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Magnet Theater Blog: News and Ideas about Comedy, Improv Shows & Classes in NYC

Wednesday March 26, 2014, 12:37am - by Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller

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Mint Condition is one of the two longest running teams a part of Musical Megawatt at the Magnet Theater. Their full roster is filled with incredible musical improv strength, passion, and a very strong bond making them a Giant of Tuesday night. I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) got a chance to sit down with the whole team in an attempt to capture their relationship not only with their comedic art, but with each other. Mint Condition is Angela DeManti, Ryan Dunkin, Woody Fu, Melissa Gordon, Sarah Puls, Chris Simpson, and Douglas Widick.

 

What attracted you to the Magnet to begin with?

Sarah Puls (SP): I wanted to do musical improv and this was the only place that was offering classes and also being on house team.

Melissa Gordon (MG): Same. This was the only theater that had a specific Musical Improv Program.

Angela DeManti (AD): I think that the Magnet’s teaching style was something I could relate to and latch onto.

Ryan Dunkin (RD): I came here for musical improv. I also knew about Armando. I used to live in Chicago so I would go to see those shows and heard about him. That’s how I got interested.

Douglas Widick (DW): Musical improv.Woody Fu (WF): I saw a class show that my friend had, a Level 1 class show at the Magnet, and I was reminded that improv existed. I hadn’t shows in a million years. I really liked the community that the Magnet creates for itself so I stuck around. I took classes and stuck around.

Chris Simpson (CS): I did a little improv at UCB and tried to change it up. I heard rumblings about Magnet and ended up staying because of the community and how welcoming it was. Then musical improv happened and I was like “This is a thing?!” and I got my wings.

SP: You can say that once Chris started improvising, he got his wings.

 

What made you interested in musical improv?

SP: I grew up singing and wanting to be an actor. Since I wasn’t really getting cast in shows, I wanted to perform regularly. I found it very freeing.

MG: I wanted to do musical improv because I am an actor and I sing and write songs. I’m from NY and always saw Bay Wants Candy shows. It looked like fun and wanted to do it.

AD: I’m a real theater hag. I ended up being obsessed with musicals, mainly Steven Sondheim. But I like the big choices and silliness that musical improv offers.

RD: I’m a musical theater actor. It’s the main thing I do. I had been improvising for a long time at various schools. Musical improv was a nice way to the combine the various things I like to do into one thing.

DW: I was always the type of person who was making up songs anyway so I had to find a way to do that in a socially acceptable place. I saw I Eat Pandas and was like “Oh my God! They are combining musicals AND improv! They are doing the things I want to do!” It was a 1-2 punch for me.

WF: I was in a regular improv rut and I  took a musical improv class because it sounded like fun. Tara taught it. It was amazing. I saw Baby Wants Candy play at the first New York Musical Improv Festival at the Magnet. That was a great show. Pandas Hunting Inc. was their suggestion. Tara was the best teacher of all time and I fell in love with it.

DW: A lot of people I feel like were inspired by either Tara Copeland or Eliza Skinner. And now we are positions that they were in when we started. Prior to when I was teaching, I teach the Hip Hop class, and when I was coming up – I worshipped Eliza Skinner. Her improv was magic to me, and probably still is.

CS: I was interning at the Magnet Theater. For the first few months, I did as much as I could do. I saw there was an intro to Musical Improv and jumped on it. I stuck with the program and ended up winding up on a team. I also grew up with a musical theater and theater background.

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When was Mint Condition formed and where did the name come from?

WF: I can tell you exactly when it was formed. I don’t have the e-mail but I have it written down.

SP: Melissa, Ryan, and myself have been here since the beginning.

WF: August 2011.

MG: Each new team got assigned a color. We were new team Avocado. So we came up with all these terrible names – Skeleton Key –

WF: Nah Skeleton Radio. Impossible Logic. Skilled Pretend.

MG: Velvet. Gumption! And then someone suggested mint… mint condition

RD: It says something that all these names that they are saying I came up with. And they remember them years later. And yet nobody wanted to use them.

SP: As I’m sure any improv team is aware, selecting an improv team name is like pulling a needle out of the hay stack. That was the name that nobody hated entirely.

WF: All the teams did the same thing because Aquarius was Aqua.

CS: And Rosencrantz was Rose.

SP: So that’s how we landed on Mint Condition.

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Who coaches you and has coached you?

DW: Oscar Montoya coaches us now.

WF: Our original coach was Desiree Nash. Then we had Morgan Phillips. T.J. coached us a few times.

