On Wednesday, December 18th, I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) got to interview Magnet’s own Russ Armstrong about growth in improv, understanding the makings of a good team, and how to be a good teacher, director, and improviser. Below is the transcribed interview.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Michigan. I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
How did you get involved in improv?
I started improvising in high school. I was watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? with my friends and started an improv group to play short form games. The Pioneer Comedy Troupe from Pioneer High School. It was my junior year of high school. We thought we were the coolest people in the world and we didn’t know we were actually the lamest people in the world.
You went to Northwestern yes? Did you do improv in college? What was the improv there called.
I did. Yep. It was the Mee-ow Show. It was billed as 1/3 improv, 1/3 sketch, 1/3 rock ‘n’ roll. Lots of short form stuff. It was great, super fun. It was a blast.
And you studied in Chicago as well? At iO and Second City? How does the training there compare to the training you learned in NYC?
It’s all the same stuff just different approaches to it. I think Chicago tends to nurture you finding your voice a little bit more. They give you a little more time, marinates in a way that Chicago does with everything, with theater and music and food. Because the spotlight isn’t on it as much, there’s less pressure to produce immediately. New York tends to have a little more pressure because it is New York. And it’s more expensive. I think they are both awesome attributes. It’s good to have that pressure. I love that about New York.
The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers, writers, and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.
Charlotte Rabbe, a phenomenal Magnet improviser, previously on The Wrath, is now out in L.A. We wanted to catch up with Charlotte and shine the Magnet Theater Blog Spotlight on her and her journey in comedy. We conducted an email interview with Charlotte. Below are her responses:
What’s your home town?
CR: Where I grew up? Most of my family is living in NYC now so I consider that my hometown.
What is your comedy history (highlighting improv and sketch especially)? What got you interested and when were you first exposed to improv?
CR: I would watch a lot of stand up/sketch shows growing up (The State, The Upright Citizens Brigade TV show, SNL) and I was obsessed… When I started coming into the city after high school I went to a lot of stand up shows but was too afraid to ever do it. I ended up taking an improv class after college even though I had seen very little and got hooked.
On Friday, January 3rd, I got to sit down with sketch writers and performers Andy Mills and Sebastian Conelli as well as director Matt J. Weir of The Misses to gain insight into some of the Magnet’s leading sketch minds. What surfaced was not just what makes this Veteran Sketch Team special, but also what makes a team click, what makes a show stand out, and what it means to have that comedy drive. Below is a transcript of the interview.
When were you formed?
Matt J. Weir (MW): The Misses were formed in September of 2013 and the first show was in October of 2013. The Misses is a collection of some of the best veteran sketch performers at The Magnet.
Andy Mills (AM): One of the interesting things about The Misses being formed is that 85% of the group is former members of the sketch team Fat Kids, which Matt also directed.
MW: Yeah I directed that for a season. Also for the season before that I co-directed it with the other Matt Weir. So our brain lust dripped down on you guys.
Greetings Magnet Community!
We’re pleased to announce the Winter 2014 round of The Circuit! Shows start tonight and continue every Friday through February 28, at 10:30PM. Oh yeah and they’re FREE! Introducing our newest teams:
Robin Rothman Taylor
Coach: Hannah Chase
Coach: Eli Itzkowitz
Coach: Shacottha Fields
Coach: Dennis Pacheco
All shows are at the Magnet Studio Theater, 259 W 30th St, 2nd Floor. The support of the entire community is important for these shows so come out to see The Circuit! You will love what you see.
Congratulations to the newest Magnet Sketch Team and the newest additions to Cash and Baby Shoes:
NEW TEAM HIGHLANDER
Newest Member of CA$H:
Newest Member of BABY SHOES:
Starting on February 9th, Magnet Sketch Shows will run at 7:30 PM on Sundays. See you there!
Also, be sure to check out the Best of Shows for Party., American Wormholes, and Baby Shoes at 7:30 on January 12th as well as CA$H’s “Black Tie” and “The Misses Present the Hits” on January 17th, 24th, and 31st at 7 PM.
With 2013 coming to a close, we here at the Magnet blog would like to revisit some of the high points of the year, at the Magnet Theater and beyond.
The 2nd Annual Maggie Awards
On April 26, 2013, the Magnet community came together for the 2nd Annual Maggies, celebrating the 8th Anniversary of the Magnet Theater. The big winner of the night? You, as you posed for innumerable photos in the photo booth corner and got to take home actual photographs for your scrapbook. Thank you, anonymous bearded man who snuck up from behind and photobombed our very serious drunken group picture. I still don’t know your name.
Trike Wins Inspirado – OH SHIT!
In their final challenge, the TimeOut Critics’ Pick duo, Trike, had to perform a monoscene in an NYC subway car. Performers and audience piled into a downtown 1 train car for the epic end of Trike’s glorious Inspirado journey.
