5 Lines Scenes: Announcing the Moontower Comedy Festival

What happens when a bunch of powerhouse producers all get together to put on one massive event?

What happens when you get over 10 venues and a couple of performances all happening under one umbrella?

What happens when an entire city focuses up and puts on a humongous week of comedy?

You get Austin’s first annual Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival taking place the last week of April. We’ll post more details as they become available but for now we know that the people behind Cap City, Paramount, The New Movement and Hell Yes Fest1 are all involved.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Hell Yes Fest recently penned this post explaining their involvement and the future of their festival

Interview: Roanna Flowers and Taylor Overstreet

Conversation with Roanna Flowers and Taylor Overstreet

Location:
A red velvet sofa in Austin, Texas.

Supplies:
Two cups of coffee, an iPhone, two mostly Siamese cats, and one Festivus pole.

I’m not the raisin. The raisin is Miss California* (*not actually Miss California.)

I am here today with Taylor Overstreet, one of the members of There’s Waldo! – a fantastic sketch troupe out of The Institution Theater in Austin, Texas. Taylor, how are you?

I’m doing great!

I’m not the raisin. The raisin is Miss California* (*not actually Miss California.)

Is This Real Life (Or Is It a Fantasy) will be a series of conversations between creative people, whether they’re creative in the arts or in business (or just in conversation), about inspiration and what it means to be a creative person. We tend to keep the process stuff to ourselves. We think about it, but don’t really share it, or at least not that frequently. So thank you for joining me in this!
 
What was the first thing you can remember creating or performing where you went “Oh! I want to do this!” It can be a super early memory, or it can be something that happened last week.

It is a super early memory for me. I danced for several years as a child, and during one of my recitals, I was doing a twirling routine to a song called “I Want to Bop with You, Baby.” I was probably 5 or 6. And the dance studio I was attending didn’t have a lot of money so one year we would order costumes and the next we just did something easy and homemade. This was a homemade year, so we were dancing in just black leotards and blue jeans rolled up to our knees. At one point during the recital, probably about a third of the way in, I completely stopped twirling, went to the center of the stage and used my baton as a microphone and belted out the words of the song for the rest of the song and…never recommenced twirling.

That is fantastic.

And what I remember most about that is, when my whole family got together to watch the videotape afterwards, I could hear people laughing in the venue and then my family around me laughing. I started crying and ran out of the room because I wasn’t trying to make people laugh. I was just doing what came naturally to me, and I didn’t understand why they were amused by it. But I just, that’s what I wanted to do at the time. To me the routine was irrelevant at that point. I just thought: I need to give this to the world right now. I guess that’s my earliest performing memory.

It’s what I see you do whenever I see you perform. You know how to go to the center of the stage, take the light and do what you do. That is still there. To me, it’s really interesting to hear about a person’s first creative memory because I think that stays true. What was it about that moment or singing and dancing that really grabbed you and still grabs you?

It just feels really good. That sounds really simplified. But that’s what I love so much about improv. You can take a moment that means something completely different to your scene partner and make it your own. And I think for me what grabbed me was just doing something differently. I didn’t want to be twirling with twelve other girls who looked just like me. I love that I grew up in a family that encouraged me to be myself. Following that instinct onstage when I was 5 was exciting for me. I hope I’ve retained that!

And you’ve probably gotten this question as well: aren’t you nervous? How do you get up there when you have no idea what’s going to happen? And my response is the same every time: it sounds counterintuitive, but it is so freeing to get up there and not know what’s going to happen. I still love sketch and I think we’ve written some beautiful things…

Some beautifully twisted things…

Yes! I love it! And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But there’s something really special about the unknown. Even within sketch, we have that. Even when we write something, we’re always trying to surprise each other on stage by finding new things to throw in, even if it’s just to try to make each other break because, let’s be honest, that’s always fun.

My answer to that question is: but that’s every day! You never know what’s going to happen to you every day. There’s no real difference between walking out the door, getting in your car and getting on stage in improv. It is freeing. It’s also freeing to know you can’t break it.

Try as we might.

