Archive for the ‘Festivals’ Category
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The NEW YORK MUSICAL IMPROV FESTIVAL by T.J. Mannix
In 2009, musical improv was still a relatively new form. The Magnet had two musical teams performing on every-other Friday – and the weekly Made Up Musical.
Having been a part of so many improv festivals over the years, I thought the time was right for one that focused just on musical improv. When I pitched the idea of the first annual New York Musical Improv Festival, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I went to the two musical teams and asked if anyone wanted to volunteer. Two hands went up, Robin Rothman and Melanie Girton. We became a producing team (eventually including Mary Archbold, Lisa Flanagan, and Michael Lutton) and organized the first festival in November 2009.
It was two nights long and featured NYC teams, Broadway performers, and “BASH” from Chicago – Blaine Swen’s incredible one man improvised musical provoked the first spontaneous standing ovation I ever saw at the Magnet. (The photo [to the right] is from the Tara Copeland’s “NYMIF All-Star Show.” Notice the old wooden chairs.)
2010 included performers from Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington DC, and cast members and musicians from Broadway’s “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
We sponsored our first benefit performance for Gilda’s Club New York City – featuring our first Tony Award winner (Cady Huffman from “The Producers”) and Tony nominated guest performers. This has become an annual event raising money and awareness for Gilda’s Club NYC. We also celebrate the comedic legacy of Gilda Radner with an all-female musical team “Generation G.”
It also featured over-doing it, forgetting to eat, and not sleeping – as one of our producers was carried from the Magnet office into to a waiting ambulance.
2011 may have over-expanded. It was six nights long and had a producing teams of 16 people. Since then, we have enjoyed a four night festival with three or four people on the producing team and over the years, the festival has featured hundreds of performers from across the U.S. and Canada, and even Australia.
From the beginning, the goals of the New York Musical Improv Festival have been clear:
1. Treat the performers like gold.
2. Promote Musical Improv as a form in NYC and across the country.
3. Promote the Magnet Theater.
4. Feature every performer and their home theatre – even if it’s down the street from ours.
As the festival grew, so did the musical improv program at the Magnet – from one level to four, from two musical megawatt teams to as many as nine. Other musical improv programs in NYC, Chicago, Boston, and across the country grew every year. Chicago now has MCL – Music Comedy Live – with musical improv shows seven nights a week.
Performers return to the Magnet year after year for the NYMIF, meeting, performing, watching shows, exchanging ideas, talking theatre upkeep and mortgages, arranging to perform at each others theaters – and relaxing at the annual performers brunch.
As we head into our 7th annual festival, we can proudly say that the NYMIF and the Magnet are recognized as national leaders in musical improv.
The Montreal Sketch Comedy Festival just announced its 2014 lineup, and the Magnet Theater is proud to be represented by three of its teams: the veteran duo, Listen, Kid!, and two of its house teams from Sketch Sunday, Baby Shoes and Party.
I recently chatted with Alessandro King of Listen, Kid! about life, sketch writing and sketch directing, and festival first-timer advice.
Hi, Al. Nice tie. How did you and Kevin Cobbs decide to become a sketch duo? How long have you been a duo?
Listen, Kid! started four years ago when Kevin and I met in Mark Grenier’s Improv Level 1 at the Magnet. We kept doing really goofy scenes together where one of us would play a prospector or explode through a door or something, and everyone encouraged us to create an indie duo once class was over. Rick Andrews was the big brother for the class and he said, “If you guys make a duo, I will coach you.” So we did, and Rick got us hooked up with two Test Drives, and by Spring of the following year we were doing Tuesday night shows pretty regularly, usually with Upstate or the Oakwood Boys. It was very much a Magnet Theater Fairy Tale.
We decided to focus on sketch in the Fall of 2011 when someone whose name rhymes with Blick Blandrews suggested we join RIPE with Armando. We put up our first Listen, Kid! sketch show (I think) in April of 2012, and we’ve been focusing on sketch (Magnet shows, festivals, web videos) ever since, although we still do improv every once in a while, usually with our pals We’re Matt Weir as Listen, Weirs!
How do you both collaborate when writing sketches for a show? Did you work on sketches together when Kevin went on the Second City cruise ship for 4 months?
Our Clinton/Bush sketch is a pretty good example of how we work as a team. I read on Wikipedia one night that Bill Clinton supposedly lent George W. Bush his DVD copy of the film “W.” and Bush watched it, commenting to Clinton that it had some “sad moments.” I immediately called Kevin and told him and said something like, “This is the dumbest thing I have ever read. We have to make this a sketch. Was Clinton actually being a pal or was he just trolling? This is the dumbest thing I have ever read.” I described to him my visual idea (the whole sketch is a series of phone conversations between the two, with each president sitting in a special light), and Kevin immediately wrote the first draft. It was eerily similar to what I had in mind, only funnier, with the amazing climax of Bush e-mailing Clinton scans of his paintings and Clinton weeping profusely at their profound beauty. I made a couple of small changes and it was ready to go.
Kevin’s internet access was limited on the cruise, we but still managed to go to Chicago Sketch Fest with Branson Reese and Chi-Town friends sitting in for Kevin, edit a new Mad Men-themed web video, share a couple of sketches, and develop a web series idea. Stay tuned for further updates.
Listen, Kid! was reviewed very favorably by the Chicago Tribune after your performance at this year’s Chicago Sketch Festival. Does Listen, Kid! have big plans in store for the future?
