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.
Mail’s here! Jon Bander (Aquarius), who is performing full time on one of the Second City Cruise Ships, just sent a letter to us here at the Magnet to give us a glimpse of his travels:
Greetings from beautiful “the sea”! Though I miss New York and all you lovely people, I’m really enjoying my time aboard the ship. Things are really different on the ship from New York. For example, I can afford to eat dinner and drink beer in the same day! Godlike, I know. Life is really fun when you can afford it!
It’s amazing how quickly things become routine on the ship. New crews board on Sundays, a few days later we do our shows, and by Thursday we’re being aggressively booed until we dock again Sunday. The shows have been great. We do sketch shows in a theater that holds around 1000 people! Usually the house is packed, unless we’re in any port at all, and then it’s empty. I mean, we’re funny, but we’re not DRY LAND funny.
We rehearsed in Chicago for a week, where we drilled sketches over and over until they were in our bones. Second City treated us very professionally, giving us an excellent director, producer, and support from their entire staff. I felt incredibly well taken care of. They even got me one of those hot dogs with a pickle on it! Eh.
It’s pretty amazing rehearsing on that same stage where so many of my heroes have played. We get to watch the old reviews on DVD, and it’s amazing to see both how comedy has evolved and see people I now know in their original SC revues. Plus they all had hair!
We’ve been to some really beautiful places. Bermuda, Aruba, and Barbados to name a few. But even though we’re far away, it’s still easy to feel like I’m right back in America. For examples, I still avoid the sun. And everyone hates me!
We’ve done some pretty great activities on and off the boat. We’ve been to breathtaking beaches. I had monkeys running around on me, macaws on my shoulder, and a woman hated a bit I did so much that she said, “You guys still here?!” in a contemptuous tone. So it’s all my dreams come true.
Life on the cruise ship can best be described as a combination of summer camp and college, minus the shows. Our cast really gels well and hangs out all the time, which makes things much easier. It’s the first time in close to a decade I’ve had a set group of friends that I do everything with. We eat together in the cafeteria, we hang out together, we cry together. It’s like family! We’ve become fast friends with the other performers, especially the dancers, who make us feel self-conscious at every beach. The nice thing is I get to snuggle with Ross Taylor every night and feel good about myself.
In all seriousness, it’s been a completely fantastic experience so far. I’m very grateful to Second City for giving me the opportunity, and to the Magnet for the training and support that allowed me to get this job. I do miss you, Magnet, and all your wonderful people and shows. I especially miss seeing my Phookas and playing with Aquarius! I miss doing and seeing the great work we all do so much, and I can’t wait to come back to see and play with you all. You’re all my best friends, colleagues and inspirations! So keep it up.
See you in the new year! Check Facebook for occasional photos through which I will try to make you jealous.
We’re very excited to announce the next round of The Circuit, which will begin Friday, January 10th, 2014!
The deadline to apply is Friday, December 13, at noon. Applicants will be chosen by lottery. If chosen, you will be placed on a team of 8 improvisers and assigned a coach. You will rehearse with your coach and team once a week, with rotating performances on Friday nights at 10:30PM at the Magnet Studio Theater.
If you have completed Level 3 of Magnet’s Training Program and are not part of a Magnet house improv team, you are eligible to apply.
The Circuit is a great way to gain experience in being in an improv ensemble. We highly encourage those who are eligilble to apply. To apply, please fill out this form.
If you have any questions or comments, please email us at circuit [at] magnettheater [dot] com.
BRRRRRRRRRRR! November hit hard at Magnet Theater! With NY1 coming to the theater, sketch teams taking off, Movember celebrations, duo comedy from England, Thanksgiving Mixem Ups and Time Out features, it was a MAGNET-IC month (so sorry, really). Here’s a recap of November 2013 at Magnet!
Want to take a Free Improv Class with the Magnet? NY1 thinks you should. We held a Free Intro To Improv Class for NY1, here’s what they thought: Click here for the video. Trike was interviewed by Time Out NY for Time Out’s glossary of comedy terms. The glossary was for Time Out’s Guide to The Best Comedy of 2013. Check out the glossary here for an insiders look at some confusing improv terms. Also, Magnet was named among the “Best Underground Comedy Clubs” by Newyork.com.
