Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’
Actor, director, and Queen of Illinois, KRISTINA GROSSPIETSCH, joins us to talk about her time spent in France, why Freeze Tag sucks, and authenticity on stage. Growing up as a theater-obsessed child and ultimately landing in good old NYC, Kristina shares the story of how she got here and muses on improv, comedy, and interpersonal communication. See Kristina perform each week at Megawatt with Bodywork and listen to her talk with Louis right now!
Louis launches into this episode asking Kristina about her time spent teaching English in rural France. She tells of making up her teaching methods on the fly to see what stuck with her elementary school students. Kristina fondly recalls the ample idle time she enjoyed while living there and wonders if we really need everything New York has to offer, or if we’re better off with simply a good bar, a good friend, and a job to satisfy us?
Although raised outside of Chicago, Kristina did not take her first improv class until 2012 after landing back in NYC following her French sojourn. Growing up, it was all theater, baby! Kristina talks about her heavy involvement in the local musical theater scene around Chicago and then hits us with a HUGE takedown of the classic improv game Freeze Tag. (It’s warranted, folks!) She also admits to being an overachiever and how that has hampered her ability recognize exactly what she’ll be best at in art and life. Plus, Louis and Kristina attempt to answer the hard-hitting question: Can you avoid messing up your kids?
In the back half of the episode, we find out what convinced Kristina to ultimately give improv a try and she tells us about the experience of diving into a new artform. Louis taps into Kristina’s love of authenticity on stage and asks, given her Megawatt teams’ penchant for the theatrical, what has it been like to attempt authenticity within those heightened atmospheres? They also explore the observation that people with anxiety seem drawn to improv and Kristina and Louis have a major communication breakthrough of their own! To close out the episode, Louis spins a beautiful metaphor and Kristina talks about the Magnet Theater’s Very Own 10-Minute Play Festival, which she is producing, coming to you this March! (Submissions are open now!)
Seasoned improviser and actor, MIRIAM TOLAN, talks with us about her days at Second City, theatricality in improv, and chasing the high that comes from long-form. Growing up outside of Chicago, Miriam was almost fell into becoming an improver and she continues to perform and teach today after doing stints in Chi-town, New York, and LA. Recently, she’s back in NYC and agreed to sit down with us to talk about her journey!
Miriam has been improvising for decades now, and Louis kicks off the episode by taking it all the way back to the beginning. Hear about the influence of SCTV as a gateway drug into comedy and how Miriam caught the improv bug. She tells us about starting at Second City while in college and how serendipitous it was that she happened to be from Chicago. Miriam says she loved every minute of her Second City experience and, to prove it, provides us with an inside view as to why. Louis recalls that she was a member of the “tall cast.” Hear Miriam all about a month-long tour experience in Texas and goofing around while on traveling with her TourCo cast.
With so much experience performing for audiences of all kinds, Louis wants to know Miriam’s gauge on crossing the line with an audience in terms of placating them versus antagonizing them. She answers with examples from Second City’s storied cast members and how different people have handled that balance. Speaking of Second City, Louis inquires about how it was coming into SC’s historically political sensibility, having been raised in a time of more character-based comedy? This leads down a delightful rabbit hole talking about ED and Jazz Freddy, two groundbreaking long-form shows in Chicago. Miriam and Louis discuss how the theatrical quality of these shows changed the improv landscape and paved the way for current acts like TJ & Dave and Stolen House. Acting and improv were two very different worlds before the formation of these groups, she says. Louis wonders if actors are looking for something different in a scene besides the laugh and while Miriam can’t answer for them all, she answers saying that she is always looking for connection.
Moving forward to today, our illustrious duo talk about making adjustments in their own shows after “going to church” by seeing an act like TJ & Dave. “How can you not overcompensate?” they ask. Louis claims that when you’re doing an impression of someone you admire, you’re doing the opposite of what makes them who they are. Miriam and Louis talk about tapping into a sense of not knowing why something works and chasing that invisible high. Miriam describes trying to find a similar sense of magic in scripted work and the challenge of such a task. At this phase, Louis wants to know, what keeps Miriam excited about this improv stuff? He also recalls his love of The Tiny Spectacular, Magnet’s one-time, uber-stacked, Saturday night show.
They end the episode discussing how Miriam approaches teaching and how long-form has a way of finding its way back to short-form. Finally, the question is answered: What’s the ulterior motive to a hug?
Magnet founding father and sometime Mantzoukas brother, ED HERBSTMAN, talks with us about his Chicago days, moving to LA, and what makes improv satisfying. Ed was on his first team at iO Chicago by age 17 and by the time he and his friends moved to LA, they were attracting industry attention. If this sounds like a fantasy world t0 you modern improvisers, Ed and Louis will make it reality. Also, tune in to hear how love landed him in NYC and what it’s like to play with famous people.
