Posts Tagged ‘christina gausas’
Magnet Theater co-founder and all around improv know-it-all, ARMANDO DIAZ, sits down with us to talk about film, improvisation, and what he thinks of the “guru” label. It’s not everyday we get to hear so intimately from one of the greats of improvisation, but Armando stopped by to chat with host Louis Kornfeld and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Who knows – maybe this will be one of many? What we do know for sure is that this episode is not one to be missed.
Our conversation with Armando Diaz begins with the moment he gave up on the film industry. Both he and Louis had forays into the film industry and neither of them particularly liked it. However, it was this rejection of film that steered Armando toward improv. These two encyclopedias of improv and film discuss how improv keeps people more honest than film, how it strips away pretentious defense of art, and how Louis learned more about scene structure and motivation through improvising than attending film school. You need the laboratory of improvisation to learn and grow, says Armando.
Louis notes that, when teaching, Armando talks a lot about culture and art, so he asks Armando where he finds inspiration these days. In giving his answer, Armando opines on the need for art and culture to become local again. They talk about the dual importance of experiencing something together with a group of people, as well as the value of truly having time alone with your own thoughts – time devoid of entertainment and third party interference. In this part of the interview, we find out how many children Armando has! You’ll be surprised.
Tying in Armando’s notion of communal art with David Shepard’s goal of The Compass to be a popular theater, Louis asks how those ideas can be transposed into the improv of today. Armando tries to recall the first improv he saw that set the bar or made a big impression on him. For him, it’s always been about exploring the unknown. If for a period of time you can transcend yourself, those are the best moments. Where does such deep water lie for improv these days? Louis and Armando talk about challenging audiences in a helpful way and how we need imperfections and flaws.
If you came for the good stuff, look no further than Louis asking Armando about the status of his name. He talks about what it means to him to be “Armando.” People will think whatever they want, so he keeps himself grounded in real interactions with other people. He also tells use why he doesn’t love the idea of gurus and relates how the burden of experience can get in the way of trying to learn something new. Not wanting to watch people who have a list of rules in their head, Armando has developed his teaching methods to focus on inspiring students rather than correcting them.
Among a bevy of talk on improvisation, Louis asks Armando why he’s such a reluctant improviser and Armando talks about what it’s like to play with his frequent duo partner, Christina Gausas. Finally, Louis reminds us of this wonderful quote from Elaine May: “The only safe bet is to take a risk.” Amen.
This week, the delightful Ellie Kemper takes a quick break from making TV & movies to talk with us about positivity in comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and of course, improv! In the midst of hosting the TODAY show last week, and performing at Magnet with Christina Gausas (as KempSas), Ellie was kind enough to sit down with our lovable host Louis Kornfeld for a brief interview.
Louis wastes no time getting into it, asking Ellie, “How do you make positivity so funny?” Ellie admits that there is a a fine line between grating and funny when it comes to positivity. And though many positive characters have a naiveté to them, she maintains that you can bring more to those characters than simply ditziness. Louis believes that earlier improvisers shy away from being positive because it feels like there’s not much fuel to burn, yet he observes that Ellie is able to keep positive characters going endlessly. Perhaps it’s a psychological reflection of the performer?
Continuing in this vein, Ellie talks about her one-person UCB show centered around a cheery airline attendant who is falling apart on the inside, which of course brings us to Kimmy Schmidt. On Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, all of the characters, and particularly Kimmy, maintain a very upbeat disposition despite the darkness that seems to exist just offscreen or looming right behind them. Why are they able to stay funny? Probably because they all make good on the show’s motto: “You’re stronger than you think.”
In an improv scene, what makes one dark character entertaining to watch and another just sad? Both Ellie and Louis agree that confidence goes a long way and gives the audience faith in the actors trying to pull it off. Ellie talks specifically about how Christina Gausas’s confidence puts her at ease when they play together. The focus that Christina gives her scene partners takes their stress away and let’s them know they’re being taken seriously. Ellie and Louis both feel that anytime you have to sell what you’re doing to the audience, it puts a stress on the scene. A great strength of an improviser is to simply “be here right now.”
