DuoFest closed out Saturday night with Vancouver’s Virginia Jack (Briana Rayner and Nicole Passmore) literally taking us where no man has gone before. Giving the audience suggestions more consideration than the other acts of the evening, the two eventually decided that “space ship” was the location around which they would build a one-act play.
If you’re unfamiliar with Virginia Jack, they’re one of the more erudite and fantastically bizarre duos working the fest, and their take on character development is uniquely weird in the best way possible. They start off by introducing us to the cast of characters, then sprinkling seedlings of ideas on top of them which germinate throughout the show.
On this particular evening, we had the privilege of meeting starship captain Reginald Aloysius Pump, a man’s man celebrated in Bill Brasky-like fashion. We also met his first mate, Jackson Malone, a huge cartography fan whose multiple lobotomies left him unable to say the word “vagina,”. Finally, the ship’s engineer, Piper Spaghetti was the bombshell dingbat who loves intercourse and her illegal houseplant she keeps in her cabin.
As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Jackson Malone plans to usurp control of the ship as revenge for Captain Pump taking the ship into uncharted territory, rendering Malone’s cartography useless. Piper is shot in the attempt to save Captain Pump’s life/seduce him and the audience roared when Malone says they’ll, “never find the cure for his space bullets.”
Briana and Nicole’s unique way of switching roles really helps flesh out fully realized characters instead of simply place-holding comedic archetypes used to get to a punchline. They build on each other’s ideas well and have a knack for bringing the small details back around before wrapping up. Virginia Jack showed a full spectrum of what is possible with the Duo format.
Mike Muller has written for Phillyist and UntiedMag.com.
NYC’s From Justin to Kelly (Justin Peters and Kelly Buttermore) were deliciously silly. They took the audience’s suggestions of “Chipotle” during their Saturday night show and built an ever-expanding world of heartbreak, homelessness, and food service.
Kelly and Justin have a frenetic energy and breakneck speed between bits without missing a beat. Their visual communication adds to the frenzied atmosphere as they quickly gesture to each other to move on or jump between characters. They use their sex to their advantage; switching characters mid-routine allows them to do some hilarious and creative things with gender identity.
As a harried Chipotle team member complains to her boss about her recent ex literally taking the bathroom sink with her, both Kelly and Justin play the jilted lover and they continue to have fun with all of the outgrowths of that initial absurdity.
There are more jilted lovers living and working at the local YMCA, which just passed its third out of nine health inspections (“We’re batting .333!”), and having first dates at Alfredo’s, where the stereotypical Italian chef doesn’t understand why people don’t like “the eponymous I-ah put on everything.”
Slightly more successful lovers reminisce about good movie dates, where they had their minds blown by White Chicks. In fact, this show was chock full of lovers of all stripes. It all came back to Chipotle, though, when one of our heroes has to report to the big boss, Joel the Great and Powerful Wizard of Chipotle, who was Justin’s disembodied voice from behind the stage curtain.
When “Joel” told the homeless Kelly that, “There is no living in Chipotle!” it was one of the great bookend payoffs of the evening.
Mike Muller has written for Phillyist and UntiedMag.com.
Tomily Comedy were the second pair of out-of-towners on Saturday. The duo consists of Thomas Towell and Emily Holland out of Boston. The biggest, funniest scene they performed–to be called back later–involved two people who meet on Megabus.
What started as a chance meeting turns out to be fate. Emily’s character who is, for lack of a better word, outspoken… announces her love to Thomas and then makes a point to get the attention of everyone on the bus to inform them of it. She thinks this a match made in heaven and invites him to her grandmother’s funeral. She also believes they should make a baby right then and there. (She also announces this to everyone else on Megabus.)
The other scene I wanted to touch on, I call “the party-planning scene”. A daughter was telling was her father what she wanted for her quinceanera. It involved a stripper cake, a stripper, and, of course, a pony. She wanted the pony in the cake and she wanted the stripper to jump out of the cake, riding the pony.
