When he’s not logging hours as Philly Improv Theater‘s Education Director or piddlin’ away time on conversations with comedy unknowns like Rich Talarico (improviser and writer who’s worked on a bunch of stuff no one’s ever heard of like Saturday Night Live) and Greg Proops (from another show no one’s ever heard of, Whose Line is it Anyway?) for his Gettin Close with Mike Marbach podcast, Mike Marbach‘s other regular gig is producing The Sideshow at The Arts Parlor. We sat down before Mike had to coach a practice for PHIT house team Asteroid (yep, he does that, too) to talk about what goes into producing a successful comedy showcase, and what’s next for Sideshow this season.
Alison Zeidman: How did Sideshow start? Give me the origin story.
Mike Marbach: I [originally] wanted to do it in Chicago. In Chicago I was part of a group called Club Group Team, and we did a form that was very organic, very much like ZaoGao does now, a form called Punchline. And then there was also this form that somebody would do called Kumate, which was an improvised martial arts thing, and then what I wanted to do was have a revolving third spot, which would be something else that was completely different. It wasn’t picked up. So, when I moved to Philly, I still had the idea in mind and because PHIT only has The Shubin two weeks out of every month, and I wanted something to fill that space, because I teach a lot, and I had a lot of students in classes that weren’t seeing shows. There would be some weeks where there were zero improv shows to see, and I hated that. So that’s one of the main reasons I started Sideshow, just to fill the in the gaps between PHIT weeks, so there would be at least one improv show to see each week.
AZ: But the idea is that it’s its own entitity, too, right? It’s not just something to do because you can’t go to PHIT?
MM: Right. It’s not an extension of PHIT. Your [free student] pass is no good at Sideshow. Because one of the other reasons I started it is that I wanted to have a low-cost place that allowed me to just give the money back. I don’t make anything from doing Sideshow. The Arts Parlor costs very little to rent, and then any money above that goes right back to the performers, so it’s pretty much whoever they can get to come out, because I don’t do much in the way of advertising. Actually I didn’t used to, now I’m starting to do a little bit more, becuase of course the more people that come to the show, the more money the performers make.
AZ: So are those the primary goals? More opportunities to be able to see comedy and see improv, and also more opportunities for performers to make a profit?
MM: Yeah, and there’s a few other things to it too. There were groups that were popping up and premiering their act at places like CAGEMATCH or a festival, like the Philly Improv Festival or F Harold Festival or Duofest, and that’s cool and all, but if I was improvising in those gorups I would definitely not want my first show to be in a high-pressure environment such as a festival. I’d much rather do it in a more controlled, fun, supportive environment—not to say that those aren’t, but I mean, you can pack this place with as many people as you want, with your friends, with your family, and you have a lot less control like that at other shows.
AZ: So people can use it as a testing ground.
MM: Yeah. And that was one of the main ideas especially at the start, definitely more experimental. I really envisioned it just being more of a show for performers, rather than a show for anybody else. I didn’t think it would grow the improv scene by any means, I just wanted a place where people could cut loose and do something that was different. Then that started growing pretty fast.
AZ: Have you ever had to turn someone down, if they pitched an act and it was just too weird?
MM: No, nobody’s ever been turned down. People have been postponed, because [it's become very popular], but I’ve never turned anybody down for it.
AZ: Since it’s an extension of the improv scene and a place to see more performances but also a place for people to workshop things, who would you say is the primary audience? Is it more insular, or open to the general public?
MM: At first the main idea was that it would definitely be an insular show for performers, but even after the first show I quickly learned that that wasn’t really the case. Maybe because of the fact that it all comes down to the money of things, that people know that the more people they bring to the show the more money they walk away with. But we definitely do get a lot of performers too, because as friends of each other we love seeing people step out of their comfort zones and do things that they don’t normally do, or be in a space that they’re not normally in.
AZ: Yeah it’s interesting, whenever I’ve come to a Sideshow it’s always been really packed, even though you’re saying historically you haven’t done too much marketing for it. But you said you’re starting to try to do some more of your own promoting, instead of just leaving it to the performers?
MM: I could, but I kind of like leaving it to the people. I mean I produce the show, and I book the acts with the help of the guys from Beirdo, but it started off mostly just people that were in the shows doing the publicizing, and it kind of remains that way. I like the producing of it, the booking, but beyond that I don’t really want to have that much to do with it. I don’t know, it’s done well so far without me pushing anything: We’ve gotten the attention of different papers, different online blogs and things like that, and we’ve been able to do partnerships with Troika that have been really successful…plus, there’s only so many chairs.
AZ: Can you talk a little more about what really goes into putting on your own show? What you’ve learned, or maybe what advice you might give to somebody who wanted to start their own thing?
MM: Find a place that’s cheap enough, because there may be nights when you’re not going to make the rent. Don’t pick a place where you’re going to consistently lose money—and that’s where the Parlor’s been fantastic.
AZ: How did you find this place?
MM: Asteroid has practiced here weekly for about two years, and there was a group I used to coach called Leo Callahan who used to do shows here about once a month before they split, so I just kind of picked it up after they were done. Um…what else…ask admission. Ask people to pay for your shows. Free shows are cool, but I really feel that what we do has value, and maybe I’m only putting the value of $5 on it, but that’s also because I want it to be super accessible. Plus it fits the space. This isn’t a theater; this is a converted, sweaty dance studio. And really think about what kind of show you ‘re trying to put on. Think about if you want to do a variety show, or if you really just want to do an improv show. And vary up the acts within that as well. On Sideshow I’m not going to book three duos in a row, not just because duos can bring in less people—that’s one of the reasons, sure—but also because I wouldn’t want to sit and watch three duos in a row. And just make sure it’s a good show, make sure it looks good. People that know me know that I’m very big on dress code. I’m not asking people to wear suits and ties when they come to a Sideshow show, but I want them to step up, I guess. Make it a production, just raise the production value. I have to do whatever I can do because of the fact that this is a sweaty dance studio, so I want to make sure that that atmosphere of a show overtakes the crappiness of the space.