Louis then wants to talk about relaxation. How does Ellie deal with the difference in scale between the pressures of earlier performances and auditions, and the types of high-profile projects she does now? Interestingly, Ellie has actually gotten more anxious as time has gone on and, despite her prowess on stage, is still mystified by how other performers improvise so well. Louis digs deeper, asking Ellie if being famous has changed what it’s like to improvise in front of people. She says that audiences will laugh at things that aren’t really very funny and that you run the risk of becoming a lazy improviser. She’s returned to improvising more regularly this past winter after being away from it for some time, and though she felt rusty at first, she’s been loving it.
Louis’ favorite shows are the ones where he knows it was great improv but the audience was lukewarm about it – the pride of content over response. But that pride doesn’t prevent even great performers from going for the response sometimes. Ellie and Louis discuss the terrible feelings associated with making an easy joke in a scene. Guilt keeps you honest.
For his concluding question, Louis asks Ellie to describe what it’s like to come from the grungy, DIY world of NYC improv and sketch, and now, to be working amongst the most successful, absolute best people in comedy. Her answer is simple and reassuring. They’re all cut from the same cloth, right? Hear her answer to that question and all the others on this week’s episode. We know it’s a short one, but we swear on the skull of Del Close that it’s packed full of great stuff.
Our guest on this week’s episode of the Magnet Theater Podcast, Christina Gausas, is well known for her work with a variety of amazing improv duos. As a follow up to her interview, she’s returned to give a shout out to all of her duo collaborators over the years and we’ve given her the keys to the Magnet Blog to do just that. Take it away, Christina!
Ellie Kemper – GENIUS
Ellie is the brightest, most radiant light in life, on and off-stage, and she’s a genius. She has infinite talent and wild, limitless lovability. Ellie is the smartest person I know and she’s a creative genius. Her insights, her sensibilities, her clarity, the characters she creates are so captivating. The gifts that Ellie gives to you in scenes are so specific and brilliant. She’s the most engaging, playful scene partner, and, of course, she’s beautiful and warm and generous, it’s exactly who she is and always has been. (We met in 2000.) I could go on for hours & pages about the talent and joy of Ellie, and the one word to encompass Ellie as an improviser and performer is – genius.
Michael Bertrando – SEXY BEAST
Bertrando is an intense talent with gravity and fun, he’s fucking brilliant, too. Being able to do Come Together with Michael has really been a gift. Michael can get onstage and truly create a one-act play. He creates characters who are complex, complicated MEN, and at the same time, he’s hilarious because he digs into the honesty and the emotion and he is fearless. Capital “F” Fearless. He’s wickedly smart, open-minded, he is pure fire onstage.
Susan Messing – The QUEEN
Kevin Dorff is the King, Susan Messing is the Queen, and I would live in that Kingdom forever. Susan is what we all aspire to be. But I don’t know that anyone can come close. I think, just bow down. Susan is the Goddess. It’s Susan’s world and we’re just living in it.
Becky Drysdale – CREATOR
Becky is the most creative, creating, creator I know. She improvises, writes, sings, dances, animates, makes art, builds things, and she makes spaces for other improvisers. The Clubhouse in LA is amazing and she made that for other people. She did that with her school in New York, too. I was watching a documentary about Orson Welles and someone said, “there was never an Orson before him and there will never be a second,” which made me think of Matt Besser, who I admire very much, and wonder if there will ever be someone like Besser again because Improv is now so big. I don’t know Matt well, but he always seems brave to me, anarchistic, confident (all the UCB 4 do) — what Matt and the UCB created was non-status quo. Becky has a similar spirit. She gives it to the Indie teams.
Scott Adsit – CHARMING
I think Scott is one of the most charming improvisers in the country. I loved all of our shows.
Kay Cannon – DEEEELIGHT
I add the “e”s for how exciting Kay is onstage. Kay has the most “come run away and play with me” look in her eyes when you are onstage with her. We were only able to do one show as Cannon & Gausas and it was at a DCM and it was a delight. Kay keeps the energy, and the positivity, and the play, and the smart silliness going. You just feel so happy when you see her big eyes and her big smile. And she’s that way as a friend, too. She always lifts you up.
