Sometimes things are funnier in twos

09/10/2010

Some improv groups are born out of classes or pieced together through auditions. Others are spin-offs from existing groups. Even still, some are quickly cobbled together in the spirit of experimentation. Rarely, however, is there an established group whose cast is not known at curtain time.

MATT HOLMES (of Rare Bird Show fame) is half of the improvised duo m@&. The other half of the ensemble is still somewhat of a mystery. M@& (pronounced Matt, and…) features Holmes and a random audience member attending that particular performance. At the top of the show, he asks the audience if there’s anyone who’s never seen improv before. Someone pipes up or raises a hand and just like that, they’ve found themselves the unwitting star of the show.

Here and there he may encounter a small audience that’s entirely improvisers, and even in those few cases, he’s managed to find someone who might have taken a class, but has yet to take to the stage in a show. “There’s at least a few people who’ve been brought by a friend or family member” says Holmes, “and they don’t quite know what’s happening.” Many would agree with him, that this comedy amongst strangers makes things little more dangerous and exciting.

The name came about before the concept, as Holmes was looking to work with improvisers he’d met both here in Philadelphia and along his travels. Then, as it sometimes happens prior to creating new and interesting works for the stage, somewhere in the back of his head, he got the idea for an experiment.

While attending Cabrini College, Matt spent the earlier days of his comedy career running and performing with On the Spot, a weekly short-form show. He’d always loved the interaction with audience members that short-form thrives on. So when the opportunity presented itself, he jumped in head-first.

“Matt is the only person I know with the balls and ability to do it alone.” Michael Harris is the Artistic Director of Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) and producer of the Baltimore Improv Festival, which recently featured m@&. “For Matt to be the lone improviser and balance the dual responsibilities of carrying the show and supporting a novice takes a skill and generosity that precious few improvisers possess.”

"Matt is the only person I know with the balls and ability to do it alone"

It would seem that festival producers are apt to agree with Harris. M@& has been featured at festivals and comedy shows in places like Atlanta, Baltimore, Minneapolis and State College, to name a few. And he doesn’t show any signs of slowing. After his current run of six shows in the Philly Fringe Festival, he’ll be featured here in his home city at both Duofest next month and the Philadelphia Improv Festival in November. Kristen Schier, a producer for Duofest, thinks it’s pretty easy for folks to enjoy the show. “M@& is effortless joy. Holmes’ simple approach is they key to his brilliance.”

Indeed, simplicity would seem to be a driving force behind the whole project for Holmes. “I have this big, open loose thing where I can do whatever I want on stage.” He adds, “and what I want to do is have fun, make it easy for me and for my partner, and have it be funny for everyone watching. If my m.o. were more complicated, I couldn’t do this show.”

With never knowing who he might pull up, each night is gamble… where the only thing that’s certain is that the volunteer will be as much a part of the show as he is. “We’re a team up there. I’m not trying to make fun of them of just use them. We’re playing together.” Even with the more reluctant audience members, Holmes makes an effort to keep them in the show. During one performance, he had a girl who wasn’t quite playing along and was unsure of what to do. He could tell she wanted to leave the stage, and then she finally did. “(So) I do a scene where she’s back in her seat in the audience, but I’m serenading her.” It’s these different sort of moments that create fun challenges and take shows into interesting places. “I want the audience volunteer to think it was something fun that they liked doing.”

Sometimes the volunteer finds huge success on stage in the process. In Minneapolis at Brave New Workshop, the man pulled up had never seen an improv show before. In a scene where Holmes was a gunfighter, he’d accused the man of using his mother as a human shield. The man came back with a line about how he really didn’t technically kill her. Suddenly they found themselves in a chain reaction where the volunteer was indirectly responsible for all these deaths. “He found this really funny game for us to play… that was all him.”

That sort of playfulness seems nearly instinctual. “Once in a while a non-performer will come up with a killer line or know just how to play along.” Holmes has had people not believe that he doesn’t plan at least some of what happens. If the audience member is good, he’s heard people murmur about whether they were a plant. He also likes to use the suggestion in a very obvious way so that the audience can see it couldn’t be planned unless he was paying someone to sit there and yell it at him. “I’ll usually try to start something at first, at least to get us going… but I’ve started scenes later on where I’m just sitting there, letting my partner push us in a direction… I’m not plucking out improv geniuses or diamonds in the rough… It’s not a conspiracy, we’re just playing pretend.”