Rick and his class also appeared in a NY1 feature on the Magnet Theater.
Magnet house teams and indie groups proudly represented their home theater in festivals across the country and Canada, including The Baltimore Improv Festival, Boston Comedy Arts Festival, Twin City Improv Festival, Chicago Improv Festival, Big City Improv Festival, NYC Improv Fest, Vancouver International Improv festival, Detroit Improv Festival, Omaha Improv Festival, NC Comedy Arts Festival, Del Close Marathon, and beyond.
The 5th Annual New York Musical Improv Festival
The Magnet Theater hosted the 5th Annual New York Musical Improv Festival. Receiving applications from groups around the world, NYMIF brought the international musical improv community onto the Magnet stage, over four days in October. Over 100 performers were featured, including the Magnet’s own Musical Megawatt house teams, Baby Wants Candy, The Improvised Sondheim Project, and musical house teams from theaters across the country and Canada. The weekend culminated in the closing night Gilda’s Club benefit, to raise money and awareness for an amazing organization that provides resources and support to cancer patients and their families. Headliners for the benefit included the all-female musical improv troupe, “Generation G”, internationally renowned jazz and soul singer, Sharón Clark, as well as musical performances from improvisational singer/songwriter, Mikki Hommel, composer, lyricist and singer, James D Sasser and critically acclaimed actor, Sam Underwood of Showtime’s Dexter, HBO’s Homeland and FOX’s The Following.
Mike Myers = Third Mantzoukas Brother
The actor Mike Myers made an unannounced surprise appearance at the Magnet in the Mantzoukas Brothers show in October. Jason Mantzoukas was unable to attend, so Mike Myers graciously stepped in to perform duo improv with fellow Mantzoukas brother (and Magnet co-founder) Ed Herbstman.
Magnet TourCo Improvises Lexus Live Commercial
Four NYC improv groups were selected to perform late-night live improvised commercial spots for Lexus during Late night with Jimmy Fallon. Magnet Theater Touring Company kicked off the four-week ad campaign.
Whether you are an audience member, fan, student, or performer (or all of the above), you are an integral part of the Magnet Theater community. Thank you for your support, your energy, and your enthusiasm. 8 More Years! See you in 2014!
The Director Series is a monthly improv installation wherein a director picks a new form and sets it on a new cast. This month, Michael Lutton is directing “One Hit Wonder”. We chatted with Michael via email to discuss the form.
1. What is ‘One Hit Wonder’?
One-Hit Wonder is a new form that Jon Bander and I came up with. It’s a narrative that follows the story of a band: how it was created, how the group became famous with their number-one hit, the band’s downfall and where the band members are now. I wanted to direct it because I think it has a lot of fun possibilities. Everyone is familiar with “Behind the Music” and biopics about recording artists, so there is a lot to play with, and with that simple story arc the improvisers will have a lot of room to find patterns and develop characters.
2. How does this differ from normal Musical Improv?
This form uses documentary-style interviews to bookend scenes, and since the story arc is one that is already familiar, the cast members are free to focus more on character dynamics.
3. What is your favorite one hit wonder?
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence is one of the best story songs of all time, and I will fight anyone who says different. Physically fight them.
4. What is the future of musical improv?
Musical improv is usually narrative, which is a lot of fun but also very challenging. Moving ahead, I think groups will find new ways to tell stories. Our musical program is relatively new and still growing, but we a have a few veteran groups that are doing interesting things with form and genre, and starting to test the limits of what you can do with a musical. I’m very excited to see what happens next!
‘One Hit Wonder’ premiers Thursday, January 2nd at 9pm and continues Thursdays at 9pm in January!
Tuesday, December 17th through Thursday, December 19th Magnet T-shirts are on sale at The Magnet Theater for $7! Yes. That’s right, $7! Who could where a Magnet T-shirt? Anyone. Who should where a Magnet T-shirt. Everyone. Don’t miss this special holiday sale! Pick up your T-shirt before Thursday.
The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.
George Basil (The Pete Holmes Show, College Humor), a Magnet performer known for his epic improv with 4Track, is now out in L.A. You probably have seen him in a Vonage commercial or maybe even a bunch of CollegeHumor Originals. We wanted to catch up with George and shine the Magnet Theater Blog spotlight on him and his work. We conducted an email interview with George Basil. Below are his responses:
What is your improv and comedy history? What got you interested and when were you first exposed to improv?
GB: I didn’t learn about improv in high school or college. The first time I’d ever seen improv was on “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” Watching those performers fly around looked so fun. Then I researched it a little and came across something called the “Big Stinking Comedy Festival” in Austin, TX. It boasted amazing improv groups, and it got me hard, so I went down. Eventually I took a class at the Hideout Theater and from then on I was totally hooked. I’ve always kind of known that my only redeeming quality is finding the keys to a person’s laughter lock, it was just hard to find the confidence to pursue it. When I got to NY I took classes all over and then found a home at the Magnet.