And I do a pretty damn good job at that, personally, of trying to break it. There’s a tremendous relief in knowing you can’t and that other people aren’t going to let you. That’s the one thing to me that attracts me to improv over stand-up.

People that are reading this: you should know that I’m nodding enthusiastically. I forget that you can’t see that.

Eventually these will be moving pictures, talkies, and you can totally see her nodding.

Yeah, I’m with you. That’s what my head is saying.

The earnest look, the knit cap…

You should all know I am wearing an adorable pink knit cap today.

What is your go-to for inspiration? I know it’s a broad question but some people have pretty specific go-to’s.

Honestly, my fellow Waldos are probably my biggest source of inspiration currently because they are just so funny, even just sitting around having conversations – I am perpetually amused and delighted. Stuff will just come out of our conversations that I’m like, “I gotta write about that. I’m turning that into something.” I was actually having a conversation with Tyler Reece Booker (look him up if you don’t know him, he’s brilliant) yesterday and he said, “Oh, c’mon, that’s just like somebody dropping a Hershey’s guilt kiss on you.” And I had to stop and ask, “Hold up. Did you just make that up on the spot right there?” And he said, “…Yeah, I did.” And I wrote it down. I can’t not use that! I think – and this is a big broad answer to your big broad question – I’m inspired by the people around me. I don’t go to a specific TV show or artist or anything like that. The people around me give me plenty of material. And silly things, like Dr. Pepper 10 or Kim Jong-il’s wardrobe. Also, my grandmother…

Oh, Mema!

Mema!

Mema needs her own show…

Mema does need her own show. For those who don’t know, Mema is Laurabelle Blackwell from Lafayette, Louisiana. She’s a trip…I have probably disappointed her in how little of her material – well, she doesn’t know it’s material – that I’ve actually brought to the stage because there is so much. She is a gold mine.

Even with that inspiration, do you experience creative blocks? If so, how to you move past them?

Oh yeah. I wanted to take a sketch writing class for almost a year. I would sit and try to write sketches before I even started the class, and I would stare at my computer screen.  It’s like I couldn’t think of anything because I was thinking so damn hard. I still have a tendency to do that sometimes. Tom Booker gave us good advice in class: when you don’t know what choice to make, make the worst choice possible. And that has served me well, both on stage and when I’m writing. And I think what I do to move past it is I just get it out there. I’ve over time become less afraid of what the end product is going to be. Just get it out there. The process is about the rewriting not about the writing. I need to just vomit everything onto the page and then just work through it. It’s not going to be brilliant the first time out or even the fifth time out. Just pressing on, keep persevering. Maybe I need that little cat poster that says, “Hang in there,” when I’m writing.

I think perfection is something that every creative person deals with – and it even speaks to that wonderful piece about the creative process by Ira Glass (NPR). Artists, or people who tend to be creative, have good taste. When you imagine this thing in your head that you want to do, and when you first start doing it, it doesn’t look anything like what you envisioned. And a lot of people stop there. I certainly have off and on. But learning how to just do it and not worry about it and do more and not less and don’t try to make it perfect – just make it.

Perfection’s not much fun.

It’s not fun at all! It’s incredibly inhibiting. It’s anti-creativity. It’s not even being creatively analytic. It’s just a road block. And I think writers suffer that – maybe musicians, but certainly writers I know suffer from that particular creative affliction. Many feel that they need to be Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling or whatever it is they think it needs to be and it doesn’t need to be any of that. It just needs to be.

One thing I really like about the stuff that I’ve written is I think if I had just handed it to somebody and they looked at it they would never guess I wrote it. I like that. There are some elements of me in it obviously, but I have cranked out some really weird stuff that I am so amused by and I wish these people were in my life. I want to write these characters into my daily life, even if they freak me out and make me uncomfortable. I want to spend some time with that person and find out what they think about things.

You know how you do that? You go all Blackstreet Production.

No diggity. Get ready.

Do you find that your experiences in improv and sketch, in particular, have changed the way you look at your surroundings?

