It’s time to get PHIT

01/26/2011

I hope you’ve all resolved to get your comedy on… and during the next two weeks, the PHILLY IMPROV THEATER has what it takes for you to be the Biggest Winner:

Wed, 1/26
8:00PM – The Bully Pulpit ($10)
9:30PM – Rant-O-Wheel ($10)

Thu, 1/27
8:00PM – Hey Everybody! ($10)
9:30PM – Cagematch: Grimacchio v. Hans Gruber ($10)
11:00PM – The Gross Show ($10)

Fri, 1/28
8:00PM – Women w/ Class + Kristen & Amie Show ($10)
9:30PM – Rosen & Milkshake + Angry People Building Things ($10)
11:00PM – Hopper Bros Happy Magic Fun-Time Show ($10)

Sat, 1/29
8:00PM – King Friday + Asteroid ($10)
9:30PM – Fletcher + Mayor Karen ($10)
11:00PM – PHIT Improv Jam (FREE)

Sun, 1/30
8:00PM – Comedy University: Improv Kerouac + Guests ($10)

Wed, 2/2
8:00PM – Guilty Pleasures ($10)
9:30PM – TV Party! ($10)

Thu, 2/3
8:00PM – Hey Everybody! ($10)
9:30PM – Cagematch: 1/27 Winner v. TBA ($10)

Fri, 2/4
8:00PM – Suggestical! + Rare Bird Show ($10)
9:30PM – Medic + BWP ($10)
11:00PM – Sketch Open Mic: Sketch Up or Shut Up (FREE)

Sat, 2/5
8:00PM – King Friday + Asteroid ($10)
9:30PM – Fletcher + Mayor Karen ($10)
11:00PM – Never Have I(mprov) Ever ($10)
12:00AM – PHIT Improv Jam (FREE)

 

All shows are at the Shubin Theatre, 407 Bainbridge St.

Tickets and additional information available at www.phillyimprovtheater.com

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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.


Philly reps it up at DCM this weekend

07/26/2010

You might have heard us chatting here and there about the upcoming  DEL CLOSE MARATHON, and Matt Holmes was even kind enough to share his top ten picks.

Well, the weekend is finally upon us, and in addition to all of the great acts from all over converging on Midtown Manhattan, we thought we’d take a moment to highlight the groups that will be representing Philadelphia. So in order of appearance, here you have it:

RARE BIRD SHOW
Friday, 7/30 @ 10PM
Hudson Guild | 441 West 26th Street

The biggest name in Philadelphia improv takes the stage first, ready to set the bar and rock the house. They’ve played DCM for years and have become quite the belles of the ball. If you know them, you probably love them.

ROOKIE CARD
Saturday, 7/31 @ 1:15am
Urban Stages | 259 West 30th Street

These indie darlings host their own monthly show and held the Philly Cagematch title for nearly half a year. It’s their first time at DCM, and they’re looking to make it a memorable one.

KING FRIDAY
Saturday, 7/31 @ 4PM
UCB Mainstage | 307 West 26th Street

Newest addition to the PHIT roster, this team hosts their own monthly shindig at Studio 34 you may have heard of. A core young and energetic cast anchored by several Philly improv veterans… this group is quickly gaining a steady fan base.

FLETCHER
Saturday, 7/31 @ 9PM
Hudson Guild | 441 West 26th Street

An original PHIT house team and up-and-coming rockstars. They’ve been knocking it out of the park pretty consistently. A group to really keep your eyes on.

ACTIVITY BOOK
Sunday, 8/01 @ 6:45PM
Urban Stages | 259 West 30th Street

Also an original PHIT house team, this group experienced an infusion of new cast last fall and after working diligently to mesh the old with the new, they’re now looking to make a big splash in the big city.

You can catch more details on these shows and others at the DCM website.


Matt Holmes top ten picks for DCM

07/01/2010

The Del Close Marathon is fast approaching (July 30th – August 1st) and we asked MATT HOLMES to share his top picks to help you sort through the madness of show listings.

It’s time once again for the annual Del Close Marathon in New York City. This is a humongous improv festival that runs non-stop for three days on four stages; it’s like the Woodstock of improv. More than 150 shows from all over the country will converge to take the stage.

This is the 12th year that the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has organized and hosted this tribute to long-form improv guru Del Close, who trained just about everyone you think is funny. A $25 wristband will get you into any show (after probably waiting in line for a while, so get there early), except for some big-name special ones that cost $12 each.
More information is available at www.delclosemarathon.com.

Here’s my TOP 10 for this year’s Marathon (in no particular order):

Improvised Shakespeare
Sat 7:15 pm at UCB Theatre (with wristband) OR Fri 7:00 pm at FIT Kate Murphy Amphitheater ($12 separate ticket)

I actually haven’t seen this yet, but it’s gotten reviews beyond rave. I know that several of the performers in the cast are extremely hilarious and talented. It’s definitely got to be worth catching, even if you’re not a Bard-lover.

Baby Wants Candy
Sun 6:00 pm at UCB Theatre (with wristband) OR Fri 8:30 pm at FIT Kate Murphy Amphitheater ($12 separate ticket)

Whether or not you’re a fan of musical comedy, you’ll like this show. It’s big, it’s brassy, it’s improvised. The cast is TBA, but some of the funniest people in improv have been in it.

Mother
Fri 9:30 pm at UCB Theatre

Mother was the UCB Theatre’s biggest act for years, Cagematch winners and holders of the primetime Saturday slot. They reunite here to perform their signature formats, the Sleepover and the Soundtrack (which uses your iPod as the suggestion).

Big Bat
Sat 1:00 am at Hudson Guild Theatre

Take a slew of brilliant, hilarious people. Put them all on stage. Turn out the lights. Watch …no, Listen as improv happens. Close your eyes for this audio-only show.

Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah & other middle-of-the-night shows at UCB
Sat 2:30 am – 6 am at UCB Theatre

Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah is some big-name New York improvisers pretending to be a working-class Boston improv group, complete with the accent and tons of Red Sox gear. This is meta, fourth-wall-breaking, tongue-in-cheek, Boratesque improv. Warning: you might get beer on you.

If you thought Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah was weird, come back even later (or earlier) in the morning for more 15-minute experimental shows. These include improv done by all impressions of Bono or Jay Leno or Michael McDonald, a live improv anime show, some kind of underground crunk clown improv, and UCBW (where the improvisers are pro wrestler characters). The Saturday-into-Sunday middle-of-the-night shows include an all-Ray-Romano show, a restaurant scene with a billion waiters, a tea party improv show, and Strip-prov (you laugh, they take off an article of clothing).

What happens when improvisers do improv for improvisers? This stuff. It’s worth catching at least once in your life.

Match Game ’76
Sun 2:00 am at UCB Theatre

This show is pure insanity. If you’re not familiar with the old game show, Match Game, watch a clip on youtube. It’s a show where a ton of drunk 70s celebrities write pun punchlines with contestants. Imagine 40 or so improvisers Halloweened-out as 70s celeb charicatures trying to play a game show but ususally just devolving into chaos. If you like drag shows or that video of the blueberry-stomping reporter choking, you’ll like this show.

In the past, Jack McBrayer (30Rock’s Kenneth the page) was consistently the put-upon contestant.

onesixtyone
Sat 11:00 pm at UCB Theatre

onesixtyone are some hilarious improvisers. They’re the people who started what has become WIT (the Washington Improv Theater) in DC. They are a sure bet for some good, smart, funny improv that you and your friends will be referencing to each other for the ride home, if not for months after.

Omelet
Sun 1:00 pm at UCB Theatre

Imagine you’re eating in a Denny’s and two old ladies at the next table are having the most interesting conversation ever. That’s this show. It’s calm, quiet, patient, and hilarious.

Derrick Comedy
Sat 8:30 pm at FIT Kate Murphy Amphitheater ($12 separate ticket)

Derrick does sketch comedy and just did a movie (www.derrickcomedy.com), but seeing them do improv is a whole other ballgame. Dominic Dierkes, DC Pierson, and Donald Glover (NBC’s Community) are UCB Theatre improvisers that can’t be described without using the word “expertise.”

Upright Citizens Brigade
Sat 6:00 pm at UCB Theatre

This is the UCB4. Maybe you watched their Comedy Central sketch show or their ASSSSCAT special on Bravo; maybe you know that Amy Poehler is one of them (she probably won’t be there) or that the one guy is Sparky Polastri from Bring It On; maybe you know that the theatre is theirs and that they trained all the other funny people performing during this festival.

These guys are improv masters; they know what they’re doing, and this is them having fun and making stuff up. It’ll probably lean more towards talking to the audience and kind of bullshitting about whatever comes to my mind (as opposed to actually doing theatrical improvised scenes and characters), but it’s definitely worth catching this show.

Matt Holmes is a co-founder of Rare Bird Show and performs a full improv comedy set with a complete stranger from the audience as part of his project, m@&. He has also been involved with many other improv projects, including teaching workshops at improv festivals, improvising an all-audio improv show in the dark called “The Bat”, coaching improv groups, teaching with the Philly Improv Theater, and performing an mp3-infused improv project that was crowned grand champion of season 2 of Troika.

You can see Matt perform at the Del Close Marathon with Rare Bird Show Friday, July 30th, 10PM at Hudson Guild.


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.


Comedian Profile: Matt Holmes

06/07/2010

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?

MATT HOLMES

Might have seen him in: Rare Bird Show and m@&

Hangs his hat in: Aldan, PA (the suburbs just west of West Philly)

Stomping Grounds: Mountain Top, PA

Pays the Bills as: Webmaster/Graphic Designer

Other Hobbies: photography, rock-climbing, frisbee, hackysack

Why Improv?

It might sound corny, but I really think I was born to do improv …or that improv was invented for people like me. If you’re weird, creative, artsy, inventive, clever, funny, shy and/or outgoing, improv is for you. You get to do anything and play. It’s not like other things, even creative things, where you have to study and try and practice. If you’re the right kind of person, you’re a natural.

You get to be the writer and director and star and editor and special effects guy and stuntman and anything can happen. You can be the leading man and the comic relief and the villain, sometimes all at once.

I stumbled into improv. I was a weird, loud, outgoing baby and quickly turned into a shy, awkward kid. Improv took me out of my shell. Without it, I’d be a complete dick or a complete recluse (both of which people might argue I am now).

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


Friday: Leo Callahan with Rare Bird Show

01/14/2010

Local rising improv group LEO CALLAHAN is all set to storm the Arts Parlor for their first show of 2010. The night will feature the debut of their newest member, JACK MEANEY, as well as a guest performance from the much exalted RARE BIRD SHOW.

For those of you not yet familiar with Leo Callahan, the group is a fairly recent addition to the scene that is rapidly growing in popularity… Featuring all Haverford Alums, three of whom were former members of Illegal Refill (RIP), these comedians are fast, smart and obviously a tight bunch. I’m excited to see what newcomer Jack brings to the stage and group dynamic.

L to R: Nick Kerr, Nicholas Mirra, Ali King, Scott Sheppard, and Jesse Paulsen. Not pictured: Jack Meaney

IMPROV W/ LEO CALLAHAN
FEAT. RARE BIRD SHOW
FRIDAY, JANUARY 15TH @ 9PM
THE ARTS PARLOR | 1170 S BROAD ST