Below you can find the full schedule for this year’s Philadelphia Improv Festival. All shows take place on the second floor of The Prince Music Theater (1412 Chestnut St. Philadelphia). Tickets for the event are $10 for a single block of shows, $15 for a full night (Wednesday, Thursday), $20 for a full night (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), or $60 for a full festival pass and can be purchased online.
The biggest hurdle for good improv is the rules for good improv. Most rules are phrased as strict negatives. Few tell you what youshould do. Many are vague, optimistic tips for how to handle stuff, instead of how to create stuff.
These all swirl around in people’s brains, along with the mechanics of performing. It can be confusing, frustrating, and counter-productive, especially when coupled with a freewheeling, everything-is-good attitude.
People seem to like rules and want a clear do or don’t, but they can be problematic.
Yes And My problem with the concept of “Yes And” is that it’s tailored for how to respond. Improvisers first need something to say yes to, yet this second step is often the first rule you learn. Giving this as the be-all/end-all number-one rule of improv leads to boring scenes that go nowhere or obnoxious scenes that go straight to insanity.
This rule also leads to beginners who literally say “yes” to everything, no matter how awkward. They then become experts who follow in any and every direction that happens, instead of picking a track and staying on it.
“Yes And” leads to scenes that are all beginnings, with no middles or ends.
Players need to agree upon the facts of a scene, because improv doesn’t use props or costumes or sets to convey information. Hesitation and resistance can stall an improv scene, so players should be willing, but that’s a different concern.
However, the concept of agreement can be confusing and lead to characters that only ever say yes to things and a backlash against anything other than an explicit “yes” in a scene.
I think a better term is “accepting.”
Improvisers can accept the fact that there’s a table in the room, but decide whether or not their character agrees that it’s pretty.
Improvisers can accept the fact that their partner’s character wants to rob a bank or go to a movie, but decide whether or not their character agrees that it’s a good idea.
This rule sucks, and it’s often one of the first taught. In life, people ask questions. Theatre is a reproduction of life. Similarly, life involves strangers, teachers, and transactions (also outlawed), no matter how tricky it can be to do a scene with them.
It’s fine to clarify the difference between demanding stuff from your partner and offering it, but making a rule out of it just leads to stressed improvisers thinking about the rule instead of playing.
Plus, if you can do a scene that’s only questions (a thing people do), then you can certainly do a scene with one or two questions.
Take Your Third Idea Improvisers don’t have time to come up with an idea, judge it negatively, and repeat. Improvisers should take anything and make it work.
Play to the Height of Your Intelligence / Don’t Think
The phrasing of these two rules, especially when learned in conjunction, is the zenith of confusion. How do I use my intelligence if I’m not thinking?
Sometimes, people can get ahead of themselves. They start planning instead of playing. Sometimes, people will do lowest-common-denominator comedy that doesn’t challenge themselves or their audiences.
Teachers, directors, and coaches can clarify the situation without turning it into a rule that people can fail at. People can play sloppy and stupid sometimes; help them not do that without stressing their minds.
Get the Who/What/Where/Names/Relationship in the First Three Lines
Firstly, this tip leads to scenes that start with too much exposition and go nowhere. Secondly, improv scenes aren’t about facts.
Scripted scenes also aren’t about facts. Whether it’s in a ballroom or a prison, you can get the feel of the scene without worrying about the details, especially not all at the beginning. You can do a lot more with a lot less stress if you focus on showing instead of telling.
There’s nothing wrong with details; they can make all the difference and be really fun. But they should be the icing, not the cake. Also, some details don’t matter.
Make Your Partner Look Good My big problem with this is how vague it is. It’s nice to nudge players towards helping each other and point out behaviors that aren’t “playing well with others.” But how and when exactly are do you make your partner look good? This concept gets warped into people forgetting about themselves and playing sloppily because they’re worried about someone else.
A lot of improv techniques are lovey-dovey and hippie-dippie and end up being helpful paradigms for working together, but let’s remember that you’re performing for an audience. Otherwise, it’s not art; it’s art therapy.
Thou Shalt Not Shine Above Thy Fellow Players
While you don’t want somebody hogging the limelight or screwing somebody over to get a laugh, you don’t want to discourage people from doing their best. I’d rather have to keep up with someone great than herd mediocrity.
