want! It’s great to watch other shows for inspiration but don’t use other’s work to put up boundaries on what you can do on stage.
You’re arriving in Tampa after a few weeks on the road traveling around the country. What’s the coolest thing you saw and the best thing you ate on this trip? (Bonus points if they’re the same thing!)
This trip has been amazing! In the last 18 day I’ve hit 20 states, taught students on both coasts and watched the price of Sausage McMuffins rise and fall as I traveled west and back. The coolest thing I ate was also the coolest thing I saw! The Red Rocks Park in Denver. They have signs telling you you’re not allowed to eat the rocks, but there’s nobody there to enforce that rule.
Finally, why is “Kiss Off” the best Violent Femmes song?
Kiss Off” is the best Violent Femmes song because it is exactly how I feel 24/7. If I thought enough people knew all the words it would definitely be the song that closes W.L.T.
Spotlight Interview: Francine Wolf
Francine Wolf is the star and creator of the improvised one-person show Half-Baked Boomer. She is a wonderful performer and comedian who hails from Largo, Florida and will be performing on Saturday night at the Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Wolf discusses the genesis of her show, the joys of solo improv, and her time spent playing a “jolly witch” at Busch Gardens.
Tell us a little bit about your improv background. How did you first discover improv?
As an addition to my stage acting in the early 90’s, I took a little improv class in Columbus, Ohio, given by a performer from the Renaissance Festivals who studied in LA and hired me to perform custom improv theatre for large companies–special events. I fell in love with performing for these events with our little team. From there, I moved on to Columbus Playback Theatre.
You’ve performed on stage, film, and TV for nearly 30 years, which is amazing! You also founded and run your own production company, ZaZu Productions. Have you found that improv has helped you in these endeavors? If so, how?
Success in every aspect of life comes from improvising–on the spot. From raising my two children to all the careers I’ve had, including acting, improv is always on and in my mind. So many auditions are improvised–I just had one for a commercial yesterday in Orlando! Being present, listening, reacting to other people and being filled with energy and joy–my major takeaways from improv–have been invaluable.
You debuted your solo improv show “This Show is Meshuga” at the Tampa International Fringe Festival earlier this year. What was that experience like?
It was scary and exciting and amazing! No one knew what to expect, and I didn’t either! If something didn’t work, I just announced, “Ok, on to the next thing!” The best part was getting positive comments from performers and audience members from around the world–Japan, Australia and South Africa, in particular, who were so encouraging!
What’s the inspiration behind your new show, “Half-Baked Boomer,” that you’ll be performing at the festival?
I changed the name of my show to better represent who I am and the fact that I am a post-WWII baby, who’s a grandmother with wisdom, foibles and a silly persona who thinks she is still a teenager, in a body that is starting to creak too much. I hope people don’t think “Half-Baked” means I’m coming on stage high–it’s just the natural me!
What do you enjoy most about doing solo improv, and what advice would you give to folks looking to try it for themselves?
Always needing a constant challenge, I figured it was time to try something different. I think knowing that I can do this and hold an audience’s attention and bring joy to them for 45 minutes is the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had on stage. I took T.J. Mannix’s solo improv workshop at your festival last year and was so inspired! I was sitting next to Christine Alexander from Florida Studio Theatre improv and she said she would direct me and I made it happen. I would say–if you are looking for a challenge–try it in front of friends and not just other improvisers before taking it public. You need feedback and you need to workshop it. I had a dress rehearsal in front of residents at my condo clubhouse and getting laughter was the key even though I don’t bill this show as “comedy improv.”
You’ll be joining us from Largo, Florida, which is just across the bay from Tampa. What do you love about the improv and theater scene in Tampa Bay?
When I moved here in 2000 and got my first improv job, performing at Busch Gardens as a happy and jolly witch (yes!) at “Howl o’ Scream,” there were only two improv groups performing in Tampa Bay. The growth nationally, internationally and locally of improv warms my heart! It’s almost impossible to keep up with all the shows and classes. It’s wonderful.
Spotlight Interview: Free Tacos
Free Tacos is an improv duo comprised of Rebecca Loveless and La’Catherine Transleau. They are fearless, fantastic, tremendously funny performers. They are based in Delray Beach, Florida, where they improvise at Improv U, and will be performing in the 5 pm slot on Saturday night. In this spotlight interview, Loveless and Transleau discuss how they met, how improv informs their off-stage lives (and vice versa), and whether anyone has ever come to a Free Tacos show actually expecting free tacos.
We love a good duo origin story. What drew you both to improv, and how did Free Tacos come to be?
Tacos met in Delray Beach about two years ago. La’Catherine was performing with an all women’s group, Golden Goodies, and Loveless knew the two were complete weirdos. The two became fast friends and play in Improv U’s house team Business Casual. It was not long that the pair created Free Tacos. Loveless began improvising at UF to overcome an intense shyness, common with artists, while studying Visual Arts.
Tell us a little bit about your show, and what audiences can expect to see on stage from your duo at the festival.
Expect less, and stay present. Free Tacos will make you laugh. Boundaries do not exist in a Taco show. We play to the whole room. Loveless and La Cat use emotion, unusual characters and love to move our audience. High energy is always served.
Judging from your team bio, you both lead rich and interesting lives outside of improv — among other things, Rebecca, you own Delray Beach’s first tattoo shop, Tradition Tattoo, and La’Catherine, you’ve trained extensively in jiu jitsu. Do you find that improv informs these pursuits, and vice versa? If so, how?
For sure! As a tattoo artist and overall ambitious badass, Loveless entertains everyday. She brings art into peoples lives. Improv does the same. During a session she can bring her clients, much like an audience, to another place. A client once became very emotional during a session in dedication to a lost parent. When he started to tear up over the memory of his father, Loveless immediately changed his mood. Sometimes you just need to talk about your love of toes, Loveless had the client laughing in minutes.
La’Catherine speaking, I have found pretty much everything in my life reflects the other. It’s not about the amount of stage time you get in improv that makes you “good,” rather your ability to live, listen, and react in the present moment of now. It’s not about the color of your belt around your waist in Jiu Jitsu, rather the poise you carry, and your ability to always be learning. Even in sobriety, it’s not about the number of days or years you’ve racked up, rather the way you feel and act in the present. All my activities remember me about how being present is truly key, to the doors of the foundations laid.
