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Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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Postby cargill » March 14th, 2006, 10:46 am

All try to be brief:

1990 I was introduced to improv in Mrs. Canales's Theater Class (10th grade). It was the first time I felt high. It was amazing. I loved it so much I asked to compete in UIL Group Improvisation (where you get 2 mintues to prepare your improv) and from 1990 - 1992 I placed 2nd and 3rd in UIL Group Improv for my High School. After high school, I took some time off to have a bad relationship with an older man and did a bunch of drugs, then I wisened up and got my own place, auditioned for Comedysportz Austin (then in Northcross Mall). I was a troupe member from 1997 - 2001. I met Rachel Madorsky in the audition and Erin Plischke (now my hubby) was already in the troupe. Erin and I had begun to feel stagnant with that style and format and we were not allowed to play anywhere else in Austin, so we moved to Chicago. We went through Improv Olympic first. On day 1 I met Erika May. Strangley, we were both from Austin and happened to live on the same street. Weird. Erika and I played on a team called Bevy that to this day was everything an improv team strives to be. We were SO amazing together. Bob McNichol played on an IO team called Johnny Roast Beef and he and Erika sometimes sat in with my other team Obsessed. Rachel came to Chicago to visit Dave and contacted me. We had stayed in touch over the years and Erin and I got a chance to hang out with them in Chicago. They came to see Erika and I in Bevy. Dave also helped me prepare for a few auditions and really did a KICK ASS job. Erin and I went through Annoyance and then Second City until we had a family tragedy that uprooted us from Chicago at the beginning of 2004 and immediatley brought us back to Texas. After living in Dallas for 9 months, we made it back to Austin where I started teaching a class that birthed Wooden Nickel. Rachel and Dave were deciding where to move and picked Austin. The four of us started performing together as Quatro with one of the worst openings I've ever done (we still laugh about it to this day). Mac Antigua and I had been emailing before Erin and I moved to Texas, Dave knew Mac and so Mac came it to join the team and play. Erika and Bob came in for ACL fest and then SXSW where I poured queso on Erika until she said they would move. When they arrived they jumped right in to Tight and the rest is history. Whew !
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Postby sara farr » March 14th, 2006, 12:26 pm

I grew up in a family that instilled a love of art & theater in me. Unfortunately the opportunity to learn about theatrical stuff was shut down in HS when I had to decide between: art, music, drama, science, or sports. Art and science won out, and that led to a career in computer animation.

Yet the essential thing I have always loved about animation is the visual storytelling and character development. So after years of being a fan of comedy and theater, topped off with a couple of years coaching my character animation students to take acting classes, I signed up to take the State Theater's Improv 101 (taught by Shana Merlin). She made the class so much fun I couldn't stop. Then I got swept up into the POWER of improv.

I am now an improv disciple. So there.
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Postby Rachel » March 14th, 2006, 12:55 pm

I tried to be short –

I went to Syracuse University for Acting (and because I didn’t see how else I was gonna get into college and graduate without having to do math). I was very serious about Method Acting bla bla and didn't like improv one bit.

10 years later I was a social worker in Austin and depressed. I honestly couldn't remember the last time I laughed. So I took some ‘dumb improv UT informal class’ and I laughed. It felt so good to feel good. One day our teacher was sick so we had a sub – it was the “artistic directorâ€
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Postby acrouch » March 14th, 2006, 4:03 pm

I grew up watching the Brittish Whose Line and doing semi-improv games in a high school program called Odyssey of the Mind. One of the older, cooler kids went to UT and was in an improv troupe. I thought that was pretty sweet.

In 1997 I moved to Austin, attended the university of Texas and did a comic strip in the Daily Texan for three years. Eventually I got bored with comics and started dabbling in theatre. In the Spring of 2001 I took an awful, awful improv for nonmajors class in the Theater and Dance department the upside of which was that I went to see Monk's Night Out at the Bad Dog Comedy Theatre and a ton of Heroes shows at the Hideout.

Summer of 2001 I took classes at the Hideout with Shana Merlin and Sean Hill. (Jay Bernardo was actually wearing a jet pack when he crashed through the wall of the upstairs theatre.) I graduated from the Heroes School in November of 2001 and started playing Maestro. At the same time I started a college improv troupe with a bunch of friends and Plan II kids.

The college troupe (Ed 32) rocked out until the spring of 2004 when I stepped down as director and nobody stepped up. By then I had moved up the Heroes chain of command as older, more experienced players moved on or out. I started teaching classes and producing shows in 2004 and in September when I got back from studying in San Francisco at BATS Sean invited me to take over as Theatre Manager.
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I'll beat all of you with the longness and the ramblyness!

Postby phlounderphil » March 14th, 2006, 5:30 pm

Kaci was 90% right with her story about my entry into improv (since her and I pretty much did it together the whole time, I'd expect her to be right!) but I have a few things that I would like to add.