Armando Diaz – EMPEROR
If you’re reading this right now, please ask Armando to improvise more. No one else can as quickly and completely become a character the way Armando Diaz can. And I feel like he understands Comedy better than all of us. And, by “all of us”, I mean, the whole, entire world. We have this treasure, this wealth of insight and improv and comedy intelligence right here in New York City and I feel like we should be seeing and using him all the time. For the sake of the future! (Sorry, Armando, no sleep for you.)
Megan Gray – The GIFT
Megan has that natural grace and comfort onstage that comes from a place of love. Much like Ellie, that light and radiance. She’s a very strong and also giving improviser. I love being onstage with Megan but I also love watching her because I always feel secure. She’s funny and talented and also commanding onstage. My eyes go right to her. I always want to know what her characters are going to say. Also, when you watch her in a group, she’s the first one to “throw herself on the grenade.” She gives unbridled support without worrying about herself. Plus, as an AD, she gives so much to the community, she really diversifies and shares, and opens doors to performers and provides opportunities to shows.
Louis Kornfeld – the ORIGINAL
I think Louis has one of the most original stage personas and it comes completely from being who he is. I think a lot of people want to play to be perceived as “smart” or “intelligent” or “understanding something you don’t” but it’s always bullshit. Louis is the most NO BULLSHIT player there is. And because of that, we get to see this smart, intelligent improviser, who’s comfortable JUST FUCKING BEING. (As far as we can see.) And he’ll create a scene that might have a central, long discussion and it’s interesting as hell because it’s authentic and it isn’t full of self-aware bullshit, it’s just honest. I hear him refer to himself as a “straight man.” I have to say, I’ve never thought that. He’s always anchoring to me. Playing with MegaLou was great.
Michael Delaney – GOLOVKIN
Boxing fans will understand. Gennady Golovkin is a boxer with every weapon in a full arsenal and he has precision. He doesn’t remind you of anyone else because there’s never been anyone else like him. That’s Michael Delaney to me. He has every talent an improviser could hope for and he has precision. When you’re watching Michael Delaney or you’re onstage with Michael Delaney, you’re experiencing the best of what the work can be, at all times. He’s a true Master of Improvisation. We are lucky to have him. It’s another “bow down” situation.
Billy Merritt – JOY
Billy and I did one show in Dave Furfero’s Ampersand at the Magnet. When I think of Billy, I just think Joy. He welcomes you onstage and it’s fun and easy and unquestioned for the whole show. We did Kevin Mullaney’s Mullaney Chain at DCM 17. It was Kevin, Ellie, Sean Conroy, Billy, and me. I was in a scene with Billy where we were husband & wife talking to Sean’s character (who was off-stage) over the phone. I said, “check the caller ID” and Billy said, out loud, to the phone, “Check Caller ID”, while we were in the middle of the conversation. It was hilarious and a moment where we could get into a fun “not that way, look at the phone,” “what? why?” and those ideas and that kind of play can only come from the joyous, incredibly fun, smart mind of Billy Merritt.
Kevin Dorff – KING
Kevn Dorff is the King and that’s really all I have to say. He’s so incredibly talented, strong, intelligent, striking, commanding, and fun. He can say more with one look or one word than anyone else onstage. Which is why I should simply say – KING.
All words not in italics written by the wonderful Christina Gausas.
We welcome a national treasure of the improv comedy world, Christina Gausas, into our studio for a conversation about ensemble support, form development, Del Close, improv notes, and wanting your scene partner. Still basking in that post-DCM glow, Christina begins her conversation with host Louis Kornfeld recapping her DCM, talking about the support of the ensemble, and being in the moment.
Louis brings up the difference between bragging and acknowledging you’ve had a great show. Christina says that bragging feels counterintuitive because the whole thing relies on ensemble. Without the rest of the team, the hilarious line you delivered would have never happened. In the same vein, they discuss the difference between a real gift and a “bailout” gift and the two parts to every improv gift: the giving and receiving.