You both perform at Improv U in Delray Beach, which is one of our favorite places in the country to perform. What do you love about improvising at Improv U, and in Delray?
Thank you! Improv U has allowed so much growth and we are proud of our home. It’s where we live! Being able to reach the people and children in our community is vital for the craft’s survival. Improv U is a small theater that has a lot of love. These independent businesses need the support of its people, it has bonded people in a unique and deep way. We regularly rehearse and perform in the space, killing it is our specialty.
What do you enjoy most about performing together?
Respect is huge in the duo. It’s all about that trust and honest, holding to if this is true, what else can be. There is a endless amount of trust on stage. La Cat can easily choke out Loveless at anytime so keeping her happy is crucial. We really are just trying to make the other laugh, getting that sparkle.
Finally, we’ve had more than a few people come to our shows thinking they were about to see a screening of the movie From Justin to Kelly. (They usually leave pretty confused.) Have you ever had anyone come to your shows expecting actual free tacos?
Yes! We enjoy the bait and switch. People almost always laugh when they hear our name, so how can it go wrong. If you come to a show in hopes of getting a free taco then you are our people. Enjoy the show! (Also, if you bring us free tacos, we won’t turn them down)
Spotlight Interview: Glassworks
Glassworks is an improv trio comprised of Mack Hastings, Elliot Heinz, and Alex Raney. Their show is a master class in patient, confident, flavorful improv. They live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, have toured all over the country, and co-produce the annual Basement Improv Summit with us (Kelly and Justin). In this spotlight interview, the Glassworks guys discuss the evolution of their show over the years, their tips for keeping a troupe together over the long term, and the best floor they’ve ever crashed on.
Glassworks specializes in a very patient and loving style of improv that’s really relaxed and wonderful and different. Can you describe your format for people who haven’t seen it? And can you discuss how it has evolved and developed over the years you’ve been performing together?
Currently, we are working on a new form which takes place in one location. It’s not a mono scene, rather a collection of scenes that highlights people who frequent the environment. We’re comfortable with silence and tend to focus on the minutiae of day-to-day life. Over the years, we have grown more patient and comfortable with our shows. Glassworks began right as we were finishing high school, so in general, we were hyped-up, noisy, and easily excitable. Now, at the tender age of 23, we’re feeling the crippling effects of aging and slowing down our play. Some years have been busier than others and we’ve taken breaks to regroup and reinvent our performance. This has taken us from an entirely organic show to a more focused, level-headed format.
You’ve been improvising together since high school. How has Glassworks changed most over the years? And do you have any tips for troupes hoping to stay together over the long term?
Patience. In all aspects of our show, and in life, we have learned that slowing down and focusing on relationships is the key to a strong performance and strong group dynamic. Staying together can be difficult. We have found that the group must prioritize relationships off-stage and be honest with each other. We also promote independence from the traditional improv theater system, which allows teams to beat their own drum and continue to evolve with the years.
You guys used to improvise without taking a suggestion, but lately you’ve returned to getting a suggestion before you start your set. What are the pros and cons of each?
Pros: You immediately have something to work with and the audience has something to focus on.
Con: The audience focuses on you using the suggestion.
Pros: Ultimate freedom!
Cons: Paralyzing possibilities
Glassworks started performing together in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a city without an improv theater. So you created your own scene: playing and hosting house shows alongside bands and other non-comedic acts. What was it like getting started as an improv group in a city that wasn’t used to seeing improv? And what do you like the most about playing mixed bills in non-traditional venues?
In Eau Claire, people knew about some basic improv from the “teen scene,” but entering in with a long-form show was new to almost everyone. We had decent success as one of the only teams in Eau Claire, because it was new and exciting for everyone. There was little opportunity, though, so we immediately created a fully functional theater in the basement of our first house to perform in. The city had a vibrant music scene, much of which took place in houses, so bringing in bands and other performances was a no-brainer. Show-goers took to the idea of mixed-media shows and soon we were able to pack shows in our grungy little basement. Playing mixed bills is way more fun for everyone and engages the audience in a way that neither improv nor music could do alone. The non-traditional space allows for freedom from expectations.
Everything that we (Justin and Kelly) know about touring, we learned from you guys. You’ve been doing it for years. How did you first decide to start touring, and what are some things you’ve learned over the years that you wish you’d known when you first started touring?
We to needed to grow, so we left town and started touring the country. Our approach was based off of touring bands, not knowing that it was unheard of for indie improv teams to tour. Playing in front of new audiences pushed us to improve faster than if we had stayed in our basement in Eau Claire. Touring is f***ing hard and expensive. We lost money on every tour except for the last one. Improv doesn’t pay, which we knew from the get-go, so to make up for the cost of touring, we sold merchandise. Mostly homemade shirts. It can be done, though! We believe that improv is more accepting of touring now and will only keep growing.
Can you think of any particularly memorable tour stops you’ve had, good or bad?
Here’s a bittersweet one. Our car broke down on the coast of California during our first west coast tour. The sun was setting and we were seemingly trapped in the middle of nowhere. I mean, really, we were in the middle of nowhere. We knocked on the only house’s door and all their lights flipped off before a terrified man answered the door. He gave us water. We then called a tow truck, which took about an hour and it took us to the nearest city, Gualala. Luckily, we made it into the only motel in town just five minutes before the doors closed. The next day we found out that Elliot’s great uncle had a friend in this beach community of 400 people and although we couldn’t stay with them, they took us to a camp area just outside of town. Later in the night the friend, Wendy, returned with a tinfoil wrap of chicken and some bread. We had to fend off raccoons all night and listen to them ravaging the food bins. We were trapped here for about three days, bussing to San Francisco for our next show, and eventually returning to Gualala to retrieve the car after it was fixed.
The “fourth member” of Glassworks is Jesse Johnson, your friend and videographer, who comes on a lot of your tours and films all of your sets. What does Jesse add to the group dynamic?
Jesse keeps us all going, honest, and on track. He is the voice of reason after shows and takes us out of our heads.
Finally, you guys have crashed on floors and couches all over the country. Who’s been your most memorable host?