She also wanted (and this destroyed me) for Ace Ventura to be playing, but on mute and she wanted two men to come in and dub the movie themselves. I don’t think I could overstate this enough. The scenes were good, but what made them great were the performances. Thomas and Emily had the timing and delivery down to a T. There was never a moment where I thought they were trying to think of the next thing, which allowed everything to feel a bit more real.
Tomily Comedy was a great addition to Duofest! Visit back for more DuoFest reviews as they come in!
Iguanatron, starring Brian Gray and Greg Gillotti out of Pittsburgh, kicked off Saturday’s DuoFest blocks in fine form. It began with a discussion about the ethics and ramifications of using loaded dice in a Dungeons and Dragons game. This would eventually lead to a humorous scene where the Pope is getting a ride from someone who doesn’t get how big of a deal being the Pope is (you know, like most D&D improv segueways).
The pope scene was my favorite from Iguanatron. Its genius really came down to their talking about the perks of being a Pope–getting private tours of museums, etc.–which seem obvious in hindsight but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually discuss it, let alone hilariously.
“You get a private tour? You know somebody?” “Me.”
The next scene had Saturday’s first appearance of someone playing an animal. What kind of animal would it be, you ask? And in what context?? The answer is a rat. A pet rat named Ferdinand, and this isn’t a Disney film where rats speak good English and sound like actors. This rat, to the surprise of the audience, screeches loudly. There was laughter when we heard the first screech, but it was the kind of laughter a crowd makes when while watching a horror film–when a loud noise turns out to be nothing. Ferdinand goes on to assist his creepy owner at a job interview, with great success!
Iguanatron were great. A perfect kick-off for Saturday’s shows.
Check back throughout the week for more DuoFest reviews as they come in.
The American Stage Theater Company in St. Petersburg, Florida sent Gavin Hawk and Ricky Wayne to Philly for DuoFest on Thursday night.
Their work-place suggestions yielded a scene in an attorney’s office and one in a work-from-home sales position. The very funny law-office scene switched back and forth in “upper-hand” position between the lawyer and jail-bound client. It culminated in the public defender offering the falling-apart criminal a state-sanctioned bro-hug, with optional shushing (pictured).
At the risk of offending snobbier Hawk and Wayne fans, there seems to be a “catchphrase” energy to their improvised interactions. But this aint “git ‘er done”, it’s more about their ability to find the right sub-topics and the right groove, and then escalate. They utilize repetition, emphasis and verbalized attack-and-retreat to comedic effect like linguistic swordsmen. This isn’t to say they are uncomfortable with negative space. They’re not overly wordy or unnecessarily verbose; they pick their moments to dig into each other’s characters with prodding interrogations or tirade mini-monologues, much to the delight of an improv audience which may or may not have more of a background in pensive circumspection than calculated brashness.
Their second scene, about two brothers working from home, contained a rant which got the audience roaring. I’ll butcher it for you but something to the effect of: the quieter brother says to the louder brother with frank honesty, “I always knew you’d go to a good jerk-off highschool, become president of the jerk-off student council, editor of the jerk-off school newspaper and graduate with a 4.0 as jerk-off valedictorian… maybe go to a jerk-off university, graduate, join a jerk-off firm and make partner…”. Of course you had to be there, but it was reminiscent of the energy captured in the classic Upright Citizen’s Brigade sketch, “Ass Pennies“.
Stay tuned for more reviews from DuoFest 2014 as they pour in throughout the week!
Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger are from Los Angeles and consist of Luis Cortes and Drew Coolidge. These partners of ten years are laser-sharp storytellers with a muscle for punch-lines that amazingly manages not to cripple their professional-grade plot and character development under the weight of their comedic chops.
In front of a packed house on Friday night, they took the suggestions “subway” and “basement” and weaved a should-be humdrum tale of two guys trapped in the basement of a subway restaurant which had us all secretly begging for blackout to wait until the characters reached freedom. Silent prayers for a distracted tech-person filled the narrow cracks between grand mal convulsions of laughter.