AZ: Do you have any tips for somebody else who might be dealing with a crappy space? Does that come in with lighting, or hosting, or…?
MM: Yeah, hosting is huge. Make sure people can host. I’m not a good host, which is part of the reason why I don’t want to be up there. And look at what you can do with the space. If you can clean it up, clean it up. If you can flip some things around and make it so you can control the lights, do that. When they were doing shows in here before, there were no blackouts, everybody ended their own shows. I’m very big on light pulls, when I’m doing a show, [because] my sense of timing in a show is not good, and I don’t want to have that worry. So do what you can do with the space that way, as well.
AZ: What do you mean? Did you guys get the circuits moved or something?
MM: [Laughs] No, we just moved the space. Like when you look into the room, where the curtains are [on the side], that’s anticipated as the stage. And they have like six lighting switches on the far back wall [on the same side as the curtains], so we changed it so that when you walk in, all the chairs are facing the front [and then we have access to the light switches]. And I block the windows during the summer so that the sun doesn’t come in, and I have just the front two lights on. It’s a very cheap way to go about doing it, but when you walk in you wouldn’t really know that it’s a cheap way to go about doing it, you’re not thinking about it, it just looks better than it really is.
AZ: So you said you’re trying to be hands-off with marketing and not really trying to make the show appeal to outside audiences, but it does seem like there’s a lot of thought and professionalism being put into this. Is that just because this is the way you want your show and these are your personal standards, or do you feel at any level that you have to compete with what else is out there?
MM: No, I’m not really trying to compete at all. It’s just something that kind of now has…it’s just kind of associated with me, so I just want it to be as good as it can be. When I say I’m hands-off for the most part, that’s the night of. But leading up to that I do everything I can to make sure the show is going to be good. And even though I say I don’t really do any marketing stuff I do make all the Facebook pages, and I contact different news people out there from time to time to try and get some things, but beyond that, not too much more.
AZ: We already covered this a little bit with the mission of the show and the benefits it has for performers, but is there anything you feel sets Sideshow apart from other shows in the city, even if you’re not necessarily trying to compete with them? Something that’s just a different element that you have, from the audience’s viewpoint?
MM: It’s going to be a well-balanced show. You’re going to see at least three different acts, whether that’s a stand-up, a sketch and an improv group, or three very different improv groups, you’re going to get a good sampling of comdy that night. There’s going to be something that you like. And it’s just the atmosphere in that room, in that sweaty dance studio, when it becomes Sideshow, which is so extremely supportive of people. We’ve had different teams debut there, we’ve had teams debut new forms there, and the mood is just kind of electric.
AZ: And where did the name come from? There are a lot of things that I could guess contributed to it, but is there an official backstory?
MM: Well, the original main idea was to show acts that you weren’t really going to see anywhere else, lots of new or weird things, almost like a carnival sideshow. People doing things they wouldn’t normally do, types of improv you wouldn’t normally see. Just weird concept things that people just wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else, that maybe aren’t quite right for PHIT.
AZ: Do you have an example?
MM: A lot of the Troika stuff. Troika in general—a lot of those things tend to be more concept-heavy, so that turned out to be perfect for Sideshow. So yes, it just goes back to seeing weird and different things. Which I’m still looking for. It’s not necessarily the prime directive anymore, so much as just giving people just another space to perform, and just making sure there’s a show once a week. We’ve been on a long hiatus because I also don’t want to take away from any shows that are happening. So when F Harold was going on I canceled a show, then PHIT had six weeks of shows, then we had Duofest, then more PHIT weeks, but now we’re back. And we’ve got the show this Saturday which I’m calling Short Attention Span Theater. You get up to 15 minutes to do whatever the hell you want to do. If you want to spin plates you can spin plates. If you always wanted to do a one-person improv set, or attempt stand-up, sing a song, whatever people want to do, they can do it.
AZ: What do you have scheduled as of right now?
MM: Right now it’s a little improv-heavy. I’m reaching out trying to get people to really vary up what we’re doing, to make sure we have some of that balance I was talking so much about.
AZ: From purely a producer’s standpoint, other than just scrambilng to fill in more acts right now, has there been any big challenge, or something that went wrong, that was a good learning experience? Or just a fun disaster story?
MM: Um, hm….not really. I guess I’ve been kind of lucky with things. It’s a very well-liked show, and there haven’t really been any problems.
AZ: How about any favorite moments?
MM: I’ve seen a lot of teams have their best shows here, which is awesome to be able to say.
AZ: Do you think that comes from the low-pressure environment?
MM: Yeah, I think that’s definitely one of the reasons, plus they get a crowd that’s full of people that they are bringing, so it’s all people who are there to support them. One of the days, if I remember the date exactly, it was November 18th, 2011—
Luke Field [coming in for Asteroid rehearsal]: Never forget.
MM: Yes, never forget. Iron Lung was debuting, there was the team Bed Savage having their first show, Get a Room also performed, and I think maybe Kristen [Schier] was doing some clowning. And there were about 100 or so people, and each team walked away with $85, and that was just the icing on the cake, because each team had awesome shows, in front of a fantastic crowd. So that was one of my favorite moments. Plus all of Troika, and I’m sure this Saturday and all of the rest that we’ll have will also be favorite moments.