What initially attracted you to the Magnet?
GB: All the misfits. There were no preconceived notions about the comedy we wanted to explore. We were all making mistakes and figuring it out and loving the process of learning about people through improv.
What teams, shows, and projects were you a part of while at the Magnet?
GB: A ton of different teams and shows. The first I think was “Munchaüsan” then “El Partido”? I was at the Magnet every night until their doors were locked. I was also in 4-Track which was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Really proud of all the teams I was on and every performer I got to play with.
What were some of your favourite shows and performers while here?
GB: I loved watching “Pax Romana” a lot. They always had so much fun, it was contagious. I can’t name just a few performers I liked to watch. It was literally every last one. Aside from being my friends, they were all so fucking funny.
Who were or are your favourite improv instructors? Who do you attribute to your growth as an improviser and comedian? Who influences/had influenced you as an improviser?
GB: Obviously Armando had a lot to do with how I approached comedy and improv. His patience and insight into the reality of character was huge. He’s been my biggest influence to date, for sure.
I got to work with Mark Sutton in Vancouver once, he was awesome. Mick Napier was great too.
Dan Bakkedahl is still the improviser that knocks me out anytime he’s on stage. I love that dude’s work, always have.
What did you learn at the Magnet that helps you now?
GB: Patience. Laying in the cut. Screaming doesn’t get you food. Cool doesn’t mean shit. Any and all confidence I have as a performer I attribute to the Magnet. I feel like I grew up on that stage, having never done any other theater training.
Why did you leave NYC?
GB: I had some work in LA and everyone encouraged me to make the move for professional reasons. And I owed the Italians money.
Are you still improvising?
GB: I am but not as much as I’d like to.
What projects have you taken on since your departure from the Magnet?
GB: A lot of web shorts and indie films. Anything and everything. Always saying yes.
What are you currently involved in?
GB: I’m co-writing a web series that’s loosely based on my life as a weird stonerish dad. It’ll hopefully show the ups and downs of alternative style parenting.
What excites you and inspires you?
GB: Watching youngins do improv. This art form is still in its infancy. 4-track toured Canada a bunch and watching kids that have been doing improv since high school and in some cases even earlier was fucking rad. Game didn’t matter, character didn’t matter, they just knew. They were so good at emoting and everything
What are the differences between the New York scene and the scene of Los Angeles?
GB: The biggest difference for me is that in LA you can’t walk from one theater to another the way you can in NY. Aside from that, great stuff is happening in both cities. The weirdest thing about LA is that instead of rehearsing in a studio, you go to someone’s house.
What shows and performers should us New Yorkers totally take note of in case we take a trip out West?
GB: The main thing I would suggest is to check out every venue- there’s good shows and performers scattered across LA. The Clubhouse, Second City, UCB, I.O.West- try not to limit your perspective on style, go tons of places, and don’t be too stuck up to laugh.
Thanks George! When in New York, George has been known to drop by Magnet for shows. Keep an eye out for more of George’s work.
December brings us cold weather, warm tidings of holiday cheer, hopefully at least a few days off from work… and perhaps most importantly, the latest installment of The Director Series: Genus.
Genus takes the suggestion of a genre, then improvises an entire show in that genre.
Featuring Nick Jaramillo, Lauren Olson, Kelly Buttermore, Dennis Zavolock, John Roukis,
Jana Schmieding, Jamie Rivera
Directed by Christian Pollack
Every Thursday in December at 9:00pm, part of Magnet Theater’s Thursday Night Out Line-up.
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In advance of tonight’s debut performance, I got to talk to director Christian Pollack a bit about the show, and why you should see it.
Give us some of your thoughts about genre-based improv.
CP: Genre improv is something I’ve always loved, it takes away some of the work of invention in the scene if you have a template to work off of, and then it gets really fun to just commit to it.
Will the suggested genres shape the form of the show itself?
CP: The suggestion will inform the show for sure, but the players are not bound to try to recreate the suggestion, just again, use it as a template for what types of characters might be in this show; but within the scenes, it’s still very much about discovering what’s happening along with everybody else in the theater.
Are there any genres the cast can’t handle?
CP: The one genre we’ve had the most trouble with is “Mork and Mindy”. “Mork and Mindy” is a genre, right?
How is it working with Jamie Rivera?
CP: Jaime Rivera is quiet, humble, on-time, smells like Earth and the outdoors. Everything you want in a cast leader. I’m honestly very lucky to have so many talented, fun people agree to do this, I’m looking forward to watching them all have fun.
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I’m sure you’ve seen Christian, Nick, Lauren, Kelly, Dennis, John, Jana and Jamie perform in various other shows at the Magnet Theater, so you know you’re in for a treat with Genus.