November marked the First Annual Intern Appreciation night! Over 25 interns came out to enjoy free pizza, comedy from Friday Night Sh*w, and a mixer hosted by Revolver teams. Huge thanks to all of our incredible interns!
Musical Mustachewatt! In November, Musical Megawatt teams held a fundraising night to raise money for Movember. Movember is an annual month long campaign involving the growing of mustaches to raise awareness for Men’s health. Musical Megawatt teams sold baked goods and wore some pretty gnarly mustaches for the cause!
Kornfeld & Andrews! Magnet Instructors and performers, Louis Kornfeld and Rick Andrews, paired together for one night of magical improvisation. The SOLD OUT show was one of the few times Kornfeld & Andrews have performed their duo show, but from the response, we’re hoping for more. Those were some highlights from November at Magnet! We’ll see you at the shows!
The Magnet Theater is excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for the next round of MAGNET SKETCH TEAMS, which will run from February 2nd through June 1st.
Each sketch team will write and perform a show approximately every 3 weeks. Shows will take place Sunday nights at 7:30 pm. Completion of (or current enrollment in) Sketch Writing Level 2 is required to apply. Exceptions may be made for anyone currently performing on a Megawatt or Team Performance team.
HOW TO APPLY TO BE ON A MAGNET SKETCH TEAM:
Send an email with the subject line, “MAGNET SKETCH TEAM APPLICATION” and your name to email@example.com. Include your sketch and improv experience and at least 2 writing samples as PDF attachments (please limit total to 10 pages). The deadline to apply is December 20th.
“It’s amazing we’re even improvising at all.
So many people wouldn’t be able to be doing what we’re doing.
That in itself is exciting. Embrace that bravery.”
– Joanna Simmons, Story Pirates
The above is an improv mantra held dear by Elana Fishbein, one of the original members of Magnet House Team Featherweight. Hopefully you have seen one of their shows. If not, block off an hour on Wednesday and catch this notable Megawatt team.
On November 13th, 2013 I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with 6 of the 8 current members to pick their brains about the team, themselves, and how they play together. For all of you who don’t know, Featherweight is the most veteran Megawatt team at the Magnet. They were formed on late August 28th, 2008 by Peter McNerney, who also served as their first coach for almost a full year (they are now coached by Joe Miles). Their original line-up was Jesse Acini (now on All American), Russ Armstrong (now on Chet Watkins), Noel Dinneen, Elana Fishbein, Jess Lane (now out in Los Angeles), Blake Merriman, Jared McGrail (traveling the country doing a webcast), and Justin Moran. Their first form was The Harold and their name came from a scene that happened at their very first practice: Elana Fishbein had brushed her hand against Jess Lane’s breasts to which Elana exclaimed, “Oh! They’re featherlight!” From Featherlight came Featherweight, also pitched by Elana. Since then, Featherweight has gone on to be one of the most celebrated teams of the Magnet – playing for over 5 years on Wednesday nights, traveling to do the Philly and Boston Improv Festivals, performing at colleges, launching 2 pilots, and competing and losing in the very first Inspirado competition (their challenge, titled Farts! Farts! Farts!, required every scene to have a fart).
Like every veteran Magnet team, Featherweight since its inception has undergone changes. The line-up that you will see today is almost a totally different set of faces you would have seen a few years ago, or even a couple of years ago. Only 4 of the original members remain. After Russ left, Dave Maulbeck was added and also served as the team’s coach. Featherweight then experienced four more losses including Dave. Willy Appelman was added in late August of 2012, but left shortly after. In April, they welcomed veteran players Frank Bonomo, Matt Shafeek, and Lauren Ashley Smith. Matt and Frank were cast alongside each other on Megawatt team Skosh a few years ago. The two also played with Noel on Oswald prior to Featherweight’s original casting. In addition, Matt and Elana had played together on Flea Flurkus, a 2007 team that performed the Evente. The most recent addition was that of Will Quinn this past August, who had been coached by both Elana and Frank. Collectively, Featherweight has over 50 years of improv experience loaded onto its current roster. Despite the new look and massive transformation (this is the first time in many years that Featherweight is an 8-person troupe), the feel and quality of the team remains the same as it has always been: “The Featherweight I watched is the same team I’m on now. It’s the same energy.” -Lauren Ashley Smith. It’s a testament not only to the casting of the team, but the openness, support, and skill these players bring to the stage of why things have always worked out.