My interest in improv was first piqued way back in 1998 while watching a show called Qwik Witz on some television station. Qwik Witz was not improv, there were two teams of two comedians who were given their suggestions a month ahead of time and then would write sketches/songs based on those suggestions and perform them for an audience. Wayne Brady was on it. As was some other people who crossed over to the American version of Whose Line is it anyways. After watching this show, me and my friend Eric attempted to write a few funny little sketches based on suggestions my mom would give to us. Of course, being 7th graders (and Eric being the most perverted person I've ever met in my life) we would turn every sketch into something sexual (usuallly masturbatory as we were still in middle school and getting into that whole scene hardcore.) Honestly, Qwik Witz was a very shitty show, but it was funny at times (there was a scene in a castle made of cheese that attempted to use as many cheese puns as possible/"Your couch is covered in plastic?" -- "Yeah, It's American!")

I was homeschooled from the age of 4 to 11 and when my parents divorced I was tossed into the public school system with little or no real social skills. This is where comedy entered my life. I realized that being funny made people NOT hate me, and apparently I was a little bit funny. My mom had gone back to college (after the divorce) to get her degree in dental hygiene and we moved out of Wichita Falls (GOD! never go there...) and to Austin (because this is where dental hygienists made the most money!) I entered 8th grade, and again found myself the new student, luckily, this time I made friends very quickly through my theatre class. We did UIL middle school theatre tournaments, and there was two-person, and three-person improv categories. (They give you a random location, occupation, and object and you go outside and prepare a scene in two minutes, then come back into the room and perform it.) I went to the UIL tournament with my good friend Xaq (Zach).

Then I went into high school at Westwood high way up in NW Austin. That's when I was privileged enough to meet Ace Manning (who was the president of Drama Club when I was a freshman) and Kacey Samiee (his co-president). I overheard them talking about improv a lot and learned that Ace was in this mysterious troupe known only as the Well Hung Jury. I went to see them perform, and was awestruck. I went again, I invited friends. I was in theatre and had met alot of people who were highly funny, including Doug! and Kaci! In my junior year, a teacher approached me asking if I would put together some sort of act for a fundraising show. I decided on improv. I got four of my friends (all of whom have moved on beyond improv now and to better things, like cocaine and the Navy!) and we put on a little game-filled show. We did inner-thoughts, and sit, stand, lie down, and my own personal favorite Mousetrap! (which I had seen performed in wafflefest earlier that year as part of Doug's 16th birthday!) The show was fun, and I decided to do the same thing the next year, except this time, I wanted to audition for a troupe and make a big deal about it. Doug was interested to, so we both started talking about forming a troupe. In December of 2003 I held auditions for my first troupe The PITS (Premier Improvisational Theatre Society). Kaci and Doug were both in the troupe, along with some other friends. We performed two shows (one amazing one! and one mediocre one!) I contacted Sean and booked us a thursday night show at the Hideout in June of 2004. The only people who came were friends and family, the show was very weak, we tried to do a longform and only halfway suceeded. I assumed the improv community was elitist and nobody liked me. The troupe fell apart.

I was forced to entertain by sitting at the lunch table and improvising stories based on a suggestion and a genre for my friends. I made a lot of dirty sexual jokes. I was a self-described "line-pusher".

In 2005, after I'd gotten out of school. Another improv troupe name had dawned on me. Comedic Amoeba. It was a sign from the gods, I should perform more improv. I got back together with some of the people from the PITS and some other high-school friends (this is the first time I would meet Greg). We rehearsed for several months, every weekend at my house. Then, in the summer of 05, Kaci and I were hanging out all the time and running out of things to do, I'd heard of the improv jam through the heroes email list and the hideout's website, and we decided to go.

She was invited by Andy Crouch to play Maestro (again, I was taken down a peg by the improv community). Of course, being highly jealous of her, I asked if I could play Maestro too. To my surprise, Andy said yes. So we both played Maestro, we booked three three-fer shows for Comedic Amoeba, we met a lot of awesome talented people (including my then future troupe-kittens of Parallelogramophonograph). Comedic Amoeba ended when four of the seven members all moved away for college (leaving behind You Me & Greg). In August I received an oddly mysterious email from one Kareem Badr. Asking me to meet with him and Wes and Roy. We met at the Hideout on a Sunday, and they explained their improv goals to me and asked me to join the troupe they were starting. I was ecstatic.

Now here I am.

Thanks to shitty late-night comedy shows, respect for the Well Hung Jury, being jealous of my friends, Doug's 16th birthday at Wafflefest in 2002. (oddly enough, three years later You Me & Greg was performing IN Wafflefest ON Doug's 19th Birthday!)