SP: Lorraine Sink coached us a little.

WF: And Michael Martin.

 

What form do you all do?

CS: We do an interview form. Interview Deconstruction.

SP: It’s a form Oscar created for us. We interview a character and then see scenes from that characters life. In the past we’ve done an Evente. We did a Mono-Scene. We did a backwards form.

WF: We did a straight forward narrative. We started with a penultimate theme and then start at the beginning and work our way back.

SP: We did a Sweeney Todd form. We’ve done so many forms.

 

How has casting changed?

WF: The original cast was me, Sarah, Melissa and Ryan plus Jen Sanders, Drew Tarvin, Dreagn Foltz, and Andrew Fafoutakis.

SP: And that stayed together for a year or two. That was version 1.Then version 2 Dreagn and Andrew were removed. Then Ryan left – he booked a show.

WF: And at that time Jen went to L.A.

SP: And it was 5. Then Angela an Shaun Farrugia came on. Then Shaun left. Ryan came back on. Then Drew Tarvin left because his career was blowing up. Then we got Chris and Doug.

CS: Doug and myself were added in September.

SP: I think we’ve had 4 Mint Condition g-mail groups. I look at it as every time there’s a cut or an addition or someone leaves, it’s a new team. It’s not fair to the new person and the people to fit them into the groove of what we’re doing. Every time there’s a change, it’s a new team. Looking at the original Mint Condition and then looking at the team now, it’s a totally different team. It’s like night and day. Not that one is better than the other. Change is good. Being on a team for awhile creates a stagnant and change brings a new tune to Mint Condition.

 

When else have you played together? Were any of you on other teams together?

CS: Woody and I came up together through Level 6.

SP: Chris and I took 201 together in Spring 2008. I’ve known Chris the longest.

WF: My first Musical team was the Sound and The Fury with Angela.

AD: I really liked Woody back then and I still really like him.

WF: I live with Ryan now.

DW: I did the duo show with Woody once. And it was 50% good. One of the scenes was good and the other was bad.

 

What festivals and traveling have you done?

MG: We’ve done the NYMIF. But no. We’ve never traveled no. I don’t know if musical groups do that.

WF: We did DCM!

SP: We’ve done NY shows, but we’ve never traveled. Everyone on this team is super involved in other projects, which makes it hard to coordinate any other things. We are too busy and successful.

AD: We’ve never had an orgy.

DW: I want to hook up with Melissa

SP: We’ve had a shit ton of Chinese food together.

 

What was (individually) your proudest moment improvising on Mint Condition and silliest?

MG: My favorite moment was the scene where Sarah was about to beat me up and I was like “Don’t touch me old woman!” And you were like, “I’m not an old woman I’m a little boy!”

SP: I misheard Melissa and thought she was an old woman but really she was a little boy and I said, “Don’t talk smack to woman old woman!”…even now I don’t remember information.

WF: No no no Melgo looks at you and she calls you a bitch and…hold on I have it on my phone.

RD: The point is I saved the day.

SP: My favorite moment in a show was when we did a 4 person show. It was Shaun, myself, Melgo, and Angela. It was a Mono-Scene and I was the Queen of England. It was just an incredible show.

AD: I tickled Shaun’s balls.

SP: I stabbed someone. I said, “Never bring a slap to a knife fight!” It was just firing at all cylinders. Shaun played a silent guy.

MG: Sarah likes to spell things out and tends to spell it wrong.

SP: My brain thinks one thing and my mouth says another thing. We did a baseball show and someone was sliding into home base. I made the baseball sign of you’re out but said you’re safe.

AD: My favorite show was the second or third show I did with Mint Condition. Drew and I had a discussion deconstructing the word rhetoric and only talking in rhetorical questions.

RD: We did a show where we kissed everyone. It was a Dating Club or Lonely Hearts Club.

MG: I’ve kissed Sarah like 10 times on stage.

RD: The worst show that I remember was our Inspirado show. It was the worst! The challenge was to recreate Stomp. And we asked, “What was Stomp?”

WF: And they just said, “Start the show!” They gave us a bunch of garbage cans and a mop.

RD: Woody had a slinky he was throwing around. That was in the beginning. That was back in the day. I did a really funny scene with Woody one time where Woody didn’t know if he was there or not, he didn’t know if he was a ghost or not. He kept talking and he just had no idea if he was really there or not.

WF: I thought you were going to say when I was a document in a safe in the bottom of the ocean. I tried to wordlessly initiate that.