Making a rule for this topic leads to players afraid to stand out, try hard, or take risks. Talk about it, but don’t make it into a commandment.
Don’t Pimp Pimping is making your partner do something. The label of pimping can be slapped onto anything in improv, and you could say that everything any improviser does or says demands something from their partner.
The best ensembles have members who trust and support each other through anything that comes up and have fun creating together. Even if they pimp their partner, it’s not a problem.
If you know that your partner has your back, you’ll let them do anything to you.
If you have your partner’s back, you’ll never let them suffer (too much).
This seemingly clear word can be used vaguely in improv, and the accusation of not listening can happen at any time, from literally not hearing something to not getting what somebody intended or wanted to just not being on the same wavelength as your partners. Focusing on listening can be great, but boiling it down into a rule that you violate is not helpful.
Wimping is making a weak offer or not doing enough with what you’re given. This issue phrased as a rule leads to improvisers afraid to do anything simple or realistic. Any and every choice can work.
Don’t Try To Be Funny I think it’s a mistake to shift gears away from comedy in the form of a tip or guideline. People get into improv because they are or wish to be funny or fun or interesting.
It’s better to show people how to be funny (via the acting and writing that improv is) and explain what else is being created, rather than just telling them not to try to be funny.
Make The Active Choice
There’s nothing wrong with being active, but it’s just one option. Making it a requirement is like telling all painters to always only use blue.
I think the hesitation seen in improvisers is a symptom of the overwhelming and confusing nature of improv rules (as well as just warming up to playing), rather than being a disease of its own.
If your character is shy about jumping off the diving board, making the active choice destroys that choice. Of course, you shouldn’t play every scene as someone who is hesitant, shy, or disagreeable.
This might be the rarest rule, but perhaps the most damaging. The majority of improv education is about reducing conflict between players, but then there’s a faction that says every scene needs conflict between the characters.
Again, it’s one choice of what could happen in a scene.
Don’t Talk about the Past, Future, or Anything Not on Stage
If there can be a scripted show about waiting for someone who never arrives, then there can be an improv scene where two characters reminisce.
If you start a scene about two people complaining about their boss, I want more of that, not to blow the scene’s wad by jumping immediately to seeing the boss.
This is another good option that shouldn’t be forced. Characters are interesting when you see them develop, but let’s earn it.
If you’re going to make a rule, at least make it something like “Be Capable of Changing If You Want That To Happen.”
Find the Game of the Scene
Determining what ‘game’ is and how you play it is a blurry, moving target for even the best players. Game becomes a spiritual feeling, instead of anything pragmatically achievable.
Underlying all the games, patterns, deals, motifs, routines, and breaking of routines is the simple concept of repetition and doing more of something that everyone has invested in.
That’s all you really need: a track to follow. A good education in improv should highlight what works and how to get there. Creating a label for success, instead of a method, leads to formulaic scenes and limited players (or frustrated people who gave up).
Justify In improv, you’re creating an entire universe with its own reality. Whatever you say is true. You don’t need to explain. You don’t need to derail everything to follow that tangent.
Everyone is accepting that you’re an octopus lawyer; they’ll accept that this jury has 13 people. Don’t get distracted trying to make sense of things. Don’t explain away the interesting thing that’s happening. Don’t destroy what someone else is creating because you feel like you’re on a tightrope; you’re supposed to feel like that.
Don’t Deny/Cancel/Bulldoze/Steamroll It’s easy to screw your partner over in improv. You can ignore them and even disintegrate what they’ve created. This creates confusion for everybody.
The problem with these as rules is that you can accuse anybody of doing any of these. It shouldn’t just be a violation; it should be a discussion.
Of course, a good teacher can clarify rules, explain away any confusion, put things into context, and give real examples.
Of course, people can misunderstand anything and create a rule in their head even when it’s not presented as one.
There are bigger, deeper issues that improvisers could work on if they get past the few, limited, basic-level rules for making stuff up together.
Improv education seems to be especially rules-based, more than other things you could learn. Perhaps it grew out of the history of improv as games with rules of play. Perhaps it’s because improv is so ephemeral that we’re drawn to anything solid and certain. Some rules were more helpful 10 or 20 years ago, but now they’re immortalized in a book. Some things that weren’t a strict rule got edited down into items on a list.
Rules aren’t inherently bad, but you can really do a lot of damage with them, and they can really get in your way.