The most memorable moments of tours have been the people that have graciously brought us into their homes and really gone above-and-beyond to host us in their city. For example, in Chapel Hill, N.C. we stayed with a stranger from Couchsurfing named Ryan. He brought in four of us to his studio apartment, immediately offered us white wine and hookah, and switched on tv for us all to watch on the floor. Halfway through Ryan asked, “Do you guys want some pizza?” Before we could answer, he had texted a pizza emoji to Dominos and proudly held his screen up to us announcing the good news.
Spotlight Interview: John Windmueller
John Windmueller performs with Andy McIntire as the delightful duo Hot Pursuit. He is based in Washington, D.C., where he performs, teaches, and directs the corporate training division of Washington Improv Theater; he also performs and teaches with the Baltimore Improv Group. He will be teaching his workshop Better Habits, Better Scenes on Saturday afternoon, and will be performing with McIntire on Saturday evening. In this spotlight interview, Windmueller discusses the differences between the Baltimore and D.C. improv scenes, what he enjoys about traveling for improv, and his adorable new dog.
You’re performing and teaching at this year’s festival! We’ll get to the workshop in a sec, but first, tell us a little bit about Hot Pursuit, your duo with Andy McIntire. You guys do improvised movie chase scenes. What can audiences expect to see, and what inspired the idea for your form?
We do a two-person/duoprov movie format, but instead of improvising an entire film, we get right to the good stuff: the action-packed chase scene! Both Andy and I love the movie format, with its cinematic edits and genre play. The secret is that it’s totally not about the chase scene. It’s about discovering great characters and relationships, and then the chase scene serves as a fun excuse to throw those characters into ridiculously high stakes, high action situations and see what happens.
What are your personal favorite movie chase scenes of all time?
I love frantic chase scenes that spill out and weirdly cross through the mundane, everyday world. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Point Break both have great examples of that.
You’re based out of both Baltimore and D.C., where you teach and perform at Baltimore Improv Group and the Washington Improv Theater, and also direct WIT’s corporate training program, WIT@Work. What do you find particularly special about the improv scenes in both cities?
Washington Improv Theater (WIT) is one of the largest improv theaters in the US, and it’s great to be part of that enormous, well-developed improv community. The Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) is much smaller, but it still has an amazing pool of very experienced improvisers (folks stick around Baltimore) and a track record of doing experimental, wild stuff. So the short answer is that D.C. is more professional, Baltimore is more weird, and I enjoy getting to have a foot in both worlds.
In addition to your work in Baltimore & D.C., you also teach and perform all over the country. What do you find exciting about traveling to teach and do shows in different places? Any favorite memories from an improv trip you’ve taken?
I’m a total improv nerd and love getting to see how different improv communities are growing and transforming this relatively young art form. I’ve yet to meet an improv community I didn’t like and learn from, so my favorite trip is all of them (hokey but true)
You’ll be teaching a workshop at the festival called Better Habits, Better Scenes, all about getting improvisers to recognize their own habits, and create new ones that will make their scenes richer and easier to play. What are some of your own improv habits that have served you well over time?
I love nerding out on improv theory, but in teaching and directing improv, I’ve found that what makes the biggest difference in a performer’s play isn’t the improv theory they know, it’s their habits on stage. So I’ve been focusing on finding the habits that go the furthest toward producing great scenes, and then creating fun and effective exercises to rehearse and reinforce those new habits. Some of the habits I cover make for good fundamentals for new improvisers, but most are designed for intermediate and experienced improvisers as a way to help them make the leap from good scenes to scenes they and audiences love.
OK, so I don’t know if this is weird, but I (Kelly) follow you on Instagram and, as a result, I’m sort of obsessed with your dog. This isn’t even a question, really, I just want you to tell people about your adorable dog.
I am also obsessed with my dog! His name is Eli, he’s a rescue, and he’s half lab, half beagle, and completely wonderful. I’ve had him for a little over two months and we’ve already developed an intense co-dependent relationship. He’s been resting at my feet, snoring loudly, the entire time I’ve been writing this.
Spotlight Interview: The Farce and the Furious
The Farce and the Furious is an improv duo comprised of Mike Barbieri and Carly Zucker. They debuted as a duo at last year’s festival with a show that was a true highlight of the weekend. Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, they will be performing on Friday night at this year’s Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Barbieri and Zucker discuss how they’ve evolved as a duo since last year, what they like about St. Petersburg, and what their version of a Fast and the Furious movie might look like.
Tell us about your format! What sort of show can audience members expect to see?
We take a suggestion designed to inspire discussion and talk about it between the two of us, relating personal stories if we’ve got any. Both of us have pretty weird histories so you’ve got a good chance of hearing one. Then we’ll turn that into a show. We have a knack for exploring both the light and the dark sides of life, and have gotten both cheers and gasps during scenes.
The Farce and the Furious actually made its performance debut at last year’s festival. How have things been going since then? How has your performance dynamic evolved, and what can we expect for year two?
It’s been a smooth ride so far! We’ve become better friends over the past year and have been told it shows on stage. We haven’t done a major form change-up yet but our form has been evolving at a natural pace. You’ll see the new edits we’ve been practicing, which are designed to provide smooth transitions, keep us connected, and inspire the next scene.
You two absolutely crushed it at last year’s festival. What did that experience mean to the two of you as a duo? Did it give you any added confidence and validation, or did you fully expect to crush it all along?
It meant we’ve got it, that with some luck and hard work we’re a duo that can go places. The high after that show lasted all weekend. Before the festival our mentor gave us one piece of advice that we think is good advice for any team: Have the most fun out of everyone in the room. So we went into it in a cheerful mood and expected to put on a decent show. But that show blew out all expectations.
Do the two of you have any pre-show rituals? Post-show rituals? What do you do to get on the same page before and after shows?
We typically warm up before shows, but it’s different every time and really depends on what we’re feeling in the moment. We also talk about any new things we’ve agreed to try out for our format. Probably the most constant thing is every show just before we go on, at the point of highest nerves, we hug each other and say “I got your back.” So if anything counts as a ritual, it’s that.
After the show we hug again and, especially if it went well, we throw a celebration that usually involves a lot of bouncing and dancing in the green room to expend the rest of our energy.
Mike, what do you like most about playing with Carly? Carly, what do you like most about playing with Mike?
MB: I get to play with one of the most talented performers I know, and I get to play with somebody who gets me and appreciates me. Farce is a blessing.
