The Montreal Sketch Comedy Festival just announced its 2014 lineup, and the Magnet Theater is proud to be represented by three of its teams: the veteran duo, Listen, Kid!, and two of its house teams from Sketch Sunday, Baby Shoes and Party.
I recently chatted with Alessandro King of Listen, Kid! about life, sketch writing and sketch directing, and festival first-timer advice.
Hi, Al. Nice tie. How did you and Kevin Cobbs decide to become a sketch duo? How long have you been a duo?
Listen, Kid! started four years ago when Kevin and I met in Mark Grenier’s Improv Level 1 at the Magnet. We kept doing really goofy scenes together where one of us would play a prospector or explode through a door or something, and everyone encouraged us to create an indie duo once class was over. Rick Andrews was the big brother for the class and he said, “If you guys make a duo, I will coach you.” So we did, and Rick got us hooked up with two Test Drives, and by Spring of the following year we were doing Tuesday night shows pretty regularly, usually with Upstate or the Oakwood Boys. It was very much a Magnet Theater Fairy Tale.
We decided to focus on sketch in the Fall of 2011 when someone whose name rhymes with Blick Blandrews suggested we join RIPE with Armando. We put up our first Listen, Kid! sketch show (I think) in April of 2012, and we’ve been focusing on sketch (Magnet shows, festivals, web videos) ever since, although we still do improv every once in a while, usually with our pals We’re Matt Weir as Listen, Weirs!
How do you both collaborate when writing sketches for a show? Did you work on sketches together when Kevin went on the Second City cruise ship for 4 months?
Our Clinton/Bush sketch is a pretty good example of how we work as a team. I read on Wikipedia one night that Bill Clinton supposedly lent George W. Bush his DVD copy of the film “W.” and Bush watched it, commenting to Clinton that it had some “sad moments.” I immediately called Kevin and told him and said something like, “This is the dumbest thing I have ever read. We have to make this a sketch. Was Clinton actually being a pal or was he just trolling? This is the dumbest thing I have ever read.” I described to him my visual idea (the whole sketch is a series of phone conversations between the two, with each president sitting in a special light), and Kevin immediately wrote the first draft. It was eerily similar to what I had in mind, only funnier, with the amazing climax of Bush e-mailing Clinton scans of his paintings and Clinton weeping profusely at their profound beauty. I made a couple of small changes and it was ready to go.
Kevin’s internet access was limited on the cruise, we but still managed to go to Chicago Sketch Fest with Branson Reese and Chi-Town friends sitting in for Kevin, edit a new Mad Men-themed web video, share a couple of sketches, and develop a web series idea. Stay tuned for further updates.
Listen, Kid! was reviewed very favorably by the Chicago Tribune after your performance at this year’s Chicago Sketch Festival. Does Listen, Kid! have big plans in store for the future?
We’re focusing on web content, getting ready for Montreal, and developing an all-President-themed live sketch show. You can keep up with us online at listenkidcomedy.com, on YouTube at ListenKidComedy, and on Twitter @ListenKidComedy.
At the Montreal Sketchfest, you will have the unique honor of performing there as a member of a critically acclaimed sketch duo, and as the director of a Magnet sketch house team, Party., that is also performing in the same festival. Party. is the first sketch house team that you’ve directed at the Magnet. Why did you decide to become a director? How has your experience been so far?
Beth Newell asked me to sub in for Breakfast For Dinner a couple of times last year, and I said, “Yes,” instantly. I just had an inkling that directing sketch would come very easily to me and bring me a lot of creative satisfaction. It didn’t seem like, say, coaching improv, which I’ve never tried but always assumed I’d be a disaster at. (I’m still game to prove this wrong some day.) I had a lovely time as was expected, and asked Beth to keep me in mind if a directing slot opened up. When they formed new teams in September, I got asked to direct one for the season.
I absolutely love directing Party., and look forward to every minute of it during the week. They continue to impress me with their commitment and professionalism and blow me away with their rapid growth, particularly as performers.
You run Party. like Singapore. The streets are spotless, we attend meetings punctually and are off-book at every Saturday rehearsal, and we fear you. What is your philosophy as a director? How did you decide upon benevolent dictatorship as the best way to run a sketch team? (Editor’s Note: The interviewer, Catherine Wing, is a member of Party.)
If I’m a benevolent dictator, keep in mind that I’m only partially responsible for that dynamic: deep down, there is something inside every one of you that wants me to rule you like a king.
