Philly Fringe is just around the corner. This annual festival brings the world’s newest and most cutting-edge cultural experiences to our city, amplifying the vibrancy of Philadelphia as a renowned cultural center. Philly Improv Theater contributes to this vibrancy with an entire month of special programing that will certainly entertain and entice, including the upcoming improv show, Myths & Monsters.
Myths & Monsters improvises theatrical tales by spontaneously performing stories of heroic transformation. The improv group moves and breathes in tandem. Each member depicts a monstrous beast or terrifying deity amidst trials and transformations.
This team finds inspiration in stories that trace back to King Arthur and beyond and have been reincarnated in films such as The Matrix and the Star Wars trilogy. The hero myth is a personal journey full of dragon battles, night sea journeys, impossible trials and supernatural aid. Each night of performance, the ensemble will reach deep into their collective unconscious and draw forth two new fantastical tales of heroism and adventure.
Directed by Nick Gillette, the cast of Myths & Monsters is: Ben Grinberg, Nikitas Menotiades, Brian Ratcliffe, Jess Ross, Kristen Schier, Molly Scullion, Adam Siry, Jess Snow, and Alison Zeidman
Director Nick Gillette is a local actor and PHIT instructor who began performing improv in 2002 with his Colgate University team Charred Goosebeak. He’s made appearances at Skidmore College’s National College Comedy Festival and the Del Close Marathon in NYC. He has studied under Armando Diaz, Keith Johnstone and Joe Bill and is currently improvising with several groups, including the unabashedly uninhibited gang, Medic. Nick is also a founding member of the PHIT house team, Mayor Karen.
Nick’s non-comedy adventures include performances with the 1920’s-inspired burlesque troupe Cabaret Red Light, giving tours at Eastern State Penitentiary and, his longtime hobby, playing 2nd edition Shadowrun, a science fantasy role-playing game where he pretends he is a cybernetically enhanced hacker hiding out in Central America. He’s currently a student at the Pig Iron School for Advanced Performance Training.
Nick took a little time out from his busy schedule to answer some questions about his upcoming show.
WO: The concept of Myths & Monsters is very smart and unique. How did you come up with it? What sparked the initial thought?
NG: This all came out of a conversation with Cubby Altobelli. We were talking about his work in Commedia dell’Arte and how there are these immortal archetypes for characters. It reminded me of Joseph Campbell’s ideas that there are immortal forms for stories too, and since I have improv on the brain almost constantly, the show sort of presented itself.
WO: Besides a clear influence for the performances narrative, what else makes M&M unique from your average improv show?
NG: The myth is the form, but the monsters are the crazy cool part of the show. We’ve spent a ton of time really working the ‘group mind’ of the performers. Moving as one, supporting a choice instantly without even knowing where it’ll lead. I have to hand it to the cast for the inventiveness and commitment to these creatures, some of them have been hilarious, some have given me true chills, all of them are incredible to watch.
WO: You mention Star Wars and The Matrix as modern examples of hero’s tales. Should fans expect to see some modern references as well?
NG: Nah. I chose those as recognizable examples of the hero story format, but I always feel like pop-culture references punch a hole in a show by winking and saying “hey, look at us improvising.” I want the performers and audience to get swept up in these stories, really drawn into the worlds, just in the way we can get sucked into a really good book and forget ourselves. If you want a film comparison, it’ll probably be closer to Jim Henson style stuff. Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, those sorts of fantasy worlds.
WO: You and your cast have been in rehearsal for some time. What has been your biggest challenge in putting this together?
NG: I don’t know how hard I can push my cast without being a bully. I want them to take real risks in performance. I want them to dig deep, to trust that they’ve got each others backs, to perform to their fullest. At the same time, I don’t know how much I can legitimately ask of them as volunteers. It’s a weird mix. We say things like “don’t go for the joke” and “truth in comedy,” but asking a performer to be honest and vulnerable on stage is another matter.
WO: As the director what has been the biggest surprise to you during this process?
NG: I was amazed at how quickly the cast got it. I would propose a kernel of an idea and see them pick it up and run with it in surprising and exciting ways. For instance, I saw Alison Zeidman, a not terribly imposing looking person, stare down and tame an enormous, threatening storm demon. It was epic, and I’m not using that word in its watered-down internet sense. I think maybe that’s the point of this show. We’re bringing epic back.
A PHIT production, Myths & Monsters can be seen as a part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe at the Adrienne Theater , 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103 at 7:30pm from September 6, 2012 -to September 9, 2012. Tickets can be purchased online through Leap Ticket.