"Probably the strongest game improviser I know"

It’s said that one of most equally frustrating and complimentary things an improviser can hear after a show is that the audience doesn’t believe it’s made up. Recounting the recent m@& show in Baltimore, Harris attributes choice and openness as factors in making it seem so effortless. “Matt’s character choices not only drew the audience in, but led his scene partner out of his shell and into active participation… it was one of the highlights of the Baltimore Improv Festival.”

Nathan Edmondson and Alexis Simpson have been improvising with Holmes for the better part of a decade in their highly acclaimed group, Rare Bird Show. They’ve witnessed firsthand how easy he makes it to work with them. “Matt has (an) insane natural talent as an improviser and is a true student of comedy,” says Edmondson. Simpson agrees, “he’s like a wind up toy… just give him a word and let him go. He is probably the strongest game improviser I know.” They both feel comfortable and confident sharing scenes with him. Edmondson adds, “when you’re on stage with him, you can rest assured that the funny will happen.”

With any luck, we can rest assured that the funny will continue to happen. Holmes sees himself continuing this for some time. “It’s nice to have something that really challenges and excites me… I haven’t had any terrible, awful, shameful shows with this project.” He’s got a run of shows coming up here in Philly, and something tells me we’re likely to see him on the road again as well. “The show is just really easy to do while I’m visiting someplace, ’cause it’s just me… the audience is already there.”

Who knows who his next scene partner might be. “If an audience member can bring their 80-year-old grandmother or their 16-year-old cousin or their blind date and maybe see them up on stage in a comedy show, I think that’s an interesting night out.”

Agreed.

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Insomniac Alert: Get Dazed and Amused this weekend

08/26/2010

Ever get an itch for live comedy at 4AM? Then your insomnia-fueled dreams are about to come true my friend, as improvisers from both Philadelphia and Los Angeles take to the Adrienne’s Second Stage tomorrow for DAZED & AMUSED: THE 24 HOUR IMPROV MARATHON.

Produced by the PHILADELPHIA JOKE INITIATIVE and directed by MARY CARPENTER, the second year of this ambitious show runs from Friday at 10PM until Saturday at 10PM, featuring a full 24 consecutive hours of non-stop improv. Joining Carpenter on stage are Los Angelenos ALEXIS SIMPSON & THOMAS FOWLER (both former Philadelphians), in addition to local comedians MARIO FRABONINATHAN HOLT, KAREN GETZ, ALLI SOOWAL, JIM CARPENTER and DAVE DRITSAS.

The cast plans to keep a bit of variety in their games, performing both long and shortform formats. While they will remain on stage for the full marathon, cast members are allowed two 30 minute naps… however they must do so in full view of the audience, in one of two cots that will sit onstage. The only time anyone will be able to leave the stage is to use facilities, because according to cast member Simpson “hey, who wants to see that?”

In a world where the actors create everything, sleep-deprived hallucinations should pose no threat. “Not only did we survive,” recalls Carpenter of last year’s endeavor, “we put on a fantastic show.”

She adds, “Improv always makes people ask ‘How’d they do that?’ Doing it for 24 straight hours, well that’s ‘How’d they do that’ to the nth degree. For those final minutes, the entire audience was on its feet.”

All proceeds after production expenses benefit EDUCATIONWORKS, a non-profit organization that provides unique educational opportunities and academic enrichment for students in the Philadelphia area.

PJI has a variety of ticket options available… so if you want to just catch the opening or closing, want to come see middle of the night insanity or are brave enough to forge through the whole shebang, there’s an option to fit your both your wallet and your sleeping habits (or lack thereof).

DAZED & AMUSED
THE 24 HOUR IMPROV MARATHON

FRI 8/27 @ 10PM – SAT 8/28 @ 10PM
ADRIENNE SECOND STAGE | 2030 SANSOM ST
TICKETS: $7 – $24


Comedian Profile: Nathan Edmondson

06/16/2010

Editors Note: In this segment, we step away from the stage and take a look at comedians in the Philadelphia area… Learn a little more about where they come from, what they do while not performing and of course the question we all ask ourselves… Why do we do it?

NATHAN EDMONDSON

Might have seen him in: Rare Bird Show

Hangs his hat in: Fishtown

Stomping Grounds: Franklin, PA

Pays the Bills as: Actor, Filmmaker, Theatrical Director of “Terror Behind the Walls” at Eastern State Penitentiary, Teacher, Care Giver, Standardized Patient, sometimes Bouncer, and Doer of What Needs Doing

Projects: I’ve just started directing a new PHIT house team!  Great group of extremely talented individuals.  Can’t wait to see what they’re able to create together.  I think they might take over the world.  I’m scared.