AZ: Anything new that you’re planning for this season? It sounds like you’re really trying to push people to experiment.
MM: Yeah. We did a one-act play, Hidden in This Picture, which I directed last year, and this year I want to get some plays written by Philly people. That one was written by Aaron Sorkin, but I want to get some more original stuff so that we put on plays that were written, directed and performed by Philly comedians. So that’s one big goal this year to finally make happen, and also just to continue to put on some well-balanced shows and watch people continue to learn and grow. And to do whatever I can to keep Luke Field out of here.
LF: Did you get that on tape? He’s out to get me.
Look for updates on The Sideshow at http://www.facebook.com/#!/SideShowImprov and see the first show of the season TONIGHT (July 14th) at The Arts Parlor, 1170 South Broad Street (at Federal Street). As always, the show is just $5.
By: Becca Trabin
Twinprov is an improv duo whose show consists of forty-five minutes of improvised rapping and scene work.Twin brothers Clint and Buck Vrazel are in town from Oklahoma this weekend, performing tonight and teaching a workshop at Duofest tomorrow. I talked to Clint about how in the world he and his brother freestyle a forty-five minute improv show.
How did you come up with rapping as your format?
We like a lot of different things– we’ve done a Shakespeare show, relationship comedy, a musical, we even do a show that has no words, so rap is just one thing we do. But rap is just a thing that really took off. We did it through lots of trial and error.
We weren’t allowed to listen to rap music as children, because we’re from small-town Oklahoma, and that’s just the way it was. MTV was banned from the town. So we discovered hip-hop in eighth grade, and before that wed only heard Weird Al Yankovic. So our exposure to quick, intelligent music that rhymed was from that tradition of Monty Python and Weird All. And we were like, “Oh, you can make up your own words and it can be better than the original music.” So we’d make up songs.
I couldnt rap at all five years ago, and three years ago we couldnt keep any beats going. It was a lot of teaching ourselves and our friends. We thought, “We should be able to do this. We can do it for a few seconds, so we can do it for longer, right?” We did the wrong thing for a lot of years, cos we learned improv from watching Whose Line Is It Anyway?, until we finally got exposed to Chicago and the greater improv culture.
But we tried The Hoe Down and we would do Irish Drinking Songs and all these games, and it turns out that thats not how poetry or lyricism or shakespeare, thats not the best way to channel it. That’s not even how your brain works. My brother and I are very interested in patterns and psychology. I have a math degree, he has a psychology degree, and we love to teach. And so we discovered all these ways our brains do work. It was a lot of trial and error, a lot of research. And we can get people rapping now in about an hour and a half if theyre improvisors and about three hours if theyre not. So the exercises we came up with for other people became our own practice.
We didn’t know that we weren’t supposed to be able to do this. We didn’t know, you shouldn’t be able to do a forty-five minute improvised rap concert. We just loved it so much we just kept going. Now it’s like a language that we speak and teach.
You said you were exposed to Chicago. Was there a certain school or teacher who influenced you?
CV: It was 2005, we had a teacher who came down to Oklahoma from Toronto–he’s trained at Second City, he had a degree in Improv and English–you can study that, I guess, in Toronto. He came to Oklahoma for a literature program. He never thought he’d find improv in Oklahoma. He found us messing around in like a food court at the University of Oklahoma, and he said, “Oh, you guys are trying short-form. Here’s how to do it well and here’s how to make improv art.” He taught us long form and got us to go to the Chicago Improv Festival.
He got us to take a workshop, as part of a college thing, and I took a workshop from Andy Carey from the Beat Box, and that really inspired me, and I did a rap battle that really inspired me. Because I’m not mean at all but my first opponent was this little black girl who’s like 4’10”, and here I am, this nerdy, white-guilt oppressor guy, and I’m like, “What’s my suggestion?” And they’re like, “Your opponent is your suggestion.” And I can’t make fun of somebody. I didn’t get into improv and storytelling to strip all that away and make fun of poeple. And so I went down in flames but with my integrity intact, and I’ve since rapped circles around people who try to go negative. Definitely the Beat Box with Andy Carey was very inspirational.
How does freestyling feel different from just improvising regular scene work?
It’s not about thinking rhyme to rhyme. You can stump an improvisor by saying, “Say something funny.” There’s no improv exercise called the Say Something Funny Exercise. There’s a million exercises you can do, but there’s not one called Be Funny. In rapping there’s a million things that often you can do, but not like, “Rhyme.” Rhyming is like, “I have a wish, to eat a dish, that is my fish.” You can sell yourself out really quickly for a rhyme just like you can sell yourself out for a joke. The challenge and fun of rapping is you get to be very expressive and you actually have no time to think. In improv you can take pauses. With rapping that time is reduced so you get to paint more pictures with your words.
It’s great to move into that heightened realm– it makes it more magical and brings the ernergy up even further. As long as you don’t sell yourself out the rhyme can serve you and make something memorable.
Once we go out and we hit that first song, it feels pretty easy. We can’t do any wrong after that. The energy is so high. We’re still truthful, we have points of view, we have characters– you just can’t sell yourself out.
What’s it like having your twin brother as your partner?
It’s as much an advantage as a disadvantage. I trust him to always be with me. But if I’m really out there, it’s like, “Wait I’m the same as you, where did that come from?” I don’t recognize that.” We also push each other. When I look at him I see myself. I say, “Oh, I should be able to do that”. Even though we know we have intrinsic differences. We know I’m the Andre 3000, he’s the Big Boi. Our competitiveness really helps. As far as life experience and stuff, it’s hard to be more varied. It’s like, “Oh, we covered that. He took mine.” We’ve always stolen each others’ stories as twins.