My work in improv focuses on reducing fear and doubt and judgments. I try to get people to play, to make any choice and then make that choice work by doing it more and bigger.
If you’re trying to make something out of nothing, you want a small number of clear, simple, pragmatic things to do (instead of what not to do). In something as free as improv, you shouldn’t let any “rules” hold you back.
Matt Holmes is an improviser in Philly. He performs a full improv comedy set with a complete stranger from the audience in Matt& (“playful and winning” –TimeOut Chicago). He also teaches improv and co-founded Rare Bird Show (“Top Shelf” –The Apiary, “Philly’s homegrown ‘enfants terrible’” –Inquirer, “Seven Thumbs Up” –Phil, “arguably the best improv group Philly has ever produced” –AV Club).
Look for the next installment of “Discussing a Bit,” Matt’s monthly WitOut column, on December 1st.
Have a comedy issue or theory you’d like Matt to examine? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
All through the month of October, Philly Improv Theater House Team Asteroid will present their B Movie format – an improvised tribute show celebrating the fun of the low-budget sci-fi/horror films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The group has released this second teaser video for their shows.
1. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
2. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
3. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
4. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
5. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
6. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
7. If you are considering dating someone in your improv group and you are both straight but of the opposite sex, consider talking yourself into having gender reassignment surgery. If that doesn’t work, convince the person you are interested in to undergo the sex change. This approach also works for homosexual improv group members who are both of the same gender at the beginning of the attraction.
8. Don’t date someone in your improv group.
All through the month of October, Philly Improv Theater House Team Asteroid will present their B Movie format – an improvised tribute show celebrating the fun of the low-budget sci-fi/horror films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The group has released this teaser video for their shows.
I felt compelled to write in to WitOut to share my feelings. I like to write, and I have a lot of feelings. Lately, a lot of my good feelings have been happening on Wednesday nights, when my Philly Improv Theater house team Davenger rehearses.
I recently moved to Brooklyn because my husband got a fancy new job there. But because of my feelings, I just couldn’t leave this group of people or give up the incredible experience of learning and performing with them. Here’s what keeps me coming back on a crowded Megabus, and what we will strive to share with you during our Fringe Festival run:
1. Our good friend Harold. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be seeing the word “classic” cropping up next to this long form structure. Well-known in the improv community, the Harold has a long history stretching back to its development by Del Close in the 1960s, but it still felt revolutionary to me when I was first introduced to it in 2006. I feel like it is an excellent vehicle for a team to develop its skills and craft a cohesive performance, and I am really happy that Davenger has chosen to explore the Harold’s challenges and satisfactions. Our director Maggy Keegan has an excellent eye for both the macro and micro levels of attention that the Harold demands, and she encourages us to reflect on our work not only as collected bits of comedy but also as thematically-linked commentary. She also likes when we make creepy faces.
2. Chemistry. (You know, like on Breaking Bad.) Another thing Maggy’s done for Davenger (every time I drop her name I get to take the suggestion for another show) is really focus on the unique strengths of each individual on the team. We’ve done two rounds of “clinics” in rehearsal, where we’ll spend 15 minutes or so working with one particular improviser on something he or she has identified as a personal challenge. I love this. It’s really liberating to get to proclaim, “I think I’m bad at this!” and to have the group say, “We’ve got your back. Let’s play about it!” Maggy (+3) has created a really supportive space that encourages a lot of feedback. Usually that feedback is – “Fuck you, Dan.” This is a big compliment.
3. The Warm-Up. You won’t actually see it at a Davenger show, but somewhere, probably in the basement beneath your seats as you settle in with a PBR, it is happening. A manic, incomprehensible goulash of circle games is devolving into bits, and patterns are becoming infected with patterns in an ever-repeating comedy fractal. Ok, so basically we point at each other and clap our hands at the same time. But you can expect it to sound something like this:
Just know that everything you see on stage is informed by this ritual. Sometimes there are Stallone impressions.
4. Memes. Because Davenger is a thing, that means it needs a “social media presence.” That means that I have an outlet to create and share pictures with words over top of them. Here’s one that Alex made:
5. Cupcakes & Nicknames. At our first rehearsal, we selected nicknames for one of the circle games in our warmup. It looks like we’ll have them forever. We also really like cupcakes. Cait made these cherry limeade beauties for our potluck team dinner:
And Jess made these nickname-cakes back when we were still codenamed “Westmarch”:
Anyway. Be jealous of our cupcakes.
