Magnet Theater Blog
On this week’s episode, Magnet performer, director, and instructor Hannah Chase joins us to talk about improv, self-criticism, and why everyone should see a therapist. Host Louis Kornfeld asks Hannah about her upcoming Directors Series, “The Cast,” and forthcoming elective class, “Play!” Both projects remind host and guest alike that sometimes the easiest way to participate in something you enjoy is to create it yourself. Find out how playing piano in her younger years has influenced Hannah’s approach to improv and the role that self-criticism plays in both. Louis offers that we replace the concept of failure in improv with that of uncertainty and also urges us to find in our neighbors what we find fascinating in ourselves. Plus, both Hannah and Louis attempt to appease demands made by Peter McNerney and Ed Herbstman, to great success. Check it out!
Or simply enjoy Episode #42 below via SoundCloud.
It’s the Magnet Theater Podcast’s ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY (!!!) and to celebrate, we’ve got Magnet alumnus George Basil on the show. George stopped by while he was in town for the theater’s 10th Anniversary and talked to host Louis Kornfeld about getting into improv, Michael Keaton, and the art of living. These two friends who met in the Magnet’s first Level 2 improv class fill this episode with artistic philosophies, discussing nonlinear skill progression, rallying against the monetization of art, and how that which inhibits us also enables us to be great. Plus, find out the artisan job George took when first moving to NYC and where that scar came from. This is a feel-good episode if there every was one and we can’t imagine a better way to celebrate our one year anniversary than with an old friend. Check it out!
Or simply enjoy Episode #41 below via SoundCloud.
We’re so very excited to announce the new Conservatory Circuit spring 2015 season, debuting Friday, April 24th at 10:30pm at the Magnet Theater Training Center. Congratulations to everyone!
Coach: Lauren Olson
Kate de Longpre’
Coach: Justin Anderson
Coach: Evan Forde Barden
The new Magnet Training Center at 22 W. 32nd Street marks a huge development in the history of the Magnet and the New York comedy community. For the first time since most anyone at Magnet can remember, we’ve got all of our classes running under the same roof, bringing our community of students, teachers, and performers together on a nightly basis. It also means that more classes are being offered in improv, musical improv, sketch comedy, and storytelling than ever before and that’s great news for all of New York, whether you’re a comedian, actor, singer, storyteller, or audience member.
Our new home has 10 classrooms, a studio theater, two dedicated writers’ rooms and two multi-stall bathrooms (so luxurious!). There are vending machines, a water fountain, and places to hang out before and after class. Simply put, it’s a bigger, better space to keep up with our growing needs as a training ground for the best comedic minds in the world. Plus, it’s got a view of the Empire State Building. Pretty swanky, right?
And did we mention that our new training center is right in the heart of New York City’s Korea Town? We are now smack in the middle of a block packed full of great restaurants, cool cafes, and killer karaoke bars. Whether it’s a team dinner before The Circuit, or a night of singing after your musical improv class, K-Town has you covered.
This is a new, exciting chapter for us and it wouldn’t be possible without the enthusiasm, hard work, and continued brilliance of our students and staff.
Thanks for being the best community around. If you haven’t seen the new digs yet, please stop by when you can, or sign up for a class! For a sneak peak, check out the fun infomercial below.
Magnet Training Center
Hours: 11am to 11pm
22 West 32nd St, 10th Floor
Episode #40 of the show has Rebecca Robles in the studio and with her she brings immediate laughter. Host and teammate from The Boss, Louis Kornfeld, speaks with Rebecca about the romantic nature of engaging with things that you weren’t around for, like antiques and old music, and they chat about how jumping into an external character can remind you of who you are internally. Always a hustler with the best of intentions, Rebecca tells us about her variety talk show, The Rebecca Robles Show and assures us that we are not alone in this world. PLUS! Playing with The Boss, David Letterman’s influence, secrets about Armando Diaz, a shoutout to Matt Antonucci (<3), and Rebecca reveals her unused bit for The Maggies. Tune in to hear it all!
Or simply enjoy Episode #40 below via SoundCloud.
We’re so excited to announce the brand-new season of Conservatory Circuit is now open for applications! What’s Conservatory Circuit, you say? Why, it’s just like the regular Circuit, except it’s open only to students who have been accepted into Magnet’s Conservatory program (Level 5 and above). It’s a really great way to work consistently with a team and coach as well as get more reps under your belt. We highly recommend it!
Application deadline: Thursday, April 16th at noon
Team announcements: Friday, April 17th
Shows: Fridays at 10:30pm; April 24th, May 1st, May 8th and May 15th
What are you waiting for? Check out the details and apply now!
