This Sunday, students from the latest PHIT Conservatory course will perform their first HYDRA, a format they developed over the eight weeks of the class. The group was instructed and directed by Steve Kleinedler, who also directs PHIT House Team Hot Dish. Back in February, Steve told us what he had planned for his students—now, here they are to talk about what they learned, and what we can expect from their four-show run.
WitOut: Describe the experience of participating in a PHIT Conservatory course.
Meredith Weir: The PHIT Conservatory course gave me the opportunity to work with Philly improvisers I’d never shared a stage with. A decent number of the students in class had traveled through the PHIT curriculum over the last year together, so some chemistry was already there and I think that really helped move our team/class along. There was a lot of emphasis on group mind; we created our own warm-ups (that sometimes ran over an hour), and did 40-ish minute runs during the first couple weeks just to get accustomed to each other. It didn’t take long for those that already worked together and those that hadn’t to gel.
Tomás Isakowitz: Working on developing our own performance and more than that, performance style, is challenging, fun, frustrating, exciting, scary… all of that simultaneously. I have grown tremendously improv-wise. At Conservatory each participant is given very specific pointers on what works, what does not, and how to improve. If you can take the criticism, it will force you to grow. And then, there is the fun exploration of creating our own style. It is a fantastic prelude for on-stage performance, especially for someone who has not performed on a team before.
Josh Depowell: Conservatory class is a really great transition from graduating from PHIT’s core curriculum to establishing your own comedy troupe. The conservatory encouraged us to think about different forms that our group of improvisers would be good at doing. The guidance of a PHIT instructor helped us to realize which things worked and which didn’t, and they guided us through the thinking process of getting to a place where we would have something to put on stage. I think that this is a great opportunity for people planning on putting together improv teams in the future.
WO: What was the most important thing you learned from your instructor, Steve Kleinedler?
Danielle Klaiman: To try to think of the most important thing I’ve learned from Steve is almost impossible. He has helped me hone my listening skills and in class we really focused on the relationship between two characters and how that relationship effects them. Probably the most important thing he’s left me with is, “Don’t drag the fucking chairs or I will come onstage and break that chair over your fucking head!” [Kleinedler adds: I didn't say this until week 7. But seriously, don't drag your chairs when editing, people!]
WO: The course is culminating in you and your fellow students performing your own original improv show, the HYDRA. Can you describe the format?
Mike Butler: Without giving too much away, it’s a fast-paced, multi-headed beast of a format. If the Armando is a revolver, we’re a full-auto mini-gun. I’m pretty sure the Hydra will set a Philly improv record for scenes in a show during its run.
Joe Coughlin: With an audience suggestion, we each state a brief line inspired by the suggestion. Then one of us will restate our line and that will inspire three brief scenes. We repeat this until all of us have performed our monologues at which time we will go into a run incorporating many of the ideas we’ve generated throughout the set to that point. It’s fast and it’s furious and it really fits the people performing it.
WO: How did you guys go about creating this totally new, unique form?
Mike Butler: It came together rather quickly. Steve figured out our individual and collective strengths from the first class, specifically through a warm-up session that was only supposed to go 15 minutes but kept going for over 50 minutes. In the next couple classes we found the root of the form through a monologue exercise that the group latched on to. After that, we spent the remaining weeks refining the format and getting accustomed to playing together.
Meredith Weir: Talking, talking, and more talking. After the first four weeks we spent a lot of time focusing on what we noticed our strengths were as a group, and what we each prefer individually. There was so much to pull from because even though we had only been together for a short time there was a lot of repetition in those first couple weeks. Steve, although a great director, really left it up to us. He was there to guide us but for the most part we developed “The Hydra” entirely on our own in an organic fashion. (Even though it’s not an organic show at all—we all like structure!) We took what worked, “yes, and”-ed it and developed a show that PHIT audiences will enjoy.
WO: How do you think the show will evolve throughout its run? Does the group anticipate making any adjustments to the format from performance to performance?
Joe Coughlin: I think the biggest thing is adjusting to playing it in front of an audience. We’ve become comfortable with the format over the past few weeks, it’s just time now to get it in front of a crowd. I’m sure we’ll be up to tweaking it a bit depending on what seems to play or not, but the format is made of some pretty solid building blocks that are arranged in a different way for this show. I’m confident in our ability to adapt.
Danielle Klaiman: It will be very interesting to see how things play out over the run, mostly because not all seven of us will be there for every show. Whenever someone is absent from the group the dynamics automatically shift. Thankfully the format we have created is not reliant on the number of people we have and still works well when someone is absent. We’ve been rehearsing so long without an audience that I think all of us are pumped to reveal all the hard work we’ve been doing and to see how the audience responds. Maybe we’ll tweak a few things here and there, but I feel like we’ve got a real solid format that showcases our individual talents.
Josh Depowell: Throughout the last couple of classes we saw that the pacing of the show picked up and we realized that this helped the performance. I believe that their is a possibility that we will continue to see this throughout the run as well. I do not expect that there will be any major changes to the actual format that we are using. I think that what we have right now is working and that any changes that may be made will be focused on how we are playing within the format.
WO: What aspect of the show do you think will be most exciting for audiences?
Tomás Isakowitz: Experiencing our new style and figuring out how it works! We mix monologues with auto-prompts. The audience is smart and will feel remunerated as the show unrolls and they can see how the fabric is gently produced from the threads they have seen develop.
The PHIT Conservatory ‘HYDRA’ will be performed on May 19th at 7pm, May 26th at 5pm and 7pm, and June 2nd at 7pm at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theatre (407 Bainbridge Street). Advance tickets are available online.