Improv Wins Interviews: Katie Holcomb

KATIEHOLCOMB
 
How long have you been doing improv? 14 years. I started in 2001 doing mainly shortform with ComedySportz, then started getting into longform somewhere around 2005. That’s when I started really digging into it, going to festivals, learning from improvisers from different cities who I looked up to. in 2009 we formed the Richmond Comedy Coalition which went on to become the Coalition Theater when we got our own space.
What is your preferred style of play? I like getting to the meat of a scene and heightening the game quick, so I’m usually making a lot of really big moves at the top of a scene or entering a scene to drop some heightening deets. I think about characters a lot, too, as the thing that’s guiding me in scenes.
What makes a great improv scene? (I’m not sure if you mean “scene” like literal scene in a show or “scene” like “citywide” so I wrote 1 for each of those for you to pick.)
SCENE LIKE IN A SHOW: Investing. Reacting. When everyone cares an intense amount about what is happening. I enjoy watching all kinds of improv- slow and steady, or quick and gamey, or deep and poignant- I’m a nerd for all of it, so all that matters to me is watching people believing their reality. Otherwise, your audience doesn’t trust to follow you.
SCENE LIKE IN A CITY: Inclusiveness and opportunities for people to do the kind of work they want to do. In Richmond, we’re very vocal about our students finding the people they want to work with and carving out their niche. Having nights where people can jam or do experimental sets is so important! And NOT keeping everything in one central location. I love our theater, the Coalition Theater, but we don’t hold the monopoly on performance opportunities. People are putting on shows at music venues, and at people’s houses, and I love going to see those shows because they’re a different vibe. Ummm, is it totally not punk to say a scene should feel punk? It should! I don’t care how old I sound!
What makes a great improv show? Focusing on the show-wide themes and threads that tie everything together. You have to be on the sides actively listening to everything so you can store little nuggets away and use them later. I give all the praises and snaps to the performers who are good at remembering the small details from 5 scenes ago to loop back into something relevant and blow an audience’s minds.
Tell us about your master class “Big Ass Character”. What can students expect to get out of it?  I’m focusing on specific character choices as a way to solidify strong perspectives, be weird but stay grounded in something real, and surprise yourself in scenes. Basically, characters are just what I gravitate towards doing for whatever reason, so I build out all my improv philosophies from that central point. Characters are just another vessel for all the other good stuff in improv; play a good character and you fall into a strong perspective, a personal game, a relationship with your scene partners etc. I’m really hoping I get some students who are on the opposite end of the spectrum from me; the improv technicians and patterns players, because I love making those two very different worlds collide to help each other.
You are also teaching another class on Saturday. Tell us about your “Removing Your Filter” workshop. It’s exactly what is sounds like! It’s all about following the fun things you want to say or do but that maybe you don’t explore because it’s not polite, or it’s not what you think good improv is, or you think it’s selfish. This class is all about being selfish and funny, like me!
What are you most excited about for Improv Wins? TOO MANY THINGS. Um, everything? The fact that I get to hang out and see/do shows with people I admire so very much. That I get to enjoy the NOLA improv scene in a way that is different from the usual festival experience. It’s so awesome to have a festival that is focused on learning/teaching as opposed to just the shows.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received for the stage? So, as a woman in comedy I’ve always been into the gender dynamics of improv and I like having conversations about it. Early on, I tended to play a lot of male characters but was finding that I could never make it clear enough I was a man; guys on stage with me would still refer to me as “she” or worse, make a joke about my character being butch. Deflating. I was asking Jen Caldwell advice about this years ago, and she said, next time it happens, stick your heels in and say “uhhhh, I’m a DUDE and next time you get it wrong I’m gonna punch your lights out.” Up until then I thought I had to acquiesce to someone else’s reality onstage; yes, and; blah blah blah. But in real life if someone calls a dude a chick, and that dude is firmly a dude, you better believe he’s gonna correct them. So why not onstage, too? It doesn’t have to get weird, there’s any number of reasons you can justify the mistaken identity and move on.

What’s the best piece of advice you can give? Follow the fun. Stick to your guns, but let yourself be affected. Also, half-jokingly but mostly true, my motto at our theater has become “Earn your dick jokes.” I think that speaks for itself.

Improv Wins Interviews: David Pijor

David Pijor

How long have you been doing improv?

16 years or so. I was fortunate enough to be in a school system that had a very active extracurricular program, so I’ve been doing improv in some form since I was 14.

What is your preferred style of play?

I think I equally love playing both slow and patient and fast w/ heightened emotions. I really like mixing up the pacing.

What makes a great improv scene?

Chemistry, trust, and honest discoveries

What makes a great improv show?

Confident performers who boldly follow the fun with each other.