CZ: Mike is down for anything and he always has my back. If I come out on stage as a talking pencil he will acknowledge that and turn into a disgruntled pen. The trust we have allows us to take big risks and have fun along the way.
You’re both based in St. Petersburg, which is just across the bay from Tampa but is very different in many respects. (Out-of-towners don’t necessarily know this!) What are the biggest differences between Tampa and St. Pete? What do you enjoy most about performing in St. Pete?
Tampa is older, bigger, and a little less personal, although it’s divided into neighborhoods that can be more close-knit. St. Pete, despite having some tall buildings, still gives you the feeling that everybody in the city knows each other or is connected somehow. But improv in this area is still a small enough thing that most performers know each other, even across the bay.
As for what we enjoy most about performing in St. Pete, since Carly actually lives downtown (Mike has to drive) we’ll each answer in our own words:
MB: I like that it’s close to home! I started out going to Tampa for improv but traffic across those bridges can be brutal. And I dig the occasional small-world phenomenon: meeting somebody who works where I work, or knows somebody I know, or also plays ultimate frisbee.
CZ: Saint Pete has a small town feel with big city amenities! Plus it’s the most walkable city in Florida which is perfect for the theater. We have people just walk by and decide to give our theater a try.
Finally, what would a Farce and the Furious version of a Fast and the Furious movie look like? (This is a very dumb question, but the last question is always sort of dumb!)
Well, speaking of dumb, we actually filmed a promo short last year that involves Mike being paranoid that everybody is going to confuse him for Vin Diesel solely on account of baldness. So maybe just take that premise and make it feature-length.
Spotlight Interview: Exes
Julia Gerhardt and Brian Young comprise the improv duo Exes. Their format is original and lovely: they play ex-lovers who spin a rich, layered, and hilarious show off the audience suggestion of why they broke up. They come from Baltimore and will be performing on Friday night of the Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Gerhardt and Young discuss how they started performing together, their favorite celebrity exes, and what they enjoy about improvising in Baltimore.
Tell us a little bit about how you both discovered improv, and how you met and started performing together.
Julia Gerhardt: Brian had a vague awareness of improv in his 20s. He knew a lot of the SNL crew did it, and he watched Whose Line Is It Anyway. Three or four years ago he went to Chicago for an ex’s wedding and improv was listed as a cool thing for tourists. So he saw a few shows and came back to Baltimore and saw a few of the local shows. Over two years ago, he found himself single and looking to fill time, so he finally took a workshop and a few classes. It was a struggle to find stage time in those days, but now he performs regularly (and kills it, in my opinion). For me, I started my improv journey at age seven and was trained by Groundlings who taught at the non-profit theater organization I was in called the Virginia Avenue Project. I trained under a Groundlings creator, Phyllis Katz, who is my improv guru and fostered my love for character/relationship based improv. Then I continued it throughout my life, and ran my high school improv club and created the improv club and troupe at my college. Now I perform regularly at the Baltimore Improv Group where I’m learning even more every day! Basically, I try to find improv everywhere I go, and if it’s not there, then I try to cultivate the community for it. Brian and I met when I first got started at BIG at the Baltimore Improv Festival exactly one year ago!
Many groups embrace relationship-based improv, but you guys take it one step further by choosing to explore a very specific relationship on stage. How’d you come up with the idea for your show? What can audiences in Tampa expect from your format?
JG: Brian was really inspired by the gay scene where it’s not uncommon for exes to stay friends. You’ll have friends of friends. You go to some of the same places. There’s an incentive to make things work. It’s performative. You want everyone around to be comfortable. It happens in the improv community the same way. And more specifically, he’s enjoyed his share of on and off again romances. Brian and I just slipped into these characters one day and thought it would be a fun way to ruminate on dating and the improv community.
What do you enjoy most about playing together?
Brian Young: Julia’s fun because she’ll work hard with whatever you throw at her! That quality creates variety. Scenes within scenes. One minute she has an absurd deal, and next she figured out something that I’m weird about. Characters who are smart in specific ways, foolish in others. In real life intimacy, you’re continually surprised at how much depth and change there can be with another person. There’s a joy in looking at it through a funny lens.
JG: Brian’s just a wonderful human all around, but I think my favorite part about his improv is his subtleties. He’s so clever and funny, but he doesn’t have to do it in a ostentatious way to make you laugh. Plus, let’s be real folks, he’s easy on the eyes.
Do you have any preshow rituals or things that you do to get ready to perform?
JG: We do two person warm ups that are really weird and awkward. Which is perfect for our show.
You both perform regularly at the Baltimore Improv Group. What do you love about improvising in Baltimore?
JG: We love that Baltimore’s scene has been growing and new locals are discovering improv. We’re seeing more and more out of town performers visit. They’re experiencing what we’ve been building here and that’s really nice to watch. We also love the opportunities for creativity and ideas here. If you’ve got a show idea and email the BIG community, in a matter of minutes you have people saying they’d love to join or talk more about it. We think that kind of support is what really makes the theater so special.
Last but not least: who are your favorite celebrity exes and why?
JG: For Brian, who was a teenager in the 90’s: Britney and Justin. He’s glad they’re both doing well now. He never picked a side. For me, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. But I’m definitely team Aniston.
Spotlight Interview: Tobin Tales
Tobin Mollett is the creator and star of Tobin Tales, a one-man improvised fairy tale that combines storytelling and improv in a riveting and hilarious fashion. He lives in New York City and will be performing on Saturday night at the 2018 Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Mollett discusses the evolution of his show, the challenges of creating a narrative arc on the fly, and why he’s happy to let the audience put their own meanings on the stories he tells.
Your show, Tobin Tales, is an improvised fairy tale. What drew you to this format? What do you love about it?
I always liked playing silly, creepy characters. Witches, goblins, croaking tree spirits, shadowy things from the grave. I love monsters. Growing up, you have all these weird fears that are hard to articulate, and fairy tale villains personify those fears so they can be outwitted and slain and dealt with. Fairy tales are how kids learn to package and process their nightmares.
How has the show evolved over the time that you’ve been performing it? What are some things that have surprised you about how the show has developed?
