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Magnet Theater Blog: News and Ideas about Comedy, Improv Shows & Classes in NYC

Posts Tagged ‘Improv’

Monday January 20, 2014, 12:12am - by Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller

first improv class

On Wednesday, December 18th, I (Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller!) got to interview Magnet’s own Russ Armstrong about growth in improv, understanding the makings of a good team, and how to be a good teacher, director, and improviser. Below is the transcribed interview.

 

Where are you from originally?

I’m from Michigan. I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

 

How did you get involved in improv?

I started improvising in high school. I was watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? with my friends and started an improv group to play short form games. The Pioneer Comedy Troupe from Pioneer High School. It was my junior year of high school. We thought we were the coolest people in the world and we didn’t know we were actually the lamest people in the world.

 

You went to Northwestern yes? Did you do improv in college? What was the improv there called.

I did. Yep. It was the Mee-ow Show. It was billed as 1/3 improv, 1/3 sketch, 1/3 rock ‘n’ roll. Lots of short form stuff. It was great, super fun. It was a blast.

 

And you studied in Chicago as well? At iO and Second City? How does the training there compare to the training you learned in NYC?

It’s all the same stuff just different approaches to it. I think Chicago tends to nurture you finding your voice a little bit more. They give you a little more time, marinates in a way that Chicago does with everything, with theater and music and food. Because the spotlight isn’t on it as much, there’s less pressure to produce immediately. New York tends to have a little more pressure because it is New York. And it’s more expensive. I think they are both awesome attributes. It’s good to have that pressure. I love that about New York.

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Friday January 17, 2014, 11:35am - by Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller

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The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers, writers, and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.

Charlotte Rabbe, a phenomenal Magnet improviser, previously on The Wrath, is now out in L.A. We wanted to catch up with Charlotte and shine the Magnet Theater Blog Spotlight on her and her journey in comedy. We conducted an email interview with Charlotte. Below are her responses:

 

What’s your home town?

CR: Where I grew up? Most of my family is living in NYC now so I consider that my hometown.

 

What is your comedy history (highlighting improv and sketch especially)? What got you interested and when were you first exposed to improv?

CR: I would watch a lot of stand up/sketch shows growing up (The State, The Upright Citizens Brigade TV show, SNL) and I was obsessed… When I started coming into the city after high school I went to a lot of stand up shows but was too afraid to ever do it. I ended up taking an improv class after college even though I had seen very little and got hooked.

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Monday January 13, 2014, 11:42am - by Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller

The Misses

On Friday, January 3rd, I got to sit down with sketch writers and performers Andy Mills and Sebastian Conelli as well as director Matt J. Weir of The Misses to gain insight into some of the Magnet’s leading sketch minds. What surfaced was not just what makes this Veteran Sketch Team special, but also what makes a team click, what makes a show stand out, and what it means to have that comedy drive. Below is a transcript of the interview.

 

When were you formed?

Matt J. Weir (MW): The Misses were formed in September of 2013 and the first show was in October of 2013. The Misses is a collection of some of the best veteran sketch performers at The Magnet.

Andy Mills (AM): One of the interesting things about The Misses being formed is that 85% of the group is former members of the sketch team Fat Kids, which Matt also directed.

MW: Yeah I directed that for a season. Also for the season before that I co-directed it with the other Matt Weir. So our brain lust dripped down on you guys.

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Sunday January 5, 2014, 11:07pm - by WillyAppelman

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Congratulations to the newest Magnet Sketch Team and the newest additions to Cash and Baby Shoes:

NEW TEAM HIGHLANDER
Kim Ferguson
Michael Delisle
Dmitry Shein
Melissa Caminneci
Dennis Pacheco
Dan Dobransky
Geri Cole
Hannah Wright
Sierra Pasquale

Newest Member of CA$H:
Matt Antonucci

Newest Member of BABY SHOES:
Roger Ainslie

Starting on February 9th, Magnet Sketch Shows will run at 7:30 PM on Sundays. See you there!

Also, be sure to check out the Best of Shows for Party., American Wormholes, and Baby Shoes at 7:30 on January 12th as well as CA$H’s “Black Tie” and “The Misses Present the Hits” on January 17th, 24th, and 31st at 7 PM.

Monday December 30, 2013, 11:00am - by WillyAppelman

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The Director Series is a monthly improv installation wherein a director picks a new form and sets it on a new cast. This month, Michael Lutton is directing “One Hit Wonder”. We chatted with Michael via email to discuss the form.