I’m a playwright, so I run my writing meetings like a playwright’s workshop, meaning my goal is to help you write the best version of your sketch. I have no interest in forcing my own ideas or telling you what I think should happen next. If I do make a specific suggestion, I try to make it very clear that that’s only one possible route for the sketch.
When show week comes along, I make a setlist and become a director. At that point, what I say, goes, and the edits I want to happen, happen. It’s a very different dynamic from the writing meetings.
You guest directed the Magnet sketch house team, Baby Shoes, for their most recent show. Is it true that they plied you with free liquor, charmed you with their good looks and talent, and took you to Rye Playland to ride the roller coaster? They are performing at the Montreal Sketchfest too, you know.
They did take me to Rye Playland, and let me just say that Bob Kern and I have only exited the Tunnel of Love in the literal sense of the word.
What advice would you give to sketch teams that are going to their very first out-of-town festival?
It’s impossible to accurately predict the audience’s reactions. There will be some sketches they will love, but there will always be something that just bombs and you had no way to stop it. When that happens, don’t get caught up trying to figure out what you’re doing wrong in the moment: theres nothing to fix, it’s just not their cup of tea. Get through the sketch and move on to the next thing. That’s the beauty of sketch as opposed to improv: you get to wipe your slate clean every couple of minutes.
What weird stuff did you learn about Kevin when Listen, Kid! traveled on the road together for the first time? And what weird stuff did Kevin learn about you?
Each trip is really Kevin’s learning experience because every time I offer to take the wheel, he has to devise new ways to say, “No thanks, I don’t want to die today.”
Listen, Kid! does improv? Just the two of you? Do you have guests sit in with you? Who might they be, and when can we witness this rare opportunity to see Listen, Kid! improvise?
This Friday, April 18th, at 11:30 PM, we will be taking the Magnet stage for the first time since Kevin’s return. We’re going to be doing our classic improv form, which is an improvised movie hosted by decrepit Hollywood producer Irv Newberg and his dim-witted assistant Charlie Tickertape. It’s a great way to see how this all started and there will be special guests, all of them popular recurring characters from the Listen, Kid! universe. There is only one way to find out who they are and that is to come on down.
Second City Theatricals is seeking actors for ensembles on Norwegian Cruise Line ships.
The South By Southwest Film Festival (SXSW) is an annual film festival that not only premiers feature films, like Bridesmaids back in 2011, but presents new work by indie directors. Each film entered is up to be considered for the Grand Jury Prize, which is a special award given in two categories: Best Narrative and Best Documentary. Think of it as the equivalent to Best Picture for the Oscars. This year, the Magnet’s own Charles Rogers (The Music Industry, Prank Phone Calls with Charles Rogers) won the coveted award for Best Narrative Feature for his film Fort Tilden. (Past winners in this category include Lena Dunham for her film Tiny Furniture back in 2010). I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) got the awesome opportunity to sit down with the esteemed director, and fellow performer, to talk about the movie and also about him!
Where are you from originally?
Well I grew up in a lot of places, but I grew up mostly on the border of Texas and Mexico at the very bottom. It’s called Brownsville, which is a weird, dysfunctional place. And also in Acapulco, Mexico. But I say I’m from Austin, Texas because I went to college there and my family moved there recently.
Where did you go to college?
I went to college at St. Edwards University in Austin. It’s a liberal arts school that’s fun to be young at.
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Magnet Theater is excited to announce that it will be moving to a new location this coming fall.
In November, the Magnet will take over the Foxwoods Theater, most recently the home of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Armando Diaz, co-owner of Magnet, spoke on the need for a new space, saying “The Magnet community has been growing at an exponential rate, so we’re looking to plan not just for the immediate future, but also for what’s beyond the horizon, like in a couple hundred years. If you filled up our current space to capacity, it’d only take up the first row at the Foxwoods. So, the house might feel small in the beginning, but as the word gets out that there’s plenty of room, I’m confident that we’ll sell out all 1,932 seats, especially to non-English speaking tourists.”
Alex Marino, another of the Magnet’s owners added:
“One of the great things about moving into the Foxwoods Theater is we’ll have our office space, training center, and main stage and my apartment all in one central location. So often our new students would get lost when directed from the theater to the Training Center for student shows, and then to my apartment for banjo jam sessions. Now it’ll all take place in one space – a space with a lot of good energy because of all the great things that happened during the run of Spider Man.”
