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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‘How I Came To Do Solo Improv’ by guest contributor Jill Bernard

06/04/2010

Editors Note: From time to time, I’m honored to have guest contributions by various improvisers from across the country who are regarded as being at the top of their field. They are welcomed here to share their thoughts on comedy-related subjects they have an acute knowledge of. JILL BERNARD is the creator and star of one of the most popular and award-winning improvised solo shows around, Drum Machine. I asked her to share with us that story:

HOW I CAME TO DO SOLO IMPROV
by Jill Bernard

I like it when improv is a little bit challenging, when I’m just out in front of the headlights. When it gets dull, I look for something new. At the time I conceived of my solo show Drum Machine I was at an all-time low of dull. I was bored, I was cocky, it was not healthy. Nothing was challenging. Improv, of all things, started to feel same old same old. There was no risk in my risk.

One morning I woke up thinking ‘there should be a show called drum machine’ and went to the music store at the end of my street and bought one. “What kind would you like?” said the nice man. “I have no idea, what’s a drum machine?” I said, and he showed me the translucent blue Zoom Rhythmtrak 123 with pink light up keys that could only be for me.

I never performed Drum Machine standing up or in front of other people before it debuted. I was way too nervous! It was way too stupid an idea. I just lay in bed giggling and running through the show with the amp by my head. I had been invited to be in Melissa Burch’s Red Curtain Cabaret here in Minneapolis, and she gave me a fifteen minute slot. I didn’t last that long. I freaked out after about five minutes and said, “Thank you, good night!” and ran away. I learned you should have a beginning, middle and end. The next week I learned if you’re playing all the characters they should be distinct or you’re shooting yourself in the foot. The week after that I learned that if you interview an audience volunteer and their story is more interesting than your theatrical replay of their story, you’re doomed. So the first three weeks of Drum Machine were incredibly educational.

Jonathan Pitts asked me to be in the Chicago Improv Festival the year after that. I had submitted a duo, they asked if I’d come alone. That’s tacky, right? So tacky. We weren’t an improv duo much longer after that, but it’s okay, she’s a successful chef in Texas it worked out for everybody.

People sometimes ask how I thought up the structure. It’s an easy recipe. All I did is combine everything I love into one thing. I love improv and singing and history and romantic stories. That’s all Drum Machine is. When I was a pre-teen we moved into my grandparents house. Their bookshelves were filled with Isaac Asimov and I was also stealing my mother’s historical romance novels and watching a lot of Monty Python: throw that in a sack and shake it, you get the aesthetic of Drum Machine. The show itself consists of an interview with a member of the audience, the suggestions of a historical time period and a number to program into the drum machine. Then I do a sweepingly epic historical improvised one-woman musical. The audience always laughs when I say I’m going to do a a sweepingly epic historical improvised one-woman musical, and then I do it.

When you watch Andy Eninger perform solo improv it’s so elegant and lovely. I admire him so. He lays it all out like the most beautiful cotillion you somehow snatched an invitation to. I’m not like Andy. I just make a huge mess and see what glitters inside it. I’m never thinking ahead as an improvisor. I don’t know how it’s going to end. I throw a lot of ideas and characters up in the air and tie them all together on the way down. Set, wait twenty minutes, spike. I trust that I know how it goes even though I don’t know how it goes. I’ve trained myself to love forward momentum and extreme reactions, these are the tools I have. Curiosity, that’s another tool, the kind of curiosity that makes a cat follow a bird out onto a branch that can’t support its weight, yes, you can’t stay where it’s safe and do improv properly.

Since I conceived of Drum Machine it’s evolved a lot. There used to be an audience participation song at the top that the audience loved but I hated. David Razowsky told me I didn’t have to do it anymore some years ago and I’m forever grateful for that permission. Those first three performances at Red Curtain Cabaret I wore business casual. One night we were eating at Little Tijuana’s, home of super-hot punk rock waitresses, and Butch Roy said aloud, “Punk girls are hot.” I thought to myself “I want to be hot” so Drum Machine featured a semi-punk aesthetic for some years after that. I recently switched over to nice dresses because I got tired of being a total poser and it feels weird singing Broadway-style songs in a short plaid skirt. Those first couple years touring to festivals I was so nervous I carried everything with me. I carried combat boots and 50′ of cable, and a mirror and a shim so the audience could see the drum machine. Now instead of cable I just carry every adapter in the world. I still carry some things that don’t make sense. I always have a Happy Fun Time clip-on tie with me at every show. You never know.

There was a time when I was going to stop doing the show. Every time I entertain that thought, the show changes. It turns a corner and I’m curious again! I have big dreams for it, I wish it was on Broadway although I’ve no idea how to make that happen. It’s one of those goals that makes you better along the way. Like Thích Nhat Hanh says, “If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction.” Ha! I don’t think I’ve really shared that secret goal with more than three people because it makes me sound like even more of an asshole. Shhh, don’t tell anybody, Philly Improv!

If you’d like to try solo improv, I recommend you find a setting like a cabaret or an open mic or a set in between two other groups where you can go for five minutes and see what it’s like, then the piece will tell you how it wants to grow from there. I coach solo improv by email, that’s another crackpot scheme of mine.

If you’d like, the worksheet is here.