I seriously love improvising with Davenger, and I want to share them with the world. But not the cupcakes. I won’t share those.
Davenger is: Dan Corkery, Hilary Kissinger, Nicholas Mirra, Alex Newman, Cait O’Driscoll, Kevin Pettit, Brian Rumble, Jessica Snow, and Max Sittenfield. They are directed by Maggy Keegan.
Davenger performs Wednesday, September 12 – Saturday, September 15 on the Mainstage at the Adrienne Theater (2030 Sansom St.) Tickets can be purchased online.
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, andAlison 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.
The overly eager and overly early arrive to find a locked building with no signage. They wait.
The regularly early arrive. Everyone meets everyone else and discusses the situation. They wait.
Somebody arrives to open the door.
The workshop instructor arrives, says hi to everybody and goes to the bathroom.
The instructor tells everybody that they’ll start in five minutes and give people a little more time.
“Well, I guess we’ll get started.”
12:11 – 12:13:
Roll call with three people not present
12:13 – 12:17:
Sitting in a circle as the first three people briefly introduce themselves, their complete improv background, an attempt at a joke, and a self-deprecating comment
12:17 – 12:19:
The fourth person in the circle goes into every last detail of her life leading up to this point.
12:19 – 12:20:
The rest of the people introduce themselves briefly.
12:20 – 12:25:
Instructor explains the plan for the workshop, now for the first time really thinking about it.
12:25 – 12:40:
A basic warm-up that’s overly simplistic for all but two participants who can’t grasp the mechanics or have like absolutely no rhythm or just can’t think of anything or have a really bad memory, so sorry everybody
A late student arrives, complaining about traffic and parking, while carrying a coffee.
12:41 – 12:53:
Instructor explains in complete detail how the first exercise will work and how we’re pressed for time because most real workshops are at least three hours and this one, for some strange reason, is only two and a half, which really is not enough time.
12-53 – 1:10:
3-Line Scenes, alternating between jokey punchlines and confused arguments
1:10 – 1:17:
An open discussion about the previous exercise, trying to remember what happened, while highlighting problems and explaining rules of what never to do and what always to do
1:18 – 1:30:
An exercise focused on loose organic transitions and freeing yourself up to follow wherever it goes and being open
1:30 – 1:40:
An open discussion about the previous exercise, trying to remember what happened while highlighting problems and explaining rules of what never to do and what always to do
1:40 – 1:45:
Instructor asks everyone how they’re feeling about the work, everyone shrugs their shoulders and says they feel okay but wish they were doing better, and one student speaks at length about confusions and specific examples of “just not getting it”
“Let’s take a ten-minute break to hit the bathroom, feed the meter, take a smoke break, etc.”
One student has to leave early and thanks the instructor.
“Okay, I guess we should get back to it. Let’s circle up and get warmed up again.”
2:00 – 2:04:
A children’s game with vague connections to theatricality
2:04 – 2:07:
Two students improvise a patient, engaging scene with an interesting point to it.
2:07 – 2:09:
Instructor points out that we didn’t know the characters’ names, if they were sisters or just friends, and that it wasn’t clear if they were in a restaurant or in somebody’s kitchen.
2:09 – 2:17:
Four more improvised scenes struggling to be coherent and interesting
2:17 – 2:22:
Instructor shifts gears into a series of scenes where students tag each other out.
2:22 – 2:25:
Students discuss the scenes, most citing that they were just about to do something good before they got tagged out.
2:25 – 2:34:
Another round of scenes with tag-outs; students now make quicker punchlines
“Well, we’re a little over the time when we were supposed to end. Does anybody mind if we go a little longer?”
2:34 – 2:41:
Another round of scenes with tag-outs; instructor pauses each scene to discuss how truthful the scenes feel and then having them continue
Instructor thanks everybody for coming and ends the workshop
2:43 – 2:50:
Casual discussion among students and instructor
An overly eager student arrives for a workshop scheduled to start at 3.
Back in July at Joe Gates’s apartment, I met with the producers of Polygon(Joe Gates, Marc Reber, Milkshake and Rick Horner via phone) to talk about how they got started, how they’ve blown up, and what’s next for their beloved monthly variety show. During our chat, Joe offered me cherries he’d received in the mail from his mother, Rick was interrupted several times, Milkshake shared his views on circumcision, and I learned that the men of Polygon have a…special…place in their hearts for my own improv team, Malone.