That was a nice long story.
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Postby mcnichol » March 14th, 2006, 5:44 pm

I'm not even going to attempt brevity.

I had never been a "theater person," though I was kick-ass Alfalfa in the Little Rascals' Christmas play that Holy Martyrs put on in Christmas of 1983. I loved the whole experience and have no idea why I never pursued that type of stuff.

I grew up loving comedy -- specifically Steve Martin's "Wild And Crazy Guy" album that I borrowed from my parents when I was six (in 1979) and still haven't returned. The whole discovery of stand-up albums, Bobcat Goldthwaite (seriously, he's one of the best from the 80's -- I'll force on anyone what is probably the only CD of his Meat Bob album currently in existence), the Pythons, the Young Ones (MTV showed them late at night around 1985/86), and anything else remotely funny. When I was about 9 or 10, my friend Steve Kriz and I used to even record (on cassette) a completely improvised game show called Square Of Fortune. Steve played Pat and I played Vanna and all three contestants, which were often drunk or foreign or uptight or had some vocal characteristic. We rigged up theme music (an "Axel F" remix) and sound cues and everything. To this day, I have no idea why we did these or what idea we had in mind for who would listen to them, but boredom and time had us do many of these (I still have a tape of one episode somewhere). At this point, I think this was where I got the bug for making stuff up and making people laugh.

Then I did nothing for years. I was on stage at times, but only hiding behind a bass or guitar in bands while in Baltimore. I still loved comedy but it was more a passive, "watching it" sort of enjoyment. Then, I was home for Christmas over break in 1996. I was up late eating ice cream or something important and heard something from the other room. My step-father had fallen alseep on the couch with HBO still on. It was one of those times where you can't make out what you're hearing but you know it's something you want to hear. I went in the other room and saw something called "Coupon: The Movie" and it was the funniest fucking thing I'd seen in a long time. I grabbed a tape and started recording. It turned out to be the first or second night of a Mr. Show Xmas marathon, where they were showing all of the second season episodes over the consecutive nights and you best believe i taped them all. At the time, that was the most revolutionary thing I'd seen comedy-wise and it really got me thinking about "being funny." Back in Baltimore, I was a few months away from meeting my friend Ed Illades, who would become a co-obsessor of Mr. Show and comedy in general. Ed even went to a taping in the third or fourth season (the one with Jon Cryer reprising his Ducky role). Also in Baltimore, I met Greg McKenna (still the funniest person I've ever met) who had a REEM of sketches he'd written which were hilarious (one about a moustache that's making me laugh right now). He also showed me a tape of a cable-access show he and his friends back in Massachusetts used to do called "Wonderful Horrible Christmas" (actually, that was just one episode). It was absurd, hilarious, and they did it all by themselves. And that blew my mind (as did the "do it yourself" realization that indie-rock had blown my mind earlier around 1992).

So. I still had done nothing with actually performing or writing comedy at this point. I was living in Baltimore and a bunch of my friends and me all decided to move to Chicago, as had some friends of ours the year previous. I arrived thinking I'd just continue playing music and working. Done. Well, I got there and found a music scene that was a bit, uh, snooty. No, fuck that. I'm not going to blame any lack of musical activity on anyone else -- I took a bit of break from playing with people, but nonetheless, it was a bit HIP for my tastes. Ed and I shared an apartment together and neither of us had jobs for the first two months, and so were somewhat thrifty. We looked in the paper and saw an ad for a comedy place that had free shows Friday at midnight. We decided to go check it out. It turned out to be ImprovOlympic and it was their Cagematch show.

Ed and I went back sporadically that summer, but got involved in work and relationships and meeting people over winter. Once spring thawed out, we were back religiously going on the free Wednesday nights (three teams, the third always being the great Carl & The Passions). We started seeing more (read: non-free) shows there, including the great Two White Guys (with Jordan Peele and Becky Drysdale). One night in September, just before the Two White Guys show, we signed up for classes realizing that we should probably stop stalking comedy and just make a move. My first class was September of 2000, though I like to think I was in training, watching shows for a year before that.

I started classes and LOVED THEM. I soaked up as much as I could. I started performing on an independent team, booking shows at the Chopin Theater and whereever else we could. We were eventually brought onto the IO schedule and I performed there at IO until I left in June of 2005. I was lucky enough to perform with all sorts of great people at various theaters around town and am very grateful for all of my experiences there. I don't miss Chicago, and I don't miss silly political BS, but I do miss each and every one of those people. People tend to complain about not being paid and getting cut and everything else about that place, but first and foremost it is a training center. Every show I performed in, watched, did lights for.... all training. And I'm grateful.