This episode begins with one of the toughest choices Ed Herbstman has ever had to make…
The Second City Touring Company based in Chicago will be holding its annual General Auditions for understudy positions in The Second City Touring Company as well as ship actors and other foreseeable opportunities this March in Chicago. To qualify for the audition – actor must be a graduate of a conservatory level program in sketch and/or improvisation. Ex: The Second City Training Center, iO, Annoyance, Magnet, PIT, etc.
To apply for an audition spot:
Please email your most current headshot and updated resume to: email@example.com between 8AM CT Monday, February 22 and 6PM CT Wednesday, February 23, 2016*
The subject line must say: GENERAL AUDITIONS 2016
* it is possible that the appointments will be full before 6PM on Feb 23.
An email confirmation will be sent out on or by: Friday, February 26, 2016
The audition dates are: March 7 – 10, 2016
Callbacks will be held on Monday, March 14 (time of day TBD)
From Second City: “We unfortunately cannot easily accommodate requests for a certain time slot. The slots are assigned in order that they are received. The audition is completely improvised and will last about 45 minutes which includes the time you are asked to check in. ex: a 10AM group audition has a call time to check in at 9:45AM (15 minutes prior to the audition).
We thank you for your interest and will be rooting for you on audition day!”
From Magnet: Finally a great excuse to squeeze nine improvisers into a Zipcar and drive to Chicago in March! Break a leg, everyone!
We’ve been lucky to welcome so many out-of-town guests recently and we’re excited to say that our latest visitor is the incredible Jean Villepique. One of the earliest teachers and performers at Magnet, Jean was recently back in town from Los Angeles to perform in Bummers Presents: Running. Our host, Louis Kornfeld, gets the ball rolling in this episode by asking about the origin story of Bummers, Jean’s annual(ish) writing and storytelling collaboration with Rachel Hamilton, Tami Sagher, and Melanie Hoopes. She and Louis discuss catching up with good friends by performing with them and the detriments of the more typical checklist conversations people tend to have when they haven’t seen each other recently. Jean talks about her first exposure to improv doing commedia dell’arte as a teen, joining The Meow Show at Northwestern University, where she met Magnet founder Ed Herbstman, and some of her early days at iO Chicago and Second City. Louis also asks his former Level 2 teacher about her improv show Switchboard, encouraging players to take risks, her stint on The Office, and bringing personal stuff to the stage. Hear about the time someone grabbed Louis by the beard! Listen in awe as Louis pontificates that we’re more than mere mammals! Sit in wonder as these two talk about doing drugs! It’s a great episode, so give it a listen.
Or simply enjoy Episode #47 below via SoundCloud.
- commedia dell'arte
- ed herbstman
- io chicago
- Jean Villepique
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- magnet theater podcast
- magnet training center
- melanie hoopes
- new york
- new york city
- Northwestern University
- rachel hamilton
- Second City
- sketch comedy
- Tami Sagher
- The Meow Show
- The Office
Chicago improv legend and co-founder of The Annoyance Theater, Joe Bill, stops by the studio to talk with host Louis Kornfeld. Fresh off a trip to France and England, Joe tells us about his recent attempt to perform improv in French, how he still gets nervous for certain shows, and how he has learned to channel that energy. Louis talks to Joe about improv elder Martin de Maat and how he influenced The Annoyance’s approach. Also, find out what, “Take care of yourself” means to Joe and hear about his extensive experience teaching and training corporate groups. These two well-spoken gentlemen also discuss the capacity of the “group mind,” “the rules of improv,” and “much more.” Stream or download ASAP, people!
Or simply enjoy Episode #45 below via SoundCloud.
Guess who’s in town! Chicago-based improv luminary Susan Messing stopped by while in NYC to talk to us about teaching improv, being malleable, and giving TED Talks. Lots of great questions are addressed in this episode, such as: Where’s the line between taking care of yourself and being selfish? What’s Susan’s take on the current state of long-form? And do you want to have sex right, or have sex? Louis and Susan discuss how to play with difficult improvisers, sorting out your voice amidst the variety of improv philosophies present today, and the importance of revisiting everything you’ve put out there so that you don’t leave things by the wayside. Plus, hear Louis’ “butt theory” and Susan’s thoughts on the early days of the Harold under Del Close and his role as an experimenter and teacher. Huzzah!
Or simply enjoy Episode #44 below via SoundCloud.
This week on the podcast we welcome prolific performer, writer, and director Laura Grey to talk with us about comedy and living a life surrounded by it. With credits at theaters such as Magnet, UCB, and Second City, Laura has come a long way since her time as a creative writing and poetry major at Northwestern University. Host Louis Kornfeld talks to Laura about the early days of Comedy Central, getting her start in Chicago, and of course, Game of Thrones. They discuss the dynamics of performers in Chicago and New York and how they connect to the audiences differently. Plus, Laura provides advices on creating characters and tells us what she thinks of her comedic voice. There’s a lot of other great stuff in this episode that will no doubt make you a better person, so we suggest you give it a listen!
Or simply enjoy Episode #43 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 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)
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