During November, Alex Marino directs the latest installment of The Director’s Series, The Wake. Every Thursday night at 9pm, The Wake takes you on an adventure inspired by an obituary. I interviewed Alex via email to discuss The Wake and his inspiration behind the form.
What is The Wake and why did you choose this form?
The wake is a form I started thinking about when i was taking classes in LA. I was feeling kinda frustrated because we had been working on the invocation, which I found really interesting, but a lot of my classmates were really dismissive–they’d roll their eyes if they didn’t think the suggestion was cool, they seemed a little bit mocking of improv itself. It was LA and they were just too cool for it. So I started trying to think of a way to approach the invocation that would force performers to at least have a little bit of respect for the suggestion… and I figured “what if you had to do an invocation of a person who had just died… in a room full of people who loved them.” So it kinda stayed in my head gestating for a while. Then when Magnet first opened I was approached by a practice group, it was one of the first groups I’d coached in New York, and that was Louis Kornfeld, Megan Gray, Charlie Whitcroft, Jon Bander, Corey Grimes, and Kelly Buttermore. And after working with them for a little bit I asked if they’d like to experiment with this form I’d been thinking about and they were totally game. What we arrived at was a modified invocation of someone in that day’s obituaries, inviting them to come into the theater and share their story before they go. I heard, and this may be apocryphal, that the practice of holding wakes came from a period in Ireland where they disinterred a lot of old graves and found scratch marks on the inside of the coffins. They realized that something like 1 in 10 people were being buried alive. So they decided to leave the dead out in for a period of time after they passed to give them one last chance to wake up. So the Wake seemed fitting as a name for the form. I kinda liked the notion that this show is one last chance for the dead to come back.
I chose it for this Director’s Series because it had been a while since I’d seen it done and I wanted to work with the original cast again. A couple years ago I taught a class in The Wake, and those bozos have been asking me when they were gonna get to do it again, so I thought I’d invite them along too.
What do you find funny?
All kinds of stuff. Smart stuff, dumb stuff. Deep stuff, light stuff. Lots of things are funny. To me, the funniest thing to think about is that we’re all just a huge biological accident that learned how to wear clothes and comb its hair. That shit is hilarious to me. We’re a mostly bald, mostly flimsy, slow moving animal, with small, dull teeth and worthless claws. We can barely climb, we can’t fly, or hold our breath very long. We have bad backs and lethal allergies to peanuts and shellfish–but not all of us, so you don’t even know if someone is allergic until they just almost die. We eat and drink through the same hole we use to breathe and speak, and somehow we’ve survived long enough to figure out space travel, novelty t-shirts, iPhones and art that goes on your fingernails. It’s incredibly funny to me just how we spend our time.
Do you find death funny?
Death is not funny, no, but everything around death is funnier because of it. Death is the ultimate straight man. I think to have laughter there needs to be a break in tension, which means there needs to be tension to begin with. The more the tension and the bigger the break, the more satisfying the laugh. The uneasiness people feel when they’re faced with death is a great primer for laughter, and that kind of laughter makes it easier to live with death.
What is the future of improv?
I dunno. At some point enough people are going to complain loudly and correctly enough about not getting properly recognized and compensated for content they improvise for commercials and movies… so probably a union will come out of that. And you’ll see “additional content improvised by” in the credits of films which will be good, but things will be weird… or maybe they wont. Maybe the improviser union will be chill. Eventually there will be an improvised show that is so undeniably good that it will get a run on Broadway. Eventually there will be an improvised show that wins a Tony. Some people will be upset by that… or maybe they wont. Maybe Broadway will have relaxed a bit by then. Someone is going to bring a true and honest, disinterested study of improvisation with all its techniques, history, and various applications to the university level, build a curriculum around it, and just like performance studies and jazz you’ll be able to get a college degree in improvisation. I would like to think that degree in improv would be worth more than getting a degree in performance studies or jazz, but it probably won’t be… and after four years, it definitely won’t make anyone a better improviser than performing in every black box and bar that will let you… but, no matter how much actual experience you may have in the field, you’ll need to have a degree in improv to be able to teach improv at the university level… So that will be a nice little scam.
