I figure I should write down some of my thoughts about the 41 Hour Improv Marathon before they fade from memory.|
First off, staying up for 41 hours? Not a big deal. Not really. Yes, after a while I got loopier and sloppier than I wanted to. But actually staying up was fine. My body adjusted and I hit a rhythm.
My personal, secret goal for the Marathon was not to exaggerate my mental state for the comedy of it, and I think I more or less accomplished that. Only during the last show did I really play that up a bit, but that was part of the point.
And of course I wanted to see what filters came down the longer I performed... the idea being that the longer I performed, the more unfettered, the more free my performance would be. The results of that were... unexpected.
What I found with myself is that I very quickly dropped any sort of elaborate, comical characters from my performances... no farcical rich people, few children, few big accents... unless, of course, the situation called for it explicitly. More and more, I played the straight man, reacting with reason and honest reaction to the things around me. Which is good, and bad. I feel like I was fighting for control and order a lot of the times.
So yeah, while some filters did come down in terms of honesty and just saying what I was thinking, some other filters were also built up, or put in hyper-mode: the need to make order out of chaos, the need to wrap things up nicely.
This was especially true for shows that had everyone on stage for the majority of them... where the format was based on everyone sitting and talking. I started becoming really aware of when no one was grounded in reality, or when everyone was talking at once and over each other. So I kept trying to come up with ways to get everyone calmed down, and taking turns, and making some points. I think it was positive, but I do wonder if this isn't a flaw.. the apparently core need of mine to control the chaos.
The main reason for this I think is that I can't get the audience out of my head. I want them to understand what's going on. I want them to care about what's going on. I want them to have a good time.
I'm definitely not saying that the shows where my control tendencies kicked in were bad. Not at all. If anything, I think they actually pulled themselves together and were entertaining. I was just worried about them, and so went the extra mile to try and give them structure.
And actually, the most surprising thing for me was the actual quality of a vast majority of the shows. Many many many of the shows we did I would have been very proud to have put up during a prime-time spot at The Hideout.
Both Maestros were solid. I especially loved the fact that Andy and Kareem proved that they could be great directors in the 2nd show, even after being almost as sleep-deprived as the Marathoners.
Electric Bill cracked me up as always, and the playful give and take between us and Bill felt like we'd been doing it for years.
I had a blast doing the Confidence Men show. I'd been really worried about doing Mamet, since I've never read anything him. I'm sure I didn't do it right, but it was still a good show, and loads of fun.
The Nightmare Video Project, stolen from PROJECTproject in Canada, was insane fun, and left many improvisers wanting to do more of them in the future. Kareem dressed as The Minion was my favorite thing in the Marathon.
Dubbed Indemnity was friggin' great. Kareem assembled a great collection of video clips to dub over, and it was a super fun challenge to figure how to do that on the fly. My tactic was to latch onto one arbitrary thing at the top of the scene, and to carry it through and heighten it no matter what happened in the video clips. Seemed to work.
Sarah 7 was super smart and quick. Those ladies have a great thing going on.
Firth and Arjet's Always a Bridesmaid format, originally made up for the two of them, worked extremely well for a large group of people in dresses, since it felt more like an actual wedding party. Silly, and super fun.
Rise and Shine was awesome because Jay (played by Jon Bolden) became the center of attention for once, and I loved exploring what his interests and dreams were.
The Pretty Jack Jaybird show was intense and unique, and was like a surreal dream on stage.
Dancy Street D'Orchestra was super fun for a few reasons. First, they were doing a musical Traveler. The Traveler is a PGraph format we've busted out in the past, and one I taught the level 5 class that included future members of Dancy Street. So I loved seeing that revived in a new form. Two, it organically turned from a modern day story into an epic, magical fairy tale. Three, I got to sing... a lot, and had a great time doing so.
ComedySportz was fun! I kinda went in feeling weird about it, because I've only seen one ComedySportz show, and the straight up, full on gamey games like "Top That" and 185 aren't really my strength. So I decided to leap in with overwhelming positivity and commitment, and it wound up being really, really fun. And of course, a good show, to boot!
The Your Dad's Friends show blew my mind a little bit, because we were performing with all of these seasoned Austin performers, who, with the exception of Lampe and Chuy, I had never even seen before. And now, here they were, bringin' it, and doing their interpretation of Goodfellas.
Buddies! made me really want Cody to move back to Austin. He has a gift for saying exactly the right thing at the right time.