The Maggies are upon us once again! Tonight marks the night we award such meaningful prizes as Best Laugh Award and the Herbstman Humanitarian Award and celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Magnet. Before we do all of that though, check out this video of the opening number from last year’s Maggies. It’s got master of ceremonies Peter McNerney singing and dancing all over the place. See you tonight!
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Magnet, Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue have developed an Oral History of the Magnet Theater.
The full story will be released TOMORROW, Friday 4/10, but in the meantime we are releasing some interesting stories that didn’t make the final cut.
Today, Magnet Theater co-founder Armando Diaz explains the origins of the long-running “The Armando Diaz Experience.” Tonight, ADX kicks off the Magnet 10th Anniversary celebrations with monologues by Ira Glass of This American Life. Advanced reservations are sold out, but a limited number of tickets will be released at the door.
The Armando Diaz Experience
(Diaz, then a 20-something film-school dropout, had been taking classes with Del Close and Charna Halpern at the iO, since it’s early back-of-the-bar days. Close eventually left Chicago to try his luck in L.A., and Diaz feeling at a low-point in his improv career, quits and goes back to film school.)
Armando Diaz (founder, co-owner, teacher): I graduated and I was just trying to find film work. It’s not easy trying to find those jobs in Chicago. I was videotaping weddings, I was working at a dubbing house where they dub commercials and instructional videos and you had to watch the same thing over and over for 8 hours. I was really in hell.
Me and Kevin Dorff were living in an apartment together and I still had improv friends, so I’d go to parties and shows and whatever, but I had given up. And people were like “Oh there’s that guy who used to do improv, whatever.”
I got burnt out. My life was a mess. I just was really kind of like, “Eh, I don’t have a degree, I’m not making any money. What future does any of this have?”
Around that time Charna is opening her theater. She had gotten a theater on Clark Street and it was a big deal. She had taken the first risk of renting space, it was like a tiny 40-seat theater. And then that went pretty well so she decided to take the plunge and get a full theater, bar and all that kind of stuff. At that point a lot of people had been hired at Second City and were going on to become paid actors and stuff like that, so they were looking for shows to put into the space.
It was like, well she’s gonna have two stages, and they wanted to have some alumni shows. So we were in Kevin and my apartment. It was late, we had closed out the bar, and we came back to the apartment to drink. It was Dave Koechner, Adam McKay, and Kevin and we were just sitting there. It was funny, they would bitch a lot about not getting to do improv, because they were doing Second City and it’s all written stuff. They do improv stuff but they didn’t get to do Harolds. They missed that.
So they started pitching this idea of an alumni show, and made a cast list of all the best people. They kept on saying, well it’s gotta be egoless work. Let’s not let anybody do hacky stuff or have any kind of personalities. There were like 30 or 40 people on the list. The other thing was how are you gonna rotate people in. Adam had this strange idea of calling the show “The Armando Diaz Experience” and saying well you know anybody in the show has to serve Armando. We’re going to create this ego, this figurehead.
I think it’s kind of like the founding of the United States. Where its kind of like, “Well we don’t want a king we want a weak president.” I think subconsciously that was part of it.
Me and Adam were friends and share a lot of comedic sensibilities. He enjoyed stuff I did. He always had a lot more confidence in me than I had in myself. A friend of ours had died, this guy Rick Roman, and a year earlier they had put together a memorial show and they were gonna give away a scholarship to go through the Second City Training Center.
It was a fundraiser, and Adam was like you gotta be in the show and it was like, “What? Doing what? I’m not in improv, I quit improv, I’m back in school.” He’s just like “I’m just putting you down to be in it.” And so I kept saying, “Adam, I don’t do stand-up.” You know. But there’s no getting out of the show so I was just like totally agonizing up until the day of the show and then suddenly the show’s going on, and I see the order, and we’re coming up to my space.
I wrack my head for like something to do. I tried writing stuff and and it was all terrible. So finally I was backstage, I’m about to go on, and the lights came up and I was still frozen backstage. And there was an empty stage and everyone’s like what’s going on. So I just came out and I was like, “Hi my name’s Armando Diaz. I’m not going to lie to you, I didn’t prepare anything for this show. I just really wanted to be in it.” And everyone started laughing. And I was like, “Uh, the thought occurred to me, like, ‘Hey, got any questions about Rick? Rick was a friend of mine. Got any questions?’” The audience would ask me questions, and I would just tell stories. And I just kind of told a lot of stories about Rick. And for some reason it just went over really well. It was in that moment, that me improvising monologues sort of happened.
Jump forward a year, and the same situation. I’m like Adam “What is the Armando Diaz Experience?” He was like, “It’s whatever, just do what you want.” And they just worked on the rest.