Following dual admissions of performance anxiety, Christina and Louis talk about some of Christina’s Chicago teams and how they went about developing new forms. Both agree though, that content — great scenework — comes before any concern about which form a team chooses. Christina’s advice? Create something that is your own and put the work into it. Also, explore the intention behind a show.
Christina indulges Louis’ request and shares some fond memories of the late, great Del Close. He was an artist who valued authenticity, creating complete characters, and not being topical simply for the sake of being topical. He wanted people to find the universal implications behind the suggestion, to not be literal with it but be expansive with it. While many might bring up Del because they really love discussing the rebellious and outlandish aspects of his life, Louis says that he most likes the idea that Del pushed people to go beyond their limits. Plus it’s possible that he was the Forrest Gump of the improv world. Don’t believe us? You’ll have to listen.
Inspired by Del’s approach to notes, Christina and Louis talk about the use of direct notes and how they can be useful or harmful. Both maintain that players need to develop the habit of taking notes easily. Louis pitches his idea that an improv team should approach the craft with a smart mob mentality and Christina tells us how great acting integrates with great improv. Finally, hear about Christina’s most recent revelation that people should truly want their scene partners at all times.
This is a great episode featuring one of the game’s very best players, so we recommend you turn the volume up to 11.
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.
It’s here! It’s here! It’s finally here! Giddy all day and full of glee like a kid who has spotted an array of presents under the tree left by Santa – this was the excitement I felt last Saturday for the first ever Ladies’ Night at The Magnet Theater! An evening dedicated to showcasing the improv and sketch comedy talents of women from around the city.
The energy from the performers and audience was palpable, the seats were sold out, and as one of the many performers who watched shows from the side, I was craning my neck to see everything I possibly could onstage.
Those who couldn’t get a seat or view from the side, had their own jolly good time in the lobby drinking homemade wine spritzer and vegan cupcakes – baked by Megan Gray and sold to raise money for Gilda’s Club, a cancer support community created after Gilda Radner, who is many women’s comedic hero.
That night I watched female improvisers take the stage who normally don’t have an opportunity to perform together. Out of these unlikely groupings, some of my favorite improv scenes happened. Seriously, if a version of AFI’s Top 100 Improv Scenes existed, several of them would have to be knocked off the list to make room for the performances from last Saturday night! These ladies urged me to stand up, cheer, and clap thunderously alongside Maggie Morris and others. (Her clap rivals Binu Paulose’s laughter on the decibel scale.) There was a perfect balance to the evening with some new lady improv groups, some lady groups that have been around the block, mix em ups with female improvisers who have never played together, sketch, a tease of burlesque and a lady mixer at the end allowing women who hadn’t played at all that evening to play with people from the prior shows.
One of the greatest feelings in the world is laughter. Even better is when it’s your friends making you laugh. Even better than that is when your onstage performing with friends and fellow improvisers and laughing so hard you forget that you’re onstage and supposed to be performing!
The best thing about Ladies’ Night was not only seeing all the female talent out there, but also that it was filled with bold, hilarious, kickass improv…all of which happened to be from females. It wasn’t just funny female comedy; it was a night of badass improv highlighted by the fact that it surged from a spring of female talent!
I’m just grateful I was one of the many who was asked to grace the stage that night, and honored to share the lineup with the likes of Megan Gray, Kelly Buttermore, Christina Gauses, and Shannon O’ Neil (four women I have adored and watched for years as they continuously blow my mind with their no holds barred improv). I, and all the other women that evening, were truly delighted to play with such funny people…all who happened to be women. Yes, Chrismukahkwanza came early this year and hopefully it comes again more frequently in 2012! A sentiment felt by not just the ladies, but also by the fellas. Hubba, hubba.
a published book of essays featuring a story of mine that I wrote is available for purchase here! http://www.amazon.com/What-Brought-Back-Birthright-Taglit-Birthright/dp/1592642896/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_1