Two full length Stage Fright shows now online


Yesterday was the closing night of STAGE FRIGHT: AN IMPROVISED HOMAGE TO HITCHCOCK. For those of you who missed the run, or for anyone who might want to catch a little more, there are now two full shows available on Vimeo. Featured below are the shows from the last two Saturdays. A special thanks to KEVIN REGAN for filming.

Show from Saturday, April 23rd
Suggested Location: Library + Suggested Psychological Fear: Spiders

Show from Saturday, April 30th
Suggested Location: Blimp + Suggested Psychological Obsession: Counting

Full casts of new house teams announced


Yesterday we told you about Laura Abernethy being added to the King Friday roster. Well, WitOut has the details on the new PHIT house team casts as well…

Directed by Matt Holmes

Aaron Hertzog
Alex Gross
Dennis Trafny
Jen Curcio
Lizzie Spellman
Mark Leopold
Rob Cutler
Scott Sheppard
Tara Demmy

Directed by Kristen Schier

AJ Ortiz
Billy Thompson
Brian Ratcliffe
Claire Halberstadt
Erin Pitts
Karen Coleman
Matt Akana
Nathan Edmondson
Scott Hinners

There you have it folks. A hundred plus hopefuls, and PHIT has two new and very dynamic teams. We’re all excited to see how they come out of the gate…

Sometimes things are funnier in twos


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.”


Comedian Profile: Nick Gillette



Might have seen him in: Everything Must Go (recently retired house team), Velvet Helmet, and Nathan Edmondson’s New As-of-yet-unnamed Team (forthcoming)

Hangs his hat in: South Philly (soon, Souther Philly)

Stomping Grounds: Downingtown, PA, which, as kids, we would refer to as “Down In G Town”

Pays the Bills: Tour Guide at Eastern State Penitentiary

Other Hobbies: Dungeons and Dragons (just started a new campaign as the Dungeon Master), Burlesque (I perform regularly with Revival Burlesque and Cabaret Red Light), Secret Mime (mime is so universally and undeservedly loathed, I feel like I have to practice in secret.)

Why Improv?

I got into improv in college because there is nothing as invigorating as the risk of standing in front of a crowd with your teammates and being rewarded by bringing the house down.  It rewards presence.  I spend an unfortunately large portion of my life dealing with people automatically, and I’m glad to participate in any activity that demands living on the cusp of the moment.

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

Sat: Troika Goes Nationwide


For the last three years, TROIKA has been matching up local improvisers into trios. I created the show as a way for people to experiment with new forms and collaborate outside of their normal circles without having to invest in an entirely new project. It’s also proved to be a great way to expose fan bases to different performers.

Troika’s spawned some pretty unique and fun premise-based and concept shows… we’ve seen musicals, rock band reunions, teen sleepovers and spanish language soap operas, as well as a colorful cast of characters including clowns, librarians, puppets and even states witnesses. We’ve seen groups from Troika live on to perform well beyond their season. Early teams PONYCOAT and BRENDA were the first break outs, followed by several concerts from VELVET HELMET, leading clear up to the current CAGEMATCH champs, THE ONES YOUR MOMS WARNED YOU ABOUT.

Last month, Troika expanded beyond its normal season by shedding its competition brackets for a special “blind” edition. Tomorrow night,  the show looks to raise the bar, as it takes its first steps towards national collaboration. Improvisers from New York, Boston, DC and as far away as Los Angeles will take the stage with some of Philly’s best. They’ll form three trios never before seen on stage, and not likely to be seen again:

Hannah Foell (Cambridge, MA)
Nathan Edmondson (Philadelphia, PA)
Topher Bellavia (Washington, DC)

Alli Soowal (Philadelphia, PA)
Luis Cortes (Los Angeles, CA)
Steve Kleinedler (Boston, MA)

Jason Stockdale (Philadelphia, PA)
Michael McFarland (New York City, NY)
Peter Fenzel (Boston, MA)

That’s some serious comedic talent, and all I can say is, you’d best expect the unexpected. So I hope you’ll join us for a special evening that is certainly never to be duplicated.


Comedian Profile: Nathan Edmondson


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?


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.

Tonight: The Mike Connor Travelogues continue


A few months back, MIKE CONNOR spent a month flying around the country, taking in places like the beaches of Florida, the music haunts of Austin and the hostels of San Francisco. Last month PJI produced The Mike Connor Travelogues, a show where Connor recounts his journey across our country while a who’s who of Philly improvisers play out scenes inspired by his tales. Well Connor had so many (mis)adventures, that the show is back for another installment.



The evening will also feature an opening performance by KAREN GETZ and KELLY JENNINGS in their production of Cecily & Gwendolyn’s Fantastical Balloon Ride.



The N Crowd, Rare Bird Show & Singles


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

From The Archives: Spotlight on Rare Bird Show


In our ongoing feature revisiting the archives of, we take a look back at the stories that make up our past here in Philadelphia’s improv scene. It’s great to see how some things can change so much, and others seemingly never do.


Spotlight on: Rare Bird Show
Contributed by: Matt Nelson
Originally published: January, 2006

One of Philadelphia’s premiere longform groups chats with PhillyImprov:

The Rare Bird Show is quickly becoming one of Philadelphia ‘s most reliable and highly demanded improv groups. The group combines clever and innovative ideas with a raw, natural talent for comedic timing. The format and competence in which they present their improv makes their shows incredibly versatile, and they are counted amongst the community as one of the more consistent groups in the area.