RD: For awhile, Woody would just come out and strike a pose and you would come out and try to figure out what it was and you would eventually label it and he’d go off that that wasn’t what he was.

DW: I think my silliest improv show was the NYMIF show. Chris and I during a song tried to throw chairs at one another. We were catching chairs in mid-air. The audience was going bonkers because they were super scared. Is that silliest or proudest? One of my other silliest was when Ryan and I kept revealing we were different gang characters. “Well I’m actually, The Bitch! Well I’m actually Billy D. Thornton!”

CS: One of the first interview characters. Frank naturally only played West Side Story. Frank literally only played Something’s Coming. Dungeon underneath Duane Reade and putting knives in each other asses.

WF: Some of my favorite moments are non-stage moments. They are usually in rehearsals or backstage. For example, the last show when Sarah was onstage and she said ‘Dragoonery.’ Chris was a paleontologist and she had to name a dinosaur whose bones they were discovering. She said drag and in her brain she said, “I can’t say dragon because it’s too crazy right now” so she said ‘Draggoonery.’ Backstage, Melgo just starts laughing and points at Sarah who is still on stage and says, “I can’t believe she just said ‘Dragoonery.'”

SP: To be fair Woody yes anded my ‘Dragoonery’ by saying ‘Dragoonery booze.’

CS: Which we stopped the show to address.

AD: Didn’t we do a Minstrel opening and half of it was black face?

DW: To be fair that’s a part of musical history.

CS: There was a show where we did an interview and there was a casual mention of a character named “Maria.” Almost immediately, Frank started playing music from West Side Story. We managed to insert a WSS dance/knife fight towards the end of the show. We also improvised a song on top of the music to the song “Something’s Coming.” And of course there was the Duane Reede, the secret dungeon underneath it, and the butt stabbing. It was super fun because we kept on surprising each other (musically from Frank and from the team as well) and the level of fun was super high. And butt stabbing. 

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What are you favorite qualities about each other both as improvisers and as people?

AD: Sarah’s really pretty.

MG: Sarah always has your back no matter what and she gets everything really grounded while maintaining her silliness.

CS: ‘Dragoonery’ bones aside.

AD:  I love her dichotomy –  “I’m so nice I grew up in the Midwest but I’m also a little silly and crazy.” I don’t ‘think a lot of people in her town balance that. There’s this elegance to her.

MG: Also, she has the best nails in NY.

AD: She really does.

RD: I think Sarah’s a really strong narrative player, which you need in musical improv. As we talked about earlier, she misspeaks but she will own it. She will go on, which is hilarious. It always makes the show more fun.

DW: Sarah’s down for anything in a show. She’s not too cool to play something fucked up or dark.

WF: I love playing with Sarah because we both have very weird brains that are simpatico. We’ll be on the backline and have the same idea and one will just beat the other to doing it.

CS: I can rely on Sarah to keep a show on point. We’re trying to tell a narrative. She can help us get back on track.

SP: I feel like Melgo is a spark on the team. If we are having a show that is low on energy. She will initiate with so much energy and change the dynamic. She senses the energy. She initiates with 1000% energy. She’s a lightning rod for the show.

AD: Her racism is surprisingly excellent and hilarious. She is the surprise of the show. She can bring it. RD: Melissa can somehow rhyme the dirtiest words in a show to make the prettiest shows. Her songs are so good and her rhymes are so dirty a lot of times but the song always turn out so lovely. I like that about her. And she also had improv sex with me at the first rehearsal and I was so uncomfortable because everyone knew her and I was like, “I don’t know you!”

DW: She turns my insides into mush. She is so funny. Whenever she’s out there I just turn into the silliest being . She’s like “Gaghadoihaa!!!!”

WF: She’s a wonderful character improviser with a beautiful voice. And she looks like Barbra Streisand.

CS: I think we have similar musical sensibilities. She knows how to harmonize. I do not expect anything she says or does and it’s always hilarious.

SP: I’m in awe of how quick Angela’s mind works. She knows everything: pop culture, literary, mathematical, etc…I just don’t have a quick mind. You could reference anything and she’ll Yes, and with 1000 funny specifics. It’s really fun having her as a woman on this team, and Melgo as well. I feel a kinship towards her.

MG: I think Angela is a fantastic improviser and her sharp quick witted mind adds a lot to our team. She plays game super well. Always super supportive and on track when we are in a scene together.

