Posts Tagged ‘NYU’
Singing, improvising, and teaching fool, NIKITA BURDEIN, joins us to talk about emigrating from Soviet Russia, discovering improv in NYC, and how to approach auditions. Amidst all of that, he and host Louis Kornfeld discuss religion, what makes theater so special, and finding comfort in declaring who you are. Recorded yesterday, released today – this is a fresh, hot ‘cast!!!
First thing’s first: Louis wants to know how the incredibly busy Nikita Burdein is able to do everything he does! Nikita performs Tuesday through Friday at Magnet and spends many other days coaching, teaching, practicing, or playing elsewhere. We got tired just writing that! [See him on Musical Megawatt, Megawatt, The Directors Series (April & May), and Premiere.] Given his jigsaw puzzle schedule, Louis wonders if Nikita is a very disciplined person. Well, he was born in Soviet Russia, a fact which might give you a hint.
Nikita and his family came to America (Chicago) when he was four years old with the help of the Jewish Federation by way of Italy. It’s a very fun story, so we do hope you listen. He tells us how his immigrant background influences his improv and Louis suggests that his own brain is beginning to fail him. The two discuss puberty hair before seamlessly segueing into a discussion on Judaism. Though culturally and ethnically Jewish, Nikita was raised a devout Atheist who eventually went on Birthright at the age of 26. Louis shares with us his frustrating feelings regarding Israel and they both try to figure out what the connection is between Jews and their prominence on Broadway.
Having spent time exploring how Nikita arrived in this country, Louis asks about his journey from Chicago to New York. Nikita talks about getting into theater during high school because of his brother and getting into film in college, again, because of his brother. He went to NYU and graduated an editor, which is something he still does to this day. Along the way, Nikita finally began improvising at the age of 28 and totally fell in love with it. He and Louis chat about the connection with the audience that live theater provides and how improv has a built-in benefit of knowing that the people out there with you love what they do. There’s a lot of love going around the improv community, Nikita reports. Though very active and quite visible as an improviser today, Nikita says he was in the closet about being an improviser initially. On a related note, Louis asks Nikita how much energy he gives to other people’s thoughts of him, which morphs into a discussion about coming out and sexuality. Nikita came out to his parents at age 23 and tells us that it made him a more honest person all around. And he hasn’t looked back since!
Louis takes the opportunity, with both Megawatt and Musical Megawatt auditions right around the corner, to discuss auditioning and to ask Nikita for advice on the matter. He also asks Nikita about the end of his run with Deep Queens on Megawatt and the somewhat recent start of his time teaching Musical Improv Level 1 at the Training Center. Has he discovered anything since he began teaching? You betcha. But you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out. (And no skipping to the end!)
- Deep Queens
- Hall of Mirrors
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- magnet theater podcast
- magnet training center
- musical improv
- musical theater
- new york
- new york city
- Nikita Burdein
- Object Work
Magnet instructor, writer, and performer, MIKE DWYER, takes a few minutes out of his comedy-making schedule to talk with host Louis Kornfeld about simplifying improv scenes, the difference between talent and skill, and how he missed the point of film school. These two gentlemen find that they have remarkably similar paths to becoming comedians and relate over their experiences studying with Rebecca Drysdale. You can catch Mike performing with The Wrath and Friday Night Sh*w at Magnet and Southpaw at UCBeast.
Louis kicks off our interview by referencing a recent show of Mike’s with The Wrath. He describes a quintessential Mike Dwyer move, which is characterized by very quickly finding an opportunity that others might miss and then using it to crack a scene wide open. Louis wants to know how Mike is able to be such a lightning fast player and more specifically, how he’s able to take on points of view so quickly. Though Mike thinks that his process is more patchwork than precision, he says that he approaches scenes knowing that his characters are doing what they do on purpose, which leads quickly to POV. He certainly doesn’t think of it as, “Better have an answer real fast.”
Despite his patchwork approach, Mike tells us that he does have conscious goals, and currently, he is working on making scenes be as simple as possible, even dumb, if they have to be. There should be no over-complicating a scene, which happens very often in group scenes. Mike says that it comes from a feeling of wanting to add your own thing, but that it’s liberating to know that everything you need is already there. Louis thinks maybe the over-complication comes from AND-ing too hard and that people botch the YES too often. Mike and Louis get into the difference between passively accepting offers versus enthusiastically accepting them and agree that you don’t have to add things to every single moment of the scene. Mike likens new improvisers to goldfish in a loving analogy.
