In our continuing effort to share great ideas about improvisation, the Q & A series proudly posts this live conversation with Susan Messing and Christina Gausas. Megan Gray was our host, and the audience at Magnet Theater provided the questions. This is NSFW because Susan uses the F word a lot. So put on your headphones. Unless you’re alone. Then crank it.
(We know. They aren’t teens. But we like the picture.)
Summer! No School! Lot’s of free unstructured time!
LET’S WATCH TV AND PLAY VIDEO GAMES UNTIL OUR BRAINS TURN INTO PUDDING!! I LOVE PUDDING!!!!
Don’t do that.
Because on June 18th, Elana Fishbein will be kicking off Summer with “Improv for Teens”, a fun class for sharp teens who want to learn and practice the principles of improv.
We talked with Elana about the class, her history with improv and its importance in everyone’s life .
Magnet Blog: So how did you get started in improv?
Elana Fishbein: I started improvising pretty seriously when I was fifteen years old and a big part of that was because of the encouragement I received from some fantastic teachers. Under their tutelage I came to understand the ways in which improv can be an awesome and empowering form of expression. I’m excited to follow in their footsteps.
MB: So what will this class be about?
EF: In Improv for Teens, students will learn to improvise together in a fun, supportive environment. Games and exercises will focus on collaboration, group mind, character building, commitment, spontaneity, and the most magical principal of improv, “Yes And!” Participants will walk away with a fundamental understanding of long-form improv and the skills to perform grounded, hilarious, improv scenes. The class will culminate with a graduation performance in which students will have the opportunity to wow their friends and loved ones. It’s a super fun show.
Slots are still available, so if you or someone you know is interested in signing up for Improv for Teens check out this link: http://www.magnettheater.com/classlist.php?infoid=1100.
Class begins on June 18th.
Tweet it, Facebook it, and maybe even actually say it out loud to another person in the same room.
The second show of the Magnet Theater’s sketch company-in-residence, “America!” will introduce you to characters that will take you on a journey through our national psyche, and explore the people and things that define and inform our American-ness. Like baseball. And Ira Glass. And immigrants.
So unfurl your flags and crack open a cold Sixpoint beer: opening night of “Company 29: America!” is coming your way this Friday, May 18th, at 7pm at the Magnet Theater.
Dedicated to producing new and original sketch comedy shows on a continual basis, Company 29 consists of the Magnet’s strongest writers, performers and directors. The goal of Company 29 is to create character-driven, thematically cohesive sketch shows with a unique voice.
Sponsored by: Sixpoint Brewery
These are the writers and performers of America!:
Written By: Paul Barker (Horses, Dumbkowsky), Kevin Cobbs (Listen, Kid!), Tim Eberle (Brick, Alchemy), Amanda Hirsch (Think Improv), Beth Newell (Kiss*Punch*Poem, Dumbkowsky), and Jamaal Sedayao (Brick, Turboner Bigote).
Featuring: Mike Barry (Lead McEnroe), Kevin Cobbs (Listen, Kid!), Ruby Marez (Aquarius), Lauren Olson (Chet Watkins), Christian Paluck (Chet Watkins), Justin Peters (Chet Watkins), Rachel Rauch (Leviathan), Jamaal Sedayao (Brick), Jason Scott Quinn (Silver Fox), and Ross Taylor (Aquarius, The Wrath).
Directed By: Nick Benaquista (Lead McEnroe)
Fri May 18th, 2012, 7:00pm
Sat May 19th, 2012, 9:00pm
Sun May 20th, 2012, 8:00pm
The Magnet Blog interviewed Company 29 Head Writer, Tim Eberle, to get the inside scoop on Company 29 and how the group prepares for their shows.
Magnet Blog: How is Company 29 structured differently from how sketch groups are usually structured?
Tim Eberle: Company 29 is really structured more like a resident theater company than a sketch group; we’re made up of a writing team, performance, troupe, lighting/sound designer, and directing team. The idea behind the group has always been to bring all of these different aspects together to create full, unique, and cohesive sketch shows, based around a single idea or theme. The scripts are generally character-based and written for specific performers, who work with our director and tech team throughout the rehearsal process to bring the scenes to life in the most engaging way possible. It leads to a “the whole is greater than the total sum of its parts” situation, and really showcases the different talents floating around the Magnet.
MB: Do the actors write, or the writers act? Are directors part of the group, or do they rotate/change for each show?