Jill Bernard has been performing with ComedySportz-Twin Cities since 1993, and is also a founding member of HUGE Theater. Her one-woman improv piece, Drum Machine, has been featured at the Chicago Improv Festival, the Toronto Improv Jamboree, the Miami Improv Festival, Philadelphia Improv Festival, and the ComedySportz National Tournament, among others. She has taught and performed improv in Norway, Canada, and over thirty of these United States, in cities that include Juneau, AK; Spokane and Seattle, WA; Washington DC; Bowling Green, KY; Phoenix, AZ; and also on an episode of MTV “Made.” She is one-half of the duo SCRAM with Joe Bill of the Annoyance Theater. An Artistic Associate of the Chicago Improv Festival, she has studied at the Annoyance Theater, Improv Olympic, the Brave New Workshop and other organizations; and is the recipient of the 2005 Chicago Improv Festival Avery Schreiber Ambassador of Improv Award, and the 2007 Miami Improv Festival award for Best Solo Show.

HOW I CAME TO DO SOLO IMPROV

I like it when improv is a little bit challenging, when I’m just out in front of the headlights.  When it gets dull, I look for something new.  At the time I conceived of my solo show Drum Machine I was at an all-time low of dull.  I was bored, I was cocky, it was not healthy.   Nothing was challenging.  Improv, of all things, started to feel same old same old.  There was no risk in my risk.

One morning I woke up thinking ‘there should be a show called drum machine’ and went to the music store at the end of my street and bought one.  “What kind would you like?” said the nice man.  “I have no idea, what’s a drum machine?” I said, and he showed me the translucent blue Zoom Rhythmtrak 123 with pink light up keys that could only be for me.

I never performed Drum Machine standing up or in front of other people before it debuted. I was way too nervous! It was way too stupid an idea. I just lay in bed giggling and running through the show with the amp by my head.   I had been invited to be in Melissa Burch’s Red Curtain Cabaret here in Minneapolis, and she gave me a fifteen minute slot.  I didn’t last that long.  I freaked out after about five minutes and said, “Thank you, good night!” and ran away.  I learned you should have a beginning, middle and end.  The next week I learned if you’re playing all the characters they should be distinct or you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  The week after that I learned that if you interview an audience volunteer and their story is more interesting than your theatrical replay of their story, you’re doomed. So the first three weeks of Drum Machine were incredibly educational.

Jonathan Pitts asked me to be in the Chicago Improv Festival the year after that.  I had submitted a duo, they asked if I’d come alone.  That’s tacky, right?  So tacky.  We weren’t an improv duo much longer after that, but it’s okay, she’s a successful chef in Texas it worked out for everybody.

People sometimes ask how I thought up the structure.  It’s an easy recipe. All I did is combine everything I love into one thing.   I love improv and singing and history and romantic stories.  That’s all Drum Machine is.  When I was a pre-teen we moved into my grandparents house.  Their bookshelves were filled with Isaac Asimov and I was also stealing my mother’s historical romance novels and watching a lot of Monty Python: throw that in a sack and shake it, you get the aesthetic of Drum Machine. The show itself consists of an interview with a member of the audience, the suggestions of a historical time period and a number to program into the drum machine.  Then I do a sweepingly epic historical improvised one-woman musical.  The audience always laughs when I say I’m going to do a  a sweepingly epic historical improvised one-woman musical, and then I do it.

When you watch Andy Eninger perform solo improv it’s so elegant and lovely.  I admire him so.  He lays it all out like the most beautiful cotillion you somehow snatched an invitation to.  I’m not like  Andy.  I just make a huge mess and see what glitters inside it.  I’m never thinking ahead as an improvisor.  I don’t know how it’s going to end.  I throw a lot of ideas and characters up in the air and tie them all together on the way down. Set, wait twenty minutes, spike. I trust that I know how it goes even though I don’t know how it goes. I’ve trained myself to love forward momentum and extreme reactions, these are the tools I have.  Curiosity, that’s another tool, the kind of curiosity that makes a cat follow a bird out onto a branch that can’t support its weight, yes, you can’t stay where it’s safe and do improv properly.

Since I conceived of Drum Machine it’s evolved a lot.  There used to be an audience participation song at the top that the audience loved but I hated. David Razowsky told me I didn’t have to do it anymore some years ago and I’m forever grateful for that permission.  Those first three performances at Red Curtain Cabaret I wore business casual. One night we were eating at Little Tijuana’s, home of super-hot punk rock waitresses, and Butch Roy said aloud, “Punk girls are hot.” I thought to myself “I want to be hot” so Drum Machine featured a semi-punk aesthetic for some years after that.  I recently switched over to nice dresses because I got tired of being a total poser and it feels weird singing Broadway-style songs in a short plaid skirt. Those first couple years touring to festivals I was so nervous I carried everything with me.  I carried combat boots and 50′ of cable, and a mirror and a shim so the audience could see the drum machine. Now instead of cable I just carry every adapter in the world. I still carry some things that don’t make sense.  I always have a Happy Fun Time clip-on tie with me at every show.  You never know.

There was a time when I was going to stop doing the show.  Every time I entertain that thought, the show changes.  It turns a corner and I’m curious again! I have big dreams for it, I wish it was on Broadway although I’ve no idea how to make that happen.  It’s one of those goals that makes you better along the way.  Like Thích Nhat Hanh says, “If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction.” Ha! I don’t think I’ve really shared that secret goal with more than three people because it makes me sound like even more of an asshole.  Shhh, don’t tell anybody, Philly Improv!

If you’d like to try solo improv, I recommend you find a setting like a cabaret or an open mic or a set in between two other groups where you can go for five minutes and see what it’s like, then the piece will tell you how it wants to grow from there.  I coach solo improv by email, that’s another crackpot scheme of mine.  If you’d like, the worksheet is here: http://tinyurl.com/soloimprovworksheet