Phit has put together an improvised sci-fi comedy show for all you cylons or whatever (just kidding, I totally know what those are).
Millenium Quest: Warp Jawn will be running four shows a week till May 3rd, you can find out all about it in this interview between Phit artistic director Ralph Andracchio and Warp Jawn director Kristin Schier.
We just added two shows to the calendar for Thursday and Saturday. The last nights of a run of shows called A Series of Dangerous Fools features improv from Thomas Fowler & Mary Carpenter, with special guests. Produced by Figment Theater and running at the Vox Populi gallery on 11th Street between Vine and Callowhill, Fools is $5 bucks at the door and has different featured improvisers each night.
On Thursday night, check out The Chain w/ Erin Pitts (Pitts invites a fellow improviser to play, who in turn invites another, initiating a chain of invites creating a one-night-only ensemble) and Slasher Sorority (sorority sisters Cait O’Driscoll, Corin Wells, Kate Banford, Kristen Schier & Kristin Finger are stalked by mysterious killers Joel Sumner & Thomas Fowler).
On Saturday, it’s John Hughes High Minisode 1(the fictional world of John Hughes High is explored when Lucy [Kristin Finger] and Principal Hines [Kevin Regan] meet with an admissions recruiter from OSU [Thomas Fowler]), John Hughes High Minisode 2 - (Ox [Frank Farrell] and his father [Thomas Fowler] sit down for a meeting with Coach [Eoin O’Shea] to discuss some worrisome poetry that’s been uncovered), Fowler-Roney-O’Shea - (Thomas Fowler, Steve Roney & Eoin O’Shea unite for a special one-night-only set), and Origin Story - (Alli Soowal, Brian Ratcliffe, Eoin O’Shea, Joe Sabatino, Kelly Jennings, Kristin Finger, Mary Carpenter and Steve Roney and Thomas Fowler trace the origin of how a superhero is born).
The final show of Philly Improv Fest had the crowd laughing along to dynamic scenes from duos Hot Dog (Jessica Ross and Luke Field), Billy Hawk (Brian O’Connell and Jeff Hawkins), The Amie and Kristen Show (Amie Roe and Kristen Schier) and Vox Pop (Karen Lange and Jordan Hirsch). Each of the groups jumped from scene to scene and kept the audeince laughing at everything from the perception of white Jesus to the marital problems between a blind husband and his wife.
At some point, you don’t even know what you’re laughing at anymore… but you’re cracking up!
Hot Dog’s comedic timing and chemistry kept crowds in hysterics as they created funny scenarios on marriage, employment opportunities and awkward dates. Whether it was playing a blind husband or a jovial employee, Luke Field can change the scene faster than you can count to two. Complementing his comedic timing was Jess Ross, whose ability to adapt to her partner’s theatrics is equally impressive.
Speaking of awkward couples, who can deny the charm of a male duo that can convince you that they are an opposite sex couple. Billy Hawk’s ability to transform into characters and bridge gaps of physicality is truly amazing. Whether it was playing a husband and wife, God and his son, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Billy Hawk had the audience on the edge of their seats waiting to see what characters they would play next.
Perhaps the most animated act of the night was The Amie and Kristen Show. It’s no secret that they are one of Philly’s best comedy duos. Best friends and improv masters, their chemistry is evident as they put on a parody of a frog-prince and princess. “It’s a shirt with muscles sewn into it, now you look like the other princes!” says Amie to her (British) frog-prince Kristen. The scene changes in less than a millisecond from a mother trying to control her son who is throwing a temper tantrum to a couple cuddling and talking about the future. This girl-power duo consistently reminded us that the beauty of comedy lies in the power of words and how you say them.
Jordan Hirsch and Karen Lange of Vox Pop ended the night with their musical act consisting of parodies of work culture and every-day married couple problems. The musicality, the duo’s awesome facial expressions and comedic timing made the comedy and music flow together to provide a highly entertaining ending to a night full of laughter.