The Wake plays every Thursday in November at 9pm. Make Reservations Here!
Time Out NY chatted with Magnet Theater’s Trike (Peter McNerney & Nick Kanellis) for their 2013 Comedy Glossary. The list includes stand-up and improv words you probably didn’t know existed. Trike described the ins and outs of improv and explained some of the forms most confusing terms. Check the Article out HERE!
If you’re interested in catching Trike at Magnet, catch them every Saturday at 10:30pm. Reserve Tickets HERE!
1. The Director’s Series Presents The Wake (improv)- Thursdays at 9pm: Alex Marino directs “The Wake”, an improv show inspired by the name of a recently deceased person.
2. Croft & Pearce (sketch)- Monday, Nov. 11th at 7pm: For one night only, top-rated British sketch comedians Croft & Pearce will be exploring some of life’s enduring mysteries, such as: is it ever too late? (yes), am I worth more than this? (no), should I tweet about this experience? (obviously).
3. Weekend of Regret & Pepita (improv & solo improv)- Monday, Nov. 11th at 8:30pm: 5 of New York’s top improvisers are paired with Pepita, the fictional alter-ego of Magnet Theater performer and instructor, Elana Fishbein.
4. Magnet Sketch Teams (sketch)- Sundays at 7:30pm: Homegrown sketch groups craft some of the most intelligent and hilarious sketch comedy New York, nay The World, has ever seen.
5. Jamaal Sedayao: Born To Karaoke (solo sketch)- Sunday, Nov. 17th at 9pm: In Japanese, “karaoke” means “empty orchestra.” And in Swahili “karaoke” means “having a good time”. Jamaal hopes you have the latter at this show.
6. Legend (musical improv)- Tuesday, Nov. 26th at 9pm: Seasoned Magnet Musical Improv Team, Legend, will blow you away with a completely improvised musical.
7. Kornfeld & Andrews (improv)- Saturday, Nov. 30th at 10:30pm: Magnet Instructors and performers and super cool dudes Louis Kornfeld and Rick Andrews pair together for one night of magical improvisation.
October was a wonderful month at Magnet! From a surprise Mike Myers show, to new ensembles, to Magnet performers in The NYTVF, a lot happened. To begin, Mike Myers dropped by for a special duo show with Magnet co-founder Ed Herbstman. After Jason Mantzoukas was unable to make the widely coveted Mantzoukas Brothers Show, the 3rd Mantzoukas Brother (Mike Myers) showed up to save the day. Herbstman and Myers had incredible chemistry, flawlessly weaving in and out of characters and scenes. Their show, just over an hour, was full of high energy sharp characters.
We had lots of new teams! Musical Megawatt (College, Wonderland), Megawatt (The Flood) and Magnet Sketch (Party., American Wormholes, Baby Shoes, Cash, The Misses) all had debuts this month! Congrats to the new players and be sure to check out these teams in November.
The 5th Annual NYMIF came and went with over 100 performers from as far as Toronoto and as close as Broadway! We had an incredible 5th Anniversary Festival which featured Baby Wants Candy, The Improvised Sondheim Project, and a closing night benefit for Gilda’s Club NYC. Thank you to performers, audience members and our wonderful volunteers, we’ll see you next year!
Happy Birthday to Armando Diaz! Our fearless leader in improv and sketch turned a whole year older this month. His birthday was kicked off with a little Halloween celebration with spooky juice, haunted candy and scary birthday candles. Cheers Armando- thanks for making us all better at what we love to do!
Magnet friends “All of Our Feelings at Once” are doing a sketch show that you should go and see! The Chicago-based sketch group is doing an Off-Broadway run at The American Theatre of Actors this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 25th & 26th) and are offering Magnet students/performers discounted tickets with the code: HAPPY.
The group was selected for participation in The Araca Project, which helps top sketch comedians bring their show to larger audiences. For tickets to Tonight or Tomorrow’s 9pm show, CLICK HERE. For more information on All of Our Feeling at Once, check out their website HERE!
