Asteroid's B Movie Teaser

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5zDvsQvhfU

Asteroid's B Movie runs all through October at Philly Improv Theater at The Shubin Theater (407 Bainbridge St. Philadelphia). Tickets and schedule for PHIT shows can be found online.


Fringe Festival Preview: Davenger

By Hilary Kissinger

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:

You - Yes - You - Yes - Rusty - Yes - Bear - Yes - clap clapclap clapclapclap - zoom - zoom - oilslick! - zoom - ERR! - zoom - Reasonable Beets! - Ladder Man! - clap clap clap clapclap clap clap - Run DMC - Yes - Method Man - Yes - NINJA SCREAMS - OldTimeyProspectorsYeeeeHOOOOO!pewpewpew

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:

Topical.

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.


Fringe Festival Preview: Myths and Monsters

Myths and Monsters director Nick Gillette

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, and Alison 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.


Breakdown of a Bad Improv Workshop, Set to Run From Noon - 2:30

By: Matt Holmes

11:40:
The overly eager and overly early arrive to find a locked building with no signage. They wait.

11:50:
The regularly early arrive. Everyone meets everyone else and discusses the situation. They wait.

11:53:
Somebody arrives to open the door.

11:56:
The workshop instructor arrives, says hi to everybody and goes to the bathroom.

12:03:
The instructor tells everybody that they'll start in five minutes and give people a little more time.

12:11:
"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

12:33:
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"

1:45:
"Let's take a ten-minute break to hit the bathroom, feed the meter, take a smoke break, etc."

1:46:
One student has to leave early and thanks the instructor.

1:59:
"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

2:34:
"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

2:43:
Instructor thanks everybody for coming and ends the workshop

2:43 - 2:50:
Casual discussion among students and instructor

2:45:
An overly eager student arrives for a workshop scheduled to start at 3.


Creator Spotlight: Polygon

By: Alison Zeidman

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.

Milkshake: 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.


Creator Spotlight: Gettin' Close with Mike Marbach of Gettin Close with Mike Marbach to Talk about The Sideshow

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.


Interview: Twinprov

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.


Duofest Interview: Michael Loves Greg

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.