100%. The biggest thing is I feel like I’m subconsciously trolling for material. There have been so many times since I joined this community, almost two years ago, where someone said something and I say to myself “I gotta write that down.” Thank goodness for smart phones. I can bust it out and write ideas down right there. People are fascinating and weird and unexpected. I feel like I was a pretty astute observer of life before but it’s even more heightened now Another thing that’s not different but that I wish was different – I still hate getting in front of people for work stuff. I still have this moment of panic and my pulse is racing out of control. I thought it would make me be more comfortable being up in front of people but honestly, I’m not. Sometimes I have to forget that I’m in front of an audience.

They’re not anonymous either. The anonymity of being on stage is nice.

Yeah. Being on stage, there is an anonymity but that combined with total exposure is a really interesting juxtaposition. I like those two things together. And I like the word juxtaposition.

To Be or Not To Be: Fame or …Not Fame: What does fame mean to you and would it equal success, in your mind?

Fame? I never really thought about fame, but I have thought about success. For me, “success” is about two things. The first is being prolific. Prolificity? That should be a word. I just want to keep doing this. Like forever. Keep writing, keep performing, keep playing. The second thing about success for me is being inspiring. Inspiring people onstage or inspiring someone to take a class because they’ve seen how much fun I’ve had with it, how much I’ve grown, etc. Those two things may not make me famous, but they make me happy, and that’s better, right?

For me, it would only be useful if name recognition would mean that I could get a charity established or that I could become a Goodwill Ambassador to the U.N. – if I could take Angelina Jolie’s U.N. job. I don’t care about the acting; I don’t care about that job. I care about the U.N. job she has, but you only get that if you’re at a certain stature. So I think of fame a little differently and am always curious to hear if other people equate fame with success, or how they view it.

For me, they’re not linked.  I think more about how I can keep doing this and how I can inspire other people, and that’s more to do with being successful, in my mind. I never really thought about fame. If I were “famous,” the most scandalous thing the paparazzi would find me doing is driving through Taco Bell at 2am. Angelina Jolie’s U.N. job would be sweet, though.

It would be!

I, too, am more interested in that job than acting.

How can we become Goodwill Ambassadors just being regular folks? Maybe I need to write a letter. Give me a chance! I don’t have six children but I have a lot of spirit!

We’ve got pizzazz!

The last question is one that people don’t tend to talk about, but I think it’s interesting. And I frame it this way: I Hate You (You’re Awesome), which is about creative envy or jealousy. There are always going to be people who are doing more things than you are or who are going a certain way. Have you experienced that? How do you feel about it? Have you had to deal with it and do you find that it inspires or inhibits you? (You don’t have to name names.)

Oh, I could name names. And yes, I have experienced that. Creative envy? Most definitely. There’s an element of both. The bigger part for me is that it inspires me and I hope that wins out. But there have been times where I’ve been part of a show and I had a blip of a thought like: I wanna do that! But somebody else did it and that’s a beautiful thing. Yeah, I experience creative envy. Creative envy makes it sound negative, but it’s not.

I was watching Shakespeare In Love — as silly as it is, it is also brilliant — and found myself going “Gah! Why didn’t I write this? That sucks! It’s Awesome!” It’s not that you hate them, or the movie in this case; it’s that you wish you had done it.

Yes! And that, to me, is high praise. I love what you did so much, that I wish I had done it myself. Why can’t we just enjoy that somebody did it? It’s human.

It is so human. Everybody feels it. Because if you think you’re the only one who goes I Hate You (You’re Awesome) then you just think you’re a horrible person. Taylor, thank you so much for the chat today. Thank you for taking the time and hopefully I can catch up with you in the future.

Absolutely.

I don’t hate you – and you are awesome. Have a great day!

You too!

You can find more by Roanna Flowers, aka Legs Magee, at www.legsmagee.com and on Twitter @LegsMagee.

Technically Speaking: All of the Lights

First a confession: I went to prom all four years of high school. I was a player.

But enough about me, you want to hear my sage advice about how to handle pulling the lights for your next improv show. I’m going to be honest, the scariest part about working tech is knowing when to end the set. But let’s go over some quick tips and tales that should make you feel more at home when darkness falls.