The Magnet Theater is proud to be hosting the 5th Annual New York Musical Improv Festival from Oct. 17th-Oct. 20th! Last night was the official kick off of the Fest with shows from North Coast, Heads of State, THEM, Aquarius, Fancy Mantelpiece and many more! Over 100 performers from as far as Toronto, Chicago, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC and as close as Broadway are converging on The Magnet stage this weekend!
NYMIF has featured everything from an improvised rock concert to a fully costumed Dickensian musical, improvised hip-hop, college teams, duo and solo shows, and even the cast and band from Broadway’s “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
This year we’ve got Mansical, Baby Wants Candy, The Improvised Sondheim Project, A Benefit Concert for Gilda’s Club NYC and much much more! For the Full Schedule, go HERE and to BUY TICKETS click HERE.
But that’s not it! We’ve also got incredible workshops all weekend! Check them out here! Check out the schedule and we’ll see you this weekend! #nymif
At an early point in an improviser’s development, the names of TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi will be mentioned by a teacher, a coach, or a fellow comedy nerd friend. “You gotta go see TJ & Dave.” You will be told that they are the best of the best. You will be advised that their approach towards improvisation is worth incorporating into your own philosophy and growth as a performer.
And you might wonder: why?
Based in Chicago, TJ & Dave are revered as two of the best improvisers in the country. TJ Jagodowski is most recognizable from the long-running series of improvised Sonic Drive-In commercials featuring himself and Peter Grosz. In addition to performing in “TJ & Dave,” TJ performs regularly with other seasoned improv groups on stages across Chicago. Dave Pasquesi has performed in dramatic plays (Glengarry Glen Ross, God of Carnage), appeared on television (Strangers With Candy, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Veep) and in movies, and is also a voiceover actor. As a duo, they have performed together for over a decade. TJ & Dave perform regularly at the iO Theater on Wednesday nights. They also perform multiple times during the year in New York City, at the Barrow Street Theatre.
TJ & Dave create one-act plays through the art of slow comedy, taking time to develop characters and relationships, and discover situations together. They don’t go for the easy laugh. As a result, the comedy that emerges from their patience is moving, grounded, and honest. The Magnet’s own Matt Shafeek wrote this Splitsider article on TJ & Dave and the power of slow comedy:
TJ & Dave can often go long stretches of time without any big laughs, and this is where a lot of weaker improvisers often falter. A performer who fears he or she has lost the audience will panic and will resort to time-honored gimmicks – exaggerated physicality, ridiculous characters, and of course, going ‘blue’ (making a lewd/sexual reference or choice) in a desperate attempt to end the audience’s silence. But TJ & Dave, as well as Louis CK, know that patience in comedy can lead to much bigger rewards.
The mainstream world has caught onto the awesomeness that is TJ & Dave. A rave review in the theater section of the New York Times, written last year by accomplished composer and lyricist David Yazbek, has skyrocketed the popularity of their New York City appearances. Tickets are often sold out well before the beginning of each run. A Radiolab podcast feature earlier this year introduced TJ & Dave to hip intelligentsia who might not otherwise be interested in the improv comedy scene.
Psyched to check out a TJ & Dave show? You’re in luck! They will be performing in New York City at Town Hall this Friday, October 11th, at 8pm. This performance is extra-special for a lot of reasons. For the first time in New York, TJ & Dave will be performing with Chicago musician, Ike Reilly, in a joint appearance. If you’ve ever been to a TJ & Dave show, you’ve heard Ike Reilly’s songs at the beginning and end of the show. Their NY anthem is Commie Drives A Nova. This is also the first time that TJ & Dave will be performing at Town Hall, a venue that seats over 1000 people. This is the largest venue they have ever played in New York City, and possibly anywhere else. This show is one night only! TJ & Dave would love to see the NYC improv community in the audience, so please come and support!