Reel 9 Productions is my film production group that we launched in the last few months.  Currently, we’re working on a documentary focusing on some individuals in South Philly called, “Born and Raised.”  Our first film, “Number 9,” was just accepted into the New Filmmakers Film Festival in NYC, and will be playing July 28th somewhere up there.  End of this month, we’re playing at the New Hope Film Festival.  We also received an Accolade Award for that piece which surprised the heck out of us!  We shot “Number 9” at Eastern State Penitentiary in two days.  My film partner, Erin, ran the camera while holding the boom mic and carrying all the extension chords because our rental equipments’ batteries weren’t charged.  She followed me around doing stupid stuff until we had enough footage to make a coherent, dramatic film.  We’re looking forward to some fun, new projects coming soon.  If you can laugh, we might need your help…

Other Hobbies: I love watching movies.  If I had to pick one hobby, I think it would be just to watch movies.  Fly-fishing is a past-time I’d like to reincorporate more regularly.  Traveling is a lot of fun.  In January I was out volunteering at the Sundance Film Festival, staying in Salt Lake City and soaking in the mountains and lakes of varying size.  I was just touring around Ohio visiting Haunted Houses for work.  Ohio is flat.  Yoga is good in so many ways, especially to balance out Muay Thai kicks.

Why Improv?

I grew up watching Stand Up, Stand Up and thinking it’d be great to be a stand up comedian.  Then there was Whose Line Is It Anyway (British version).  In college, I studied theater and auditioned for every improv troupe around, got into them, but was too busy (scared) to be able to join up.  Once I moved to Philly after graduation, I took up improv to stay creative between acting in theater productions.  I was lucky enough to fall in with Matt Holmes and Alexis Simpson, and Rare Bird Show became my creative outlet for 4 years.  I could get my performance fix without having to commit to the rehearsal schedule of doing theater so it fed the bug enough while I worked a soul(and time)-sucking desk job.  It’s funny, when I told my close friends here in Philly I was joining an improv troupe, my buddy turned to me and said in all honesty, “Don’t you have to be funny to do that sorta thing?”

Improv has allowed that freaking crazy, spontaneous kid who used to jump around his grandmother’s house with abandon to show up again in my life.  Now I’m addicted to the rush of being on stage: that fear and adrenaline that pumps through your system and the pressure that it’s up to you and your team to make it entertaining.  So much of life can be (and often has to be) tamed, planned and overly analyzed.  When you’re on stage, you just have to be in the moment and react.  Commit.  React.  Do it NOW.  It’s refreshing.  And it’s such an intellectual endeavor when you look at it objectively.  I like that side of it too.  I think mostly I just like being a ham and being stupid in front of people.  We’re all such idiots in life.  On stage you’re given the chance to live that openly and share it with a group of people and people ENJOY it!  It’s a great thing to be a part of.

I’ll conclude with the memory of my very first improv performance.  I was nine years old and my neighbor and best friend decided that we should do a clown show for the block of kids and their parents.  I was filled with dread as we found ridiculous, over sized costumes and applied colorful face paint.  My friend told me how she’d introduce the show, we’d dance around, she’d do this funny thing and then I’d do something and then we’d dance some more.  Our rehearsal was about as long as it took to write that sentence.  We were off finding patrons and soon a dozen kids and mothers were sitting on the side walk in front of my porch.  FEAR gripped my stomach.  We danced around, my friend said some stuff that wasn’t so funny then she pushed me out in front of everyone and I froze.  “……hi……um…..” and I don’t remember the rest.  Next thing, my friend is walking around in her swim suit for some reason screaming nonsense at the top of her lungs and people left.  Lady across the street suggested we rehearse a bit more before charging 10 cents a pop.  Ta Da!

If you know someone who you think should be profiled, we’d love to hear about them.


Announcing Philadelphia Comedy Collective and Comedy Month

06/10/2010

Philadelphia Improv Festival, Philly Sketchfest, and The Philadelphia Joke Initiative Join Forces To Form Philadelphia Comedy Collective

New Collaborative Set to Present Month of Comedy in November

Three of the top forces in the local comedy scene are teaming up this year, becoming The Philadelphia Comedy Collective, and presenting Comedy Month. Forming the new collaborative are the Philadelphia Improv Festival, Philly Sketchfest, and The Philadelphia Joke Initiative. Their first endeavor, Comedy Month, will run from November 1-21 at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom Street. The producers will announce the performance schedule later this summer.