TE: We definitely have a couple of writer/performers in the group, especially Jamaal Sedayao and Kevin Cobbs. They’re great because they know how to write so well for themselves as well as the other actors in the group. And Jamaal can pull from his Brazilian (I think?) background to give the show some diversity. We have one director (Nick Benaquista) who directs all the Company 29 shows. It’s a big asset having Nick direct multiple shows because he’s developed a great sense for the different writing and performance styles we have, and he can use that when he’s working to build beats and work on characters in rehearsals.
MB: What is the writing process?
TE: When we first start working on a new show, the writers will get together to pitch ideas for a theme or structure to the show (like setting the whole show in the world of a public school, as we did with PS2012). Once we’ve settled on the theme, we’ll starting pitching sketch ideas or looking at sketches that people have that could potentially work for the show, and discuss which actors would be the best to play which parts. Over the next few we’ll work as a group pitching jokes, editing the sketches, and tweaking the material to make it work for the actors. So it’s collaborative in that sense, but the onus is really on the individual writers to own their material. We don’t write too many sketches together as a group, but we all work together to make sure the sketches work for the show we want to put on. Once we have enough material, we’ll choose the sketches we want to use in the show, put together the running order, and all that good stuff.
MB: What’s the timeline of putting a show together, from conception to show time?
TE: Usually about 2 months. We like to have about three weeks to write and edit and then a little over a month for rehearsals, since scheduling rehearsals for a cast this big and this busy is obviously difficult, and we want to have enough rehearsals for each sketch.
MB: Was there anything you learned In the process of putting together the first Company 29 show, that you decided to do differently for this upcoming show?
TE: We’re not going to do the character bits that we did with PS2012 this time around. They were funny as character pieces in the last show, but they disrupted the flow of the whole piece. This time, we’re following a more standard sketch revue structure.
MB: Will there be rolling auditions/submission invitations for folks who are interested in joining Company 29?
TE: We’ve had the same cast for the last two shows, and they’re fantastic. We don’t have any plans to hold big auditions in the near future, but we’re always looking to add people here and there. We brought Justin Peters on for this show because we needed someone to play a racist ex-minor-league baseball player, which seemed right in his wheelhouse. We’re bringing on a couple of new writers for the next show as well, and are always looking for more sketch-writers who like the style of sketch that we do.
MB: Why “America!”?
TE: The idea really came from the fact that for a little while we thought about doing a political theme for the next show. The more we batted the idea around, the more sketch ideas came up that centered on general Americana, beyond just politics. It seemed like a really fun and relatable theme to play with, so that’s where we went. We ended up with sketches about Ellis Island, Johnny Appleseed, Ira Glass, Kenyan marathon runners, and, interestingly enough, nothing about politics. Which is probably for the best. I don’t think anyone really likes political sketch comedy. Not enough silly voices.
Company 29 is proud to be sponsored by Sixpoint Craft Ales. Based in Brooklyn, Sixpoint is an innovative craft brewery that makes bold and delicious beers. It is also committed to supporting local creative endeavors, and Company 29 is thrilled to have them as a sponsor. For all you craft beer lovers, Sixpoint is having beer specials at the Magnet for opening night on Friday. Drink up and enjoy the show!
Photos: M.Woody Fu
- Amanda Hirsch
- Beth Newell
- Catherine Wing
- christian paluck
- Company 29
- Craft Beer
- Jamaal Sedayao
- jason scott quinn
- justin peters
- Kevin Cobbs
- lauren olson
- Mike Barry
- Nick Benaquista
- nick kanellis
- Opening Night
- Paul Barker
- peter mcnerney
- Rachel Rauch
- Ross Taylor
- ruby marez
- sketch show
- Tim Eberle
- willy appelman
GAY BOMB: THE MUSICAL opened to a sold-out crowd last Friday, May 4th. The plot was full of twists and turns that we cannot divulge, and the action was so hot that we were unable to obtain pictures of the show from the actual opening night. Instead, an anonymous source supplied us with clandestine photos from a secret GAY BOMB dress rehearsal.
Here is Part 2 of my interview with GAY BOMB: THE MUSICAL co-writer, Steve Whyte.
Magnet Blog: How do you and your co-writer, Chris Friden, know each other?
Steve Whyte: Chris and I met at UC-Berkeley. A couple of years after we graduated, we started a weekly comedy/sports TV show on Cal Football and Basketball. It ended up getting picked up by SportsChannel (now FoxSports), and going national. We ran for three years and won an Emmy, and since then we’ve both been involved in various aspects of video production.
