Posts Tagged ‘elana fishbein’
“It’s amazing we’re even improvising at all.
So many people wouldn’t be able to be doing what we’re doing.
That in itself is exciting. Embrace that bravery.”
- Joanna Simmons, Story Pirates
The above is an improv mantra held dear by Elana Fishbein, one of the original members of Magnet House Team Featherweight. Hopefully you have seen one of their shows. If not, block off an hour on Wednesday and catch this notable Megawatt team.
On November 13th, 2013 I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with 6 of the 8 current members to pick their brains about the team, themselves, and how they play together. For all of you who don’t know, Featherweight is the most veteran Megawatt team at the Magnet. They were formed on late August 28th, 2008 by Peter McNerney, who also served as their first coach for almost a full year (they are now coached by Joe Miles). Their original line-up was Jesse Acini (now on All American), Russ Armstrong (now on Chet Watkins), Noel Dinneen, Elana Fishbein, Jess Lane (now out in Los Angeles), Blake Merriman, Jared McGrail (traveling the country doing a webcast), and Justin Moran. Their first form was The Harold and their name came from a scene that happened at their very first practice: Elana Fishbein had brushed her hand against Jess Lane’s breasts to which Elana exclaimed, “Oh! They’re featherlight!” From Featherlight came Featherweight, also pitched by Elana. Since then, Featherweight has gone on to be one of the most celebrated teams of the Magnet – playing for over 5 years on Wednesday nights, traveling to do the Philly and Boston Improv Festivals, performing at colleges, launching 2 pilots, and competing and losing in the very first Inspirado competition (their challenge, titled Farts! Farts! Farts!, required every scene to have a fart).
Like every veteran Magnet team, Featherweight since its inception has undergone changes. The line-up that you will see today is almost a totally different set of faces you would have seen a few years ago, or even a couple of years ago. Only 4 of the original members remain. After Russ left, Dave Maulbeck was added and also served as the team’s coach. Featherweight then experienced four more losses including Dave. Willy Appelman was added in late August of 2012, but left shortly after. In April, they welcomed veteran players Frank Bonomo, Matt Shafeek, and Lauren Ashley Smith. Matt and Frank were cast alongside each other on Megawatt team Skosh a few years ago. The two also played with Noel on Oswald prior to Featherweight’s original casting. In addition, Matt and Elana had played together on Flea Flurkus, a 2007 team that performed the Evente. The most recent addition was that of Will Quinn this past August, who had been coached by both Elana and Frank. Collectively, Featherweight has over 50 years of improv experience loaded onto its current roster. Despite the new look and massive transformation (this is the first time in many years that Featherweight is an 8-person troupe), the feel and quality of the team remains the same as it has always been: “The Featherweight I watched is the same team I’m on now. It’s the same energy.” -Lauren Ashley Smith. It’s a testament not only to the casting of the team, but the openness, support, and skill these players bring to the stage of why things have always worked out.
Featherweight, who warms up by hitting a ball up in the air with great effort to not let it hit the ground, improvises a free form, meaning they find the form as they go. “It comes off having a feel of a little town where the characters know each other and other characters branch out of that.” – Will Quinn. Something Featherweight prides themselves on is having a great range with their shows. The spectrum they cover not only in their 25 minute set, but week to week, rivals most sets at the theater. When I asked Noel Dinneen what the most important quality an improviser should possess is, he responded: “The will to improvise, meaning the willingness to actually improvise as opposed to be married to a structure or game.” Some shows might end up being slow mono-scenes and the next week everything blows up. Regardless of what their set calls for, each week Featherweight brings their flexibility, vulnerability, generosity of spirit, and “imperviousness to fear of judgment” (Justin Moran) to create their fun and their funny.
Frank Bonomo has a strong gift at bringing the humanity to Featherweight’s shows. He lets characters be affected; he knows how each character he plays will react emotionally and is still so versatile in his play. He considers the small human moments.. Also, his object work is insane.
Noel Dinneen came to The Magnet to study with Armando. He considers his most influential instructors to be Mick Napier and Del Close. His team celebrates his fearlessness, range, and how he brings zero hesitation to his work. There is nothing Noel can’t yes and. He’s also got a pretty killer attitude.
Elana Fishbein came to The Magnet to study with Armando. She considers her most influential instructor to also be Armando Diaz. With a Featherweight set comes Elana’s ability to play a spectacular and effortless range of strong, intricate, fully-formed characters. She is so specific and grounds the work. Featherweight feels that when Elana is playing, the show is in good hands.
Blake Merriman is described as being incredibly emotionally present. He really lets his characters be affected. He is a reliable player and also a great actor and is emotionally present really lets his characters be affected by what is happening.
Justin Moran came to The Magnet to study with Armando. He considers his most influential instructor James Eason. His team refers to him as an “information robot” who not only brings incredibly smart scene ideas, perfect lines, and smart appropriate punchlines to his work, but amazing characters you could never imagine be a part of the scene but work every single time.
Will Quinn came to The Magnet because of the opportunities the theater would provide. He considers his most influential instructor to be Peter McNerney. Will has a great understanding of game and heightening as well as adding finesse to Featherweight’s sets. When Will plays, his joy as a player shines through. He brings to his characters a level of polish making things very clear and very full.
Matt Shafeek came to The Magnet to study with Armando. He considers his most influential instructor to be Michael Delaney. Featherweight describes Matt as a mature, confident, and joyful player. He’s always thoughtful and takes his time when making choices as opposed to exercising “quick lazy play.” He provides context and knows what a piece needs to create a successful scene.
Lauren Ashley Smith came to The Magnet because of its welcoming atmosphere, energy, and people. She considers her most influential instructor to be Armando Diaz. Her team pegged her as “a sniper” because of her sharp sense of humour, specific moves, and ability to bring to a scene exactly what is needed. Her mind is constantly exercising on how to heighten, instill more life, and bring things together.
Growing up it was a bi-monthly event in my family. We’d drive 45 minutes to the nearest movie theater, go out for Chinese Food and then go see something. Something big. But starting this Thursday my bi-monthly childhood treat will become a weekly one…
“The Movie” is coming to Magnet Theater! This improvised long form will leave you a bit breathless. It’s an entire improvised film, complete with cuts, pans, zooms, helicopter shots, and maybe even some prohibitively expensive CGI. And if we’re lucky, we may get some Chinese Food before (but probably not).
It might be a heart-warming coming of age picture, or a tear-jerking sports hero battling cancer sort of thing. Or maybe a sci-fi horror ‘stuck on a planet battling a monster (but the real monster is their own inner demon)’ sort of movie. Maybe a combo of all three. Doesn’t matter though. I’ll be there.
“The Movie” is the first installment of The Directors Series, a 4-week series of performances wherein a Director selects a cast and presents a different form. This month Ed Herbstman is directing Fiona Mallek, Jamie Rivera, Louis Kornfeld, Peter McNerney, Chet Siegel, Nick Kanellis, Christian Palluck, Woody Fu, Elana Fishbein and Alex Marino. Every Thursday at 10pm in February!
Oh, and it’s part of Thursday Night Out – you get to see the whole night of shows for one $7 ticket.
Elana Fishbein & Shaun Farrugia
Elana and Shaun are hilarious, talented improvisers who bring a ton of experience to their Megawatt shows. Elana has been on a team for five years now, and Shaun just got cast. Jolene Turner interviewed both of them about favorite moments, comedy role models, and some veteran advice. Enjoy….
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