Your show has picked up a lot of steam lately. Do you have any plans for expanding your show beyond a stage show?
We are working on our first album right now. We have, as you might imagine, hundreds of improvised songs now– many demos. And every time we go to a festival we get super charged with energy and we rap in the car all the way there and all the way back. We’ll come with a musician who’s got a little banjo or ukulele or we’ll have Pandora or something. We have so many car recordings that that’s basically our studio. So we’re working on our first album, or albums really, because we have enough for multiple stuff, and we’re looking to start releasing that.
Our stage show, we’re looking to expand. We’ve gone in front of bands and freestyled with them– you know, “You be The Roots and we’ll be the rappers.” We’ll play parties. Sometimes we come in as motivational white rapper speakers and tell kids to stay in school. (Laughs). So we would love to have an album and have some cool music videos and travel more with it.
By: Alison Zeidman
Full disclosure: The members of this duo were interviewed separately because Greg Maughan was busy prepping for Duofest and running our dearly beloved Philly Improv Theater, and Michael McFarland was busy with moving, starting a new job, getting married in the near future, and other grown-up things. I’ve Frankensteined their answers together here, and you can just use your mind thoughts to picture the two of ‘em sittin’ ’round a table, gabbin’ ’bout ‘prov and maybe sharin’ some snacks.
Alison Zeidman: How did you two meet?
Greg Maughan: Mike and I met for the first time in a workshop taught by Matt Holmes in 2005, and afterwards we sat down to talk about an improv group Mike was trying to start. Flash forward a few months and things came together to form a group called Industrial.
AZ: And then how did you decide to form your duo?
Michael McFarland: I moved to New York from Philadelphia about six or seven years ago, and then Jonathan Pitss and I, who runs the Chicago Improv Festival, stayed at Greg’s house during some improv festival in Philadelphia. I think it was during Duofest. And I was like screaming at Greg and drunkenly demanding that he get me food, and Jonathan was like “hey, you guys should do a duo,” and about six months later we decided to do it.
AZ: How long have you been performing as your duo?
GM: Just over a year, although we have performed together for just about 7 years at this point in various groups.
AZ: Where did the name “Michael Loves Greg” come from?
MM: I guess I always threaten to have sex with Greg, and I don’t want it to be…I want him to think it came from a place of love and not just lust. And we also thought on another side of it, after that, that it’s fun to explore the concept of love. Like the name’s open for interpretation: Does Greg love me back? Or am I just obsessed with him? What kind of love do I have for him? Is it as a brother, is it as a friend, is it as a lover? Am I deranged and think I love him but I really just want to get with him? It could be a lot of different things. It’s just a fun concept, and we like to explore the word “love” through our shows.
AZ: Do you perform a specific format?
GM: Not really. We tend to ask the audience for something they love, then maybe interview the person we get the suggestion from a little bit… and then promptly forget everything and just launch into a show. If there’s any underlying format it’s probably that Mike pushes to places he knows I’ll be uncomfortable with and then I get to deal with them.
AZ: Greg, what do you think are Mike’s greatest strengths as a performer?
GM: Mike is just naturally funny–he’s the type of guy you can point at and say “be funny!” and he’ll actually say something funny. He’s also really relentless, he just keeps coming at you in a scene and building the stakes or increasing the tension. It’s really easy to play with him onstage, because if I’m not having a great scene he can always turn it around.
AZ: And Mike, what do you like about Greg as an improviser?
MM: Greg is constantly aware of what my state is and what I’m doing, and if I’m not doing it he’ll do it. If there’s something that needs to be done in the scene and I’m not doing it for some reason or not feeling up to it, he does it. And if I’m exra energetic he’ll lay back and let that extra energy come out of me and then respond to it, and justify it.
AZ: What do you think makes you two work well as a duo?
GM: Honestly, I think it’s just a lot of shared history and trust between us. You have to trust that your scene partner is going to make you look good, and then you have to know your partner so you can tee things up for them. We can do both those things. We’re also very different players. I’m more of a slow burn, and less obvious. Mike likes to put it all out there. It’s a nice ying and yang.
MM: I think it’s a very honest show. I think that we both try and really be as honest as we can in our improv. I use a lot of personal life experiences to guide what my characters do, and I think that Greg does that as well. I also think Greg’s [personality is] a little bit more reserved, just in general, and a little bit more clean-cut and kind of wholesome, and I’m very gregarious; I like to talk about everything, and be very even like, shocking on purpose. So I think onstage it’s really fun to see the contrast of those two personalities, where we’ll always find a common bond for our characters. It’s fun to see two different perspectives be in the same situation onstage.
AZ: What do you like and/or dislike about performing with a duo, as opposed to a team?
GM: Well, I think it’s the same answer for like and dislike: the challenge. When you’ve got a duo you are in every scene and you have to carry the show. It’s really exciting when it’s working, but it’s torture when it isn’t.
MM: Performing with a duo is really great because as a performer, I love stage time, and I love to be out there. And when you have six or eight people you have to share the stage with them, which is just what you do, but with two people you’re in every scene. I’m a big attention whore and it’s just a huge rush to be up there and have every scene involve you. It’s also easier to organize with one person.
AZ: Can you tell me a favorite moment you’ve had as a duo, onstage or off?
GM: Last summer Mike and I got pretty drunk at the Baltimore Improv Festival and he started begging me to take him to a strip club–actually a whole area of strip clubs just off the inner Harbor called “The Block.” He had just recently gotten engaged, and I have never set foot inside a strip club… so I didn’t want to go, and kept giving him drinks at the bar we were visiting until I knew the clubs were all closed. Then we got in a cab and went down there. It was a madhouse. People were everywhere milling around in the street, and there were probably a hundred cops in the three blocks just pushing everyone towards the bus stops, parking lots, etc.
