by Kristen Schier
Roughly four years ago an idea was dreamed up by me and my best friend and duo partner Amie Roe that found not only tremendous support but a home with the Philly Improv Theater. This year Duofest has talent coming from Austin, LA, Vancouver, Toronto, DC, London, Detroit, Boston, NYC and also SCOTT ADSIT! It has grown to be a truly exciting international event and I am proud that its home is in Philadelphia.
You might wonder what is so wonderful about improv duos that we need to go ahead and make a whole festival about it.
First, I think most duos may experience difficulty getting into festivals. It is often the case that some festivals have performer fees attached to participation that sometimes skew there taste towards, well, groups with more performers. We wanted to give duos a place to play.
Second, a duo is an amazing way to power-boost your improv skillz and work your improv muscles. When Duofest first started there were only a handful of two-person teams to speak of in Philly. It makes my heart happy that a ton of duos have since formed because it can put improvisers on a fast-track to growth and maturation. A small part of this is that when there are only two of you to wrangle you find that organizing rehearsals and shows is easier, and by virtue of that you find yourself practicing and playing more than you might if you had to rally a larger team. Furthermore, in a duo you learn very quickly that you are not just onstage all the time, you are also in every scene. Talk about scene reps, man o man. You learn by duo-ing. Ha.
A two-person show also forces you to recognize and refine your style as an improviser.
First, there is the task of choosing who you’re going to play with. When selecting a partner you probably consider folks whose work you admire. That requires a certain level of understanding and reflection. In addition to determining on a partner, you also are 50 percent of every show. Having far more responsibility and influence over the direction of a show exposes what you bring to the table. Gaining that type of insight can be invaluable to one’s evolution.
Let’s take a moment and say that even deciding to form a duo in the first place takes balls. You’re all like “We can make up a show on the spot that will be worth seeing, just me and my friend.” Yeah, that is undeniably ballsy— and a big part of improvising is, well, having the balls, or tubes (holla atcha ladies) to step out there in the first place.
Thirdly, a duo exemplifies key elements of improvisation—collaboration and, of course, the two-person scene. The boundlessness of what you can create as an improviser never ceases to amaze me. It is part of the magic of live performance. This really comes to the forefront in a duo in a way that is different from team, or even solo performance. It has some of the “limitations” that give a thrill to solo performance while maintaining the collaborative element that makes a larger team so enjoyable to play on. In short, you can do anything a larger improv team can do with fewer people and all while having a more intimate feel to your creative process. In this way the duo embodies trust and challenges the possible.
Besides all that, at the heart of all good improv shows is one thing: the two-person scene. No matter what the form, the playing style, the philosophy – if you can do an amazing two-person scene, you have got me hooked. I don’t care what you call it; every improv form is like a showcase for a great two-person scene. A form is a house for funny engaging dynamic two-person scenes to live in. A great duo is the necessary, or a most essential version of this house. In that way a great duo is like a great poem. There is only what you need, but there is everything you need.