Alison Zeidman:Can you guys tell me how Polygon started?
Joe Gates: My group Rintersplit, which is Marc Reber, myself and Matt Akana, and Rick Horner with Claire Halberstadt as Suggestical, a little over a year ago had a show out at Milkboy in Bryn Mawr, and then we went out to a diner afterward and we were talking and it was like hey, it would be really great to start something up for people coming out of classes who really want to perform and really want to form a group, but aren’t finding spaces.
AZ: Is that still the primary goal, or mission, for Polygon? To be a place for new groups, or groups that struggle to get shows elsewhere?
Rick Horner: I might say our purpose is to encourage new comedic technique and encourage the performances of groups that are in the Philadelphia area at a pretty professional level, and focus on group dynamics as opposed to individual abilities, and really kind of provide a framework for the administrative operational side to encourage the integrity of the folks that are performing to perform in a professional way.
JG: We’ve actually been doing the Polygon show for over a year now; our birthday was back in April. We started out at another venue and ever since we’ve moved to L’etage we’ve just sort of upped the ante. I have more of a theater background [and at L’etage] we can just run it like a theater show.
AZ: Where were you guys before, and why did you move to L’etage?
JG: We were at Tabu before, a sports bar, and it was more of a…it was difficult to work with the sound of the bar behind us and it was a converted area that was sort of a stage but not quite, and we thought well we could get a place with an actual stage, and that’s where L’etage came in. We have a tech booth there, and we can do lighting, so instead of waving a phone madly at somebody to be like you have five minutes left, we can actually dim the lights and make it very professional. Originally we were only improv, but we saw a lot of things like storytelling really growing, and sketch, so we thought let’s include everybody.
AZ: Do you do most of the outreach to find those performers and groups, or do they come to you?
JG: Originally it was more of us doing the outreach, but we started to post on Facebook and just kind of put the word out there. So some of it’s kind of coming from the community now, now that we’ve kind of established ourselves a little bit.
AZ: So it’s new groups, developing teams, and also people trying to test things out a little bit.
JG: Yeah. I mean we’re not an open mic [laughs]. It’s different from an open mic in that you don’t get just three minutes and then somebody cuts you out. Again it’s more professional; we’re trying to make this like an actual show.
AZ: And where does the name come from?
RH: I think there was a strong push to make it Voltron because of the idea that Voltron is a bunch of pieces that get pushed together, but I thought that was just a little bit too straight on the money, so we kept discussing it until we came up with Polygon, which is just many different facets of something that’s all one thing.
AZ: Rick, you’re involved with so many different projects, your own groups, and F Harold, too. What do you feel sets Polygon apart, or what’s different about it for you as a producer?
RH: I think Polygon is just another piece of the puzzle. I would say that these things, whether it be Incubator or F Harold or Polygon, these are all levers that are designed to provide growth, whether it be with a mentor, or a venue. Whatever type of thing is needed. And I think for Polygon it’s really switching the lever of connecting folks and exchanging ideas and information with a bunch of people who are actively involved in the sketch community and the improv community and the stand-up community. So it’s a meeting point, and some of our shows have been really fluid like that, but it hasn’t always been that way. Thus far we have sought people out; it’s just now that folks are realizing that we’re more than just a monthly show, and they’re starting to seek us out.
AZ: And it seems like as much as it is for the community, the Polygon shows that I’ve been to usually have a lot of non-performers in the audience, so I’m curious about how you guys go about marketing your shows.
RH: Marketing is definitely a big focus for us. It’s fun to perform, and it’s more fun to perform for an audience, but given a choice between an audience of your peers, who are also doing it, and people who have never seen you before, it’s more fun and yet more challenging to perform for people when they have really no idea what to expect.
JG: I think the last Polygon we had maybe thirty people who were non-performers.
AZ: And why do you think that is? I work for the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and I know from communicating with Marc that you guys are advertising on Phillyfunguide. Has that been successful for you guys? Or maybe it’s not just that, but do you know how these outside people are finding out about you?
Marc Reber: We had a bunch of people mention that they’d seen us online, and Phillyfunguide does come up high when you search on Google.