Tip #1: Watch more sitcoms

Seriously. The two best examples I can think of are Saved by the Bell and Degrassi: The Next Generation. Pulling lights requires the tech to judge the natural moment when the set is over. In your typical teen show, this is accomplished by a freeze frame.

Learning to find the right moment takes practice, but can typically be accomplished listening to the audience. A big laugh can be a simple cue to pull lights. Also be on the lookout for patterns and callbacks. Ending the show on one of these can highlight the structure of the set and makes the folks onstage look like geniuses, WHICH IS YOUR #1 GOAL.

Tip #2: Keep it simple

You may or may not have a light board at the venue your teching. If you don’t, great. If you do, ignore it. Come in before the show and have all your lighting in place early. That way, pulling lights is all about turning the lights on and off. Fade-outs rarely work and confuse more than excite. There should be a black-out or blank switch on your light panel, use it like you would an impressionable young med student.  Most likely you’ll be handling music at the same time as lights so you want to reduce the amount of button and clicks you need to 2 or 3 at most.

And now a story.

I was handling tech at the Shadowbox theater in New Orleans for the Megaphone Marathons. On stage were Milo and Shyla, a troupe I adore and the inspiration for the troupe I’m currently in, Vietnomnomnom.  They were reaching the end of their set and had just had an insanely madcap scene involving some nasty sex stuff. The scene after that was pure silence. For three minutes Milo and Shyla stared at each other to increasing laughter from the audience. I was freaked. The set was going out of time and at this point in my tech “career” I was always looking for a laugh line to end the set on. But this WAS the end of the set. The perfect emotional conclusion to what had just transpired.  But I just couldn’t do it. They did another scene, found a great laugh point, and pulled the lights.

Which leads me to my final tip…

Tip #3: Trust your instincts

This is not a science. If it was I probably would have failed it by now. You have to remove the fear of screwing up the show from your thought process. Be prepared for your first few cuts to be off the mark, but with time and trust in yourself, you’ll be pulling lights like a rock star in no time.

Mikey DoDo out.

Fantasy Weekend: The Top Five Improv Shows I’d See This Week Anywhere in the World!

This feature is a subjective take on what shows are most exciting this week. If you’d like to write a Fantasy Weekend we’re open for submissions. Email info@improvwins.com!

My pics for the top five shows to see this week are in weekday order:

Wednesday (that’s when the weekend starts right?)   11:00    TJ & Dave @ IO Chicago http://ioimprov.com/chicago/io/shows/tj-and-dave

I’ve seen TJ & Dave live one time and it was a transcendent experience. I will be arriving in Chicago early in the evening, by magic eagle, and dining at the Thai place around the corner from IO. That place tasted really good, although I’m unsure if they’re open for dinner. Even if I get dinner-disappointed the show is likely to be amazing!

Thursday   9:30    Block Party @ TNM Austin

http://newmovementtheater.com/events/930p-block-party-37/

I heard tell that last week’s Block Party went totally out of control. There were strange videos and crazy contests. I miss that ol’ Austin Block Party vibe sometimes and I will be arriving for this Thursday’s show in a carriage pulled by wishes.

 

Friday 8:00The Garfunkel & Oates Hour @ UCB LA

http://losangeles.ucbtheatre.com/shows/view/2126

The fact that this show is sold out already would affect me, if this weren’t a FANTASY! Hurray, this being a fantasy I am also staying at The Standard in LA and having a really weird time with some crazy folks on the roof-top bar after the show. In the morning I will have several breakfasts sent to my room and fly back to Texas in a plane, a regular plane. I’m not that damn spoiled in my fantasies.

 

Saturday 8:00 Steam, Rose Colored Goggles, and the Flight of The Victoriana @ SVT Austin

http://gnaptheater.org/steam-rose-colored-goggles-and-the-flight-of-the-victoriana-third-night/

In real life I won’t get to see this show and actually have never been to Salvage Vanguard Theater. But in my fantasy I get to see some friends in this show and have a positive experience with some genre-prov. Then I teleport  back to Houston for Sunday.