I’m surprised by how simple it is now. The show started off as an hour-long production called Nemo: the Storyteller. I did the whole thing as this old beatnik character with a full costume. I would start with a story from my real life and then transition into fantasy partway through, getting fill-in-the-blank suggestions from the audience the whole time. But I would warm up the crowd by doing a short fairy tale, and I gradually realized that the fairy tale was my favorite part of the show. So I got rid of everything else, one piece at a time. The Nemo character and his costume, the autobiographical bit, the back-and-forth with the audience. Now I just get a title from the audience and go. I can do this version of the show in any venue, for any length of time, wearing whatever.
You’re an excellent storyteller, and in many ways, Tobin Tales is an improvised storytelling show. Have you found anything challenging about merging storytelling and improv? Do you worry at all about creating a clear narrative arc, or are you content to just let the show go where it goes?
I do worry. It’s the part of the show that I struggle with the most. I like when a Tobin Tale feels complete, but endings are difficult even for a writer with all the time in the world. It’s terrifying to come up with one on the fly. So the challenge has been to set myself up at the beginning of a show with the information and character motivations I need to make the rest of the narrative flow. As a general rule, New York improv schools don’t focus on narrative skills. But European ones do, and I’ve been lucky enough to study under teachers from that tradition, like Anders Fors and Katy Schutte. I started with some of those principles, and the rest has been experimentation. I feel like I learn a new storytelling technique every time I do a show.
How do you prepare for a show? Do you have any pre-show rituals or checklists or anything?
I do not. I probably should have some. On the day of the show, I read fairy tales out loud to myself in my apartment, to get some of the language and spirit to stick to my bones, but the real preparation is happening on stage at the beginning of the show, when I’m chatting and joking and making eye contact with the front row. I spend most of the show playing various characters, but I’m still basically telling a story to people, so it helps me a lot to make a connection first and feel out the room.
Fairy tales often involve moral lessons, i.e. “Do not accept free candy from a witch.” (I think that’s the lesson of Hansel and Gretel, right?) Do the fairy tales you create ever resolve to moral lessons? If so, what are some of the more memorable ones from shows you’ve done?
Well, the show is based on the original Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen folk tales, and honestly, one of the reasons I like them is their total lack of morality. They’re just about people getting into serious trouble and using all their resources to get out of it. The moral lessons came in as the Grimms revised the stories to appeal to parents, and then of course when Disney got hold of them. If you look at fairy tales as a way to tell kids that they’re not alone with their fears, then a story with a little instruction manual at the end isn’t doing its job. That’s just another rule to follow in an already confusing world full of consequences. People come up to me after the show sometimes and tell me what they thought it meant, and I’m happy to let the audience keep doing that job for me.
You live in New York, and you’ve performed all over the city, including several times at Countdown Theater, the pop-up comedy space that we (Kelly and Justin) run in New York. (Thank you for doing that! We love having you there.) What do you enjoy about performing in New York, and about being a performer who lives in New York? What, if anything, do you find frustrating about it? (Note: “Performing in basements that share thin walls with hip-hop recording studios” is an acceptable answer to both of those questions.)
Thank you for having me! Well, New York is a constant source of inspiration. Because Tobin Tales fits into several different categories, I get to perform in variety shows with all kinds of different acts – not just improv – and some of those bits are so weird and singular. It makes me feel more comfortable doing an offbeat show for its own sake. But yeah, the downside is that so many venues are misshapen basements with flickering lights and incredibly loud air conditioners.
Finally, what is your favorite actual fairy tale, and why?
That’s such a hard question. I don’t have a favorite anything. But there’s a bit that stuck with me from a Hans Christian Andersen story called “The Tinderbox.” The hero is a soldier who finds a magical treasure, and the treasure is guarded by three dogs. They’re perfectly normal dogs, except that one has eyes as large as teacups, the next has eyes as large as mill-wheels, and the last has eyes as large as towers. Eyes as large as towers. It’s such a strange and haunting description, but now that you’ve heard it, it’s true. It makes a picture in your mind, and now you have to deal with it. That’s the sort of thing that would get sand-papered off and replaced if some studio turned the story into a big animated feature film, but for me, it’s the sort of thing that makes fairy tales live.
Spotlight Interview: Amy Angelilli
Amy Angelilli is the namesake and titular character of It’s All About Amy, a marvelous improvised show in which Angelilli narrates and dramatizes stories taken from her own life, with help from a rotating cast of guest stars. Angelilli lives, improvises, and teaches in St. Augustine, by way of Philadelphia and Denver. She will be performing on Friday night at the 2018 Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, she discusses the genesis of her format, the rewards of building an improv community from scratch, and her abiding love for the convenience store Wawa.
You’ve traveled to festivals and venues all around the country with your show, It’s All About Amy, which is a unique, fun format in which you (spoiler alert) play the titular character. Tell us about the show, and how the idea came to be.
In 2010 Jared [McBain], my original duo partner, and I were on a house team in Denver. We went to Rick, our coach, and asked him if he’d like to coach a duo. I presented him with an idea. A week later he came back to us with nothing resembling my idea, and, instead, presented the Amy format to us. We laughed — a lot — and then when I finally caught a breath I told him we weren’t going to create a show named after me – that was ridiculous. Coach Rick replied by saying that it was perfect for us because I’m a strong monologist and Jared is a strong character improviser, so it plays to our strengths. (Then he had to go and follow up by saying that I enjoy talking about myself — gee whiz!) The Denver improv community thought the idea was pretty obnoxious, but when they realized I play the straight woman and Jared brings the crazy, they got on board and stopped giving me a hard time about having a troupe named after myself!
You and your duo partner, Jared McBain, with whom you built the show, live across the country from each other, which has meant that, since you moved to St. Augustine (which we’ll get to in a sec), you often perform with a rotating cast of guest stars, of which we were lucky enough to be ones last year. Who have been some of your favorite people to play with? (This isn’t a trick question where we’re looking for the answer to be us, by the way!)
HAHAHAHA! Ok. Well Jared will always be my #1 guy of course. Second to him is everyone’s favorite, Anthony Francis from Improv U. I love, love, love doing the set with Anthony because he’s willing to go anywhere. In fact we have a running joke that it’s not an Amy set staring Anthony unless there’s a good makeout scene! It’s easy to dig deep with Anthony because when we’re in the green room, we touch each other — a lot. I know that sounds really weird, but it breaks down barriers instantly and gets us into an intimate space to be able to trust each other completely. And we do.