MM: I think we actually just got sandwiches and went back to our hotel room.
AZ: And to close, what are you most looking forward to and/or least looking forward to about Duofest?
GM: Well I’m most looking forward to our show, of course! I’m also looking forward to seeing a lot of friends from all over the country and having the time to hang out with them. Festivals are kind of like weekend-long parties and that is always a lot of fun. But I am certainly not looking forward to the lack of sleep… that will be rough come Monday.
MM: Duofest is great because the audiences are so enthusiastic. And it’s really fun because most of the duos are very close friends, and there’s a really nice bond between all of the groups in general.
See Michael Loves Greg in Duofest at the Shubin Theatre on Friday, June 8th at 7 pm. Get advance tickets (or full weekend passes) online.
By: Rachel Goodman
There was anticipation in the room on Saturday night, waiting for 8:30 to come at the Philly Improv Theater. This was not just an ordinary House Team night. It would be the second show for new team Davenger, followed by a performance from veteran team Hey Rube! Both teams had the audience rolling over in laughter.
Davenger came out first, receiving the suggestion of Family. After a brief moment where the troupe discussed a few stories about what the word family means to them, Hilary Kissinger and Dan Corkery stepped out and had everyone on the edge of their seats as they looked at each other and just “knew” each other’s thoughts. This continued to come back in various forms, as in the moment where Brian Rumble stepped out with Dan Corkery, attempting to read his thoughts, to no avail.
“What?” Dan’s character said after a moment of silence, followed by huge laughter from the audience. And the laughter kept coming in with Nick Mirra as the hypochondriac. His portrayal of a relative in a bubble suit at a funeral seemed so real that it almost looked as if you could take the helmet off of his head.
And then, of course, what would the mention of a funeral be without the mention of ghosts?
“I’m a medium, not a Ghost Buster!” yelled Alex Newman, as a psychic, talking to Cait O’Driscoll and Kevin Pettit, two people dealing with their aunt’s dead dogs and dead neighbor’s haunting them.
Next, Hey Rube took the stage with the suggestion of Puppy. Some of the most memorable moments of this set came from Alex Gross as the “retarded” dog who later ended up being a normal human who was playing a retarded dog so that he could get into the safe that belonged to Lizzie Spellman’s father. There was also a recurring theme where everyone was blaming their father for their shortcomings/mistakes in life and that nothing was their fault. This seemed to hold true when Rob Cutler brought home his new baby boy to Aaron Hertzog who was building a brick wall to hide from fatherhood. After Aaron’s character flicked the baby, later on in the set Jen Curcio was suddenly mooing and acting slow.
“Son. I just want you to know that it is my fault that you’re like this. I flicked you when you were a baby and that’s why you moo like this.” Aaron said, receiving a roar of laughter from the audience.
But perhaps the most hilarious thing was when Alex Gross walked in as a very reluctant character and said, “Hey… my mom said that I have to play with you again…” and proceeded to “milk” Jen Curcio’s character.
If in the off chance anyone in the theatre that night was sleeping, they were no longer sleeping once Mark Leopold walked on as a wolf-dog, screeching at the top of his lungs at Lizzie Spellman for basically everything, including breathing. Finally in a future scene with this character, the moon, his supposed lover, breaks up with him and in a heartfelt moment he begins to howl.
Hey Rube completed their set with three of the main “father blaming” characters sitting down, repeating how far back they had been blaming their paternal lineage for their problems, when Lizzie comes in to blame her mother.
“Ooops! Wrong meeting!” she says, and walks away.
Overall, watching both of these teams was an incredible experience that anyone should be sure to check out and go along for the ride.
Tomorrow night, two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams make their debut. Get to know them now before you see them on stage.
Prior to rehearsal, May 29, director Steve Kleinedler speaks with the cast of Codename: Strider
Steve Kleinedler: Jim Burns, do you have a question for Corin Wells?
Jim Burns: Yes, I do, and it’s a serious question. The name of our group happened at a party at your place, is that correct?
Corin Wells: Yeah, it did.
JB: Since I wasn’t there, could you please tell how that developed?
CW: Ok! Our name developed when Ellen, a former member of Codename: Strider, came up with it. It was thrown out there as a suggestion, and we all liked it. Unfortunately, Ellen can’t perform with us [because she's moving to Minneapolis!] so we all thought that it was fitting for us to choose the name she picked for us.
SK: Excellent way of answering the question without giving away the answer, which readers of this column will have to come see the show to find out. Corin, do you have a question of Chris Calletta?
CW: I do, I do. Chris, your hair always looks immaculate. I was wondering, do you have a favorite strand of hair?
Chris Calletta: I do, and sadly it’s not on my head. I keep it in a box in my drawer.
CW: What’s its name?
SK: I thought this was going someplace completely different. [Pause] Let the record show Corin is losing it. [Laughter]
CC: His name is Harold.
CW: [Laughing] OK. I hope to get to meet him someday.
CC: Yes, I’ll have to bring him out. He might be at the debut show.
SK: All right. So, Chris, do you have a question for Emily Davis?
CC: I do. Emily, when does your team debut?
Our new team? Our new team debuts on June 1st, and you can also see us on June 2nd. Check the website. www.phillyimprovtheater.com
SK: Nicely done. Emily, do you have a question for Andrew Stober?
ED: Andrew, we have seen you in the Philly scene before. What makes this project so exciting and different for you?
Andrew Stober: I think people are going to be blown away by the kind of movement they see onstage, the kind of tableaux and transitions. We’re bringing a new, exciting, fast-paced group improv to the stage in Philadelphia.