Roughly four years ago an idea was dreamed up by me and my best friend and duo partner Amie Roe that found not only tremendous support but a home with the Philly Improv Theater. This year Duofest has talent coming from Austin, LA, Vancouver, Toronto, DC, London, Detroit, Boston, NYC and also SCOTT ADSIT! It has grown to be a truly exciting international event and I am proud that its home is in Philadelphia.
You might wonder what is so wonderful about improv duos that we need to go ahead and make a whole festival about it.
First, I think most duos may experience difficulty getting into festivals. It is often the case that some festivals have performer fees attached to participation that sometimes skew there taste towards, well, groups with more performers. We wanted to give duos a place to play.
Second, a duo is an amazing way to power-boost your improv skillz and work your improv muscles. When Duofest first started there were only a handful of two-person teams to speak of in Philly. It makes my heart happy that a ton of duos have since formed because it can put improvisers on a fast-track to growth and maturation. A small part of this is that when there are only two of you to wrangle you find that organizing rehearsals and shows is easier, and by virtue of that you find yourself practicing and playing more than you might if you had to rally a larger team. Furthermore, in a duo you learn very quickly that you are not just onstage all the time, you are also in every scene. Talk about scene reps, man o man. You learn by duo-ing. Ha.
A two-person show also forces you to recognize and refine your style as an improviser.
First, there is the task of choosing who you’re going to play with. When selecting a partner you probably consider folks whose work you admire. That requires a certain level of understanding and reflection. In addition to determining on a partner, you also are 50 percent of every show. Having far more responsibility and influence over the direction of a show exposes what you bring to the table. Gaining that type of insight can be invaluable to one’s evolution.
Let’s take a moment and say that even deciding to form a duo in the first place takes balls. You’re all like “We can make up a show on the spot that will be worth seeing, just me and my friend.” Yeah, that is undeniably ballsy— and a big part of improvising is, well, having the balls, or tubes (holla atcha ladies) to step out there in the first place.
Thirdly, a duo exemplifies key elements of improvisation—collaboration and, of course, the two-person scene. The boundlessness of what you can create as an improviser never ceases to amaze me. It is part of the magic of live performance. This really comes to the forefront in a duo in a way that is different from team, or even solo performance. It has some of the “limitations” that give a thrill to solo performance while maintaining the collaborative element that makes a larger team so enjoyable to play on. In short, you can do anything a larger improv team can do with fewer people and all while having a more intimate feel to your creative process. In this way the duo embodies trust and challenges the possible.
Besides all that, at the heart of all good improv shows is one thing: the two-person scene. No matter what the form, the playing style, the philosophy – if you can do an amazing two-person scene, you have got me hooked. I don’t care what you call it; every improv form is like a showcase for a great two-person scene. A form is a house for funny engaging dynamic two-person scenes to live in. A great duo is the necessary, or a most essential version of this house. In that way a great duo is like a great poem. There is only what you need, but there is everything you need.
This Thursday, The Sideshow continues on its mission to get performers to try new things and venture out of their comfort zones with a musical revue starring a cast of local improvisers—most of whom have little musical theater experience beyond karaoke at O’Neals.”Trying different things is how I feel I’ve gotten better,” says Mike Marbach, Sideshow creator and producer. “The more experience you get outside of improv, the more you’re going to bring into your improv.”
The theme of the show is love, from wanting it and trying to find it to hating it and decrying it. We went to a recent rehearsal and got to talk to a few of the cast members about the songs they’ll be performing.
Kristen Schier (The Amie & Kristen Show, The N Crowd): One of the songs that I’m singing is the song “Alone” by Heart. I chose that one because I love to sing it in karaoke, but the reason I love to sing is because I’ve always wanted to be a rock star. But I never had the confidence to. I know this sounds corny or whatever but honestly doing comedy over the years and learning about confidence and teaching people that it’s all about confidence has given me the confidence to sing the way that song requires and the other songs in the show require. I’m not the best singer, but I love singing and I’m still confident in what I can do. I don’t think I could do it the same without having been taught that in the improv classes that I’ve taken and it’s good to be able to step into a different medium, so to speak, and just run with it.