We’re focusing on web content, getting ready for Montreal, and developing an all-President-themed live sketch show. You can keep up with us online at listenkidcomedy.com, on YouTube at ListenKidComedy, and on Twitter @ListenKidComedy.
At the Montreal Sketchfest, you will have the unique honor of performing there as a member of a critically acclaimed sketch duo, and as the director of a Magnet sketch house team, Party., that is also performing in the same festival. Party. is the first sketch house team that you’ve directed at the Magnet. Why did you decide to become a director? How has your experience been so far?
Beth Newell asked me to sub in for Breakfast For Dinner a couple of times last year, and I said, “Yes,” instantly. I just had an inkling that directing sketch would come very easily to me and bring me a lot of creative satisfaction. It didn’t seem like, say, coaching improv, which I’ve never tried but always assumed I’d be a disaster at. (I’m still game to prove this wrong some day.) I had a lovely time as was expected, and asked Beth to keep me in mind if a directing slot opened up. When they formed new teams in September, I got asked to direct one for the season.
I absolutely love directing Party., and look forward to every minute of it during the week. They continue to impress me with their commitment and professionalism and blow me away with their rapid growth, particularly as performers.
You run Party. like Singapore. The streets are spotless, we attend meetings punctually and are off-book at every Saturday rehearsal, and we fear you. What is your philosophy as a director? How did you decide upon benevolent dictatorship as the best way to run a sketch team? (Editor’s Note: The interviewer, Catherine Wing, is a member of Party.)
If I’m a benevolent dictator, keep in mind that I’m only partially responsible for that dynamic: deep down, there is something inside every one of you that wants me to rule you like a king.
I’m a playwright, so I run my writing meetings like a playwright’s workshop, meaning my goal is to help you write the best version of your sketch. I have no interest in forcing my own ideas or telling you what I think should happen next. If I do make a specific suggestion, I try to make it very clear that that’s only one possible route for the sketch.
When show week comes along, I make a setlist and become a director. At that point, what I say, goes, and the edits I want to happen, happen. It’s a very different dynamic from the writing meetings.
You guest directed the Magnet sketch house team, Baby Shoes, for their most recent show. Is it true that they plied you with free liquor, charmed you with their good looks and talent, and took you to Rye Playland to ride the roller coaster? They are performing at the Montreal Sketchfest too, you know.
They did take me to Rye Playland, and let me just say that Bob Kern and I have only exited the Tunnel of Love in the literal sense of the word.
What advice would you give to sketch teams that are going to their very first out-of-town festival?
It’s impossible to accurately predict the audience’s reactions. There will be some sketches they will love, but there will always be something that just bombs and you had no way to stop it. When that happens, don’t get caught up trying to figure out what you’re doing wrong in the moment: theres nothing to fix, it’s just not their cup of tea. Get through the sketch and move on to the next thing. That’s the beauty of sketch as opposed to improv: you get to wipe your slate clean every couple of minutes.
What weird stuff did you learn about Kevin when Listen, Kid! traveled on the road together for the first time? And what weird stuff did Kevin learn about you?
Each trip is really Kevin’s learning experience because every time I offer to take the wheel, he has to devise new ways to say, “No thanks, I don’t want to die today.”
Listen, Kid! does improv? Just the two of you? Do you have guests sit in with you? Who might they be, and when can we witness this rare opportunity to see Listen, Kid! improvise?
This Friday, April 18th, at 11:30 PM, we will be taking the Magnet stage for the first time since Kevin’s return. We’re going to be doing our classic improv form, which is an improvised movie hosted by decrepit Hollywood producer Irv Newberg and his dim-witted assistant Charlie Tickertape. It’s a great way to see how this all started and there will be special guests, all of them popular recurring characters from the Listen, Kid! universe. There is only one way to find out who they are and that is to come on down.
Dates are set for the 3rd Annual New York Musical Improv Festival hosted by the Magnet Theater. Tuesday November 1st through Sunday November 6th, 2011.
The Magnet Theater is sending 4 teams out to the Chicago Improv Festival next week. A represenative from TimeOut Chicago attended our CIF showcase at the beginning of the month and had some nice things to say about The Cascade, Chet Watkins, FACE and Hello Laser.
Duo Rick Andrews and Jennifer Dunne have a compelling form on their hands… this duo played it smart and patient, and I’d watch them again. (The Cascade)
These long-form practitioners have a secret weapon: fearless women. The men aren’t half bad either... All in all, impressive. (Chet Watkins).
It’s awesome to hear instrumentation besides a piano, and the musicians rotate frequently (including new ones in Chicago). Also, this group embraced the entirety of the stage in a big way and offered solid callbacks. (FACE)
This quartet of goofs is a C.I.F. visiting favorite and, having now witnessed them on home turf, it’s easy to see why… If the C.I.F. were a competition, we know where we’d place our bets. (Hello Laser)
So maybe you can’t go to Chicago just to see your favorite
Magnet Teams. You can, however, get a preview of the teams accepted to CIF 2011 all weekend:
FACE Friday at 7pm
Chet Watkins Friday at 8pm
There are still spots left in this weeks NYMIF Workshops. Check them out on our website!
Many Magnet Theater groups are representing at the Philadelphia Improv Festival this weekend. If you are in the area you will not want to miss these shows!
… go see great Magnet Theater groups at the 2010 Improvaganza Improv Festival at the Laughtrack Theater Company (1123 Bethel Street, HI) The Arts at Marks Garage (1159 Nu’uanu Avenue, HI).
Check out the schedule HERE.
You can see Hello Laser, Megalou and Phooka!