 

Sunday 7:00 TNM HOUSTON: Improv Zero, Shootaround, Special Sauce Show @ Avant Garden

http://www.facebook.com/events/168838863221701/

On this last night of my fantasy five show smorgasbord I’ll cherish being back on home turf as we have a shootaround and a fun show. This is a new night and venue for TNM Houston so it will be nice to support adding extra improv to the Hustle Town scene.

Fantasy: Complete!

The Weekly Format: Fade to Black

NAME: Scene Base (or the Fade to Black Format)
IDEAL TEAM SIZE: 3-5
HISTORY: This form was brought to my attention by my friend Omar when we were on our way to perform at the Interstate Fringe Festival in New Orleans. We executed it there to great success and it became the format used by my first side troupe, Fade to Black.
THE BREAKDOWN: Open the set with an all-in slow building scene to gather information from. Edit the scene and break into a montage. Return to the base scene again when it feels organic and raise the stakes to gather more information. Break again into a montage. Repeat. Ideally, the base scene should be revisited at least two times through the set to provide a clean beginning, middle, and end.
EXAMPLE: Two students and a priest go to the woods to hunt unicorns. As a social experiment, the priest begins manipulating the two boys into competition. The scene is edited and a montage is played until they organically return to the priest and the children. The priest has now turned the boys against each other and they go their separate ways to get to the unicorn before the other does. The scene is edited and a montage is played again until they organically return to the forest. The priest has found the unicorn and is trying to harness its rainbow powers to gain wealth and fame, and the two boys have to reconcile to combat him in an epic battle, learning about trust and the true nature of friendship and love. Fade to Black.

Times: news for improvisers

Here is a gathering of news bits that may be of interest to you as an improviser:

Over at Fesministing they’re pointing out how tedious this whole “ladies ain’t funny” deal has gotten. But hey, we still can’t let the absurdity go un-engaged, right?

 

Do we get all of our best work done collaboratively, or is it important for some of us to work independently? As an introverted improviser I found this article really interesting. One of my facebook friends posted this NY Times piece with the tag “This nails it in the workplace. Not in improv.” I beg to differ: many of the best events, ideas, and projects get cooked up with a mixture of independent work and preparation and finally a big reveal to a community or team. What are your thoughts?

 

PGraph out of Austin recently visited the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This piece interviews them about their feelings on doing improv in an international event where there is little built-in audience for improv. I attended the University of Edinburgh for a little while in 2004 and was a big fan of their (shortish-form) improv group “The Improverts.” I’ve always been curious about Edinburgh’s Fringe Fest & PGraph’s perspective is illuminating.

 

Improv Everywhere just had its 10th annual pants-less subway ride. Here is a video-laden history of the event.

 

Last up, why do we have chins? Seriously guys, why do we have chins?!

Thinking about this can’t help but assist your improv.

 

 

We are Raw Creatures

invisiblescripts

Enchant

Horrify

If there was a blood-red moon inside your theater and you could harness it, would you?

If there was a frightful beast cowering in the corner of the stage consumed by need and hunger, would you feed her?

If there was a young man whose aspirations have come to nothing and who fears an abyss of loneliness, would you whip him into a frenzy of revelry from which there’s no recovering?

Listen carefully, with your whole body – lean forward and soak in the words: we have no freedom but ourselves and no recourse but to the present.

There, on the stage, in a little area of light in a dark room, we are straining ourselves to communicate, sure. More than that, we are straining to experience. To transcend. To do something so strange and accidental that we transform not only our voices or our bodies, but our lives.

Enchant. A moment where our face breaks, like fine china thrown at the floor, into a grin of delight and whimsy.

Horrify. Hold up a mirror to the quaking, reassuring longing inside of every single human body.

