Posts Tagged ‘magnet theater’
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.
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.
Congratulations to the newest Magnet Sketch Team and the newest additions to Cash and Baby Shoes:
NEW TEAM HIGHLANDER
Newest Member of CA$H:
Newest Member of BABY SHOES:
Starting on February 9th, Magnet Sketch Shows will run at 7:30 PM on Sundays. See you there!
Also, be sure to check out the Best of Shows for Party., American Wormholes, and Baby Shoes at 7:30 on January 12th as well as CA$H’s “Black Tie” and “The Misses Present the Hits” on January 17th, 24th, and 31st at 7 PM.
With 2013 coming to a close, we here at the Magnet blog would like to revisit some of the high points of the year, at the Magnet Theater and beyond.
The 2nd Annual Maggie Awards
On April 26, 2013, the Magnet community came together for the 2nd Annual Maggies, celebrating the 8th Anniversary of the Magnet Theater. The big winner of the night? You, as you posed for innumerable photos in the photo booth corner and got to take home actual photographs for your scrapbook. Thank you, anonymous bearded man who snuck up from behind and photobombed our very serious drunken group picture. I still don’t know your name.
Trike Wins Inspirado – OH SHIT!
In their final challenge, the TimeOut Critics’ Pick duo, Trike, had to perform a monoscene in an NYC subway car. Performers and audience piled into a downtown 1 train car for the epic end of Trike’s glorious Inspirado journey.
Rick and his class also appeared in a NY1 feature on the Magnet Theater.
Magnet house teams and indie groups proudly represented their home theater in festivals across the country and Canada, including The Baltimore Improv Festival, Boston Comedy Arts Festival, Twin City Improv Festival, Chicago Improv Festival, Big City Improv Festival, NYC Improv Fest, Vancouver International Improv festival, Detroit Improv Festival, Omaha Improv Festival, NC Comedy Arts Festival, Del Close Marathon, and beyond.
The 5th Annual New York Musical Improv Festival
The Magnet Theater hosted the 5th Annual New York Musical Improv Festival. Receiving applications from groups around the world, NYMIF brought the international musical improv community onto the Magnet stage, over four days in October. Over 100 performers were featured, including the Magnet’s own Musical Megawatt house teams, Baby Wants Candy, The Improvised Sondheim Project, and musical house teams from theaters across the country and Canada. The weekend culminated in the closing night Gilda’s Club benefit, to raise money and awareness for an amazing organization that provides resources and support to cancer patients and their families. Headliners for the benefit included the all-female musical improv troupe, “Generation G”, internationally renowned jazz and soul singer, Sharón Clark, as well as musical performances from improvisational singer/songwriter, Mikki Hommel, composer, lyricist and singer, James D Sasser and critically acclaimed actor, Sam Underwood of Showtime’s Dexter, HBO’s Homeland and FOX’s The Following.
Mike Myers = Third Mantzoukas Brother
The actor Mike Myers made an unannounced surprise appearance at the Magnet in the Mantzoukas Brothers show in October. Jason Mantzoukas was unable to attend, so Mike Myers graciously stepped in to perform duo improv with fellow Mantzoukas brother (and Magnet co-founder) Ed Herbstman.
Magnet TourCo Improvises Lexus Live Commercial
Four NYC improv groups were selected to perform late-night live improvised commercial spots for Lexus during Late night with Jimmy Fallon. Magnet Theater Touring Company kicked off the four-week ad campaign.
Whether you are an audience member, fan, student, or performer (or all of the above), you are an integral part of the Magnet Theater community. Thank you for your support, your energy, and your enthusiasm. 8 More Years! See you in 2014!
Tuesday, December 17th through Thursday, December 19th Magnet T-shirts are on sale at The Magnet Theater for $7! Yes. That’s right, $7! Who could where a Magnet T-shirt? Anyone. Who should where a Magnet T-shirt. Everyone. Don’t miss this special holiday sale! Pick up your T-shirt before Thursday.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 email@example.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.