Tell us about your master class “Don’t Think, Feel”. What can students expect to get out of it?

In this class we’ll focus on establishing honest, specific and consistent emotional perspectives at the top of the scene and then explore how our strict commitment to these choices can make navigating a scene easier on us and tons more fun.

You are also teaching another class on Saturday. Tell us about your “Stranger Danger” workshop.

I feel like a lot of improvisers are, with good reason, told to avoid “scenes with strangers” because of how question-heavy and surface-level the relationships tend to be. What we’ll focus on in this workshop is quickly cutting through the “politeness” that often plagues these kind of scenes, so that the improvisers are able dig into something interesting much quicker.

What are you most excited about for Improv Wins?

Getting to teach, learn and perform in another city. I’m especially looking forward to the faculty show on Sunday. Also, I just really love New Orleans. I’ve been to NOLA for Hell Yes Fest the past three years and I can’t wait to walk around the the streets again with a drink in my hand and a po’ boy on my mind.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received for the stage?

“Try playing characters who are genuinely happy.”

What’s the best piece of advice you can give?

The best form of support you can give your scene partner(s) is to allow yourself to be affected by them.

David Pijor is a co-founder of Coalition Theater in Richmond, Virginia.  David is teaching two workshops this weekend at Improv Wins.  He will be teaching a basic workshop on Saturday at 3:30 entitled “Stranger Danger”.  He will also teach a master class on Sunday morning at 10am entitled “Don’t Think. Feel.”  You can sign up at ImprovWins.com.

Improv Wins Interviews: Derek Dupuy

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How long have you been performing?
I’ve been performing for around six or seven years.
What is your comedic background?
I’m an improviser and sketch comedian.  I’m a co-founder of The New Movement in New Orleans.  I am a founding member of the sketch group Stupid Time Machine.  I have performed all over the country in countless comedy festivals as well as toured a few times.  I also served as Artistic Director for over three years at TNM Nola.
What did your job as Artistic Director teach you?
It taught me, through mistakes and successes, how to build things out from a programming perspective.  It taught me how to gauge people and try to get the best out of them.  It taught me peoples limits.  It gave me a good eye for weak points and strengths, in players, groups, and productions.  It developed my problem solving eye.  And it really allowed me to see the little things that make a show succeed or fail as a whole.
You are teaching two workshops this weekend.  Traditionally, you have taught improv workshops at the conference.  This year you are teaching two subjects that have more to do with production and promotion.  Why is that?
While I really enjoy teaching improv, I feel as though so much is covered at the conference that I’d rather give something that I feel is needed a bit more than simply my take on improv.  Both of these workshops address topics that often fall by the wayside.  Topics that most people could use a little more knowledge on.  Things that we assume people can figure out and things that people assume will be easy.  It’s the stuff that falls through the cracks.
On Saturday at 3:30pm, you are teaching a workshop called “Becoming Box Office”.  Tell us about that.
This workshop is a guide to promoting your show and building your group’s brand.  I watch groups constantly fizzle out and fall apart because they never grow their brand.  They end up MAYBE putting up a Facebook event if someone gets on them enough and some of the group invite people and plug it and others don’t.  That is the typical response.  I want to show people how to get creative.  I really think that everyone in a group can get behind a good plan but the key is having a plan.  I’m going to share some creative ways to draw consistent crowds and gain a following that makes performing even more fun and rewarding.  Why wouldn’t you want to perform in front of big crowds?  You can and it’s a lot easier than you think.  I want to help people formulate a plan for success for your group.  It’s far more rewarding when it’s going well.
Why is that important?
Because a bigger crowd equals more energy, more of an audience sample to ply your craft, more of a fun time, and more opportunity.  You’ll get better quicker with big shows and it’s not work if it’s fun.
 
Who do you hope to attract to this workshop?
 