It was up there with the hardest I’ve ever heard a theater audience laugh (nearly matched, to DuoFest’s credit, later that night by Magnet Theater’s Trike). Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger managed to elicit a mania so frothing that upon blackout, I nearly expected everyone in the audience the start indescriminantly punching each other’s grinning teeth out.
I caught up briefly with Cortes. When I asked some version or another of “How do you guys do it?” he replied, “We just always try to tell a good story. When you tell a good story and let the audience help guide you, it’s really not that difficult.”
By contrast with our other DuoFest favorite–Boston’s Two Gentlemen, who wielded deft irreverence for the conventions of improv to create a psychedelic masterpiece–Ranger Danger & The Danger Ranger capitalized on every classic improv trick in the book. They operated with scene-economy, resource-optimization and infectious confidence, making the 60-seat PHIT space feel like a fucking stadium, in which we were watching a pair of rock-stars knock fastballs out of the park with upside-down guitars and illegal pyro.
What started as a gaffe–Arie Stern sitting lonesome on the stage with his partner in absentia–soon spun into a nearly metaphysical narrative which exploded the improviser/audience contract in the best and most unexpected ways possible. All while keeping a half dozen characters so stable and grounded that I felt like I was in the middle of season six of The Two Gentlemen Show.
“I’m sure he’s just fucking with me, so I’ll get started without him,”Arie says confidently.
Soon enough, an anonymous audience member in the form of second gentleman Greg Hernandez hits a beat seamlessly with comments about the attractiveness of Arie’s on-stage dinner companion (up to this point, of course, invisible). We are then treated to tales of jealousy, pirates walking the plank, and meetings with Jane Austen’s literary agent until members of the audience (Two Gentlemen, themselves) start commenting rudely about how offensive and sexist the show is. They are challenged by the performers on the stage (Two Gentlemen) to do THEIR OWN improv show.
Did you ever see improv so impossibly funny, with a chemistry simultaneously stable yet reactive… That you’re certain it must be rehearsed?
I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t.
I managed to get a few words from them after the show. I asked Hernandez–somewhat speechlessly–what’s their “form” or “style”. He replied, with some obviousness, “There is none.”
“The only thing we try to do every time we perform is to make sure we play with what improv is capable of.”
If there’s one thing that settles my suspicion that Two Gentlemen may be a scam… That these guys may simply be a traveling pair of avant garde sketch comedy geniuses, it’s in the chemistry.
“What are your favorite things about Jane Austen?” Greg’s character asks Arie’s character on stage, the first of three subtle “Does my partner know anything about literature?” quizzes exchanged subtextually during the scene–as if the two dudes are shooting the shit in a dorm room while rendering hilarious scenes for an improv festival in real-time.
“I don’t know what I would have done if he HAD known anything about Jane Austen,” admits Greg after the show, “Cuz I don’t know anything about Jane Austen either!”.
(Spoiler Alert: Their show contains NO Jane Austen spoilers.)
I have binding family obligations, but if you’re even considering going out tomorrow night, start your evening off with an improv set from a couple of guys addicted to risks, addicted to character-commitment, addicted to exploring the theater space, and compelled against all reasoning-with to supply you with hilarious intellectual and emotional adventures at any cost.
It’s unlikely that their set will be anywhere near as funny as it was last night–how could it possibly be? Don’t worry about it, just scoop up your tickets quick! Philly improv fans should be excited that Boston has produced a male answer to The Amie and Kristin Show.
Two Gentlemen talk during the show about the Two Gentlemen show. [better images coming to PHIT's Flickr]
BODYSNATCHERS got DuoFest 2014 off to the start it deserved: by running around the stage maniacally commanding a cast of thousands. The two men from St. Louis–Mitch Eagles and Randy Brachman–anchored characters into physically sound positions and then skitted about the stage using their own bodies like sock-puppets.