You’ve been hard at work for the last couple years, single-handedly cultivating the improv scene in St. Augustine through classes, shows, and even street improv. What have you enjoyed most about that experience?
The most rewarding thing about building an improv community from scratch is seeing my students share the values I’ve worked so hard to promote — things like … “make each other look brilliant” and “we before me” are our two biggies. This past weekend was a big milestone as it was the first time one of my graduates did an Amy set with me. I’ve been struggling with losing my voice due to a bad cold and my grad, Morgan, totally took care of me even though he was so nervous doing his first duo set — and, his first duo set with his teacher. He was amazing and the set was tender and loving — just like I want our community to be.
What would you tell someone who is interested in trying an improv class for the first time?
Do it! And do it with an open mind and an open heart. When I was taking my first classes, I was all about performing and being “good” and in fact I was terrible. I needed to get out of my own way and be open to what might be. I tell my students to discover their own adventures through improv and whatever that adventure becomes is theirs and theirs alone. If the stage is part of it, great. If not, that’s OK too. Not everyone will perform on stage, and everyone has a life stage — that’s where improv becomes the most important tool.
What’s your favorite memory from a trio, duo, or solo show, either one you’ve done, or one you’ve seen (or both)?
I remember doing an Amy set with Jared in Denver and he was jumping all over the stage being different characters. Evidently I got confused and thought I was having a conversation with one of the characters and that particular character had left the stage. Meanwhile Jared was in a doorway and the audience was laughing so hard. I couldn’t figure out what was so funny. My honest, organic mistake ended up being the funniest part of the set. To this day I say to Jared, “remember that time I was talking to no one and everyone laughed?”
We’ve thrown around a lot of titles in this interview — improviser, teacher, scene-builder — but we can’t end this without mentioning one more: Wawa enthusiast. Tell the good people of Tampa and beyond: What do you love about Wawa?
HAHAHAHAHA! Well, I grew up down the road from Wawa, Pennsylvania (outside of Philadelphia) and I never really thought much about it until I moved to Denver — where there was no Wawa. Then it became a joke – every time I went home to Philly I’d take a photo of me at Wawa and a photo of me with a Yuengling — another PA specialty. When I moved to Florida, and was reunited with Wawa, someone in Tampa said to me, “Isn’t that just a gas station?” Then it was ON and I thought I was going to cut a bitch (that’s Philly talk). Wawa is the BEST place to get a hoagie, a coffee or some Tastycakes on the run, and, for Philadelphians, it’s a slice of home … so folks, let’s show some respect to a place that originally didn’t even have gas stations (I am not kidding)!
Spotlight Interview: Goodison
Goodison is an improv duo comprised of Neil Goodman Baron and Kristina Martinez. They perform an improvised movie, and they do so with great skill. They are based in Washington, D.C., and will be appearing on Saturday night; this is their second year performing at the Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Baron and Martinez discuss the evolution of their format, the challenges of moving from one improv community to another, and what it’s like to fill the shoes of great improvisers like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.
Your format is an improvised movie! Tell us a little bit about what a Goodison movie looks like. What drew you to that particular form, and what do you love about performing it together?
Kristina Martinez: We had been doing a double feature of genre/ narrative in Madison every Friday night for about five years, so we thought instead of doing this with six other people, let’s try it with just the two of us (*cue Will Smith song*). So now we get two letters from the audience, we each pitch a movie title and description letting the audience pick the movie they want us to improvise and that’s our form.
Neil Goodman Baron: We like to think it looks exactly like a movie but in reality it just looks like two people doing improv. Kristina is good at all the really hard parts, like making emotionally compelling narrative choices. My role is more trying to pull us as far away from good storytelling as possible just to get cheap laughs and then she drags me back and we keep going.
How has your show evolved in the time you’ve been doing it?
KM: We used to perform two movies simultaneously because we thought that would be a fun challenge for us (which it was) but then we realized, the audience doesn’t need to that challenge. So now we do movie pitches at the start and improvise one movie. Usually Neil will pitch something completely nutso (“Vader Jockey”? What kind of title is that?) and I’ll try to get something grounded. It’s really been a toss up on what the audience picks. A constant has been to sing if the movie calls for it, so we do the writing, directing, acting, and even the soundtrack.
NB: Yeah, we made it simpler and hopefully more fun and less confusing for the audience.
We were lucky enough to have Goodison with us for last year’s festival. When we picked you guys up from the airport last year — sorry there weren’t really enough seats in the car for everyone, by the way, we were new at this and planned poorly — you had *just* moved to Washington, D.C. from Madison, Wis., like the week before. How has the last year been improvising in D.C.? What’s great about the improv scene there?
KM: D.C. is great and folks were really welcoming! (Also, Madison, we miss you like crazy!) I was pretty nervous having to meet new people and make new friends cause that’s scary, but the D.C. scene is loaded with people that care about improv and there are shows all over the place. We both have the opportunity to play in with groups so we get to scratch that itch of playing with ensembles. And we just started producing our monthly show that showcases duo work, “Big Duo Night.”
NB: The D.C. scene has been nice and welcoming. Did you know some of the GOAT improvisers are from the D.C. scene? I’m talking Abraham Lincoln, George “Del Close” Washington. FDR crushed shows every night for like 12 years straight. We’re just lucky nowadays to live under the One True Improv Genius, Donald Trumpy.
What’s a favorite memory from a duo show — either one you’ve seen or one you’ve done together (or both)?
KM: For me, in our form, it’s when the audience picks and decides what movie we’re doing. It feels like a discovery we’re all sharing in the moment. Also, our cats are a duo and they are really bad at improv but are also really funny just to watch.
NB: Our team name is just a word we made up, and I think we both get a kick out of having other people just say that word. Like Bill Arnett said the word “goodison” and that’s pretty funny to us.
Having performed at last year’s festival, what are you most excited for this time around?
KM: Seeing people we met last year! The Florida scene represented with a number of awesome sets, so we’re excited to see them again, and to meet folks from all over.
NB: The hotel pool.
Last time we saw you guys [at the Omaha Improv Festival], it was 2 a.m. and you were off to the airport to hang there until your 6 a.m. flight. What’d you guys do for four hours? Any insider tips for what to do at an airport in the middle of the night?