Flattering him once again, Louis says that Mike is an incredibly good game-based improviser — so, what’s his approach to finding games in scenes? Perhaps surprisingly, Mike thinks that game is merely a result of good improv, so he’s usually not thinking hard about it. He trusts that his training has worked and instinct will lead him down the right path, so that he can find himself in a place of flow. Louis offers two rival takes on how we learn game as improvisers: You have conscious thought and effort, but you can also absorb a lot of that skill by being around it all the time.
What pisses off Louis in class? When people don’t want to do the hard work it takes to gain skills. Both improvisers agree that coasting through your improv education isn’t going to end very well for you and it isn’t very fulfilling. They examine the difference between skill and talent, noting that no matter how much talent someone has, they’ve got to keep developing their skill in order to feel satisfied. Mike finds the skills that he’s acquired to be more interesting than any talents he may have held innately.
What’s the highest compliment Mike could get about a show? That it was funny, duh. Louis talks about the roots of “funny” being a dirty word in improv. Maybe believing in “don’t be funny” is only really important early on in an education and scene? Mike concurs, saying there needs to be a set up in order to have a punchline. Improv scenes are like inside jokes and Harold is a sophisticated form of hanging out with your friends at the bar. Often, when people start getting decent at improv, they focus too much on the unusual thing and forget about the boring stuff. Mike describes a phenomenon regarding going back and forth between the unusual thing and the base reality. The mundane things in our scenes make the ridiculous shit digestible. Louis prods everyone to look up Norm McDonald’s “The Moth” joke from CONAN. Spoiler alert: It’s great.
Although Mike spends nearly all of his time doing or teaching comedy these days, he started out as a film student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Louis had the exact same path, he says. He talks to Louis about his writing partner and best buddy from high school and how they took themselves very seriously. Comedies, interestingly enough, were never a focal point until later on when they finally attempted to write one. In fact, he first took an improv class simply because he wanted some basic comedy training. In film school, Mike thought of himself as very serious and very lazy. He’d always loved comedy, but had no pretense about being a part of it. Because of his perceived laziness, Mike thinks that perhaps he missed the point of film school at the time. Louis and Mike have strikingly similar backstories, including the fact that they were both great illustrators at the age of 12. For both of them, realizing that comedy was going to be the central thing in their life was a very slow process.
Since it wasn’t immediate, Louis asks Mike when it was that he began taking improv seriously. When he felt competitive about it, Mike says. He shares an an eye opening experience from a Rebecca Drysdale class that came directly from listening. Louis says that he also had a breakthrough moment in a Drysdale class and they discuss for a bit what it was like to study with her.
Mike teaches Level 3 now, so Louis wants to know – what’s he focusing on? Coming back to some earlier points, Mike says that he focuses on keeping scenes simple, committing to the mundane, respecting each others’ ideas, and getting enthusiastic about what your scene partner is doing. These two teachers discuss how to encourage people to be enthusiastic without planting a fake enthusiasm in them. He also shares a note that stuck with him: Always have a sense of mischief. The rules of polite society are exactly the things we look to avoid in improv. This is something The Wrath is very good at, Louis claims. But they’ve been together for years, so what can less experienced groups do to instill that sense of troublemaking? Mike shares a fun exercise in that pursuit and clarifies what we mean when we say, “Everything you need in a scene is already there.”
Louis claims that improvisers look younger than everybody else and quotes Magnet founder Armando Diaz, saying, “The trick to improvising is to do just enough to not get fired.” If that doesn’t get you excited for this episode, I don’t know what will.
Charles is the co-creator of the feature film Fort Tilden, which recently won The Grand Jury Award at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival and The Special Jury Award at The Independent Film Festival of Boston. He is currently at NYU Tisch’s Graduate Film program, and his short films have screened around the country. He is the director and co-creator of Tech Up, a comedic web-series for Subway, featured on IFC and My Damn Channel.
Charles is a loving member of the Magnet house team The Music Industry and the host of his own show, Prank Calls with Charles Rogers, in which he live calls victims suggested by the audience. He also performs around town with his indie team Orange Augustus.