I’d get reports back from Charna, she’s like, “We’re sold out for the first show!” And I was like “What? What?” Dave Koechner got Del. He was like “Del’s gonna direct us.” So I was even more scared. So I showed up to rehearsal and the only thing I could think of was to improvise monologues. So, I was like, well I’ll just do that. You guys do the improv and I’ll get out of your way. And so we tried it. And I was just nervous as hell.
I looked around the room. It was just everybody. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Matt Besser and Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts and Adam McKay and David Koechner and Kevin Dorff. Miriam Tolan. Neil Flynn. Jimmy Carrane. Leo Ford. I’m missing a lot of people. It was just kind of a who’s who of the most amazing improvisers on earth, and then an idiot like me, fronting the show. Everyone’s waiting for me to do something that they could use. Rehearsal was terrible. It was just really rotten.
Unfortunately, they waited until last minute to book rehearsal. So this was two weeks before the show started. We did the first rehearsal on a Saturday and it was just a total disaster. And we had a preview show on Monday, and only two guys showed up to the show. Which was lucky. Two people in the audience. Two frat guys. And so we get up to do the show and my monologues suck and then halfway through the show it was like, “Yeah, let’s give up on this” and we refunded the guys money. They were like “This sucked.”
I was just stuck. I couldn’t talk. I felt like I became an idiot when it came time to tell a story. Nothing came to me. And it was like in a week we’re gonna open the show, there’s gonna be press there, they’re gonna review it, there’s a packed audience.
We had one more rehearsal the next Saturday before the show, and Del started the rehearsal like this, “You know there’s something in show business that’s just a sucker punch.” Something about conning people. Basically to the effect of, are we really gonna do this? Or do we have to find something Armando can do? And basically just in front of everybody let me know like you better get it right or we’ll replace you or put you to the side or whatever. I was like holy shit.
Right before I was gonna do the first monologue, he said to me, “Remember the old timey impersonators, you know, like when a comic that would do an impression of somebody. You know how they would turn their back and pretend to transform themselves into that character, do something with their hair, or collar or something like that.” He’s like, after you get the suggestion, I want you to turn around and I want you to do that. And I was like, what, this is ridiculous. He already thinks I’m an asshole. Everybody was just really on edge.
So we started, we get the first suggestion, I was like okay great, I turned around, pretended to like, you know, and then I turned back around to give a monologue. And it actually worked. It was like “Holy shit that was actually a pretty funny story.” And then they did some scenes. And it was time to do another monologue and I turned around, did the same thing, told a story, and then again another monologue. And then they did some scenes and Del’s like, “Alright, cool. We’re done.” And then he just left.
We spent like 20 minutes practicing, and then it was like, shit the show’s on Monday. So, I felt a little bit better because it was like okay, this little device seems to work for me, I don’t know why, some strange Del magic. But then, over the weekend, I lost my voice. I was so nervous like by Saturday night, I could not get words out. I had like laryngitis. I went to work on Monday, and again, I tried to spend the whole day not talking. And I went up to iO after work and slowly my voice started coming back. It kind of just came back just in time for the show.
We did the first show and I did all that stuff Del said, and it was just like…wow. It was a kick-ass show. I did work that was worthy of the cast. I didn’t feel like I totally let them down and all that stuff. And then from then on it was just a hit show.
I did it for a few months, and then at a certain point I was like, I don’t know. I’m not gonna become an actor. I’m kind of running out of stories. I don’t feel good about repeating stories. And I was taking time off from work to actually do it. I couldn’t do that indefinitely.
So I said to Charna, “Hey I gotta stop doing the monologues for the show. So why don’t we close the show and then just put up the same kind of show with a new name. Let’s just take my name off it and make it a new show.” And she was like, “No, no we’ll just get someone else to do the monologues.” And I was like, “Are you sure? You know you could change the name.” But they’d put reviews out. It had been labeled. I could see her point. But I was like, “Okay, all right, I could disappear and you guys can keep doing it.” I did my best to fuck it up and not be in it and it was something that was bigger than me.
(As told to Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue)
Join us on this week’s episode to hear from Aaron Gold and Grant Goldberg, creators and hosts of You Are Not Alone: An Uplifting Show About Depression. Host Louis Kornfeld asks our two golden boys about their show and how something so connected to depression can be funny. The show, which features essays on depression and improv inspired by them, always maintains a comedic sensibility despite its heavier themes. The hosts are quick to remind us that although “depression” is in the title, so is “uplifting.” Our guests talk about dealing with the private shame of depression versus the the public display of it and how guilt can play a major role in one’s process. Hear Louis expound upon his notion that we as a species are becoming so aware that we’re fragmenting into individual sectors and that improv can help us bridge some of those gaps. If you like the blending of comedy and psychology, or want to hear what’s next in store for humanity, tune in!
Or simply enjoy Episode #39 below via SoundCloud.
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Magnet, Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue have developed an Oral History of the Magnet Theater.
