Duofest begins today

09/30/2010

Tonight marks the start of the first ever DUOFEST, hosted by the PHILLY IMPROV THEATER and taking place at the Shubin.

This weekend explores the joys of duos… two person improv that until now has never appreciated this level of attention. Kudos to the producers for locking in on a unique theme and creating a playspace for this abundant but underdeveloped corner of the improv world.

Audiences have four days of twosome love to take in, and there’s a lot of talent that’s going to be represented on stage through the weekend. You’re likely familiar with a lot of the local ones… the longtime partnership of Whipsuit, the organically fresh Amie & Kristen Show, the one-man duo with an audience member M@&, the newly retitled Rosen & Milkshake and even an old school reunion of Holmes/Maughan. All of the acts promise to be excited and fun-filled, but because weekend passes are long since sold out and I love lists, I’m giving you my picks of new, exciting and different duos you may not know about but probably want to make a point of checking out this weekend.

THURSDAY PICKS

Toy Soldiers
Kelly Vrooman & Alan Williams

Kicking off the list and performing tonight are Toy Soldiers. These are two local improvisers very dear to my heart, not only because I’ve played with both of them regularly through the years, but more so because I’ve been in the audience watching them. They’re individually fun to watch, and I’m really excited for the debut of them together in a premise that plays exceptionally to their strengths.

Gay Boy / Straight Boy
Steve Kleinedler & Dana Bein

Closing out opening night is this duo from Boston. As the title might suggest, one is gay and one is straight, but most importantly, both are hilarious. I’ve been able to play with Steve on numerous occasions, and he’s always a delight. Although I haven’t climbed on stage with Dana, he’s a joy to watch and makes some surprising choices. I’ve been waiting to catch them together in this show, and tonight I finally get to.

FRIDAY PICKS

The Cascade
Rick Andrews & Jenny Dunne

Rick is a Duofest producer and brings with him a long history of improvised stage work, starting out at ImprovBoston and continuing up through his current work with Magnet, where he met Jenny. Although she’s newer to the craft, she’s had the opportunity to dive in and train with some of the best NY has to offer. Now watch as these two carefully explore the nuances of perspective and change, reliving a single moment over and over, discovering how subtle choices define consequence.

Grandma Hates Technology
Mike Weiss & Jessica Weiss

A father-daughter act that is as quick and clever as it is adorable. They brought the house down and wowed audiences at PHIF last year, and since that time have been on a streak, killing stages at festivals all across the country. Anyone that has any doubts about Jessica’s age surely hasn’t seen that girl take on solid adult personas and bust out shadow characters with the best of them. Truly a unique show not to be missed.

SATURDAY PICKS

Scout and Handsome Rob
Marcy Jarreau & Rob Penty

It’s no secret I’ve had an improv crush on Marcy for years, from her days conquering UCB’s Project Improviser, clear up to the present, as her all-female ensemble Bombardo continues to be a highlight of PHIF each year. In this show, she reunites with Megawatt Team X co-star Rob (sending out some Imposters love) for a duo that’s sure to be filled with strong characters and bold moves.

Snake Pitt
Jake Schneider & Jonathan Pitts

One’s part of Improvised Shakespeare and The Reckoning. The other created Storybox and runs CIF. These are two Chicago greats, just doing what they do best. Sit back and soak it in.

IMP
Asaf Ronen & Karen Eleanor Wight

Local audiences may be familiar with Asaf and his work he’s brought to Philadelphia in the past. A wonder on his own, when you put Karen in the mix for IMP, you get something that really jumps a few levels. Mostly devoid of spoken words, this commedia inspired clowning duo communicates more effectively with glances and gestures than many improvisers could hope to do with an arsenal of verbal language. Fluid character archetypes, combined with often poetic and always hypnotic visual storytelling creates something that isn’t improv… because it defies description.

Landry and Summers
Shaun Landry & Hans Summers

This duo are married to the stage and to one another. Both Second City Alums, both determined to show California how it’s done… first in San Francisco and now taking up residence in LA. 25 years improvising together is no small feat, and here’s a rare chance for folks on the east coast to see what that kind of shared skill, knowledge, intimacy and trust can create on stage.