Erin Pitts (ZaoGao): I’m doing “There are Worse Things I Could Do” from Grease. It was a song I could sing decently I guess [laughs]. There will be a little bit of comedy throughout the show. In mine I think I’m just going to be singing—I hope people don’t laugh at me if I’m trying to be serious about it! But as far as improv goes, I don’t know if I’m really borrowing anything from improv, just the acting part and the being comfortable in front of people part.
Brett Knobloch (Asteroid!): I’m singing a song called “Making Love Alone.” The song is about loving yourself. I figured everyone was going to be doing songs about someone else, so I thought it would be nice to do a song about yourself. It’s a song that was written for Bernadette Peters, and she did it on Saturday Night Live. It’s sort of just a straight-up cabaret piece, and that’s how I’m going to do it. It’s almost like this pretty ballad—it’s more suggestive than it is lewd. And that’s why I like it, the humor comes from the subtlety.
Chris Caletta (Hot Dish): I’m doing “Earth Angel,” from Back to the Future. I think it’s a great movie. I am going to break down at some point [like in the film], and hopefully we can come up with a twist on it too, I’m not quite sure. I just wanted to try something different. I do music stuff too, so it’ll be neat to bring it into the comedy realm and see how that goes.
Milkshake (Asteroid!): I don’t have any musical theater background whatsoever. I’m singing “Love Stinks,” which is more of a classic rock song. It’s very disparaging of love I suppose; very teen angst-y. Mike thought it was really appropriate for me to do because of I guess when Asteroid! does [the improv singing game] “Hot Spot” in warm-ups. I’m not a J. Geils fan…but I guess I mock it well? I’m not mocking it but I can affect that in games that we play and comedic situations. I think what I’m supposed to do is break out of the very theatrical musical number [which precedes my song] and just sauce it up and be with the audience.
OK, here’s the situation… Anyone familiar with the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince hit song (or Leslie Knope’s tribute to it in Parks and Recreation) knows that it is generally believed that “parents just don’t understand.” This can seem especially true for comedians and other people that choose to pursue their interests in the arts. But maybe some of our parents understand us a little more than we may think. In our new series, “You Should Call Your Parents,” comedians will interview their parents to find out how they feel about their offspring’s pursuit of the stage.
Kristen Schier: What did you think when you found out I was performing comedy?
Marilyn Schier: My first thoughts when you said you wanted to perform comedy were: “Gosh, I hope she doesn’t want to move to New York,” closely followed by, “she still needs a ‘real’ job to buy food.”
KS: Are there things you remember about me growing up that explain why I became a comedian. Or is it a total surprise to you?
MS: When you were growing up I knew you were destined for the stage. I remember one time when you and your sister (you were about 3) performed a rain dance on a piano bench for everyone at Doris’ house. Your sister played the piano (not well, she was 4) and you interpreted the music through dance. Then there was the time we were driving back to Emerald Isle from Wilmington, NC and you had me laughing so hard in the car that I missed the turn and ended up on a very dark road in Camp LeJeune with guys dressed in camouflage and carrying M-16’s. I told you not to say another word until we got back to the beach house.
KS: In your own words, explain to me what it is you think I do?
MS: I am pretty sure I know what you do, I am just not sure how you do it or where it came from. Neither your father or I are very funny, but you, my dear, are hysterical. Even when I come down for breakfast or lunch, you usually say something while we are driving around that is either mildly offensive or makes me laugh.
KS: Who are some of your favorite comedians?
MS: Well, I love early Bill Cosby. Lots of those older comedians whose names I can’t remember and they are all probably dead now anyway.
KS: What do you wish I was doing with my life?
MS: My dreams for you have come true. You are doing something that you love doing and that’s the best job in the world. I am, have been, and always will be very proud of you.
Kristen Schier is one half of the Philadelphia-based improv duo The Amie & Kristen Show/The Kristen & Amie Show, as well as a Philly Improv Theater instructor; improv instructor at University of the Arts; director for PHIT House Team ZaoGao; and Artistic Director for the short-form Philadelphia improv group The N Crowd.