In addition to their combined skills, each member is individually passionate about sharing their art:

Matt Holmes is a staff instructor for the Philadelphia Improv Theater (PHIT) and regularly conducts workshops and classes, sharing his experience and skills with people of all ages and backgrounds. He is also one half of the longform duo, Holmes & Maughan. [Ed Note: Matt’s information remains the same]

Alexis Simpson is heavily involved in many non-profit projects which promote not only improvisational comedy, but varying arts programs. She is a board member and organizer of the Philadelphia Improv Festival (PHIF). She is an instructor for PHIT, a member of ComedySportz and Hypnotoad and also coaches other improv groups. [Ed Note: Alexis continues ComedySportz, and is now the Education Director for PHIT and is a member of Illegal Refill. Although not officially disbanded, Hypnotoad has not performed in over a year.]

Nathan Edmondson is also a board member and organizer for PHIF and a member of Hypnotoad. In addition to coaching for PHIT, he has also been tapped as coach for Philadelphia ‘s first longform tragedy group, HellBaby. [Ed Note: HellBaby disbanded in early 2007]

All three are actively involved in the promotion of improv groups across the region, and creating collaborative projects that merge improvisers, comedy and community awareness.

PI: How do you feel about the progress that Philadelphia has made in making a name for itself in the improv world?

NE: I feel great about the progress that Philly has made in the last year or two in making Philly Improv known to outsiders. F. Harold was a great way to bring attention to the local improv scene to Philadelphians and the Philly Improv Festival was a tremendous success bringing in groups from New York , Chicago , North Carolina and some other places that I forget. The real success of the festival was the feedback we received from other improvisers. They were impressed at how smoothly and efficiently our festival ran considering that it was our first festival. They also were witness to the talent that exists here, as well as the enthusiasm that Philadelphian performers maintain for Improv.

MH: Three years ago, when I graduated from college and was looking for improv, I found only a few groups and none of them really fit me. You have to pay homage to those groups that were doing improv for years; ComedySportz, Lunchlady Doris, Polywumpus, etc. Now there are several groups, a lot of communication and collaboration among the groups, and a growing community doing a lot of interesting things. I think someone looking now is much better off than I was. There are a lot of different kinds of improv for different audiences and a lot of new people getting involved.

AS: It’s pretty fucking sweet.

PI: What could the local scene do to increase its audience base?

NE: I don’t think there are any quick fixes… Advertising and promoting shows is important. Offering interesting events instead of just “improv show”… Play with themes for shows or nights, mix it up… See Mike McFarland … happy hour improv is a good idea, so is dressing your group up like inmates in orange jumpsuits.

AS: Be brave and awesome!

MH: All Philly needs to do is keep putting on the best possible improv shows and never stop trying to perfect their craft. If people see a really good show, they’ll want to see more and bring their friends. A dedicated improv theater would be good, too.

PI: How does Rare Bird Show fit here? Is there something unique the group brings to the table?

NE: I think every group brings something unique to their shows that differentiates them from other groups out there. All three of us have strong performing backgrounds that are pretty different from one another; and as a result, we approach improv in different ways which benefits the group as a whole. I think we all hold a high standard for our work so we’re always pushing to improve… We see how we compare to the greats out there, would like to get there; but we also see where we stand compared to our first day and appreciate our development thus far. I don’t necessarily think that any of that is unique to the Rare Bird Show, but I think it helps us stay humble enough to know we still have a lot of work to do and that we might not always know what the solutions are. Man, once you think you know something, that’s when you spend several rehearsals and a show making stupid, remedial fuck ups.

AS: If your intention is to create the best work, it is a bad idea to stay in your own small world and be satisfied… To risk failure is to know brilliance.

MH: I think that we try not to restrict ourselves.

NE: How do we fit here? Pretty easily, three people don’t take up much space.

PI: At one of your recent shows, I witnessed a wonderful moment of agreement when a game of tug over a chair turned into a giant Ouija board. It was a beautiful example of organic discovery of a physical environment.

AS: That was my favorite part of the show.

PI: Do you think this kind of discovery lends itself more to establishing a stronger foundation for scene work?

AS: YES… organic shit is awesome and a fundamental part of scene work!

NE: The lesson… was trusting that the answer will arrive…trusting your scene partners… committing to whatever the fuck is happening on stage. Man-handling the work can often keep the genius moments from happening that come out of nowhere and are little, surprise gifts. I remember thinking…”shit, we’re just fighting over a chair …who’s gonna get it?” But I knew that was a very simple way of looking at what was happening. No one said anything for a second and a more interesting thought occurred to Alexis I think….”S” From there, we all just agreed and once we had a few letters, we had a word. From there, it was just important to react honestly to how you felt about that happening as your character of course, Stalin’s name being written on a Giant Ouija Board.

MH: We go wherever the scene takes us.

PI: Can you think of some other “untypical” ways you like to explore characters and environments?

MH: When Ryan Locante, from Dirty South Improv, asked us to describe our personal improv styles in one word, and Alexis blurted out Robot, Pirate, Ninja. I was surprised at how astute that observation was. It was so true that we included it in our Fringe Festival show description. I’m the robot; very methodical, almost like I’m trying to find a code for funny. Alexis is the pirate; she attacks the scene and smuggles the funny out. Nathan is the ninja; he’ll stealthily go in and surprise you with something amazing. I think one of the great things about Rare Bird Show is the combination of three different kinds of energies.

PI: Can you each give me one word that best describes a great improviser?

MH: Playful

NE: Responsive