Featherweight, who warms up by hitting a ball up in the air with great effort to not let it hit the ground, improvises a free form, meaning they find the form as they go. “It comes off having a feel of a little town where the characters know each other and other characters branch out of that.” – Will Quinn. Something Featherweight prides themselves on is having a great range with their shows. The spectrum they cover not only in their 25 minute set, but week to week, rivals most sets at the theater. When I asked Noel Dinneen what the most important quality an improviser should possess is, he responded: “The will to improvise, meaning the willingness to actually improvise as opposed to be married to a structure or game.” Some shows might end up being slow mono-scenes and the next week everything blows up. Regardless of what their set calls for, each week Featherweight brings their flexibility, vulnerability, generosity of spirit, and “imperviousness to fear of judgment” (Justin Moran) to create their fun and their funny.
Frank Bonomo has a strong gift at bringing the humanity to Featherweight’s shows. He lets characters be affected; he knows how each character he plays will react emotionally and is still so versatile in his play. He considers the small human moments.. Also, his object work is insane.
Noel Dinneen came to The Magnet to study with Armando. He considers his most influential instructors to be Mick Napier and Del Close. His team celebrates his fearlessness, range, and how he brings zero hesitation to his work. There is nothing Noel can’t yes and. He’s also got a pretty killer attitude.
Elana Fishbein came to The Magnet to study with Armando. She considers her most influential instructor to also be Armando Diaz. With a Featherweight set comes Elana’s ability to play a spectacular and effortless range of strong, intricate, fully-formed characters. She is so specific and grounds the work. Featherweight feels that when Elana is playing, the show is in good hands.
Blake Merriman is described as being incredibly emotionally present. He really lets his characters be affected. He is a reliable player and also a great actor and is emotionally present really lets his characters be affected by what is happening.
Justin Moran came to The Magnet to study with Armando. He considers his most influential instructor James Eason. His team refers to him as an “information robot” who not only brings incredibly smart scene ideas, perfect lines, and smart appropriate punchlines to his work, but amazing characters you could never imagine be a part of the scene but work every single time.
Will Quinn came to The Magnet because of the opportunities the theater would provide. He considers his most influential instructor to be Peter McNerney. Will has a great understanding of game and heightening as well as adding finesse to Featherweight’s sets. When Will plays, his joy as a player shines through. He brings to his characters a level of polish making things very clear and very full.
Matt Shafeek came to The Magnet to study with Armando. He considers his most influential instructor to be Michael Delaney. Featherweight describes Matt as a mature, confident, and joyful player. He’s always thoughtful and takes his time when making choices as opposed to exercising “quick lazy play.” He provides context and knows what a piece needs to create a successful scene.
Lauren Ashley Smith came to The Magnet because of its welcoming atmosphere, energy, and people. She considers her most influential instructor to be Armando Diaz. Her team pegged her as “a sniper” because of her sharp sense of humour, specific moves, and ability to bring to a scene exactly what is needed. Her mind is constantly exercising on how to heighten, instill more life, and bring things together.
Love ‘Duck Dynasty’? How about ‘Storage Wars’? ‘Hoarders’?
You’re not alone. And now you, along with millions upon millions of people, just might fall in love with A&E’s new show, ‘Think Tank’. Or not. Because it’s not like those other shows at all.
We sat down in the Magnet Theater lobby with one of the show’s actors, Ed Herbstman (The Mantzoukas Brothers), to get an inside scoop. It was a lively and wide-ranging conversation, and we hope you enjoy it.
Full Disclosure, Ed is one of the co-owners of Magnet Theater, and therefore we were very conscious of the appearance of a journalistic conflict of interest. In light of this possibility, we made every attempt to be even-handed and unbiased.
Magnet Theater: So. This show. What is it?
Ed Herbstman: Why do you ask that way? Are you mad at me?
MT: Oh, you’re tough now because you’re on a TV show?
EH: Wow. Do you hate me or something? You’re really hostile. Is this part of the interview?