If you are a Philadelphia-area comedian who’d like to interview one (or both) of your parents send us an email to email@example.com for more information. Go ahead, do it. You should really call your parents more anyways.
It’s almost time for the 2013 WitOut Awards for Philadelphia Comedy! As we get closer to the show, we’ll be rolling out a series of posts to help you get more acquainted with this year’s nominees. Read all about ‘em, and then be sure to get your tickets for the big event on January 13th at World Cafe Live!
Kristen Schier on Jess Ross:
“Jess Ross is a force. Her wild-eyed hilarity is as strange and intense as her beauty. Her unfettered goofiness paired with the deeper commitment of a talented actor is an unstoppable and delightful combination.
Allow me to brag: I have had the good fortune to work with Jess on a few improv projects over the years. I used to watch her shine in the N Crowd. We called her Moonbeam ’cause she was one. I also coached Jessica Tandy on occasion (and by coach I mean sit on Andy’s couch and laugh) and I most recently worked with her in Myths and Monsters. You can trust her to bring the funny. What I am saying is, I know this improviser very well and she is good. Damn good.
It is no accident that other projects Jess Ross is involved in, like The Flat Earth, the aforementioned Myths and Monsters and Asteroid! are nominated too. Jess Ross is a fantastic ensemble member and she raises the caliber of the performers she works with—also, she is funny. Damn funny.
She said once that her comedic inspirations were the Muppets. Well, cheers to the closest human embodiment of Muppetry I have ever seen.”
Maggy Keegan on Kristen Schier: “I’ve been a huge fan of Kristen Schier since before I moved back to Philadelphia. Kristen’s connection to her character’s emotional truth, her sense of play, her use of the stage, and how she uses her whole body and soul to create is inspiring to watch. I mean, have you seen the Kristen and Amie Show? I could watch that every week. And her clowning? There has rarely been a time in my thirties where I have giggled like a schoolgirl in an audience out of pure delight and watching her as a clown is a joyful experience.
Not only is she a great improviser, she is also huge creative force in Philadelphia. She has taught and nurtured hundreds of Philadelphia improvisers through classes, directing, and through her innovative group ZaoGao. She has taken this scene to a whole new level.
I think we can also all feel Kristen’s positive spirit whenever she enters the room. We are very lucky that she calls Philadelphia home because as she continues to create we are all the better for it.”
Jess Ross on Emily Davis:
“Emily is always able to be surprising and exciting when she performs because she is amazing when it comes to really listening to her scene partner and responding from an honest place. She can pick up on things most people would fly past and sees what other people don’t in offers that are given to her. She’s already naturally such a witty and clever person, but the way she plays is what I think makes her so special and a stand out. She’s the perfect combination of being really well educated on improv (she knows the structure of scenes, the piece as a whole, how to set things up, make people look good) and she is also able to be completely in the moment and organic. She’s not forcing anything, she’s using everything that’s out there, putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and making it look really easy and fun while she does it. And that is why I love Emily!”
Emily Davis on Amie Roe:
“The first time I met Amie was in a diner. She came to meet some improvisers that I was with, and she scared the crap out of me with how funny she was. I can’t remember why, but she was making lists of five things in various categories on her fingers, and I was completely intimidated. Each thing that she said was funnier than the last. I was pretty psyched when, later, she accepted my friend request.
Amie is a rare bird. She’s an amazing improviser with a high reference level and an equal love of the low brow. She’s really smart and naturally funny, and she puts herself completely out there on stage. She’s a robot, a ninja, and a pirate. She’s got great hair, an awesome wardrobe (I love her sweaters), and she’s gorgeous. She’s a freak.
So, here are a few lists of five to honor Amie’s awesomeness and accomplishments:
Amie is an incredible performer, director, coach, teacher, and producer. Over the last few years, Amie has put together ambitious projects, made a lot of t-shirts, saved kids’ lives, been a good friend, and acquired a nemesis. Amie has made improv better through her performances in The Amie and Kristen/Kristen and Amie Show and Brick, as one of the masterminds behind Duofest, through her level of commitment to everything she does, through the generosity and support that she offers to others, and by keeping everything fun, charming, and weird. Thanks for everything, and love you, Amie!”