SK: Thank you, Andrew. Andrew, do you have a question for teammate Sue Jahani?
AS: I sure do! Sue Jahani, tell me what is the most fun thing about hanging out with your new team?
Sue Jahani: Aw, my new team is great! [Laughter.] Everyone’s super supportive and genuinely nice. I really enjoy doing warmups with my team and getting drinks afterward with my team. [w00ts in the background]
SK: Thank you, Sue. Do you have a question for Jim Burns?
SJ: Yes! Jim, I was wondering, Jim, [hums a bit] where is your favorite place to go after practice?
JB: Well, Sue, I like to go to Vargas. It’s right next door to where we rehearse, and they have a nice selection of beers. I’ve turned you into an alcoholic, I apologize.
CW: Follow up question – what’s your favorite beer to get there?
JB: That’s true, I like the Presidential beers. So anything by Jefferson, Washington, not Monroe, he’s kind of a douche.
SK: Thank you. Who has a question for me, Steve Kleinedler, the director?
CC: I do. I hear your team likes to to play pranks, and I’d imagine then you’d be the leader of this? I was wondering why do you pick on a team like Westmarch [laughter]?
SK: In the kindred spirit of newbiedom, we’ve decided to go after Westmarch, even though they just sat there like–
CW: They took it.
SK: –scared marmots. Yeah, they took it. But we respect them greatly, and their coach, and we look forward to playing alongside them for years to come. Martha Cooney, the class that she teaches — they’re like 3rd graders or something? They’re doing a show right now. She’ll be by later, and when that happens, we’ll ask her a question. So, over and out.
CW: You forgot about Maureen.
JB: He forgot Maureen.
SK: Oh. OH! We forgot Maureen. Corin didn’t forget about Maureen. We will also be asking Maureen a question. The two of them can ask each other a question. Back later.
CW: Yay! [Applause]
SK: And, we just had a great rehearsal! And we’re following up with our final questions. Maureen! Maureen Costello, do you have a question for Martha Cooney?
Maureen Costello: I do, I do have a question for Martha Cooney. Martha, what is your favorite holiday that is not a major holiday?
Martha Cooney: Not a major holiday?
MCooney: Arbor Day is a good one. It’s underrated and undervalued. But important.
MCostello: I like it, yeah, good.
SK: And Martha, do you have a question for castmate Maureen Costello?
MCooney: I was wondering, your favorite dental hygiene practice?
MCostello: Probably brushing my teeth would be A, then flossing. I like the mouthwash, but not the kind that stings.
SK: And a question for both of you. How excited are you about the shows coming up this week.
MC squared: SO EXCITED!
SK: Excellent, thank you everyone!
Tomorrow night, two new Philly Improv Theater House Teams will make their debut. Get to know them now before you see them perform.
Who are we?
We are Dan Corkery, Hilary Kissinger, Nick Mirra, Alex Newman, Cait O’Driscoll, Kevin Pettit, Jessica Snow, Max Sittenfield, and Brian Rumble. And our Coach is Maggy Keegan.
What is our style?
Our style is very focused on game, and we’ve been working with the Harold structure for our format. A few of us have studied at UCB (where Harold and game-work is foundational). Exploring premise and playing very real, emotional characters came pretty naturally to us as a group so we are really looking forward to representing that style of improv. We strive to maintain a balance of patient and aggressive but we usually end up trying to make each other laugh. In a nut shell, we’d say our play is intellectual, aggressive, and irreverent.
How did we start to gel?
We gelled almost instantly. We have had a great rapport from the very first rehearsal. It feels like we’re one big group of raucous siblings, and Maggy is the cool big sister who buys us beer and lets us play with fireworks in the backyard. The one week that she couldn’t be at rehearsal, she wrote out an elaborate scavenger hunt with a precise scoring system for us to undertake in her absence. A highlight? Kevin Pettit eating a soft pretzel on top of a cheesesteak and then running up the Art Museum steps.
Anything we are especially excited about?
We are all just pumped to finally take the stage together. This is the first serious improv team for some of us so it’s super exciting to be on a house team at PHIT.
Cool stories from our time together so far:
One time a school bus of 6th graders from Codename Strider Elementary interrupted our rehearsal by running into our space and spraying silly string they had just stolen from a nearby party supply store. We called their parents who came to pick them up. While we waited for their parents,we helpfully answered the students’ questions about the changes that were happening to their bodies. It was kinda neat.
By Rachel Goodman
The start of our invasion from the South was sure to keep everyone awake with laughter! Plan B from the Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) performed right after Hey Rube at the Philly Improv Theatre on Friday, May 18th at 7 P.M. Plan B, a short form troupe, followed a great performance by Hey Rube.
Right from the start Plan B was sure to include the audience in their short form games. Michael Harris hosted the first game, a set up where the remaining three members (Alex Greenland, John Ulrich, and Matt McCall) stood on stage in a triangle formation, using audience suggestions as their road map.
“Where were you born?” Harris asked an audience member.
“Valley Forge,” one woman answered.
“What does Valley Forge make you think of?” Harris asked another man.
“The Revolutionary War.”
Another of these questions led to Hollywood as well as Diamonds as words of inspiration for the other two sets of scene partners in the triangle.
Suddenly the stage came alive with two men from the colonial time period, Johnny Depp and many other characters who were Johnny Depp in disguise only. We even got to see a man who kept losing his significant other’s most prized piece of jewelry (even when they were simply shopping in a mall).
Next up for their performance they made Greenland leave the stage while the audience helped them prep for the next game: “Interrogation.” The audience gave the troupe two words (“remembering” and “dog”) and the goal for Greenland was to guess these two words while being interrogated under very comical circumstances.
