CatBird is a duo improv team who focus on connection with each other, exploring emotions and heightening them using few words. They are experimental and often border on performance art.
Robin Thompson, Catherine Windecker
Delray Beach, Fla.
CatBird will perform on the L.E. Zarling Stage on Saturday, August 17.
Previous Countdown Improv Festival appearances:
We’re so excited to have you two back with us this year! Tell us about how the two of you met and decided to start performing as a duo, and what you love about working together.
Robin Thompson: We met over 3 ½ years ago when we were taking drop in classes at Improv U. We were in the first advanced longform class taught by Anthony Francis at Improv U and that class turned into an ensemble longform improv troupe, Jest Promoted, which we were in together for about 2 years. After our team dissolved, I approached Catherine about doing a duo improv team together following Justin and Kelly’s form, The Walter. love working with Catherine because she has such a quirky and brilliant mind. Her thought process always delights me and keeps me on my toes.
Catherine Windecker: I love working with Robin because she invites trust. She has a gentle approach that allows me to follow her blindly. I can groove with her vibe if I just let go.
We’re incredibly honored that CatBird has adopted our own signature format, the Walter, a minimalistic monoscene that emphasizes silence, physicality, and eye contact. What drew you to it, and what have you found fun about working within it?
RT: When I was a fresh three-month-old baby improvisor, Anthony Francis brought you two down to Delray Beach to teach a workshop and perform a show later that evening. I found your form so fascinating since, especially as a new improvisor, I was always trying to get words out to explain what I was doing/feeling/thinking. By taking your workshop I learned that we can do as much, if not more, by slowing down and using fewer words and really focusing on the emotion of the scene, connecting to our scene partner in a deeper and more meaningful way. It was refreshing to stop focusing on what I was going to say or do next, but instead focusing on what I was feeling and heightening that feeling until I could get to a point to sum up the feeling and situation in one simple statement. I have found it so fun to do so “little” but then get a huge payoff when something funny happens and the crowd laughs and gets into it.
CW: What drew me to this form was Justin and Kelly themselves. Because they have such an incredible connection and display that with such rare kinetic energy. They are mesmerizing to watch. It’s really fun when Robin and I heighten our emotion to the utmost until we cannot heighten anymore and then come down off of that and eventually heighten again. That pattern is incredibly fun.
CatBird will be performing on the inaugural L.E. Zarling Stage at this year’s festival, which was conceived to showcase kinetic, experimental, and boundary-pushing improv. What’s a favorite memory of yours of a show that you’ve done or seen that fits that description?
RT: One of my favorite scenes with Catherine was at a recent show at Bob Carter’s Actor’s Rep Theatre in West Palm Beach. In that set, our suggestion was “nail salon”. It became apparent that we were upset because our favorite nail color had been discontinued. We heightened our emotion to the point that we were weeping and wailing on the ground screaming “Volcano red is gone!” The more we exaggerated that emotion of loss and despair, the more hysterical it became. I loved that we didn’t hold anything back and fully committed to our raw despair.
CW: I also loved our “Blockbuster” scene a couple of months ago where we casually drifted from song to song that reminded us of certain movies, and then broke that pattern when the store management would let us know that the store was closing. Our commitment to each other’s cause to find the best movie and take our time doing it felt beautiful.
You’ve both been mainstays at Improv U in Delray Beach, which we happen to think is one of the best improv communities in the entire country. What do you think makes Improv U so special?
RT: Wow! That’s amazing! Thank you for that recognition! I think what makes it so special are the people. Anthony Francis has created a community of improvisors who lead with their hearts and care for each other deeply. We’re there to entertain, but also have fun. We train regularly and put in the work, but if it isn’t fun then what is it all for? Anthony even has a tattoo that reads “Lead with Love” which is a reminder that we have to look out for each other and look at our intentions when it comes to how we perform and support each other on and off the stage.
CW: Definitely the individuals themselves that make up Improv U. Everyone there just agrees that we support each other no matter what. It is a very positive environment that Anthony encourages. It feels like a totally safe space where we can express our emotions.
What do you love about small group improv? What, in your experience, makes it different from performing with larger groups?
RT: In small group improv you can really dive deep into your characters and scenes because there are fewer (if any) edits. It has also taught me to fully trust my scene partner because it’s just us. We can’t depend on someone else to sweep the scene and “save us.” This has also taught me to trust myself more and my instincts. It has taught me to be at peace with this moment we have created and trust that “this is enough.” It’s also easier to get together to practice with only 1 or 2 people, versus 5 – 9 people!
CW: As Robin said, “this is enough” becomes my inner mantra. I love it because we only have each other to play off of so it narrows my focus to just one person. Therefore, the trust has to be deeper because only that one person has your back.
And, finally: are you cat people or bird people? (Or both!)
RT: I’m definitely more of a bird person, lol! But not a caged bird type – the free kind!
CW: Well, as we found out last night, the new trend is birds. We found this out in the Dollar Store (there were no cat items at the Dollar Store, only birds. One day you’re in. The next day you’re out.) I actually love both, but I’m more of a cat person. After all, my name is Catherine and I have two cats.