Of course, with a new, much larger space will be some inevitable changes. All shows will have a 35 intern team of stage hands. Performers will have access to four state of the art green rooms before their shows. And everyone must be an Actors Equity performer in order to appear on the stage.
The only planned renovation to this legendary theater is to immediately remove all bathrooms except one near the stage.
Another change will be the tickets prices, which will go up slightly from $5-$10 to $125 for balcony seating to $225 for orchestra seats (though Megawatt and Thursday Night Out admission will remain at $7 for the entire night).
Alan Fessenden, Magnet performer and instructor, noted his excitement about the move. “I love the monoscene, but when you ask for ‘a location that’ll fit on this stage’ you’re limited by the size of the stage. With the new theater, we can do a whole submarine instead of just the bridge of a submarine. It really opens up the possibilities for all shows, but especially for monoscenes about submarines.”
When Ed Herbstman, the third Magnet owner, was asked about the move, he said, “I own a theater?”
One concern was voiced by Louis Kornfeld, Artistic Director of Megawatt. “This new stage is massive compared to the old stage, so sweep edits are going to be problematic. Not only will the timing be off, but the editor may very well be winded after the edit, especially improvisors who are out of shape, which includes all of them.”
Magnet is immensely ready for the move and excited to announce that the first show in the new space will be Rick Andrew’s Level One Class Show! Stay tuned for more details!
We’re excited to announce our new additions to Musical Megawatt, New Team Hall and New Team Oates! Both teams will be debuting Tuesday, April 1st at Musical Megawatt, where there will be Magnet drink specials and an after party at Walter’s (389 8th Ave).
The Magnet Theater boasts an incredible roster of talent, some of which have been around since the theater’s inception. On March 19th, I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) met up with veteran Magnet improviser Charlie Whitcroft (The Boss) to get a glimpse into his world of improv.
Where are you from originally?
I am from Staten Island, NY. I moved to Queens 7 years ago and I love Queens. I mean, Staten Island was nice, but I’m glad I moved off of it.
When did you realize you wanted to get involved in comedy?
I don’t know if I ever did realize that I wanted to get into comedy. I kind of grew up with Louis Kornfeld and Megan Gray and Corey Grimes. We all went to school together. They were all doing improv I’d say a year before I was. They would always encourage me to take classes. I guess it wore me down and I finally did and I never looked back. Somewhere in there, I guess maybe like 8 or 9 years ago, I decided that I wanted to do comedy. But I had been going to see them do improv CLICK TO READ MORE…
Mint Condition is one of the two longest running teams a part of Musical Megawatt at the Magnet Theater. Their full roster is filled with incredible musical improv strength, passion, and a very strong bond making them a Giant of Tuesday night. I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) got a chance to sit down with the whole team in an attempt to capture their relationship not only with their comedic art, but with each other. Mint Condition is Angela DeManti, Ryan Dunkin, Woody Fu, Melissa Gordon, Sarah Puls, Chris Simpson, and Douglas Widick.
What attracted you to the Magnet to begin with?
Sarah Puls (SP): I wanted to do musical improv and this was the only place that was offering classes and also being on house team.
Melissa Gordon (MG): Same. This was the only theater that had a specific Musical Improv Program.
Angela DeManti (AD): I think that the Magnet’s teaching style was something I could relate to and latch onto.
Ryan Dunkin (RD): I came here for musical improv. I also knew about Armando. I used to live in Chicago so I would go to see those shows and heard about him. That’s how I got interested.
Douglas Widick (DW): Musical improv. CLICK TO READ MORE…
We’re excited to announce our 2014 Spring Circuit Teams! These teams will debut Friday, March 28th, with shows continuing for 10 weeks until May 30. All shows free, at the Training Center, and at 10:30.
John de Guzman
Coach: Amanda Xeller
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Auditions for Musical Megawatt teams will be held on Saturday, March 29th. To audition, you must have completed Musical Improv Level 3 at the Magnet. To schedule an audition, fill out THIS FORM no later than Monday, March 17th. You will receive your official audition time on Thursday, March 20th. We look forward to seeing you there!
We are now accepting applications for The Spring 2014 Circuit! Circuit Teams are made up of Magnet Theater students, graduates of our Training program and veteran performers. We believe that in order to get better at improv, you need to do it.
The deadline to apply is March 10 at noon. Teams will be announced March 12. Shows will begin March 28. Teams will perform Friday nights at 10:30 for eight weeks. If you have any questions email Circuit@Magnettheater.com.
To Sign up, just click this link to fill out the form.