RH: I think we are working on market research and figuring out who’s coming to our show and who our target audience is, but we’re kind of locked in on what we feel like people might be willing to pay, and frankly I think that it’s less than what is being charged at other theaters. I feel better about having a well-attended show that costs less, as opposed to a medium-sized show that costs more.
MR: And I think the last three months, we’ve tried to branch out our marketing, and I think it has improved things because we’ve definitely seen more and more people, who aren’t just improvisers.
AZ: So besides Facebook and Phillyfunguide, if you were going to make a recommendation for somebody else trying to market their show, could you say more about what’s worked for you guys?
MR: I think the next step is seeing what actual advertisement does. The online stuff is very voluntary–like someone has to actually be looking to go to an event to happen to be on Phillyfunguide, as opposed to seeing an advertisement as they’re reading a newspaper or something. But either one of those, the online or the advertising, is just a way to expand your audiences.
JG: I think opening up Polygon to more than just improv has helped the numbers, too. I spoke to a couple at the last show and they said we’re just here to have a good time. We have no idea what’s going to happen, we just like to get out of the house. And I was like, this is the perfect place for you.
MR: And I want to second that to the extent that opening up to all forms of comedy in Philadelphia has made it easier to find acts, and that leaves more time for things like marketing.
AZ: Do you think the venue has anything to do with it?
MR: Yeah, it’s just a really great venue. It’s hard to deny that. And the bar is right there, it’s a very nice bar, it’s just a pleasant…it’s a total experience. And that venue has always been very popular, so we’re very lucky to be in that space.
AZ: Can we get into the specifics of what it takes to put on your own show? What are some of the technical challenges of just producing the show the night of, or leading up to it?
JG: Getting a variety of acts to come in, that’s the main challenge I think. And I think one thing that people talk about often on the Philly Comedy Network on Facebook is getting the shows to start on time, so curtain is always at 8:05 just as a courtesy, but performers have to be there ahead of time. So call time is at 7, and then doors open at 7:30, and you let people in and really I think the call time for the performers was the most difficult thing, but it was also the best thing for the show in terms of structure. Because they have time to warm up, sort of situate themselves, look at the stage instead of coming in maybe five minutes after one group has already started and seeing oh that stage isn’t going to work for us, or the lighting is wrong, or we need more chairs. So getting everybody there ahead of time, it just makes everything work kind of like clockwork. And definitely getting a space that you love and other people love coming to and love performing at, that’s pretty important. And I guess just kind of organizing the groups is kind of fun too. You want something really powerful and awesome, you want something that people have never seen before but will really make them think about coming back, and you want new people too. We love new people, we love their lovely faces. And I think [your team] Malone is an excellent example of that; you guys are kind of really climbing the ladder.
RH: Yeah don’t forget to mention Malone, say something about how great they are.
JG: Malone is one of the most attractive…
Milkshake: They’re really good looking, is the thing. It’s hard to compete. No matter how good your team is, you have to compete with the fact that Malone is a very, very fuckable team.
MR: And there are more than five of them, so.
Milkshake: There’s more to choose. As if you needed to choose. Any one of them, male or female, they’re all..
AZ: One of our members is under 18…I’ll just point that out.
Milkshake: I don’t care! I don’t discriminate!
MR: Let’s say very kissable.
JG: I would hold hands with any member of that team, on a date, in a meadow.
AZ: Let’s talk about what upcoming things you guys have planned.
JG: Well I’m really looking forward to the October show. October is one of my favorite months. I grew up with ghost stories and things like that, so I want to get Rintersplit to perform in October because we’re kind of more ghost-oriented, and there are a couple of storytellers I would really like to get in and tell some gnarly ghost story stuff.
AZ: Do you usually try to do themed shows?
JG: I’m getting more into it. Like our last show we had at Tabu, it was all ladies’ night, lady-oriented, and it was Mani Pedi’s first show and they are fantastic.
MR: But that’s not really our point, our point is more just to have a show that everyone can enjoy, that performers can enjoy, and an opportunity for us to perform, because we are among the independent comedy community. So if the theme works out great, and if there are opportunities like October and Halloween, then it’s like hey, why not go for it.
AZ: Can you guys talk a little bit more about some of the new components of the show, like Philly Secrets?
MR: Well Milkshake is the director and he had the idea of doing something along the lines of Post ecret, where the idea is that people send in their secrets and essentially they’re shared but still secret because they’re anonymous. And to the extent that these are very moving pieces, they provide a lot of emotion and a lot of background, things that are all in improv.
