Posts Tagged ‘teaching’
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.
On this week’s episode of the podcast, we’ve got Julia Hynes who performs with Junior Varsity, The Stank, and Sad Kids. A founding member of long-running Megawatt team, BRICK, Julia talks to host Louis Kornfeld about her improv development, being “good at school,” and the freedom of improvising with an all-female team. We’re taking next week off, so we’ve made sure this one will tide you over!
Louis begins this interview by asking Julia about what it’s like to go from forming and being on BRICK for four years to joining a very established team in Junior Varsity (JV). One of the amusing things, she notes, is stepping into JV’s established ways of communicating with each other. Group email threads aside, Louis wants to know about Julia’s own differences in play between the two teams. She says that on BRICK she was a big editor and now with JV, she’s not as concerned with that task. Julia also describes a big improv lesson that came during her early days of BRICK which she has always kept in mind: Remember to make it feel honest and real.
Between the end of BRICK and when she joined JV, Julia was able to take some time off from performing on a weekly show. Louis talks to her about how nice it was to have the chance to get away from the theater for a bit. She’s a full time school teacher, so the additional time in her evening schedule was appreciated, as was the ability to step away from the pressures that can exist at a theater. Between her own shows and those of her husband, Nick Kanellis, it was starting to feel like she had to be at the theater all of the time. Since coming back to a weekly show, she says that it’s really on her terms that she’s there and, of course, it helps to be doing a show that she’s proud of.
Julia’s interest in improv began in college at Penn State, but she initially pursued academia after graduating. Eventually, she moved to NYC because a lot of her Penn State comedy friends were living there and doing improv at UCB. On a recommendation from a friend, she ended up taking Level 1 at Magnet with Tara Copeland and loved it. As a student, Julia says that she didn’t go to many shows initially because she was intimidated. It wasn’t until around Level 4, when she met some future members of BRICK, that she began to get more fully involved in the community. To that end, Louis asks her about how long it took to settle into “being an improviser” and declaring that as an identity. Though she said that was tough at first, because she knew other improvisers who had been doing it longer and perhaps took it more seriously, she eventually got over that fear of judgement.
Julia says she’s at a stage in her life where she’s evaluating, “What do I actually want and why do I want it?” This leads Louis to discuss finally facing our mortality after the age of 30 and how that change from “I’ve got plenty of time” to “time is running out” feels. Life is already happening, he says, which seems to cause him alternating feelings of crippling anxiety and a cool calm sense of acceptance.
Speaking of “who she is,” Julia is a full-time English as a Second Language 5th Grade Specialist in New York City who just finished her 8th year of teaching. Since high school, she was someone who wanted to make a difference in some way. Initially, went into Women’s Studies and felt she could make a difference through that field in the world of academia, but then found the cracks in that plan and decided to be a teacher in NYC. Since making the change, Julia feels like she’s making a bigger difference, especially in the last year, during which she feels she really started to come into her own as a teacher. Louis nearly shares the zen parable of the empty cup and also horribly misquotes Joe Bill, saying, in improv any class “…there are givers, takers, and prove-ers.” Everyone agrees that it much more difficult to teach the prove-ers.
Speaking more about teaching and class, Julia claims that she’s always been “good at school,” which is something that Louis has never really heard. For Louis, in adolescence, school became the straight man that he played against and he found it difficult to excel. As opposed to Louis’ oppositional experience, Julia says she had a good rapport with teachers and a family who encouraged her to take school seriously. And though she admits that she was not good at science, which she avoided, the rest just came easy to her. Louis goes further, saying that he had an aggressively contrarian approach to school, but Julia didn’t start feeling like that at all until college. They discuss the importance of having teachers that check in with you and care about teaching. They then talk about Julia’s own teaching methods and how she’s had to add more structure to her practices over the years and be “less chilled-out” than when she first started. What does it take to control a room of 5th graders? She enjoys finding the balance between making the kids laugh and having them get down to business.
Louis just has to ask, do Julia and Nick go to the zoo and look at animals together? For those of you who don’t watch Trike frequently, Nick Kanellis is really into animals and animal behavior.
Circling back to this idea of being surrounded by guys who quickly identified as comedians, Louis wants to know how that has influenced her, especially in an improv world that still has a male majority? While she was comfortable always being the one girl hanging out with the comedy guys in college, she says that it felt good having female teachers at Magnet and then being put on BRICK with strong female players Amie Roe and Fiona Bradford. Many of the improv moments that have felt the best, she says, have been a lot of the all-female shows that she’s gotten to do, like We Might Just Kiss, which brings together women of all skill levels to play with each other. Julia finds it very hard to explain the feeling when, on a nearly all-male cast, something she says isn’t given the space she hopes for. The feeling of ownership of the stage is just very different with gender taken out of the equation. Louis admits that maybe cast diversity can hamper group mind.
