What is Improv? The simple definition creating music, theater, art etc from scratch or based on a theme, exploring new directions etc.... In its application, Improv takes on dozens of possible styles. Beyond Long Form V Short Form, You have the one person shows, two person shows, .. ten person shows; You have the understated - "Lets try not to be funny" versus the over the top trying WAY TO HARD to be funny; The straight play versus big broadway styles; In other words there is no one way to do Improv. In this city (New York) The down town theater style reigns supreme as the bench mark of "Good Theater" Less is more. Starving artist is better than successful commercial actor.
I had a patron come to the show tonight. Almost two hours early, he had a comp ticket from one of the many papering websites out there we recently listed to help promote LMAO (www.lmao-nyc.com) This gentleman presented himself as one who sees a lot of theater. Running out of fresh ideas and seeing free tickets avail, he gave us a shot. But even as he arrived he had questions. I engaged him in a 45-60 minute discussion about what our show was about. Upon hearing the word "IMPROV" he decided to run out the door in horror and disgust. Or at least almost. We talked further, asking where he had scene Improv. He mentioned seeing Baby Wants Candy ( I think that is what he meant - "Musical improv show at the fringe") And he liked that. But anything else he despised. He talked about a one man show, a few UCB presentations etc. I had to explain while the best Improv might be in NYC, certainly the best talent base, you have to sift through endless number of student and showcase productions to find the pros. Still an hour early he left. I was surprised to see him back at five minutes before show time. I can only imagin he went and got tickets for FELA!, only to return once FELA was canceled due to injury and illness.
90 minutes LATER
After the show, fearing the worst (even though this show kicked the ass out of LMAO) I ducked away to clean up. Spero was the cornered for 45 minutes. Apparently, we are Gods gift to improv. "Genius" " Brilliant" etc I would argue we are far from it, but I really think this brings up a growing concern I have about the IMPROV community.
Years ago, Improv in general (and still is) the scourge of theater snobs even though Improv is the corner stone of any good theater development. The actor and writer and director often if not always use Improv as a tool to develop new works or to re-interpret classics. But actual IMPROV performances were beneath these theater snobs. In recent years, we now have a whole class of IMPROV snobs that I feel give the whole art form a bad name. Mostly because the IMPROV these snobs promote is not in least entertaining beyond their friends that keep getting dragged to the same shows. There is a very small community that like a certain style of Improv heavily promoted in NYC. That community is very devoted and return enough to keep a small showcase theater filled often. Or these theaters like smaller comedy clubs, produce enough amatuer shows with friends and family packing to make it look busy and popular. Other shows that charge $5 and star TV names having some fun on an off night will sell out no matter how crappy the actual show is. Many theaters make most of their money off of teaching classes and promising the chance of being discovered by SNL etc, when all they are doing is creating income for themselves and new fans. But 90-95% of the real world - paying public as opposed to starving artists and students - want to see a real show. It is possible to make Improv a real show. With professional actors with real experience on big stages etc. I have to say here that I am not against long-form improv. The Harold and other examples are amazing when performed by professionals. But they are also incredibly painful when performed by wannabe comics as opposed to real actors.
So we converted another non-believer out there in the theater snob world that is actually possible for Improv to be a viable source of entertainment full of talent driven thought provoking humor mixed with zany slapstick. Tonight's show was a great blend of political savy, pop culture bashing and original characters and scenes but also included some rocking music and crazing bouncing off the wals physical humor. I even threw in some tricky tap dancing - Maxi Fords and Double - Triple time steps. We have kids in the room, 20-35 yos looking for edgier comedy and a few of the theater folks 60 plus hanging out by them selves. They all left with a smile and most with roaring discussion of the show.
So what is point?
I still do not know how to describe this show to convince you (say the guy/gal on the street) to come see this show. When i say what it is, i often spark the images of a lot of crap they have scene that scares them away. But nearly all that see the show love it. There is a reason Phantom and Mamma Mia make so much money while theater snobs globally trash the shows. They are fun. Easy to understand. Simple melodies most can hum along to or even sing in the shower. Nothing brilliant in the artistic creation, BUT brilliant there efforts to appeal to the masses.
As an actor i would love to perform Mamet and Shakespeare and numerous mindful scripts in the centuries between, spending all day long perfecting the rhythm of speeches and the depth of characters. But I have to admit as a theater goer, the best show I have everyscene on Bway is Crazy for You. Gershwin music, slapstick comedy and amazing Tap dancing. That being said I would still see some crappy scifi movie to numb my mind.
As a singer/musician I would prefer Opera or really experimental Jazz. Challenging technique and classical skills and/or exploring new depths of dissonance and rhythm both intrigue me. But I find it painful sitting through most opera for three ours. Although one of my favorite past times is to sit in a corner at a Jazz club and listen to musicians converse in the language of notes, harmonies and rhythm selfishly assuming I am the only spectator realizing the true genius of the experience while most try to talk and drink and clap appreciatively. Their background entertainment is food for my soul....
Still not wrapping it up am I....
Well I am tired. Exhausted. Cold. But far from bitter. We had 5 amazing shows. Friday night in Beacon Falls, CT. 4 Shows in 2 days at the theater. Crowds varied in size and responsiveness, but the casts were amazing. And the response upon exit was consistent. AWESOME!!!
Give LMAO a shot. 2500 audiences in 5 years cannot be wrong. The 100s of regulars that we see monthly, the dozens of schools that come every year with groups of 100-200 student because the teachers love us, and the 1000s of skeptics that leave the theaters converted into IMPROV fans cannot be wrong. And not only are we trying to raise Improv to another level, we are producing it under a union contract, employing many up and coming as well as establish Bway/Tv credited performers.
See you at the theater