KM: Neil worked on his moonwalk. I watched The Florida Project and cried a bunch, partly from how sad it was and partly from the lack of sleep.
NB: I might have watched Wanted.
Spotlight Interview: Kat Kenny
Kat Kenny is an actor, improviser, and teacher based in south Florida. She created the improv program at the Actor’s Rep in West Palm Beach, where she currently serves as the educational director. She will be teaching her workshop Walk the Walk on Friday afternoon at the Countdown Improv Festival, and will be performing Friday night with with Jeff Quintana as the duo understated. In this spotlight interview, Kenny discusses the overlapping south Florida improv community, the time she did a show with a 12-year-old girl pulled from the audience, and some tips for improvising while seasick.
Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you discovered and fell in love with improv.
My background is in theatre. I’ve been a theatre rat (is that a term? Do people say “theatre rat?” I’m unsure. They should.) since I was a teenager and got my college degree in theatre with an emphasis on acting from the University of Utah’s Actor Training program. I dabbled in short form while in college (People DO say dabbled. Of this I am sure.) but didn’t really get addicted to it until the last year I lived in New York. I attended a Harold Night at the UCB, fell in love with it and immediately started the process of maxing out my credit card in an attempt to quickly go through all of the levels at UCB and as many coaching sessions as I could before I moved back to Florida. (Guys, I DID it! Discover Card was very pleased.) When I got back to Florida, the scene wasn’t very big. But I was lucky enough to find Mod 27 Improv and get involved with them. After about another year of taking workshops, I started teaching and created a program at Actor’s Rep theatre in West Palm Beach. We now have monthly shows at the theatre and seven house teams. It makes me very happy. I smile a lot.
We’re excited to have a bunch of performers joining us this year from Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, and Miami. What, in your view, is something that’s unique about the improv scene in that part of Florida?
The thing that stands out most to me is how wonderfully overlapping our community is. I play with three different improv troupes in West Palm Beach & Delray, all “belonging” to three different improv schools/companies, and frequently guest with a school in Boca. What’s neat is that this isn’t unusual. We share students, cross-promote each other’s classes, and play on teams with multiple improv companies. I feel like south Florida, particularly Palm Beach County, is finally in a place where no students or performers “belong” to any one school/company. Because they don’t. And because that’s antithetical to what we all do.
You’ll be performing with Jeff Quintana [as the duo understated] at this year’s festival. Tell us a bit about how that duo came to be, and what you enjoy most about playing with Jeff.
Jeff and I met a few years ago and we’ve only played together on a few different occasions. He’d come guest with Actor’s Rep in WPB and I’d go play with him as a guest in Miami. I had Jeff come do a duo set with me several months ago that was just …easy. And delightful. And fun. Shortly after that set, I saw that Countdown Improv Fest was accepting submissions. So I said “Hey, let’s make this thing.” This fest will be our second time performing together as a duo, and the first time officially as understated. You helped bring us together! My favorite thing about playing with Jeff is that he doesn’t have an agenda. He just follows what’s happening and is ruthlessly playful.
In your workshop, you’ll be teaching students to “walk the walk” — in other words, working to eliminate the all-too-common gut reaction to judge a choice/move in a scene, and instead getting improvisers to view every choice and move as a potential opportunity. What’s a favorite example of yours (either in a show you saw, or one you did) of this?
Oooh, good question. I’m really fortunate to be able to say that I’ve experienced this a lot. I play with some amazing improvisers and teams who each have their own strengths and I’d have to say that the people I play with on Friends with Benefits are really good at this. There is a willingness to just jump in blind and build off of whatever is happening — whether it’s working or not — and to fully and to playfully embrace it. They’ll get down in the mud with you.
For me, I think the time I’ve been able to fully employ this is in my lotto show. Improvising with someone who’s never done it before is built on the foundation of “I’ll follow you wherever you choose to go” instead of “Follow me” or “let me make it better.” I did a lotto show once with a friend of mine where the person we picked from the audience was a 12 year old girl. You guys. We just followed her and she took us on the most fantastic ride. We were established as school teachers who were then CIA agents who were being hunted by ninjas. We were ninja waiters who served only bread in a sushi restaurant and young children who loved listening to our grandparents’ boring stories about the post office. We just followed her and didn’t “correct” her and we (and the audience) had the absolute best time. When we’re able to practice what we preach, it’s contagious. People start to play the same way because it gives others permission. It will spread throughout a group and make the whole team stronger. The Walk the Walk workshop is my favorite workshop to teach because it has the possibility to change how individuals look at what we do and when one person on a team starts playing that way, it has a trickle down effect that = magic.
Last time we saw each other, we were all teaching aboard the Improv U Improv Cruise, which was a blast, but featured such rough seas on the last day they wouldn’t let anyone go outside. What advice would you give for people improvising while seasick?
Lie down a lot. And wear sea sickness pressure point bands. And tell everyone you’re seasick so that they feel really bad for you and think you’re amazing for being super heroic and for creating amazing art even though you’re just lying on the floor.
Spotlight Interview: Power of Godt
Power of Godt is an improv duo comprised of Josh Baldwin and Matt Rodriguez. Their show provides an answer to the age-old question: What would it be like if two actual Vikings time-traveled to the present day and did improv? The answer: It would be hilarious. Baldwin and Rodriguez are based in Tampa and will be performing on Thursday night as the very first show in this year’s Countdown Improv Festival. In this spotlight interview, Rodriguez discusses the Tampa Bay improv scene, Josh Baldwin’s ostensible Viking heritage, and exactly where they got those Viking helmets.
Tell us about your show format, and what folks can expect to see from Power of Godt at the festival.
Both Josh and I love the idea of simplicity in improv shows. Get that suggestion and just run with it. We start the show in different ways. The suggestion varies: What’s your job like? What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? (And everyone’s favorite: Give us a one-word suggestion!) Folks can expect a leaner, meaner version of the set we did last year. We know what we definitely don’t want to do and we know we definitely want to focus more on the Viking world and everything that includes.
How did the idea come to be? What made you guys decide on Viking-prov?
I don’t know what exactly brought on the idea. I think Josh and I were texting during work one day (Who actually likes work? Ew.) and suddenly wondered “What would it look like if we explored Viking lore with improv?” That was really the bulk of it. Also I’m pretty certain Josh has Viking heritage somewhere down the line.