“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.
Magnet performer Amanda Xeller (The Flood) reached out to one of our performers currently abroad, Ross Taylor (The Wrath, Aquarius). Ross is performing full time on a Second City Cruise Ship. Amanda sent Ross our address and he sent us a lovely update from afar…
Oh how I miss you—your faces and your energy and yes, even you bathroom!
Life at sea is fantastic! Being paid to perform comedy is a gift from Del, and there are so many
ancillary benefits as well.
It all starts with a week of training in Chicago, where the people at Second City treat you like a
real professional and make you feel like a part of the family. All your heroes are on the wall and
you play on the same stage they played upon and the feeling is probably akin to taking batting
practice in Yankee Stadium.
Life on the ship is like living in a luxury bubble, especially compared to the grit and struggle
that NYC requires—food is taken care of, alcohol is ridiculously cheap for crew, and everyone
knows who you are. The sketch shows are usually a packed house of a thousand and the material
works flawlessly. The improv is very different from what we’re used to, of course, but a quick
reminder that it’s providing my livelihood is all I need to sleep well at night. After the first crazy
week on board, rehearsals are few and all in all it’s a pretty light workweek. The passengers are
mainstream America, likely trending a little older, so they aren’t impressed by “improv moves”
but they are pretty good audiences if you give them jokes, which they consume like so much
Aside from work, I get a ton of downtime that I use at the gym, in the sun, reading, writing,
playing music, and hanging out with the rest of the cast and crew. The other performers are great
fun and the crew is pretty friendly. We port every few days and in the first four weeks I’ve gotten
to visit Bermuda, St. Thomas, St. John, Barbados, Caracao, Aruba and Mexico. I’ve zip-lined,
gambled, had beers in the ocean and gotten several layers of sunburn. I’ve chased an iguana and
grabbed a fish and got wifi in the middle of a pack of roosters.
Rooming with Bander is great—I’m somewhat shy at heart, so having a comrade throughout this
experience has made me feel comfortable very quickly. I couldn’t ask for a better cast in that we
all like each other and work well together on and off stage. I’m only a month in, so it’s possible
the turn into cynicism is just around the corner, but thus far I would call it a life-changing
experience and couldn’t be happier to be here.
That said, I miss NYC and the Magnet terribly. The work we do is incomparable and I miss my
teams enormously. The world has a habit of spinning on without you, so I hope that everyone
still remembers me when I return and I look forward to coming home and resuming God’s work
on that stage of ours. All my love to you Magnet—I’ll see you in February!
The Wrath & Aquarius
On Tuesday, November 19th Magnet will host the first ever Musical Mustachewatt. The night will be the typical Musical Megawatt affair (with Jezebells, Aquarius, Wonderland, and Mint Condition) however throughout the night we’ll be taking donations to go towards the Movember.
Movember is more than just a bad pun putting together November and Mustache. It is a month long movement where men grow mustaches to show support of men’s health. Unfortunately, science has not found a way to turn mustaches into the cure for cancer. In the mean time we are raising money to go towards the Movember Foundation, the Live Strong foundation, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation. For more information on what organizations are benefiting from Movember and how you can help out even more, check out the US Movember website.
Movember has grown into a friendly competition between men to see who can grow the best mustache and who can raise the most money. Everyone starts clean shaven on November 1st and does their best to grow a full “Burt Reynolds” and raise a ton of money.
We know it’s hard to just throw your money at something. So in exchange for your donation towards men’s health you can grab some delicious home made treats made by the Musical Megawatt performers! In the lobby there will be a bake sale! From tradtional sweets to mustache inspired munchies, you’re donation will get you some serious goodies.
Come out and support musical improv comedy, men’s health, and those poor souls who can barely grow even a “John Waters” above their lip. Shows at 7, 8 and 9pm. Bake sale all night long.