With the Flying Theater Machine, I felt similar to how I felt about ComedySportz... worried that I would mess something up, because it was intended for little kids. I don't know if we hit the show exactly the way FTM wanted us to, but I do know that the kids in the audience were highly entertained, and that's the most important thing.
The Dusk show was highly highly successful, even if I didn't do much. It was awesome to be a part of something that so much care and effort had been put into, and which had been refined over rehearsals and shows.
The Austin Secrets show, which I curated, actually wound up feeling like an Austin Secrets show! I'd been worried that with the insanely large cast, it would suffer, but it didn't! It still had the same overall energy and vibe. I would have like to have a few more serious scenes, but we still managed to have moments of genuine emotion and compassion.
With the Knuckleball Now show, we really fully embraced their style, and did our best to just launch ourselves into the playful silliness of it all. It was a nonstop rollercoaster ride through the whole thing, playing games up to extremes until the lights went down.
The Andersons was another area of worry. We were throwing all these new, and tired, people into this very specific, stylized show. I was worried that it would become more of a sendup or parody than a loving recreation of 1950s sitcoms, but we stayed on track! The stories were totally genre-appropriate, and I loved them both.
the Monogues for Teens show was a delightful energy unlike any of the other shows. It was a one-off show that PGraph had done for a Double Barrel years ago, and we couldn't quite remember how we'd done it, but we managed to recapture it. We played British thespians in the 1950s, experimenting with improvisation by reading terrible monologues from "Monologues for Auditions" books and spinning them into scenes. So you have the box of these pretentious actors discovering improv and discussing their discoveries, while doing ridiculous scenes in between.
The Puppet Improv Project was of course, silly, silly fun. My favorite moment was probably just hearing the audience laugh when Kaci made her puppet's face shrink up in sadness. It drove home the point that the audience really was just watching the puppets and not the improvisers. Cool.
The Bat, brought in by ColdTowne was another "GEE we need to do that more" type show. I don't know how it felt for the audience, but for me it flew by super quickly. I felt more present in that show than most of the others. Everything was happening right in front of me, you know? Definitely gotta do that more.
Midnight Society's Late Night Talk Show is a genius format. It alternates chatter (which as I pointed out earlier is problematic with large, mixed casts) with dream sequences. The constant change-up in energy makes for a great shape of show.
Man, the Starter Kit's Time Travel show was exactly what I wanted from them... an unrelenting dive into insanity... a chaos that cannot be controlled. But it worked, because the chaos is promised in the premise of the show, and the audience is waiting for that descent into madness.
The 1960s Batman show once again proved itself to be a comedy goldmine. That world is just such campy fun, that as long as you fully commit, it totally and completely works. I'm thinking it'll definitely be a run in 2011.
The Frank Mills show, OF COURSE, was top-notch. I held back a bit personally, but the show itself was smart, and super playful. And I actually had a good time in the organic opening, which I didn't expect.
And of course, the last, final show was somehow magical and super fun. I don't even think it's being tired that made it work so well. It's being done. It's knowing that this is the final moment of this insane ride. So whatever stores you have left, whatever playfulness you have left... you let it all out. Read Kevin Miller's review of the show here.
This isn't to say that other shows weren't fun or entertaining to the audience. These are just the ones that stood out to me as high quality shows that didn't rest on spectacle or the gimmick of us being tired to be successful as shows... as shows that I could be really proud of regardless of context.
Another thought for this post that I haven't shared with anyone. After last year's Marathon, I noticed (since I work with them all the time) that Kareem and Kaci's improv had kicked up to a new level. That somehow going through the gauntlet of all those shows had done something to them. I mean, they're always great, but it was interesting to see... I dunno... increased confidence or flexibility or something? I remember feeling jealous (although I'm always jealous of my troupemates to a certain extent). It was my secret hope that the same thing would happen to me this year. We'll see.
At the very least, the Marathon gave me some stuff to work on:
I need to be bolder when thrust into shows/situations where I don't feel comfortable.
I need to not feel responsible for every show's success/comprehensibility. I need to trust and cede control more.
I need to not default to playing an incredulous straight man all the time.
Being on the inside, or maybe just being around for the 2nd year, also made me firm up my opinions about what sort of show to book in future Marathons.
All in all, I had a super positive experience. I would have liked more audience in the off-hours, but I have some ideas for that, too.