The first time I auditioned for an improv troupe there was a questionnaire. And it asked “What is the most inspiring show you have ever seen.” 1

It was raining. Everywhere. The streets were filled with mud. On the stage in the middle of this mucky scene there were two men. Their show may or may not have been called “The Piss Olympics,” but its premise was that they were competing for some dubious honor through bodily functions. They were so handsome and I was so young.  I stood there in the rain, not even particularly close to the stage, with my fifteen-year-old best friend standing next to me. We could feel the perversity of the moment. I watched the performers on stage throw every bit of themselves on to the pyre of comedy. They were bruising their knees, spitting, wheezing, throwing themselves on the ground, proclaiming uncomfortable truths, making each other erupt with laughter – for no audience, in the rain. The rawness, the purity of that: everything I have ever loved in improv has been dangerous to some extent, menacing, beautiful. To dance on the knife edge with each other. To acknowledge the futility of it all, and then to bask in the momentary profundity of what we can create together anyway.

By all accounts Del Close was a weird dude. Some call him a founder of improv, others guru or teacher: I think he is our patron saint. That to which we refer when we need a jolt of courage or a moment of irrational inspiration. There have been improv generations since then. I am rather cautious of the “great man” narrative that surrounds the well-worn narrative of “Del Close, founding father, perpetual King of improv and Final Word on the art.” However, I am told Del said we were to “Enchant and Horrify” and I feel like he knew what he was talking about. He once threw spaghetti into late night horror show audiences; he was a fire swallower, a provocateur, and an open, flayed heart in a cruel world.

From Saint Del we learn to push the possibilities too far. To engage the mud, the moon, the rain, the spit, the crude firmament of delight.

Show 1 footnote

  1. That picture up there is of Chris Trew doing a routine as Poseidon. It was also an impossibly inspiring show. Chris opened for Neil Hamburger at a rock club in Austin and my favorite joke of the evening was about sea weed.

The Weekly Format: House and Garden

NAME: House and Garden
IDEAL TEAM SIZE: 8+
HISTORY: House and Garden are a pair of plays written by Alan Ayckbourn, first performed in 1999. House takes place in the drawing room of an English country home and Garden takes place in the home’s garden as a party is being prepared. The plays are designed as a diptych and are performed simultaneously in theaters with two stages. The characters in both plays routinely exit House and enter Garden and vice versa. Each play can stand alone and be seen in any order, but seeing both allows you the ability to see the full picture.
THE BREAKDOWN: In a theater with two stages (or perhaps simply the street in front of the theater if such a thing cannot be found), two halves of the team begin a mono-scene. When the moment appears organically in either scene, characters will exit and enter the other mono-scene, tying the both together.
EXAMPLE: Good luck with this one, guys. I think I may have just invented the hardest form ever. Whomever pulls this one off gets the Yes And Award for the century.

Technically Speaking

Can you name a show that you’ve seen in the past year that was saved by the tech guy in the back?
Can you name a show in the past month that started and ended awkwardly because of the tech guy in the back?
Don’t answer those two questions because I can’t hear you and it’s a little strange to be verbally responding to a written rhetorical question. But you and I both know what I’m getting at. It’s incredibly rare to hear stories at the after-party about the amazing tech work. It’s a thankless job.
Well no more.
I’m here to say that working tech may in fact be the best thing a performer getting their start in improv could do. It’s easy to learn, easy to master, and ladies love a guy who can pull lights like a rock star. I got started doing tech at TNM months before I did my first show and it forced me to learn the ebb and flow of an improv set in a way that you just can’t see in a level 1 or 2 class.
All that running tech entails is handling the lights and sound that go on at the beginning and end of an improv set. For 90% of shows that’s your only concern. The reason why I believe most people get scared of running tech is the amount of variations that are available outside of these two very simple goals. Yes, you will have to run a sound board and a light panel, but with a little preparation these tasks can be reduced to a single button press during the show itself.
Bad tech comes from bad preparation and fear of disrupting the performance.  Good tech comes from trust in your instincts. Great tech comes from having the perfect Hall and Oates song ready to go.
Over the next few columns I’ll go over the nuts and bolts of tech, sprinkling in some real-world case studies as well as fantastical stories of how I out-drank Andre the Giant in Des Moines.