Amie Roe on Maggy Keegan:
“What can you say about Maggy Keegan that isn’t obvious from her radiant smile? A lot. Because in addition to having a beautiful smile, Maggy is also a really talented comedienne, and you cannot tell if a person is a great comedian from their smile.
Maggy has great teeth, beautiful facial structure, and extensive performance experience in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Maggy has studied improv and sketch at iO West, the Groundlings, and Second City, and she has been a patient of Dr. Andrew Agnew, DDS, for roughly 9 years. Dr. Agnew says of Maggy, “I have treated Maggy for 5 cavities and seen 3 of her improv shows. i filled her cavities with hilarity, jokes, and talent. Just kidding, she is funny and talented enough on her own.”
While in Los Angeles, Maggy performed regularly with Pretty Bird, Popular Science, Days of Passion, The Hortons, and Spirit Fingers, and she brushed her teeth every morning and also before she went to bed, even if she was really tired and didn’t feel like it. Upon moving to Philadelphia, Maggy performed on Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) house team King Friday, cast and began directing acclaimed PHIT house team Davenger, and also began performing with improv duo Whisper and a three-person group, Soiree. Through all of this, she found the time to floss and avoid sugary drinks.
Maggy drinks coffee and red wine, but not too much, because it can leave stains.”
Here’s the latest from improviser and The Flat Earth sketch team member Jess Ross. Filmed and edited by comedian Jimmy Viola; starring improvisers Kristen Schier and Maureen Costello and stand-up Alejandro Morales.
If you are a Philadelphia comedy performer that produces a podcast, web series, sketch video, humor column, or any other online content let us know by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share it!
“Awkward Moments” is a monthly column that asks comedians, “What do you do when…” In this installment we talk about references and improv.
Improvisers are often expected to keep a lot of stuff in their heads, all while being encouraged not to think. Some of this stuff has been put there by the process of learning improv, and “rules” that we’ve learned or had to unlearn. (Read a great piece about these so-called rules in Matt Holmes’ new column, “Discussing a Bit.”) The rest of this stuff is what all of us have in our heads all the time—the accumulated scraps of information, trivia, observations, etc. that comprise our knowledge of the world. And dipping our little improviser bucket into that well of references can lead to wonderfully specific and idiosyncratic choices in scenes, like making a movie that’s a literal blockbuster, or the development of the progressive metal concept album Operation: Mindcrime II. (Wikipedia -> Random Article is your friend.) But what do improvisers do when their reference well doesn’t match up with their scene partner’s?
Most improvisers will find themselves in this situation at some point. Your partner has just endowed you with a character trait, maybe even a name, and you hear titters from the crowd. Your Spidey sense is tingling (that’s from Spider-Man) and you realize that they’re in on a joke that’s left you in the dust. You realize it’s because your scene partner is making a reference, and the little editor inside your brain is screaming “Why didn’t you watch more Inside Edition?!” How does an improviser move forward when they feel left behind?
First off, it’s important to mention that it’s good to be informed. Everybody won’t understand everyone’s references all of the time (I think Lincoln said that while he was slaying the undead), but improvisers should cultivate a hunger for information and insight that they can bring to the stage, and that includes participating in an intertextual world (I learned that in college). Here’s what Alex Newman, member of PHIT house team Davenger and known referencephile, has to say about arming oneself with knowledge:
“If you are an improviser, I think it’s super important to be a diligent consumer of pop culture, even if you feel like it’s killing you inside. Read everything, browse Wikipedia, and watch an episode of Real Housewives of New Jersey (one is definitely enough). Even a basic working knowledge of pop culture will arm you with enough references to survive. That being said, if you don’t get a reference: fake it. Play it real, agree, commit and even if you get it wrong you’ve just created something that’s true within the scene. If you think Hunger Games is a competitive eating tournament then in the world of your scene, that’s what it is. The worst thing you can do is ignore it or try to make it not important.”
I think Alex enters most scenes as if going into battle.