The first week of the festival will be the now week-long Philadelphia Improv Festival featuring local longform and shortform improv acts and troupes from all over the country. Now in its sixth year, the Philadelphia Improv Festival has hosted top-notch local acts along with teams from the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater (NYC), iO West (LA), DSI Comedy Theater (NC), Second City (Chicago), the Magnet Theater (NYC), Washington Improv Theater (DC), and the People’s Improv Theater (NYC). The Philadelphia Improv Festival is produced by Matt Nelson, Alli Soowal, and Jason Stockdale.

Following the improv festival, Philly Sketchfest will present its third annual event, a full week dedicated to sketch comedy. Philly Sketchfest is the brainchild of sketch troupe Animosity Pierre’s manager Ben Maher and Pierre members Matt Lally and Dave Terruso; Jessica Ciaramella and Cathleen Collins are associate producers. As active members of the Philadelphia sketch scene, these comedians have experienced the growth of comedy in the city firsthand. In 2009, the festival grew to include over a dozen local and national sketch groups.

The Philadelphia Joke Initiative (PJI) will handle the final week of performances. The comedy advocacy organization recently completed a successful run of its improvised musical, “Rodgers and Hammerstein are Dead.” The group was founded in 2009 and is dedicated to supporting comedy and comedians in the greater Philadelphia area. PJI recognizes comedy has inherent cultural value, and will foster Philadelphia’s cultural community by regularly producing comedy events, nurturing local talent, encouraging that talent to remain in Philadelphia, and raising the profile of Philadelphia-based comedy on the national market. PJI is run by Alexis Simpson and Kate Sabato.

About The Philadelphia Comedy Collective

The Philadelphia Comedy Collective is a consortium of local producers, performers, and companies unified for the purpose of comedy advocacy, cultural vitality, and excellence in improvisation, sketch, stand up, theater, film, music, and other comedy media.


Philadelphia Improv Festival, Philly Sketchfest, and The Philadelphia Joke Initiative Join Forces To Form Philadelphia Comedy Collective

New Collaborative Set to Present Month of Comedy in NovemberPhiladelphia Improv Festival, Philly Sketchfest, and The Philadelphia Joke Initiative Join Forces To Form Philadelphia Comedy Collective

New Collaborative Set to Present Month of Comedy in November


Alexis Simpson to teach Jekyll and Hyde workshops

06/26/2009

AlexisALEXIS SIMPSON, Artistic Director of the PHILLY IMPROV THEATER, will teach a special two-part workshop on Saturday, July 18th. Although the workshops can be taken independently, prospective students are encouraged to take them together in order to benefit from the full experience.

In the first of the workshops, Alexis will take a soft, Jekyll-like approach in identifying the individual strengths and weaknesses of students:

You love improvisation, but you’re not sure you are getting the most out of every scene? What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? What is my director/coach/teacher/best friend not telling me? Alexis Simpson, loving spirit, will offer firm but gentle feedback that is specifically targeted for you and you alone. True strength comes from knowing your weaknesses.

In the second workshop, the kid gloves come off, and Alexis focuses on her two immediate missions, to fix what’s wrong, and to make you cry:

Your improv is awful. Everyone is bored. Stop it; stop it right now. It isn’t your fault that all your other teachers and all your other directors are too nice to tell you that your worst fears are true: YOU AREN’T FUNNY. Worse, YOU AREN’T EVEN INTERESTING. Alexis Simpson will fix that. You will come to this workshop on time. You will do bad scenes. Alexis Simpson, total jerk, will bark mean things that are only mean because they are true. You may cry, which you deserve. So come do your shitty improv so that Alexis can fix it. CAN YOU HANDLE IT?

It sounds like a pretty intense day PHIT has put together, and I hope lots of folks plan to take advantage of it.

Workshop: Jekyll
Saturday, July 18th, 11AM-2PM
$35, $50 after 7/11

Workshop: Hyde
Saturday, July 18th, 3PM-6PM
$35, $50 after 7/11

Both workshops to be held at the Shubin Theater, 407 Bainbridge St. Register online.