Milkshake: I think just one nice thing about the Secrets show is that the source material itself, the secrets that we use, particularly when they come from PostSecret it’s a very visual experience, it’s a quick snapshot of somebody’s situation that they’re having difficulty dealing with. So they create this anonymous art, and they send it to Frank Warren in Baltimore and they get it off their chest and they share it with other people. Just those in and of themselves are so interesting that to do theatrical work that’s inspired by that, wow, you’ve got a great diving board into a beautiful swimming pool to kick off from.
AZ: Are you using the secrets from PostSecret, or are you soliciting your own?
Milkshake: We’re soliciting secrets from Philadelphia, however the method by which I had chosen to do that was insufficient and I wasn’t getting the responses that I need. We’re still working on acquiring more, but yeah, the first two performances were entirely reliant on secrets from the PostSecret website. And I have no beef with that, but I want to do the show about secrets of people from Philadelphia. And the scenes that we see can be usually funny but not necessarily, especially with somebody like Kristen Schier on the team, who loves any opportunity to do improvised dramatic work. And a nice thing that was pointed out to me is when you take a secret that’s difficult to deal with, like one that’s about abuse or addiction, that usually won’t be a funny scene, but the scene after that, as long as it’s remotely funny, the audience is so ready to laugh that the response is usually pretty explosive.
AZ: How was it determined that Phily Secrets would be a good feature for Polygon?
JG: It’s so fresh, and so new, and it’s a very rich format and it’s laden with dramatic scenes.
Mlikshake: And there’s a lot of sexual ones. There are a lot about penises.
JG: [whispering] This is going in the paper!
Mlikshake: Well, she’ll snip and cut. Edit.
AZ: I don’t want to snip and cut any penises…
Milkshake: Don’t, no! Don’t do that, it’s not necessary. It has no medical benefit. But I was going to say, I would like to do an entire Secrets performance where we’re free to choose the sexual material if we want to, but not have it foisted upon us. And that’s kind of my job as host and curator, to choose the secrets that we’ll work from. But then I think to myself, it would also be cool to have a show where every scene is of a sexual nature.
JG: I’m going to go back and try to answer the question that you asked. I think another one of the reasons that we picked Secrets as kind of a Polygon mainstay is because there’s so many different things that come out of it that we don’t really see in improv, and that’s kind of what we’re all about, the new stuff, the fresh stuff.
AZ: And it sounds like Secrets also has this level of built-in theatricality and drama, and sort of that elevated level of theater that you’re trying to present with Polygon.
JG: When I was a student of dramaturgy, three of the questions that we always asked ourselves of a play where why this play, why now, and why this audience?
Milkshake: We did go over those questions. Did I answer them well?
RH: You answered them. I don’t know how well.
Milkshake: Were you dissatisfied, Rick, with my answers? Do you remember dissatisfaction?
RH: Well you seemed dodgy and unconfident, that’s all.
Milkshake: OK, that sounds like me.
JG: You mentioned at many times during your presentation that people are fascinated by real people’s lives. But also these people are opening themselves up to us. And kind of trusting us with a secret.
Milkshake: And in turn I feel like the work the cast is doing by improvising a scene is kind of metaphorically putting their arm around that person and embracing them. We’re exploring it and experiencing it with them, sort of, to the best of our ability, through theatre.
AZ: So just to wrap up, Polygon is once a month at L’etage, and the best way to book a show is to…
JG: Contact Joe or Mark.
AZ: And if you have a secret that you want to see explored in Philly Secrets?
Milkshake: The best way is to go to formspring.me/phillysecrets.
MR: And Polygon is once a month, at L’etage, but we’ll also be part of Fringe again this year, and I’ll let Rick talk a little bit about that.
RH: We’re finalizing the venue, but I expect that this year there’s going to be some good surprises, which I’m not certain I’m ready to divulge quite yet. I might describe the Fringe this year as more opportunities for people to get involved. And there’s likely to be some sort of a process specifically to submit to the Fringe shows which will be coming out pretty soon, so people will have slightly more control over their involvement.
JG: So look for updates online, and if you have something new and beautiful and need a space to do it, we’d love to check you out.
The next Polygon show is Tuesday, August 14th at 8 pm at L’etage (624 S. 6th Street). Tickets are $5.