RD: Angela’s a lot smarter than I am. She says things that take me a second to be, “What?” and then, “Oh yeah! That’s exactly what I was thinking!” But she says it in such a smart way that’s interesting. I like it.

DW: She makes playing to the top of your intelligence really easy. She went to college. She’s got a good brain.

WF: Angela is an emotionally invested performer, which makes things a lot easier. She is very responsive and she’s foxy.

MG: Great tits!

CS: I love how willing Angela is to play gross and weird and out there but still from a place of intent and integrity. It’s not just a random thing. She’s super fucking smart. I wish I read what she reads!

SP: I was on a Musical team before Mint and Ryan was in callback group. I remember being blown away by his voice. Oh my god that guy is great! And then he ended up my team. He is amazingly musical and is the compass to our team. He knows which way our team needs to go. Sometimes we go around and he points North.

MG: Ryan is a fantastic improviser and has a really amazing voice. He’s a great plot narrative player, is really great at calling out fun things and heightening them. He’s just an all around good improviser. He’s great with game, emotional commitment…and he’s also my boyfriend. That’s not true.

AD: Sometimes I think his name should be Peter, which means rock, because when he steps out he starts singing. He’s not just an improviser – he’s done musical theater. He brings some gravitas to it. He is so reliable and I trust him.

DW: Ryan is the best at damage control. If things are going poorly and Woody is like “boop boop boop boop,” Ryan knows how to ground the show. And he’s pretty hot too. He’s got those cheeks that make me want to slap them.

WF: Ryan is the perfect musical improviser. He is a brilliant UCB based style, game based improviser and he also loves musical theater. He’s a great singer and is very concerned about narrative. In order to be a good musical improviser you need all those strengths.

CS: He’s the rock of the team and has a very good awareness and gauge of where the show is going and a good idea of where it can go. He is very strong at telegraphing about what he wants to do and how to get everyone else on board and get back to the narrative

SP: I will return the compliment he gave me and say that Doug is down for everything. His backline support, backline dancing, he’ll be in a scene where we’ll be crazy scientists, it doesn’t matter. He will be like “Yes!” He yes ands everything. He is so enthusiastic about it. He is so musical and is the positive element and vibe for the team. Also he’s my boyfriend.

MG: Doug has really great stage presence and energy as a performer. He also is a really good improviser and gives specifics, plays game, and is physical in a fun sill way, which adds a lot to our team. And he has a good voice.

DW: – I’m sleeping with both of them.

AD: Doug’s the youngest on our team. He’s got that youth.

MG: He makes us call him Baby Dougy.

AD: I feel like he would be Jack in Into The Woods. Like the way he performs his songs – there’s such wonderment and joy and…I’m such a cynical theater hag. I find it really refreshing.

RD: Doug is a great improviser. He’s also a super nice guy. He’s always smiling. He’s so nice in fact that no one says his last name right and he never corrects it.  It’s “WHYdick”.

WF: Doug has an infectious energy and when he and Chris joined the team it was like a shot in the arm. A breath of fresh air. He has fantastic stage presence, is so animated, and up for everything. It’s infectious. It makes you want to play with him at his level.

CS: Doug really embodies play because that’s what we’re doing. He’s 110% play and always onboard to play. It’s focused play. It’s intentional. It’s always super fun and silly and infectious. We threw chairs at each other and I was terrified when he initiated it! He make moves like that all the time and is not worried about consequences he just does them. And he’s my boyfriend.

SP: Woody’s my fellow unique mind on the team. I feel like whenever I misspeak, he will plant that seed throughout the show and grow it into this really funny thing at the end. He’s a wonderful listener. You can say the most specific thing and he’ll remember it and bring it back at the end.

MG: Ditto. Woody’s justifications for everything are amazing. His callback skills are amazing. He’s a really good character player. He adds lots of new voices, new physical attributes about stuff and he’s not afraid to do weird things like play inanimate objects. He sings amazing shows that are very poignant and funny. And I fucked him last night.

AD: Sometimes I think that if there was a live Nightmare before Christmas, Woody would make a great Jack. “What’s this?” He possesses this commitment that’s so engaging to watch. Also, he gave me a couple of comic books and it remains the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me in my entire life. I know with Woody, he’ll bring the fun.

RD: Awhile ago, Frank and I wrote songs about everyone on Mint Condition and Woody’s song was ‘Anything’s Possible When You’re Me’ and that’s true – he can really do anything. He never does what I expect him to because we are opposites, which is why it’s fun. We have a lot of improv discussions where we never agree. It’s great. I probably do what he does expect, but he never does. He keeps you on your toes. Also, his character work is very great.