Their stories included Chef Boyardee’s ravioli-eating challenge, labor unions vs robots, government dinosaurs (pictured), and a married couple giving birth to an existentially imperiled newborn. All played, of course by these two delightful Mario and Luigi goofballs who remind the audience one of the core values of improv–just go out there and have a good time!
After that, things got real weird with local raconteurs Vegas Lancaster and Cat London. Lancaster is a WitOut favorite over the years; Cat was the 2012 winner of the Jersey Acoustic Music Award for Top Pop/Rock Act. Together they took audience suggestions and made melodic, harmonic, wildly imaginative and borderline incoherent songs about male childbirth (pictured), scary tarantulas’ nice thighs, accidental parking-garage homicide, barbecue grills hanging from a tree like a tire-swing (pictured, sorta) and being born with a weird claw instead of hands.
Cat & Vegas nicely juggled the difficult task of generating musically palatable interlocking vocals while weaving a psychedelic disco full of dreamsicles and swinging barbecues.
My inner Jimmy Fallon fan guiltily delighted in watching Cat’s face contort under the pressure of not to crack up laughing at her partner’s Napoleon Dynamite-esque lyrical performance.
Check back frequently for more updates from opening night of DuoFest, as well as updates throughout the weekend. Follow the action live on twitter with #DuoFest2014
Every year, improvisers from all over the country pour into Philly to demonstrate their mastery of a form that goes an inch wide and a mile deep.
With no salvation in the form of goofball teammates waiting in the wings, the precarious two-person arrangement is probably the easist style with which to “shit the bed”.
But when a duo with great chemistry really clicks, scenes can befucking transcendent, leaving brains dripping down the walls.
Here’s the lineup for this year.
THURSDAY, JUNE 5TH
7:02 p.m. BODYSNATCHERS (St. Louis)
Cat & Vegas and the Temple of Boom (NJ) GET TIX!
8:02 p.m. Two Gentlemen (Boston)
‘Til Death Do Us Part (Philly) GET TIX!
9:02 p.m. Hawk and Wayne (St. Petersburg) GET TIX!
We Know Each Other (Minneapolis)
10:02 p.m. Dog and Friend Dog (Kansas City)
Due Dilligence (Philly) GET TIX!
FRIDAY, JUNE 6TH
7:02 p.m. Rainer Maria Rilkshake (Philly)
Darcy & Bingley (Toronto) GET TIX!
8:02 p.m. The Amie and Kristen Show (Philly/NYC)
Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger (Los Angeles) GET TIX!
9:02 p.m. Virginia Jack (Vancouver)
Trike (NYC) GET TIX!
10:02 p.m. Foxtrot (Minneapolis)
Day Drunk (Toronto) GET TIX!
11:02 p.m. Gabe and Alex (Baltimore)
Venezuela (Montreal) GET TIX!
SATURDAY, JUNE 7TH
6:02 p.m. Iguanatron (Pittsburgh)
Michael Loves Greg (Philly) GET TIX!
7:02 p.m. Tomily Comedy (Boston)
Two Gentlemen (Boston) GET TIX!
8:02 p.m. Day Drunk (Toronto)
BODYSNATCHERS (St. Louis) GET TIX!
9:02 p.m. Matt& (Philly)
Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger (Los Angeles) GET TIX!
10:02 p.m. Jack & The Wolf (Chicago)
Upstate (NYC) GET TIX!
11:02 p.m. From Justin to Kelly (NYC)
Virginia Jack (Vancouver) GET TIX!
SUNDAY, JUNE 8TH
7:02 p.m. The Raving Jaynes (NYC)
Evan the Loyal (Baltimore) GET TIX!
8:02 p.m. ‘Til Death Do Us Part (Philly)
Darcy & Bingley (Toronto) GET TIX!
9:02 p.m. Foxtrot (Minneapolis)
Jack & The Wolf (Chicago) GET TIX!
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.