SUNDAY PICKS

Hodapp and Rothwell
Dan Hodapp & Natasha Rothwell

Two fantastic and funny people who NY is very fortunate to have. They won Magnet’s Improv Duo Tournament in 2009. They won my heart long before that.

Adventure Squad
Kaci Beeler & Valerie Ward

I’ll be honest that I’ve heard nothing about this show, nor am I familiar with the improvisers. But the show description alone has my interest genuinely piqued. Closing out Duofest, these ladies play awkward, quirky pre-teens living through a single day of school. Nostalgia and cringing humiliation are apparently on the lesson plan, and attendance is mandatory.

There are dozens of other acts running throughout the weekend, and you can get the details on all of them on the Duofest website.

FIRST ANNUAL DUOFEST
PHILLY IMPROV THEATER @ THE SHUBIN
407 BAINBRIDGE ST, PHILADELPHIA
SEPT 30TH – OCT 3RD

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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.


A chat with Amie and Kristen

04/20/2010

Whether you call them the Amie & Kristen Show or the Kristen & Amie Show… the most important thing is that the two ladies onstage are Amie Roe and Kristen Schier; a pair of funny local ladies who, while well established among an assortment of improv groups, are popping up all the more recently as a two woman show.

I had the chance to chat with these ladies and pick their brains about their playing styles and the dynamics of the duo…

What would you say are some of the major differences in doing a two woman show vs a larger ensemble piece?
KS: Mostly you get to play a lot more. No time for thinking on the back line which makes the ride that much more wild.
AR: When you’re in a two-person show you’re constantly engaged. And I’m also focused on just Kristen the whole time. I become really attuned to her every move. Every nuanced thing you do becomes so important, because, with just two people, no bit of information gets lost.

What do you two do to get prepared for a show? Any special warmups or bonding, etc?
KS: Amie and I are best friends. That’s right, I said it. So we know each other pretty well.
AR: Kristen is my best friend. I took the plunge and also said that. We took a class on duo improv shows at the Magnet Theater with Armando Diaz. We had a cute little ritual of taking the bus together to New York, eating at Bagel Maven, taking class, and then riding back to Philly together. So spending that whole day together and having a 3 hour class in the middle of those days with Armando really helped us grow as friends and as a show.
KS: This is were we paid a lot of attention to what the show was, each others playing style and then we took it from there. Before a show we do some talking, some scene work and that is about it.

You are both directors of other shows, and so you have clear visions about things you want to see in improv performances. Of course we all want the audience to laugh… but what other elements do you want your show to showcase?
AR: I want to produce something that’s playful and honest.
KS: There are not a lot of groups in Philly right now doing organic transitions between scenes. So, yeah, we want to expose audiences to that stuff, if they haven’t had a chance to see it before. Really, its nothing new, its just new to the Philly stage. Also I want to show the audience a good time. Amie and I have a lot of fun up there making stuff up and we want that to be contagious.

Many duos fall into roles of straight vs wacky, etc. Do you find one of you playing a type of character/status more often?
KS: Nope. Its mostly different speeds of play that we contend with. Amie tends to play fast, and I slow both of which are great. During our show we almost switch personalities though – so surprisingly it will be Amie who slows a scene down as I find myself speeding things along.
AR: Also, Kristen tends to play the short characters and I play the slightly taller ones.

If your audience could only give a one word review of the Amie & Kristen Show, what would you hope they say after seeing a show?
AR: FUN!
KS: Congradulamatasticwowercise!

There you have it. And if you’re looking for a little congradulamatasticwowercise yourself, you can catch these ladies next Monday as they help Rookie Card ring in their one year anniversary show.

THE AMIE & KRISTEN / KRISTEN & AMIE SHOW
CELEBRATING THE ROOKIE CARD ANNIVERSARY SHOW
MONDAY, APRIL 26TH @ 9PM
RAVEN LOUNGE | 1718 SANSOM ST