Louis tries to avoid asking about the difference between playing with an all-female show versus a mixed-cast show, but he asks anyway! Julia says that the biggest difference is, “Whatever I say is going to be just embraced…” in a way that is beyond what happens normally. She also credits the women she plays with. On her duo Sad Kids, she notes that partner Beth Newell has a way of molding whatever Julia says into a beautiful game. On The Stank, they’re all seasoned improvisers, strong players, positively minded, and nonjudgemental — all of which goes a long ways. Julia goes further to says that, even when the men on a team are great, there’s just something there that doesn’t quite feel the same. There’s a added sense of pressure to be the token female, which then can inhibit how she plays. There’s a feeling as if she has to represent for all women. Relieving that pressure opens up more freedom of play.
Finally, Louis and Julia discuss playing real people from their lives and pantomiming objects that they actually own in order to make scenes feel more real to them. Louis is really taken with the idea of the original improvised theater companies, which viewed improv as an opportunity to show people what we know and who we are. The people performing are the people creating the art, so it showcases them in a way that other formats maybe can’t. He finds it exhausting simply to engineer comedy night in and night out without getting to be himself.
But really, finally, Louis asks the hard-hitting question: How cuddly is Nick Kanellis???
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.
On this week’s episode, we’ve got actor, writer, and 14x UCB All-Star, Will Hines. We caught up with Will while he was in town for the 17th Annual Del Close Marathon and what ensued was a beautifully nerdy conversation about improv theory, improv practice, teaching methods, and some of Will’s early days at UCB.
The interview begins with Will and host Louis Kornfeld talking about how to navigate fighting in improv scenes. They insist that the characters must be able to have philosophical debates, not mere wizard battles. They sympathize with students learning improv though, since a bad fight and good fight feel very similar in the moment. Plus, arguments have a lot of good elements that improvisers should practice — commitment, point-of-view, feeling — but if they only serve to defend the character, they won’t be very helpful. Will goes into detail about his philosophy that scene partners must “shake hands” at the top of a scene.
If you’re wondering whether these two veteran company men discuss the philosophies of UCB and the Magnet, wonder no longer! Will and Louis get to the meaty stuff and talk about the differences between Harolds at Magnet and UCB. From there, they discuss a variety of improv “rules” and postulate that most rules are in need of a specific scope to make them useful. Will talks about the rigidity of his 10th grade english teacher and they debate the benefits and limitations of strict versus nurturing improv teachers. Though Will always loved Matt Besser’s no-bullshit approach to teaching, he says that Armando Diaz was his breakthrough teacher. He describes the two of them as the ying and yang of UCB teachers during his time coming up through classes.
We get to hear a bit of Will’s improv origin story, he and Louis discuss improv’s “huggy” vibe, plus, these two “kings of calm-edy” explore their thoughts on being funny while acting as the straight man and/or lower energy player. Louis shares with us that he’d just had his most embarrassing audition ever and Will admits that he has a lack of confidence when it comes to being funny. The two of them snap out of their temporary self-loathing to talk about Will’s days playing with Monkeydick, which was Louis’ favorite Harold Night team when he was a student there.
There’s so much great stuff in this episode for Magnet and UCB fans alike, not to mention every improv nerd out there, we’re not even sure where to start. Just trust us and give it a listen.
Packed with these extras:
The Brothers Hines have only one rule for their shows — what is it?
Louis admits his biggest weakness as a teacher and performer.
What do these guys think of the Star Wars Prequel trilogy???
- armando diaz
- del close marathon
- improv nerds
- improv nonsense
- improv philosophy
- improv theory
- Los Angeles
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- magnet theater podcast
- magnet training center
- Matt Besser
- Michael Delaney
- new york
- new york city
- The Brothers Hines
- UCB Theatre
- Upright Citizens Brigade
- Will Hines
Native son of New York State, Andrew Yurman-Glaser (Broad City; Magnet’s The Wrath, Friday Night Sh*w; UCB’s Mermaids; Upstate) joins us in the studio to talk about improvising, coaching, and the dynamics of a good team. Host Louis Kornfeld dives in by asking, “Do you remember when you got good at improv?” Humility abounds as Andrew tells of getting his improv start in college and how he’s grown over the last nine years in NYC. He goes on to compare his Megawatt team, The Wrath, to an orchestra and tries to shed some light on how a team maintains their integrity over the course of years. Louis asks if Andrew plays differently on Lloyd Night, Harold Night, Megawatt, or Friday Night Sh*w and Andrew talks about when shows feel the most successful. Hear Louis’ favorite things about how Andrew improvises, Andrew’s thoughts on the importance of listening, and of course, how improv makes you a better person. Plus! Did Andrew’s parents watch him play a masturbator on Broad City? Does Louis like giving notes?? Has this episode been recorded in front of a group of prisoners??? Find out the answers to all of these questions and more on Episode #48.