1. What is ‘One Hit Wonder’?
One-Hit Wonder is a new form that Jon Bander and I came up with. It’s a narrative that follows the story of a band: how it was created, how the group became famous with their number-one hit, the band’s downfall and where the band members are now. I wanted to direct it because I think it has a lot of fun possibilities. Everyone is familiar with “Behind the Music” and biopics about recording artists, so there is a lot to play with, and with that simple story arc the improvisers will have a lot of room to find patterns and develop characters.

2. How does this differ from normal Musical Improv?
This form uses documentary-style interviews to bookend scenes, and since the story arc is one that is already familiar, the cast members are free to focus more on character dynamics.

3. What is your favorite one hit wonder?
The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Vicki Lawrence is one of the best story songs of all time, and I will fight anyone who says different. Physically fight them.

4. What is the future of musical improv?
Musical improv is usually narrative, which is a lot of fun but also very challenging. Moving ahead, I think groups will find new ways to tell stories. Our musical program is relatively new and still growing, but we a have a few veteran groups that are doing interesting things with form and genre, and starting to test the limits of what you can do with a musical. I’m very excited to see what happens next!

‘One Hit Wonder’ premiers Thursday, January 2nd at 9pm and continues Thursdays at 9pm in January!

Friday December 6, 2013, 12:38pm - by Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller

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The Magnet Theater not only boasts its current roster of powerful improvisers and performers, but also celebrates those who have taken on new adventures in their lives and with their comedy.

George Basil (The Pete Holmes Show, College Humor), a Magnet performer known for his epic improv with 4Track, is now out in L.A.  You probably have seen him in a Vonage commercial or maybe even a bunch of CollegeHumor Originals. We wanted to catch up with George and shine the Magnet Theater Blog spotlight on him and his work. We conducted an email interview with George Basil. Below are his responses:

What is your improv and comedy history? What got you interested and when were you first exposed to improv?

GB: I didn’t learn about improv in high school or college. The first time I’d ever seen improv was on “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” Watching those performers fly around looked so fun. Then I researched it a little and came across something called the “Big Stinking Comedy Festival” in Austin, TX. It boasted amazing improv groups, and it got me hard, so I went down. Eventually I took a class at the Hideout Theater and from then on I was totally hooked. I’ve always kind of known that my only redeeming quality is finding the keys to a person’s laughter lock, it was just hard to find the confidence to pursue it. When I got to NY I took classes all over and then found a home at the Magnet.

 

 

What initially attracted you to the Magnet?

GB: All the misfits. There were no preconceived notions about the comedy we wanted to explore. We were all making mistakes and figuring it out and loving the process of learning about people through improv.

 

What teams, shows, and projects were you a part of while at the Magnet?

GB: A ton of different teams and shows. The first I think was “Munchaüsan” then “El Partido”? I was at the Magnet every night until their doors were locked. I was also in 4-Track which was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Really proud of all the teams I was on and every performer I got to play with.

 

What were some of your favourite shows and performers while here?

GB: I loved watching “Pax Romana” a lot. They always had so much fun, it was contagious. I can’t name just a few performers I liked to watch. It was literally every last one. Aside from being my friends, they were all so fucking funny.

 

Who were or are your favourite improv instructors? Who do you attribute to your growth as an improviser and comedian? Who influences/had influenced you as an improviser?

GB: Obviously Armando had a lot to do with how I approached comedy and improv. His patience and insight into the reality of character was huge. He’s been my biggest influence to date, for sure.

I got to work with Mark Sutton in Vancouver once, he was awesome. Mick Napier was great too.

Dan Bakkedahl is still the improviser that knocks me out anytime he’s on stage. I love that dude’s work, always have.

 

What did you learn at the Magnet that helps you now?

GB: Patience. Laying in the cut. Screaming doesn’t get you food. Cool doesn’t mean shit. Any and all confidence I have as a performer I attribute to the Magnet. I feel like I grew up on that stage, having never done any other theater training.

 

Why did you leave NYC?

GB: I had some work in LA and everyone encouraged me to make the move for professional reasons. And I owed the Italians money.

 

Are you still improvising?

GB: I am but not as much as I’d like to.

 

What projects have you taken on since your departure from the Magnet?

GB: A lot of web shorts and indie films. Anything and everything. Always saying yes.

 

What are you currently involved in?

GB: I’m co-writing a web series that’s loosely based on my life as a weird stonerish dad. It’ll hopefully show the ups and downs of alternative style parenting.