Anyone and everyone who is in a group or wants to produce a show.  I at least hope that groups can look at this and send one or two people who can mine the information I share and bring it back to their group.  I just want to help people have better crowds and build a name for themselves.  It’s the next step of the ride and it’s shocking how many people don’t get to experience it.  I just want to help.
You are also teaching another workshop. On Sunday at 2, you are teaching The Beast of Live Sketch.  What does that workshop entail?
I think it’s become very trendy to do sketch.  Everyone is filming sketches.  Everyone is putting up a sketch at some mic or sketch jam.  People do that, get a taste for it, and then they make the natural jump to doing some form of a full length live show.  And that’s when things gets exposed.  A live sketch show is not an easy thing to do.  From the casting to the writing to the staging, etc. People become overwhelmed and learn the hard way that you can make a thousand mistakes before the show even starts.  I want to cut out people’s workload so they can hit the ground running.
What is the main thing that has to be present to prevent mistakes?
Respect.  You have to respect the process and respect your audience.  Live sketch is selfless in a lot of ways.  It’s not about one person getting their shit in.  It’s not about the group just making themselves chuckle.  And it certainly isn’t about just getting up there and doing it. There is a rhythm to it.  A flow.  You have to build a machine that churns out a good product.  It starts in the writers room and it ends at the blackout but everything in between counts a lot.  From the transition music to the number of chairs on the stage.  The details matter.
What is a great piece of advice that you can share?
It’s funny.  I was watching CJ Hunt’s one man show last week and he has a great sketch where he reads a monologue from Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday.  And as funny as it is, the speech within the sketch actually got me thinking.  The speech is about football and life being a game of inches.  And how each little inch adds up and, at the end, that’s the difference between winning and losing.  Too many people go out in comedy and they think that getting on stage and displaying their talent is the victory.  But it’s about the inches.  You have to put in the work before you get on the stage and after you get off.  If you don’t care about the little things, the inches, you can’t get to the goal line.  And losing in comedy is when you know it felt off and someone says, “That was fun.”.  Let’s count the inches….because fuck that.
Derek Dupuy will teach a workshop entitled “Becoming Box Office” at 13:30pm on Saturday as part of the basic Improv Wins conference pass.  She will also be teaching another basic class on Sundayat 2pm entitled “The Beast of Live Sketch”.  Signup at www.ImprovWins.com.
 
You can find him at his websites www.derekdupuy.com (personal) and www.stupidtimemachine.com(sketch group).  You can also follow him on his Twitter accounts @derekdupuy and @STMcomedy.

Improv Wins interviews: Shyla Ray

SHYLA
How long have you been doing improv?
Seven years. Though I performed unscripted theater for many years before that and competed improv competitions when I was in school, but the real deal started in a class taught by Tami Nelson in 2008.
What is your preferred style of play?
 
I’m teaching a workshop on styles of strength because I love different playing styles! My current improv passion is mastering versatility; being capable of enjoying playing a silly light game of the scene just as much as emotionally powerful grounded improv. 
What makes a great improv scene?
 
A great improv scene is two or more people on stage going for the same goal and getting there together. 

What makes a great improv show?
 
Its a great improv show when the audience cares a lot about what happens. The audience may be riveted because they can’t stop laughing, or they believe the reality of the piece, or they are impressed by the performer’s bravery, or their skill – but the important part is that the audience is “buying in” to the show as much as the performers are. When an audience forgets to take pictures, but remembers the details of what they loved in the show, that’s been a damn fine improv show. 
Tell us about your master class “Your Strength, To The Max”. What can students expect to get out of it?
 
I’ve taught improv in a lot of contexts. I’ve instructed corporate improv workshops for engineers, marketers, salespeople, clergy, and people who work places that have “capital” and “energy” in the names, I teach improv at a University, I’ve taught festival workshops for years, and of course created a curriculum for the comedy theater I founded. As different as those groups are, I believe something everyone wants to get out of improv is a chance to know themselves better. So that is a main goal of this workshop; to give attendees a chance to find out what is unique about them and how they naturally do improv. My other conviction is that improvisers really start to soar when they can play with people who approach things differently than them. So “Your Strength to the Max” is geared to let people find and master what they naturally do best and then help them see how to use those skills to help them enjoy playing with anybody. 
You are also teaching another class on Saturday. Tell us about your “Captivating” workshop.
I can’t say too much about the “Captivating” workshop. Most of it is secret and can only be revealed in the class, so in a way, anything could happen. Sword swallowing does feature prominently as does Mr. Rogers. I’ll say this though, the workshop covers the most overlooked part of an improv scene and guides the participants toward mastering something few improvisers can do.
What are you most excited about for Improv Wins?
 
I am most excited about seeing friends, playing, and teaching in this magnificent new TNM theater during the first ever New Orleans Improv Wins Conference! I love to be there at the start of great things; its a pattern for me. 

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received for the stage?
 
When I first started doing improv I was very critical on myself about my performance after almost every improv show. It was very hard for me to take compliments from fellow performers or audience members. Tej, a performer I respected, lost his patience with me and said exasperatedly “Love what you do!” I enjoyed doing improv, but I let self-criticism ruin it for me. That advice was simple but sound; love what you do. 
What’s the best piece of advice you can give?
 
Strive to act with integrity and extravagant generosity – improvise the same way.  
Shyla Ray will teach a workshop entitled “Captivating” at 11:30am on Saturday as part of the basic Improv Wins conference pass.  She will also be teaching a Master Class on Sunday at 2pm entitled “Your Strength, To The Max”.  Signup at www.ImprovWins.com.