**PS** Andrew plays with his very good friend Dustin Drury as UPSTATE on Monday, June 29th at 8:30PM. These two former INSPIRADO Oh Shit! champions only get a chance to play on occasion these days, so make sure to check out this show!
- Andrew Yurman-Glaser
- Binghamton University
- broad city
- Friday Night Sh*w
- Harold Night
- Lloyd Night
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- magnet theater podcast
- magnet training center
- new york
- new york city
- The Wrath
- Upright Citizens Brigade
Guess who’s in town! Chicago-based improv luminary Susan Messing stopped by while in NYC to talk to us about teaching improv, being malleable, and giving TED Talks. Lots of great questions are addressed in this episode, such as: Where’s the line between taking care of yourself and being selfish? What’s Susan’s take on the current state of long-form? And do you want to have sex right, or have sex? Louis and Susan discuss how to play with difficult improvisers, sorting out your voice amidst the variety of improv philosophies present today, and the importance of revisiting everything you’ve put out there so that you don’t leave things by the wayside. Plus, hear Louis’ “butt theory” and Susan’s thoughts on the early days of the Harold under Del Close and his role as an experimenter and teacher. Huzzah!
Or simply enjoy Episode #44 below via SoundCloud.
Elana Fishbein was in the first ever show at Magnet. And she was really good. 10 years later she’s an improviser, actor, writer, and teacher. She has Master’s Degree in Educational Theater from NYU, leads our Youth Program, and co-created two professional development workshop series for teachers: “Beyond Winging It: Improv in the Classroom” and “Play.” She can be seen with Story Pirates on stage and heard with The Truth Podcast your headphones. All in all, you’ve got a super funny improviser with interesting things to say about it. Listen to this great episode where Louis Kornfeld goes deep into the idea of forcing yourself to be vulnerable, improv accountability, shared ownership, and Canada. Enjoy!
It’s our pleasure to share this intense and hilarious archive conversation with Dave Razowsky and Ed Herbstman recorded live at Magnet Theater. Alex Marino asks the right questions and doesn’t get any of the answers he wanted. Neither does the audience when it’s opened up to questions at the end. A fun listen to be sure. Ed particularly seems to be enjoying himself, perhaps because Razowsky was his first improv teacher back in 1990 when he was in high school.
Catch master teacher Dave Razowsky next time he’s in NYC teaching at Magnet, and be sure to see Razowsky, Herbstman and Hamilton, which is really really good. Rachel Hamilton is the woman in the photo. She’s really really good.
Enjoy Episode #14 on iTunes or below via SoundCloud.
John O’Donnell, longtime friend of Magnet Theater and kind onstage powerhouse talks about how he first fell in love with performing, improv, and stumbling upon the early evolution of musical improv.
John has appeared in pilots for Comedy Central, the HBO Aspen Comedy Festival, on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, as well as numerous commercials.
He has also written and performed a trilogy of one-man shows, O’Donnellogues, Son of O’Donnellogues, and Beneath The Planet of The O’Donnellogues. At the Magnet Theater he has made appearances in Thursday Night Out, The Armando Diaz Experience, The Tiny Spectacular, and currently improvises weekly in Magnet’s ‘The Made Up Musical‘.
John has a Masters Degree in Education and has been teaching in New York City for over a decade.
Enjoy Episode #13 on iTunes or below via SoundCloud.
Greg Hess is an actor, writer and comedian in Los Angeles. He is an improviser with The Improvised Shakespeare Company, Cook Country Social Club and performs at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade in LA.
Greg talks with guest host Rick Andrews about making a living as an improviser and how he’s been ‘giving it a year for the last eleven years.’
Rick confesses that he felt like quitting improv after seeing an Improvised Shakespeare Company show. But Rick didn’t. And now he’s hosting this great interview!
Enjoy Episode #10 on iTunes or below via SoundCloud.