The full story will be released in early April, but over the coming weeks we will be releasing some interesting stories that didn’t make the final cut.
The first in this series is a profile on how the teachers & founders first discovered improv in their own lives. Read Part 1 here.
DISCOVERING IMPROV – PART 2
Herbstman: You know that last thing you think about before you go to bed is usually different every night. For me it was the same thing every night. It was, I’ve got to audition and get into Second City. It became pretty consuming for me. I cared about it a lot. My stomach would be turning. It worked out. I auditioned and they hired me.
Andrews: I just loved it. I just thought it was so much fun. I had never done any theater, I had never done anything artistic of any kind. But i was just super fun. I was really bad at it because I had terrible ADD I couldn’t focus on anything. It was a nice challenge for me to have to learn how to listen, to get good at that. I just remember it was one of my favorite things to do.
Herbstman: After I did five levels with Razwowsky he was like, now do you really want to learn how to do this? And he told me to go study at IO with Del. And I did. At 17, I went and took my first class with Charna.
Diaz: Back then, Improv Olympic would just take up residency in some bar. I didn’t question it back then, it was just kind of like, of course, that’s how you take comedy classes. Having started a theater, I realized wow, she had to do whatever she had to. It was just kind of like, a very gypsy kind of existence.
Herbstman: My iO Level 1 class was Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, Neil Flynn, Ali Farahnakian, John Rosenfeld, Andrew Moskos — those guys started Boom Chicago. Shortly thereafter, maybe 6-8 months after that there was Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Rachel Dratch was performing there and also taking classes. There were under 50 people doing iO at the time.
Diaz: Del was just teaching the last level. You got into Del’s class and then you stayed in Del’s class forever. There was no graduation. You kept on showing up Monday night. There were like 30 people in the class, people on house teams.
Herbstman: I chose to go to Northwestern because they had a great improv group there that I wanted to be a part of and I also wanted to continue taking classes at IO, which I did all through college. Pretty much just wanted to get into Second City. That was my only goal. College was mostly just how do I get more stage time and do more improv and get better at it so I can be prepared for my Second City audition.
Diaz: Sometimes guests would come by. I remember [Chris] Farley, he graduated from IO and then was cast in Second City and he was doing Second City Mainstage, I remember him showing up and then sitting in on Del’s class. That was such an insane experience because it was Del in the first place which, he was was so scary, and smart, and such an authority. And you had all these other people that were amazing improvisers. You felt like, “What am I doing here? I’m just a freshman and here’s all these seniors.”
Andrews: In high school, my friend and I were annoying in improv and a lot of people didn’t really like us, contrary to how they might remember it now. We auditioned every year for everything. We didn’t get cast in anything. Nobody ever asked us to be in a group with them. The first time I ever got cast to be in a group with other people was when I went to college and that was after I was doing improv for like seven years. The team was called Suspicious of Whistlers, which is not a good name.
McNerney: I went in and I auditioned for The Meow Show at Northwestern, and I didn’t know it, but they had combined their auditions with this new long form group, called Titanic Players and so I accidentally auditioned for that. I came for The Meow Show. I didn’t know what long form was. But I got cast on the Titanic Players. My sophomore year there was a new freshman group cast and I became the first assistant director. Junior year I became a coach, and I cast Nick Kanellis on the next freshman team. He and Matt B. Weir, and Zoe Garmin from the Mindy Project were all on that team. My senior year, Russ Armstrong and Nick were in The Meow Show with me.
Marino: Ed was at iO West when I got there. I saw him onstage a bunch of times there. I thought he was great. I was like, who the fuck is that guy? This guy’s great. He sat in with a group called Tiny Hostages that did The Movie. They did that on a night that I performed. I auditioned for a Harold team at IO. Didn’t get on one. Not getting on a Harold team put me on a path to expedite my move out to New York, to do so as soon as possible. I moved there in 2003.
McNerney: I moved to New York in 2005. I knew I was going to do improv. I knew UCB was out here. I drove all my stuff out here the week before graduation, dropped my stuff off at my sublet and then drove to my Level 1 with Chris Gethard and then the next day drove back to graduate. And then the day after graduation, flew back to take my second class.
Andrews: I moved to New York in 2009 to do grad school. This was a point where I was like, I need to keep doing improv. I applied to PHD programs. But, I only applied to grad schools in New York and Chicago, so that I could keep doing improv which should have been a pretty good sign of, hey, just go do your thing.
- alex marino
- armando diaz
- ed herbstman
- io west
- Kelly Donahue
- kill your darlings
- Los Angeles
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- Magnet Theater Oral History
- Megan Gray
- new york
- new york city
- oral history
- peter mcnerney
- rick andrews
- Second City
- Sulaiman Beg
- The Meow Show