Lastly, we were entertained at the retelling of Jack and the Bean Stalk. Not only did we get an interesting twist when the troupe reenacted the story (his little sister was sold into slavery in order to help his diabetic mother who, as it turns out, at one point had an affair with the giant), but they were asked to replay their creation as different genres as collected from audience input.
Suddenly, we witnessed Jack turn into a real jerk, seduced by the “Giant-ess” when the scene was done Lifetime romance style. And on a different “take” the troupe brought us to the dangerous world of World War II as Jack had to crawl his way through the battlefield, before getting his beans and climbing his bean stalk.
Never without creative and funny ideas and scenes intertwined with their short form games, Plan B was a very entertaining and hilarious group to watch get up on stage and play off of each other!
This week, Aaron talks with original member of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Matt Besser. They talk about improv, sketch, Matt’s upcoming visit to Philly to give a lecture at Philly Improv Theater – and Matt’s projects including his podcast, Improv 4 Humans and his upcoming movie Freak Dance. Listen below or subscribe on iTunes.
Next week, the second annual F. Harold Comedy Festival will take place at Studio 5 in The Walnut St. Theater in Philadelphia. Over 200 performers will take the stage giving audiences a healthy sample of Philly’s stand-up, sketch and improv comedy. Tomorrow, we will be posting a podcast with festival organizer Rick Horner, but for now, take a look at the entire schedule for next week, as well as the list of performers in each group.
Tuesday 4/24/12 Hosted by: John Kensil
6pm Salutatorian (long form improv) Salutatorian is: Adam Siry and Brian Rumble
6:30pm Whisper (long form improv) Whisper is: Maggy Keegan & Jason Grimley
7pm Becca Trabin / Tyler Shuman / Charles Rosen (stand up comedy)
7:30pm Hey Rube! (long form improv) Hey Rube! is: Aaron Hertzog, Alex Gross, Dennis Trafny, Jen Curcio, Lizzie Spellman, Mark Leopold, Rob Cutler, Scott Shepherd, and Tara Demmy
8pm ManiPedi (sketch comedy) ManiPedi is: Shannon Brown, Briana Kelly, Madonna Refugia, Kaitlin Thompson, Aubrie Williams
8:30pm Mayor Karen (long form improv) Mayor Karen is: Nora Algeo, Rob Gentile, Michael Hochman, Dan Jacquette, Alan Kaufmann, Steve Swan, Michael Tomasetti, Becca Trabin
9pm Adrift (long form improv) Adrift is: a cast of improv veterans assembled from across Philadelphia, the show is a comedically raw exploration of characters, relationships, and emotions that rise or break in the face of extreme circumstances.
9:30pm Carolyn Busa (stand up comedy)
Wednesday 4/25/12 Hosted by: Mary Radzinski
6pm Bed Savage (long form improv) Bed Savage is: Anthony Fedele, Nick George, Allison Homer, Dan Jaquette, Steve Klarich, Sean Landis, RJ Payne, & Caroline Rhoads
6:30pm Cock Hat (long form improv) Cock Hat is: Stephan Clanton, Hannah Datz, Frank Farrell, Sunny Kanneganti, Matt Lambson and Sam Scavuzzo
7pm Grimmacchio (long form improv) Grimacchio is Ralph Andracchio, Jason Grimley
7:30pm The N Crowd (short form improv) The N Crowd is: Mike Connor, Rob Cutler, B.J. Ellis, Vegas Lancaster, Kristen Schier, Jessica Snow, Jessica Ross
8pm King Friday (long form improv) King Friday is: Ralph Andracchio, Shannon Devido, Jason Grimley, Jenna Leigh, Maggy Keegan, Jana Savini, Andrew Stanton, Kaitlin Thompson, Aubrie Williams
8:30pm Safe Weird (long form improv) Safe Weird is: Rob Gentile, Kaitlin Thompson, Andrew Stanton
9pm Rookie Card (long form improv) Rookie Card is: Jake Alvarez, Darryl Charles, Marc Reber, Sue Taney, Tom Whitaker
9:30pm EAT CANDY STAY UP LATE (sketch comedy) EAT CANDY STAY UP LATE is: Rob Gentile, Kaitlin Thompson, Andrew Stanton, Chris Schofield, Scott Spivack, Bobby Lang, Dave Piccinetti, Rob Caso, Kyle Reichert, Harrison Lichtner
Thursday 4/26/12 Hosted by: Pat House
6pm Kevin Ryan / Martha Cooney / Sarah Morawczynski (stand up comedy)
6:30pm Apocalips (long form improv) Apocalips is: Mandy Dollar, Karen Coleman, Jen Curcio, Lizzie Spellman, Becca Trabin, Cara Schmidt
7pm Alejandro Morales / Bradley Beck / Rohit Kohli (stand up comedy)
7:30pm Beirdo (long form improv) Beirdo is: Dan Jaquette, Dennis Trafny, Kevin Pettit
8pm Patrick Dodd / Joe Dougherty (stand up comedy)
8:30pm Horner & Davis (long form improv) Horner & Davis is: Rick Horner, Emily Davis
9pm High School in 51 Jokes / Jared Bilski (stand up comedy)
9:30pm Rintersplit (long form improv) Rintersplit is: Matt Akana, Joe Gates and Marc Reber
10pm Alex Grubard / Ian Fidance (stand up comedy)
Friday 4/27/12 Hosted by Cara Schmidt
6pm Iron Lung (long form improv) Iron Lung is: Carly Mauer, Corin Wells, Dennis Trafny, Ellen Qualey, Jess Carpenter, Kevin Petite, Maureen Costello, Simon Burger, Tara Demmy
6:30pm Freddie Heinemann / Josh Bennett / Phyllis Voren (stand up comedy)