Full price tickets are $42, but follow the instructions for various options below to get them for $27. The asterisks indicate preferred options, to avoid service fees:
For all options, use the code BST. You will need to tell the box office the code in order to get the discounted $27 tickets.
1) Show up in person at TOWN HALL BOX OFFICE*
(no service fees)
123 West 43rd Street, NY
12pm – 6pm, M-SAT
2) In Person: LIMITED tix available at BARROW STREET THEATRE BOX OFFICE*
(no service fees, CASH ONLY)
27 Barrow Street, on the corner of 7th Ave.
Open at 1pm Daily
3) Online: At ticketmaster.com with code BST
(service fees will apply)
Still unconvinced? Let’s go down the TJ & Dave rabbit hole, shall we?
In 2009, Alex Karpovsky made Trust Us, This Is All Made Up, a documentary about TJ & Dave, which includes an entire show that was recorded at the Barrow Street Theatre. It had its world premiere at the 2009 SXSW Film Festival. The DVD is available for purchase. Check it out!
Pam Victor shares her interviews with the country’s improv greats on her blog series, Geeking Out With …. She interviewed TJ and David extensively. All three are in the process of co-writing a book on improv. Stay tuned!
Jimmy Carrane, veteran Chicago improviser and co-author of the book, Improvising Better: A Guide to the Working Improviser, interviewed TJ and David for his Improv Nerd podcast.
What are you waiting for? Go buy your discounted tickets now. See you at Town Hall on Friday!
The Magnet is thrilled to announce our new Musical Megawatt lineup! Come by this Tuesday when all six teams will perform to kick off the new season!
New Team Chunky
New Team Smooth
Jason Scott Quinn
We’re pleased to announce the teams for the Fall 2013 round of The Circuit. In addition to the three teams below, a Musical Circuit team will be announced the first week of October. The teams are:
Coach: Jesse Acini
Coach: Amie Roe
Coach: Mike Dwyer
The first show will be Friday, October 4th at 10PM, and shows will be every Friday, through November 22nd. All shows are at the Magnet Studio Theater (259 W 30th St., 2nd Floor). The support of the entire Magnet community is what makes The Circuit possible, so please come out and support these new teams!
This coming Saturday (September 29th) will mark the 100th session since instructor Sean Taylor began the Magnet Saturday Drop-In. We caught up with him for a short Q & A to find out more about what the drop-in is!
Magnet Theater Blog (MTB): What is the Magnet Saturday Drop-In?
Sean Taylor (ST): Every Saturday, one of The Magnet’s top house performers hosts a $10 two hour drop-in improv comedy workshop on a topic of his or her choice. Workshops have ranged in everything from traditional scene and character work to abstract group games.
MTB: Is the Drop-In for anyone?
ST: Although we won’t turn anyone away, improvisors with at least a level one (or equivalent) experience will gain the most from it. Whether you are looking to play with new improvisors, get some reps in between classes or just brush up on your fundamentals, the Saturday Drop-In is the perfect place to be. It’s also a great way to kick the weekend off right.
MTB: How does the class run? Is there a structure to the Drop-In class??
ST: The workshops vary each week based on who is instructing but, in general, the session begins with a warm-up period, then a scene exercise or two, and typically concludes with a longform montage.
MTB: So, you instruct most of the sessions- what happens when you’re not there?
ST: You will always be in good hands at the Saturday Drop-In. Veteran performers and instructors including my Junior Varsity compatriot Jamie Rivera, Friday Night Show’s Frank Bonomo, Hello Laser’s Dave Warth, Horses’ Kelly Buttermore, and Chet Watkins’ Karsten Cross have all had a hand in the first hundred sessions.
MTB: How can I find out when the next session is being held?
ST: All upcoming sessions are listed on our website under the Saturday Drop-In. With few exceptions for major holidays, it’s every Saturday from 1-3pm at the Magnet Theater (as opposed to the Training Center). You can also be added to a mailing list by attending any Drop-In in person or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
MTB: Anything else you want to say?
ST: At the Saturday Drop-In, we put the “fun” in improv fundamentals!