MT: Can’t handle it Mr. I’m On a TV Show?
EH: First, it’s not technically a TV show. It’s a web series.
MT: You calling me a liar?!
EH: Your phone just fell off the desk because you’re pounding it so hard.
MT: SHUT UP! I’ll burn your house down!!
EH: Whoa, not okay. Calm down please.
MT: …burn it down… motherfu—
Magnet performer Amanda Xeller (The Flood) reached out to one of our performers currently abroad, Ross Taylor (The Wrath, Aquarius). Ross is performing full time on a Second City Cruise Ship. Amanda sent Ross our address and he sent us a lovely update from afar…
Oh how I miss you—your faces and your energy and yes, even you bathroom!
Life at sea is fantastic! Being paid to perform comedy is a gift from Del, and there are so many
ancillary benefits as well.
It all starts with a week of training in Chicago, where the people at Second City treat you like a
real professional and make you feel like a part of the family. All your heroes are on the wall and
you play on the same stage they played upon and the feeling is probably akin to taking batting
practice in Yankee Stadium.
Life on the ship is like living in a luxury bubble, especially compared to the grit and struggle
that NYC requires—food is taken care of, alcohol is ridiculously cheap for crew, and everyone
knows who you are. The sketch shows are usually a packed house of a thousand and the material
works flawlessly. The improv is very different from what we’re used to, of course, but a quick
reminder that it’s providing my livelihood is all I need to sleep well at night. After the first crazy
week on board, rehearsals are few and all in all it’s a pretty light workweek. The passengers are
mainstream America, likely trending a little older, so they aren’t impressed by “improv moves”
but they are pretty good audiences if you give them jokes, which they consume like so much
Aside from work, I get a ton of downtime that I use at the gym, in the sun, reading, writing,
playing music, and hanging out with the rest of the cast and crew. The other performers are great
fun and the crew is pretty friendly. We port every few days and in the first four weeks I’ve gotten
to visit Bermuda, St. Thomas, St. John, Barbados, Caracao, Aruba and Mexico. I’ve zip-lined,
gambled, had beers in the ocean and gotten several layers of sunburn. I’ve chased an iguana and
grabbed a fish and got wifi in the middle of a pack of roosters.
Rooming with Bander is great—I’m somewhat shy at heart, so having a comrade throughout this
experience has made me feel comfortable very quickly. I couldn’t ask for a better cast in that we
all like each other and work well together on and off stage. I’m only a month in, so it’s possible
the turn into cynicism is just around the corner, but thus far I would call it a life-changing
experience and couldn’t be happier to be here.
That said, I miss NYC and the Magnet terribly. The work we do is incomparable and I miss my
teams enormously. The world has a habit of spinning on without you, so I hope that everyone
still remembers me when I return and I look forward to coming home and resuming God’s work
on that stage of ours. All my love to you Magnet—I’ll see you in February!
The Wrath & Aquarius
On Tuesday, November 19th Magnet will host the first ever Musical Mustachewatt. The night will be the typical Musical Megawatt affair (with Jezebells, Aquarius, Wonderland, and Mint Condition) however throughout the night we’ll be taking donations to go towards the Movember.
Movember is more than just a bad pun putting together November and Mustache. It is a month long movement where men grow mustaches to show support of men’s health. Unfortunately, science has not found a way to turn mustaches into the cure for cancer. In the mean time we are raising money to go towards the Movember Foundation, the Live Strong foundation, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. For more information on what organizations are benefiting from Movember and how you can help out even more, check out the US Movember website.
Movember has grown into a friendly competition between men to see who can grow the best mustache and who can raise the most money. Everyone starts clean shaven on November 1st and does their best to grow a full “Burt Reynolds” and raise a ton of money.
We know it’s hard to just throw your money at something. So in exchange for your donation towards men’s health you can grab some delicious home made treats made by the Musical Megawatt performers! In the lobby there will be a bake sale! From tradtional sweets to mustache inspired munchies, you’re donation will get you some serious goodies.
Come out and support musical improv comedy, men’s health, and those poor souls who can barely grow even a “John Waters” above their lip. Shows at 7, 8 and 9pm. Bake sale all night long.