7pm Gross Butler (long form improv) Gross Butler is: Alex Gross, Mike Butler
7:30pm Grandma Hates Technology (long form improv) Grandma Hates Technology is: Mike Weiss, Jessica Weiss
8pm Rosen & Milkshake (long form improv) Rosen & Milkshake is Charles Rosen and AJ Horan
8:30pm Hillary Rea / James Bradford’s Live Nude Clothes (storytelling)
9pm Judo Range Are About To Die (sketch comedy) Judo Range is: Matthew Jay, Joe Gates (director), Chris Caletta, Mike Dieva, Chris McGrail, Ian Vaflor, Josh Higham, Pat Szostak
9:30pm / LaTice Mitchell-Klapa (stand up comedy)
10pm Asteroid! (long form improv) Asteroid! is: Jessica Ross, Aaron Unice, Caitlin Weigel, Bert Archer, Luke Field, AJ Horan, Brent Knobloch, Lora Magaldi, Caroline Rhoads
Saturday 4/28/12 Hosted by Emily Davis
6pm Hate Speech Committee (long form improv) Hate Speech Committe is: Christian Alsis, Rob Baniewicz, Jp Boudwin, Darryl Charles, Aaron Hertzog, Brendan Kennedy, Sue Taney, Billy Bob Thompson
6:30pm Mike Weiss / Alex Pearlman (stand up comedy)
7pm The No, Buts… (short form improv) The No, Buts… are: Vahan Berberian, Jack Dibeler, and Steve Murphy
7:30pm The Dream Machine (long form improv) The Dream Machine is: Alex Gross, Bert Archer, Steve Kleinedler
8pm WhipSuit (long form improv) WhipSuit is: Rick Horner, Cubby Altobelli
8:30pm Pete Kuempel / Aaron Hertzog (stand up comedy)
9pm Zao Gao (long form improv) Zao Gao is: Matt Akana, Karen Coleman, Nathan Edmondson, Scott Hinners, Erin Pitts, Tom Powers, Brian Ratcliffe, Billy Bob Thompson and Rachel Whitworth.
9:30pm MEDIC! (long form improv) Medic!! is: Nick Gillette, JP Boudwin, AJ Horan, Luke Field, Billy Bob Thompson, Emily Davis
10pm Camp Woods (sketch comedy) Camp Woods is: Rob Baniewicz, JP Boudwin, Patrick Foy, Brendan Kennedy, Sam Narisi, Madonna Marie Refugia, Billy Bob Thompson
Sunday 4/29/12 Hosted by Ryan Carey
6pm Erik Whitacre (stand up comedy) / Jessica Tandy (long form improv) Jessica Tandy is: Jessica Ross, Andy Moskowitz
6:30pm Kids With Rickets (sketch comedy) Kids With Rickets is: Steve Miller-Miller, Chris McGrail, Alex Pezzotta, Oliver Yu, Mike Madden, Dan Vetrano, Ivo Thomas
7pm Comedian Deconstruction (long form improv) Jess Carpenter deconstructs Bed Savage. Bed Savage is: Anthony Fedele, Nick George, Allison Homer, Dan Jaquette, Steve Klarich, Sean Landis, RJ Payne, & Caroline Rhoads
7:30pm Nielsen (long form improv) Nielsen is: Brad Zinn, Dan Corkery, Jacqueline Baker, Kate Banford, Katie Monaco, Meredith Weir, Molly Silverman
8pm Vegas Lancaster / Shannon DeVido (stand up comedy)
8:30pm Really Big Shew (long form improv) features many of the performers of the F. Harold
9pm Hans Gruber (long form improv) Hans Gruber is: BJ Ellis, Dave Warick, and possible special guest.
Later this month, Philadelphia short form improv group The N Crowd will celebrate its’ seventh anniversary. We’ve asked some members of the group to share some stories about the history of the group in celebration.
Mike Conner – Location, Location, Libation
The N Crowd is an all-star drinking team formed in April of two thousand something or other… whenever seven years ago was. We first performed short-form improv comedy in an unairconditioned building that functioned as a Karate Dojo by day and a big stuffy brick oven at night: really the ideal locale for the performing arts. After the forging of the Dufton Trail (a sticky residue of dried piss coating the venue’s sole toilet seat), the N Crowd decided it needed to branch out by moving to the Society Hill Playhouse.
The Society Hill Playhouse differed from the Karate Dojo mainly in that they didn’t appreciate the performers taking massive gravity bong rips on the premises. The core of N Crowd debauchery now migrated to a North Philly shithole known as 353 West Master (cut cut cut faster). Fueled by Captain Morgan and ginger brandy, the Master Street house became a place for N Crowders to socialize, play foosball, and incur concussions.
Over the next few years, various members of the N Crowd got jobs/had kids/got arrested/went to rehab/began abiding by the teachings of the honorable prophet Elijah Muhammad. The party times died down, then roared back, then died down again, then elevated to crazy meth-orgies, and finally leveled off to a respectable whir. Around this time, the N Crowd made a final move to the Actor’s Center in Old City, their current home base.
The Actor’s Center is a great place with a wonderful landlord (who I don’t want to piss off by writing something snarky here). It has been our home for a few years now. Our cast has never been funnier; our audiences have never smelled lovelier; and our drinking, though not as prolific, has never been honed into such an unadulterated form of turpitude.
The N Crowd performs every Friday at The Actor’s Center (257 N 3rd St. Philadelphia). Their seven year anniversary show will be held on April 27. You can purchase tickets for the event online.