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What excites you and inspires you?

GB: Watching youngins do improv. This art form is still in its infancy. 4-track toured Canada a bunch and watching kids that have been doing improv since high school and in some cases even earlier was fucking rad. Game didn’t matter, character didn’t matter, they just knew. They were so good at emoting and everything

 

What are the differences between the New York scene and the scene of Los Angeles?

GB: The biggest difference for me is that in LA you can’t walk from one theater to another the way you can in NY. Aside from that, great stuff is happening in both cities. The weirdest thing about LA is that instead of rehearsing in a studio, you go to someone’s house.

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What shows and performers should us New Yorkers totally take note of in case we take a trip out West?

GB: The main thing I would suggest is to check out every venue- there’s good shows and performers scattered across LA. The Clubhouse, Second City, UCB, I.O.West- try not to limit your perspective on style, go tons of places, and don’t be too stuck up to laugh.
 

Thanks George! When in New York, George has been known to drop by Magnet for shows. Keep an eye out for more of George’s work.

Monday December 2, 2013, 10:04pm - by WillyAppelman

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We’re very excited to announce the next round of The Circuit, which will begin Friday, January 10th, 2014!

The deadline to apply is Friday, December 13, at noon. Applicants will be chosen by lottery. If chosen, you will be placed on a team of 8 improvisers and assigned a coach. You will rehearse with your coach and team once a week, with rotating performances on Friday nights at 10:30PM at the Magnet Studio Theater.

If you have completed Level 3 of Magnet’s Training Program and are not part of a Magnet house improv team, you are eligible to apply.

The Circuit is a great way to gain experience in being in an improv ensemble. We highly encourage those who are eligilble to apply. To apply, please fill out this form.

If you have any questions or comments, please email us at circuit [at] magnettheater [dot] com.

Monday December 2, 2013, 3:03pm - by WillyAppelman

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BRRRRRRRRRRR! November hit hard at Magnet Theater! With NY1 coming to the theater, sketch teams taking off, Movember celebrations, duo comedy from England, Thanksgiving Mixem Ups and Time Out features, it was a MAGNET-IC month (so sorry, really). Here’s a recap of November 2013 at Magnet!

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Want to take a Free Improv Class with the Magnet? NY1 thinks you should. We held a Free Intro To Improv Class for NY1, here’s what they thought: Click here for the video. Trike was interviewed by Time Out NY for Time Out’s glossary of comedy terms. The glossary was for Time Out’s Guide to The Best Comedy of 2013. Check out the glossary here for an insiders look at some confusing improv terms. Also, Magnet was named among the “Best Underground Comedy Clubs” by Newyork.com.

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November marked the First Annual Intern Appreciation night! Over 25 interns came out to enjoy free pizza, comedy from Friday Night Sh*w, and a mixer hosted by Revolver teams. Huge thanks to all of our incredible interns!

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Musical Mustachewatt! In November, Musical Megawatt teams held a fundraising night to raise money for Movember. Movember is an annual month long campaign involving the growing of mustaches to raise awareness for Men’s health. Musical Megawatt teams sold baked goods and wore some pretty gnarly mustaches for the cause!

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Kornfeld & Andrews! Magnet Instructors and performers, Louis Kornfeld and Rick Andrews, paired together for one night of magical improvisation. The SOLD OUT show was one of the few times Kornfeld & Andrews have performed their duo show, but from the response, we’re hoping for more. Those were some highlights from November at Magnet! We’ll see you at the shows!

Monday December 2, 2013, 10:10am - by WillyAppelman

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The Magnet Theater is excited to announce that we are now accepting applications for the next round of MAGNET SKETCH TEAMS, which will run from February 2nd through June 1st.

Each sketch team will write and perform a show approximately every 3 weeks. Shows will take place Sunday nights at 7:30 pm. Completion of (or current enrollment in) Sketch Writing Level 2 is required to apply. Exceptions may be made for anyone currently performing on a Megawatt or Team Performance team.

HOW TO APPLY TO BE ON A MAGNET SKETCH TEAM:
Send an email with the subject line, “MAGNET SKETCH TEAM APPLICATION” and your name to sketchdirector@magnettheater.com. Include your sketch and improv experience and at least 2 writing samples as PDF attachments (please limit total to 10 pages). The deadline to apply is December 20th.

Wednesday November 27, 2013, 10:06am - by Amanda Ariel Peggy Xeller

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“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.

 

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