Anyway, Erika and I realized we couldn't be as fiscally loose as we wanted to be in a city like Chicago. That and it was only an adopted home for each of us. We decided to move to Austin after a hard sell (of queso) from Jen and Erin (where we met Rachel and re-met Dave). I didn't know what to expect improv-wise, thinking perhaps we'd be lucky enough to perform once in awhile and have to find places to book on our own. I was so happy to find the thriving community at the Hideout who have been so welcoming to a newcomer like me, and a community that is expanding weekly. Anyway, what's gone on here has shot beyond my wildest dreams of what could be, and with the groundwork we've been laying for AIC and the Hideout we're on the way to something bigger than i could ever conceive.

thank you for reading my ramble, love, bob.
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Postby phlounderphil » March 14th, 2006, 5:45 pm

mcnichol wrote:I'm not even going to attempt brevity.

DAMN YOU MCNICHOL! I was the one not attempting brevity. You've ruined me. You've ruined me.
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Postby Wesley » March 14th, 2006, 6:10 pm

Allow me to show you all how it is done.

Kareem said "Let's take an improv class."
I wanted to get out of the house.
I checked the balance on my card to make sure there was room.
I took said class with Kareem and Roy.
We decided to start a troupe and so we did so.
Valerie horned her way in, but she worked at an ice cream store, so the kickbacks were worth it.
We thought Phil and Kaci were funny and could get us the valuable youth market.
Somehow we conned you people into letting us on stage.
The rest is history, soon to be legend.
"I do."
--Christina de Roos . . . Bain . . . Christina Bain

I Snood Bear
Improvised Theater
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Postby fbillac » March 15th, 2006, 12:42 am

Mine is a tale of woe (or is it whoa).

I was in a childrens' musical theatre troupe in San Antonio called Showstoppers. There were about 70 (no joke) of us ranging from the ages of 4 to 19 (I was 14 when I joined) and from "no talent, my mom paid to get me out of her hair for a few hours, hacks", to some true virtuosos. I only joined because a girl that I had a crush on heard me sing in choir (a class I had to choose due to having to repeat the 8th grade) and she was in the troupe (her sister was the director).She asked me to try out. SO I joined and ended up spending 4 years there. We did a TON of shows all over but mainly at the Josephine Theatre.

Then I graduated H.S. and moved to Austin... fell into a couple of lame jobs (none theatre related). I worked for Motorola from '93 - '96 when I was a victim in a huge round of layoffs.

I was driving around looking for work when I heard a radio ad for ComedySportz. It sounded fun and my friend's b-day was coming up so we went. I volunteered for a game (Dime Store Novel) and got a few laughs. I asked the referee of that show (Megan Flynn) when they were auditioning and she said "Tomorrow, you should try out.". I did (along with Erin Plischke) and Les McGehee called that following week (Feb 12, 1997) to let me know I got in. Comedy sport eventually became National Comedy Theatre and then in 2004 was no more. I had performed in a couple of Maestro's in the past and was invited to participate in one about a year ago (don't remember exactly when it was) and have enjoyed working with everyone there so far and look forward to working with everyone more so in the future.

"This football testoserone lovin mofo ain't diggin the jazz hands!"
Quoted from my wife when I was jazz handsing.
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Postby ChrisTrew.Com » March 15th, 2006, 2:59 am

I know that Queso is not really Queso.
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Postby HerrHerr » March 16th, 2006, 1:38 pm

My job, essentially, forced me to make some changes in my life.

I went away on vacation for a week over the holidays. When I got back, my schedule had been changed--my weekends were taken from me--and all of my supervisors were on vacation. I had no say whatsover in my work life. I was depressed, angry and slightly lost. I weighed fifty pounds more than I do now, spent all my free time writing screenplays (lonely) and never exercised. I wound up going to a therapist and started opening my eyes wide...

I read Live From New York (great book) while I was trying to work on my life. It inspired me to get off my butt. Exercising, eating better, cutting down on having an altered sense of reality. I went to see a sketch show at The hideout. While there, I found a flyer for the Heroes. It turned out that the classes were taking place on a night that was now free to me because of my new work schedule.

I was nervous as hell, but knew that the old me might come flying out on stage. It did. Shana, Ted and Andy coached me through three classes. My life DID change with the help of improv. I went to every show I could and started playing in shows that I kinda thought I had no right to play in (Start Trekkin', Iron Improvisor, Reality Improv). I jumped into the fire often and have not gotten burned...yet.

Now, I'm back to sketch writing and doing improv. The Heroes saved me from despair. I dance again. I love again. I meet great new people every month. I am so grateful.
Sometimes it's a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence.
--David Byrne
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Postby acrouch » March 16th, 2006, 2:46 pm

HerrHerr wrote:The Heroes saved me from despair. I dance again. I love again. I meet great new people every month. I am so grateful.

Can I put that on our brochure? : )
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Postby HerrHerr » March 17th, 2006, 12:06 pm

Hell yay, cuz it's true!
Sometimes it's a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence.
--David Byrne
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