You two also perform together as part of Escape Artisans, which performs as a trio (with Nikki Ashlock) at this year’s festival. What do the two of you love most about playing together, and what’s a favorite memory you have a of a show you’ve been in together?
Speaking personally, I love how far Josh and I have come as teammates and scene partners. Our scenes have become tighter expressions of creativity. What used to trip us up no longer does. We are more quick to explore relationships and worlds. It sounds cliche but we are definitely better at reading each other’s minds and anticipating each other’s moves. Our scenes have improved as our friendship has grown.
You’re both fixtures of the Tampa Bay improv community. What do you think is particularly special about the improv community here? Why should folks make the trip up to Tampa for the festival to experience it for themselves?
The Tampa improv scene is resilient! We do not always have a place to play or even audiences that understand what the heck this improv thing is… BUT, year after year we find a way to play and to convince improv newbies that it’s worth their money to come see a show. Folks should definitely come see the fest because here you have improvisers taking the ultimate risk: hitting the stage without the backing of a full team. It’s just you, your buddy, and the audience.
Having performed at the 2017 festival, what are you most excited for in this second year?
Again, speaking personally, I am excited to present an even better set, to see more duos and trios, and to be inspired by the creativity of players from around the country!
And, finally, where’d you get those Viking helmets?
Ay! What do ya mean get?? Thee gods above blessed us with our helms of war and none on earth shall remove them!
Spotlight Interview: Chris George
Chris George has performed his solo act I Am the Show at dozens of improv festivals nationwide. Currently based in Chicago, he is San Diego’s original longform improvisation instructor and has been performing improv since 2003. In this spotlight interview, George discusses the genesis of his format, his pre-show rituals, and his ever-growing improv T-shirt collection.
Can you describe the format of I Am the Show for folks that haven’t yet seen it, and tell us about the genesis of that format and how it came to be?
The audience selects a movie, either from Netflix, or from a stack of $1 DVD’s I’ve bought, and it plays with the sound off and I improvise the dialogue, sound effects, and music that go along with the movie in real time. Because of the breadth of movies on Netflix (and in the used DVD bin) it’s a movie that I’ve never seen before. I would say it is somewhere between “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and “Bad Lip Reading.” I had heard about people (or groups) doing similar shows for a few years, and I was always interested in it, though I never had quite the urge to cross the threshold. Then, I found myself on a team with a bunch of very flighty people in San Diego who would show up late to shows (if at all) and were less-than-stellar in responding to confirmations about shows. One day, with about 5 minutes before show time, and with me being the only one at the theater I thought “What will I do if no one shows up?” and I vaguely sketched out what would eventually become I Am the Show. I never had to “break the glass” with that team, so eventually I thought I just wanted to do it. I tried rehearsing it (twice) and it didn’t work without an audience – and then I just did it.
What are some ways in which your show has evolved since you first started performing it?
How I ask for the suggestion has changed somewhat, but the biggest lesson I learned I got while at the Idaho Laugh Fest in 2016. Up until that point, it had been just “get the movie and go”, but that festival had a lot of standup people I shared slots with and then I realized the value of doing a little crowd work at the top. IAtS is such a weird show for the audience to hang on, so doing a little crowd work pre-heats the oven and gets them a little more comfortable. I’ve gotten more comfortable playing with plot, character, direction, and cinematography, but those are probably less noticeable to the audience.
What are your favorite types of films to do?
So far the worst movies are documentaries, because it’s hard to draw a through line and the edits are so quick – there aren’t true “scenes” to improvise. My favorites are action and horror – lots of opportunities for music and SFX. Generally the “worse” the movie, the “better” the show. I’ve also had a very good run on $1 DVD’s that have featured former actors from the American Pie series; our fates have become intertwined.
You also perform as part of a duo [Merit Badge, with fellow CIF instructor Laurel Posakony]. What are your favorite things about performing as a duo with Laurel? Do you have a favorite memory from a show that you’ve done together that you’d like to share?
If you ever get the chance to play with Laurel – take it. I could name a dozen things that are “favorite things,” but it’s probably more meaningful to say that my singular favorite thing about Laurel is that they are endlessly curious. They’ll never shy from something just because they’ve never done it before. The show that immediately comes to mind is from the Endurance Festival (Madison, Wis.) from this year; the prior act had ended a little early so we were given a longer leash for a show and ended up going close to 40 minutes. About halfway through we realized that we might actually have time to tell a complete story, and I think we both realized it at the same time. Because we both used to be on a narrative team together, we understood what the story needed, the remaining bits that we needed to hit, and landed the story right at the Elixir beat.
How do you prepare for a show? Do you have any habits or rituals?
This may be kind of “how the show has evolved,” but because there’s a technical aspect to IAtS, I always check with the tech person. 20 percent of the time, they were left out of the email chain about tech needs (or never bothered to read it), 50 percent of the time, some driver or such hasn’t been installed and no video will actually play, and 25 percent of the time someone has left subtitles on (this leaves a 5 percent margin of error). The shows that have been bad have (mostly) all had technical hiccups at the top.
In general though, I always need a little time to myself, about 15 minutes or so, to walk around the block and do some stretching. Laurel and I always do a little checking in (how are you, how are you feeling, what do you want to work on) and play “Things.” For things, we go back and forth naming occupations, people, feelings, events, objects, places – the more specific the better.
You’re teaching a workshop on building successful genre and narrative shows at the festival. Can you tell us about how your shows have influenced your teaching, and vice versa?
This workshop leans heavily on the work we did with Book Club in San Diego for two years, telling improvised novels for about 1 hour. Most improv shows don’t get to tell full stories; the typical length and format doesn’t lend itself easily to narrative, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Obviously, IAtS uses movies, so being able to recognize the beginnings of story, protagonists, antagonists, helps playing with those movies, but in general, audiences care about people who want something and are changed and that’s narrative all the way. The “second half” of the workshop focuses on specifying genre shows, and that just reminds me that every show is unique, and we should never abdicate responsibility when it comes to style.
Finally: How big is your current collection of improv t-shirts?
Oh gosh. I haven’t counted in a while, but it fills two of those big “under-the-bed clothing storage bins”. Without actually counting, I’d bet around 75. It’s probably higher, but I’d maybe rather not know.