MB: Did you find that your musical improv skills came in handy while writing Gay Bomb?
SW: Absolutely. I think it definitely guided the rewriting of the screenplay to fit the musical format. Additionally, before we started the rewrite, we ran several improv sessions with members of the cast. Almost everybody in the cast has come up through all of the Magnet’s musical improv classes. So improvising both scenes and songs was something that comes naturally to them, and something that they do every week. It was helpful to see what elements might work well by improvising them first, before sitting down to do the rewrite. It also gave the actors time to get familiar with their characters, so that they had a head start in that department when finally getting a chance to work with the book.
MB: Neither you nor your co-writer, Chris, identify as LGBTQ. As straight allies, what compelled you two to write GAY BOMB?
SW: Being a white, straight male, try as I may, I have no idea what it’s like to deal with the injustices that others go through on a daily basis. While both Chris and I have close family members and friends who are LGBTQ, and we try our best to empathize, we don’t truly know what it’s like to experience life as an oppressed minority in a prejudiced society. However, I don’t think that should stop one from trying, and I certainly don’t think it should stop one from speaking out and doing what they can to address these faults in society.
With regards to casting, I cast the people that I thought would fit the roles best, and who were exceptionally funny and talented. There was no thought put into trying to cast all straight or all gay or a certain percentage mix of cast members. As it turns out, I think our cast is close to 50/50. I think it has been nice to have this mix of performers, as it provides helpful feedback and input for the piece from various viewpoints. Interestingly, four of our gay actors play straight characters, and at least two of our straight actors play gay characters. At the end of the day, it’s a bunch of funny, talented improvisers who have been performing together at the Magnet for years, and who are just looking to put on a fun, funny, entertaining, and perhaps even meaningful show.
Thanks, Steve! We’d like to think that GAY BOMB was one reason why President Obama finally decided to support marriage equality. Go, President Obama!
Catch GAY BOMB on select Mondays and Fridays in May and June at 8:30pm. Tickets can be purchased here. Use the code “POTUS Felching” to get half off the regular ticket price, for all shows, including tonight’s! The code is only good for today, so buy those cheap tickets now!
Fridays: 5/11, 5/18, 5/25, 6/15, 6/22, 6/29
Mondays: 5/21, 6/11, 6/18
Directed by Michael Martin, with music by Frank Spitznagel, and book and lyrics by Chris Friden and Steve Whyte. Starring Andrew Fafoutakis, Dreagn Foltz, Ben Jones, Michael Lutton, Jen Sanders, T.J. Mannix, Oscar Montoya, Dave Tomczak and Woody Fu.
If you are unable to attend the show, or wish to offer continued support, please consider donating to the GAY BOMB kickstarter fundraiser. The creators of the show have accrued significant debt to put this show together, for set design, costumes, rehearsal space, and many other necessities that arise as the show continues its run. The hope is to raise $2,000 more dollars in a week, for a total of $7,000. Please go to the GAY BOMB kickstarter page for more information on the excellent pledge perks.
Stay tuned for the next installment of my interview with Steve Whyte!
Photo credits: Steve Whyte and Woody Fu
GAY BOMB: THE MUSICAL is landing on the Magnet Theater, with only a few seats left for this highly anticipated opening night tonight! Directed by Michael Martin, with music by Frank Spitznagel, and book and lyrics by Chris Friden and Steve Whyte, this musical comedy is inspired by an actual proposal by the U.S. military (in 1994!) to build a bomb that would make America’s enemies gay.
Starring Andrew Fafoutakis, Dreagn Foltz, Ben Jones, Michael Lutton, Jen Sanders, T.J. Mannix, Oscar Montoya, Dave Tomczak and Woody Fu, the show premieres tonight, and will run on select Mondays and Fridays in May and June at 8:30pm. Tickets can be purchased here.
Fridays: 5/4, 5/11, 5/18, 5/25, 6/15, 6/22, 6/29
Mondays: 5/21, 6/11, 6/18
Here is Part 1 of my interview with GAY BOMB: THE MUSICAL co-writer, Steve Whyte.
Magnet Blog: What motivated you and your co-writer, Chris Friden, to create GAY BOMB?