Most of the performers I talked to agree that sticking with and exploring what you’ve created is essential. Aaron Hertzog, of Hey Rube fame and soon-to-be-famous L.A. comedian, describes how having “your own deal” is an asset when dealing with reference:
“Hold on to whatever idea you came into the scene with. Lets say you come into the scene as somebody who LOVES kitty cats, but your scene partner wants to make you Superman. They are dropping hints that you are Superman but you’re just not picking it up. Don’t worry about trying to find out the specific reference—just play the scene with your love of kitty cats! Eventually you (or maybe just the audience, but that’s ok) will get that you are Superman, and now, you’re a Superman that loves kitty cats—which has much more depth and comedic hook than just plain old Superman.”
Michael Tomasetti, of Mayor Karen and now of the great city of Los Angeles (really guys? L.A. is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 5 Big Bad Glory and Philadelphia is her brain-sucking victim…wait I have to go cry about Tara now), also uses strong character choices in response to an unknown:
“I usually get away with it by playing someone foreign. I like to use accents and whenever someone drops a Dr. Who, Star Trek, or sports reference I usually play someone not from this country or an alien. Or if I can get away with it, I play something literally. One time Alan Kaufmann and I were in a scene and he mentioned me playing Super Mario 3. I played the game once or twice, but knew enough to go along with the scene. At one point in the scene he said something like, “Get the frog suit and wear it.” I stood up and reached under my chair, and mimed putting on a full length frog suit. Everyone started laughing hysterically, and I just figured it was because it was so bizarre. It was only after we got off stage that Alan was like, “the frog suit is what Mario wears in Super Mario 3.”
THIS JUST IN: MARIO IS A FRENCHMAN.
Greg Maughan, Executive Director at the Philly Improv Theater and all-around comedy fiend, has a couple alternatives when dealing with reference:
“I’ve handled this situation in two different ways. In the first, I play a character who would never get the reference and just breezes past it innocently. In the second, I address the problem head on, admit I don’t get it and make a lame joke at my own expense: ‘Wait, are we both talking about the same Young Jeezy? I was thinking of Teddy Roosevelt’s puppy.’”
Silly Greg. We all know TR’s dog was named Slick Pulla.
No matter what, remember that you know everything you need to know to have a successful scene. As long as we listen, play and communicate, reference doesn’t need to be scary. Kristen Schier, clown, comedian, and improv goddess who can be seen in The N Crowd and The Kristen & Amie/The Amie & Kristen Show, reminds improvisers to keep having fun:
“First off, I would keep doing what I have been doing trusting that [my scene partners] noticed something about what I was doing that made them go that direction in the first place. That having failed, within the context of the scene, I might try the following:
Let them know I have no idea what they are talking about
Have fun guessing what they might mean
Give them the title of an obscure person or pop culture reference myself
What I would NOT do is start to worry or change up my character… Its perfectly okay to show your ignorance or stupidity onstage.”
Referencing the obscure or the trendy can be immensely satisfying whether or not everyone on stage “gets it.” As an audience member, it’s really gratifying to watch performers who imbue their scenes with the specific—if you see a lot of improv, you see a lot of the same scenes over and over again. But when improvisers come together and gift each other with their idiosyncratic knowledge, unique things happen. Of course, reference initiators should do so in service of the scene, not for the sake of dropping some sweet Reddit-curated knowledge for their own fame and glory (save that for political debates around the Thanksgiving table!) And reference receivers should do their best to listen to what was offered and honestly join their scene partner in whatever they’re playing, rather than fight against it or judge themselves.
So tell us in the comments below: have you had an awkward moment of not getting the reference on stage? What do you do when something’s over your head? (Like the legendary HGTV series hosted by Eric Stromer???)
Hilary Kissinger is a writer and improviser splitting time between New York and Philadelphia. She performs with Philly Improv Theater house team Davenger and writes about movies for FilmMisery.com. Chat with her on Twitter @HilaryKissinger.
What Awkward Moment in comedy would you like to see Philly’s comedians tackle? Ask “what do you do when…” by emailing email@example.com.