DW: He’s unrelenting. He brings something up at the beginning of the set and 15 minutes later he will use it so effectively it will give me the “ooo this is how good improv can be,” feeling. I’m going to learn from Woody. I’m going to learn from playing with Woody. Unrelenting. Before I met Woody, I would laugh because he is so skinny. He’s skinny funny.

CS: Woody is such a powerful improviser. You see it on Horses and you see it on our team. There is no loose  ends with Woody. He hears everything and plays everything. He brings a layer of continuity to all of our shows. I strive for that and to have it pay off at the end of the show. Woody constantly does it. Woody does that and brings a strong improviser intent to the show.

SP: – Chris joining Mint was like closing my improv circle. Now I can die. Of all the people I’ve been doing improv with, Chris I’ve known the longest. We lost touch, then he came back to musical and got put on Mint and I was like “Yes! This makes sense.” I love playing with him. He has so much heart and he’s so musical. He’s not afraid to have levity and be real and be serious when the moment calls for it. He’s fearless with that so playing with him feels very comfortable. It’s like coming home.

MG: I love Chris. I love his voice – he’s so fierce onstage as a singer. He’s really committed all the time. He’s really great at finding moments to come in to break silence or shift energy. He’s a great improviser and I’m super happy he’s on the team now. It works. He adds so much to the team.

AD: I think everyone needs to recognize he has wonderful cheekbones.

MG: Smooth Filipino skin.

AD:  He has this kind of commitment where if he was singing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha, I would be like, “Yeah, I believe that dream. I will reach that start.” He has an unbelievable inspiring level of commitment.

RD: I like playing with him a lot. He jumps on game really quick. Every scene I’ve been in where something comes up, he jumps on it right away and plays it super hard core. I really enjoy it. He doesn’t get mad when The Simpsons theme gets played.

DW: Game, actor, he’s always surprising.

WF: Ditto everything. Chris has a great singing voice – great singing chops. I always look up to Chris as a musical improv person. Playing on a team, when I first started, I was shitting my pants when we were doing the program and did the 7 o’clock mix-‘em-up. He’s really funny. He jumps on game and is a really strong character player. I love watching Chris play high status yelling characters and these characters that are slightly arrogant where they shouldn’t get away with it but they always get away with it because it’s so much fun to watch. He’s a really emotionally committed player. That’s all you need.

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What improv mantras do you hold dear?

AD: There’s this Susan Messing quote that I really love: “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole.”

SP: I like what Amy Poehler says: “If you’re thinking about making a move, you should have 30 seconds ago.”

DW: There’s another Susan Messing quote: “It’s rude to be polite, but only in improv.”

SP: Oh I have a good one from Doug Moe: “People can talk about playing crazy and that’s very dismissive of creativity. If you’re playing in Crazy Town, think of it as Crazy Town has a mayor.”

DW: Nate Lang, who’s in L.A. now, he said, “Improv is the only test you’ll take where whatever answer you put is the right one. You can put down whatever you want.” It’s a trust quote. Trust that what you come up with is okay and right.

RD: We always say watch your back or wash your back. Pay attention to the story. Have a strong protagonist.

DW: Ryan just says, “Do it right.”

AD: It’s like Dad Disappointed face.

 

What quality should every improviser possess – this does not have to be an improv skill (but can be)?

CS: Willingness to adapt.

MG: Patience. Flexibility.

SP: Don’t drink the Kool-Aid whether it’s yours or someone else’s.

AD: Learn to love the bomb. When you’re bombing, you are so hyper aware of what’s going on. Learn from it.

RD: Listen and react. That’s really all it is.

SP: Don’t beat yourself up after a show and go over it over and over in your head. Know what you could have done differently and then let it go.

DW: Every improviser should be willing to fail.

SP: Also, be attractive.

WF: Yeah you got to be hot. I have two. One of them is something Anthony Atamanuik said. He basically said, “The point at which you get better is the point at which you actively make decisions onstage as opposed to stand by and wait for permission to make choices.” The other is, who is the guy, Chuck Jones, his uncle, “They can kill you but they’re not allowed to eat you.” I always interpreted it as if you are dying onstage…you feel really bad when you are dying but it doesn’t really matter because that’s the worst it’s going to get so you might as well just be in it and find a way out of it. It’s not going to get work where they are going to cannibalize you.

AD: And every improviser should have tits up to here.

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