Steve Whyte: We often hear of absurd policies from our government, but this one really seemed special. It’s simultaneously hilarious and sad. Sad that a room full of educated, grown men (no one knows who was in the room, but I would wager that, yes, they were probably all men) would have a set of values and beliefs that could allow the serious consideration of a “Gay Bomb.” This didn’t happen in the 1950s; this was 1994. Hilarious, I suppose, for the same reasons. It’s low hanging fruit – easy to make fun of. At the same time, it’s an opportunity for some commentary about stereotyping, prejudice, politics, and power.
MB: Have you and Chris ever written a musical before?
SW: Neither of us have ever written a musical. We actually wrote a screenplay of GAY BOMB about a year ago, and then figured it would make a fun musical. I learned a lot about musicals and what makes them tick from the musical improv classes at the Magnet. Then, when we decided to do this, I read a shitload of books on the subject, took a “musical writers bootcamp” workshop at Davenport Theatrical, and bent the ear of fellow Magnet improviser and librettist Justin Moran (POPE!, Nightfall on Miranga Island).
MB: Any advice for folks who might want to write their own musical, but don’t know how to start?
SW: My number one suggestion would be: Get help. Surround yourself with talented people. Be willing to give up control and have others help.
There are several books on the subject, a couple of which lay out the fundamentals pretty well. I found The Musical Theatre Writer’s Survival Guide by David Spencer and Writing the Broadway Musical by Aaron Frankel to be particularly helpful. Watching and re-watching a lot of musicals helps, especially ones that resonate with you. For me, that’s anything by Parker and Stone—Team America, Book of Mormon, the South Park movie (there are also several South Park episodes that are mini-musicals). And again, the musical improv classes also provide a great foundation in what moves a musical forward.
MB: Any last words to end Part 1 of this interview, Steve?
SW: We’re honored that the Magnet has included us in their effort to showcase more scripted material at the theater. This production draws very heavily on the Magnet community. Everyone in the cast and crew has taken many classes here, and has been in many shows. Our director, Michael Martin, is the director of the musical improv program here along with Frank Spitznagel, who is our musical director and composer.
Please stay tuned to the Magnet blog for future installments of my interview with Steve. See you at Opening Night of GAY BOMB! Stay for the after-party at Smithfield, the new bar at 215 West 28th Street!
This Saturday at 11am at The Magnet Theater, Megan Gray will be moderating a Q & A with improv legends Susan Messing and Christina Gausas!
Messing is a director and actress living in Chicago. Best known for her work with Second City, iO and The Annoyance Theatre, she is well revered in the NYC, Chicago and L.A. improv and acting communities.
Christina Gausas is an actress, writer and director living in NYC. She has appeared on 30 Rock, Delocated, Important Things w/ Dimitri Martin, and Late Night w/ Conan O’Brien. Christina was named one of “The 10 Funniest New Yorker’s You’ve Never Heard Of” by New York Magazine. She is also directing “The Subject” at The Magnet Theater, opening Thursday May 3rd at 10pm and running until May 31st!
The Q & A is completely free, RSVP at email@example.com to reserve a spot!
In the latest installment of The Director’s Series, Christina Gausas takes the reins on The Subject. The Subject is a form that “follows the central character of the evening (the subject), never leaving the stage while the others enter and exit as various friends, relatives, demons and fantasy figures”.
The Subject, created by Alex Fendrich, was originally performed at the iO theater in Chicago and was “Highly Recommended” by The Chicago Sun-Times. Gausas was a member of the original cast and now she leads an all-star cast made up of Louis Kornfeld, Megan Gray, Alex Marino, Angela Demanti, Sebastian Connelli, Ruby Marez, Binu Paulose, Tom Levin, and Liz McDonnell.
The Subject opens Thursday May 3rd at 10pm, and is followed by an Opening Night Party at Mustang Sally’s (28th & 7th). Come to the show and celebrate afterwards with great food and drink specials!
The Subject, opening May 3rd at 10pm at The Magnet Theater!
Dave Razowsky and Ed Herbstman answered questions from Alex Marino and the audience on January 29th at Magnet Theater, and somebody recorded it. Wanna listen to it? Well here it is. Enjoy.
Oh, and if you’d like to see them perform together in the very clearly titled, ‘Razowsky and Herbstman’, you can do so on Saturday night, April 28th at 9pm, on the Magnet Mainstage.
Make a reservation here.
And if you’d like to train with these guys (along with Rachel Hamilton and Armando Diaz and others) while enjoying swimming, kayaking, and campfires, you can sign up for Camp Magnet 2012!