You love improvisation, but you’re not sure you are getting the most out of every scene? What am I doing right? What am I doing wrong? What is my director/coach/teacher/best friend not telling me? Alexis Simpson, loving spirit, will offer firm but gentle feedback that is specifically targeted for you and you alone. True strength comes from knowing your weaknesses.

Must See: Shubin Saturday

07/09/2008

Today I’ll be kicking off a new department, Must See. These posts will feature shows that I personally recommend that you do not miss. While I will always recommend you seeing the awesomeness of my own shows, these are rather the shows that you’ll be likely to find me in the audience next to you pining for the comedy magic that’s about to happen. So without further ado, my first recommendation…

THIS SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE SHUBIN

Once a month PHIT puts together a week of shows at the Shubin Theatre. Most are consistently pretty good, but sometimes the stars align and a lineup comes into existence that will knock the socks off your feet and then proceed to knit you new socks spun with laughter, attitude and tangible awesomeness. This Saturday is one of those nights.

First up is the 8PM show. I can’t even adequately express how damn excited I am for this pairing.

– First off is CUBED, consisting of local improvisers Dan Stabb (DCT North, Troika, my old former PHIT classmate) and Mark Bringhurst (Makeout Clinic, DCT, PHIT Instructor). The duo debuted only a few short months ago, but are already garnering amazing praise. They tackle premise based situation improv (think Bassprov, Code Duello, BWP) as a pair of cubicle dwellers sharing a 4×5 walled partition. The audience provides the name of their company and corporate memos that the two use for inspiration. I guarantee cube farming has seldom been so much fun.

– Next up is DR FANTASTIC, visiting from WIT in DC. Dr Fantastic is, well, aptly named and nothing short of exactly that. The group features Michael Bass, Topher Bellavia, David Johnson, Tyler Korba, Zhubin Parang, Rory Scovel and Molly Woods. These folks are fast, they’re crazy and they’re damn funny. Consistently. I’ve seen them three times and been blown away each time. They aren’t afraid of anything and thrive on breaking convention… but every step of the way they do it together… a seamless group mind that sets the bar about 50 f**king feet in the sky. I’m not going to say any more about what they do so as I think you’ll be the better for not having a clue, but let me just say that they could be in the headlining block of my festival in heartbeat based on what I’ve seen before.

When those two sets are done you’ve got exactly enough time to scoop your gray matter off the Shubin walls, change your shorts and buy a ticket for the 10PM show (or if you’re smart, get an advanced ticket).

The late block kicks off with a set from BARK WHARF. I can’t actually speak for this three-person ensemble as I’ve never seen them perform as a group, but I can most certainly speak for these three people: Matt Klinman, Ali King and Jesse Paulsen. I’ve been around these fine folks in many a workshop and they’re a joy. They are also all alums of Haverford, which if you haven’t put 2 and 2 together yet, churns out batshit crazy good improvisers like it’s their job (Alexis Simpson, Scott Sheppard, the list goes on and on…).

Rounding out the evening is MEG & ROB. This much lauded sketch duo (Meg Favreau and Rob Baniewicz) has been on a quest of world domination, having recently played at Chicago Snubfest and will be touching down at the Shubin right before heading back out to play the Minnesota Fringe Festival. As much as we can see them pretty consistently at Die Actor Die, Bedtime Stories and a rare Troika appearance, their shows always seem to feel fleeting for some reason. It’s a rare treat for me to feel like that watching sketch, so I plan to take advantage of this and take in some fun times from the creators of Reviving the Lecture Circuit, Love Over the Phone and Dan Henkle, Relationship Expert.

PHIT @ THE SHUBIN
Saturday, July 11th
8 & 10PM
407 Bainbridge St
Tickets – $10


The N Crowd, Rare Bird Show & Singles

04/18/2008

The N Crowd has regular shows every Friday, but tonight is anything but regular. Local favorites the Rare Bird Show will be swinging by to open the show.

Alexis Simpson, Matt Holmes & Nathan Edmondson of Rare Bird Show

Alexis Simpson, Matt Holmes & Nathan Edmondson of Rare Bird Show

It’s also a special event meetup for Meet Market Singles. That’s right folks… there’s lots to be had at the Actor’s Center tonight…

Longform, Laughs, Love & Libby *

Not Available In Stores. No Refunds.

* Brandon Libby: No Refunds.

Shows have been packed throughout 2008, so if you don’t have tickets or need to find parking, make sure to come early!

The N Crowd @ The Actor’s Center
w/ guest Rare Bird Show
Tonight, 8PM – $10
257 N Third St