Posts tagged Gary Rideout Jr

There’s nothing quite like the high you get coming off of a great set. But while improvisers get to bask in the spotlight, some of their funniest moments wouldn’t exist without the skill and support of a very special person: the Tech Guy (or Gal).

To the audience they’re invisible, but make no mistake: he or she can make or break your show.

“Pulling the lights on an improv scene is hard,” says Rob Norman. “You have to have a supreme confidence to know when it’s over. To find the biggest laugh of the scene. Sometimes 30 seconds in. Sometimes waiting for 17 minutes.

But also there’s an egolessness about it. It’s not about adding sound effects. Or playing ‘funny’ songs from the booth. You are highlighting success and distracting from failure.

When tech is done right, no one sees your invisible hand. But you have to be completely confident in your job. So egoless that no one knows you’re adding essential elements to what’s happening onstage.”

It’s not easy to sit in a dark, cramped booth, changing lights and cueing songs at a second’s notice. But what about when tech goes wrong? We’ve all seen shows that suffered from poor technical choices. Things like…

• playing, shall we say, idiosyncratic music before a show (emo, nu-metal), instead of stuff that will pump up the crowd

* pulling lights way too early (like, 10 minutes in to a 25-minute Harold)

• not pulling lights, long after a show has died a slow, awkward, squirm-inducing (did we mention slow?) death

Learning how to tech a show takes time, and the only way to learn is on the job.

On the flip side, there are some are very talented light and sound technicians. In Toronto we’re fortunate to have folks like Darryl Pring, Gord Oxley, and Josh Murray toiling behind the scenes to make performers look good. And perhaps no one is more respected, even revered, than Mark Andrada.

Photo © David Leyes

Photo © David Leyes

Like Robocop or Steve Austin, Mark operates on an almost other-worldly level. To find out how he does it, we asked the community. If you want to know what qualities make a great technician, read on.

“[Mark] is a very skilled clown and improviser, so he gets it. He gets the timing of a joke or blowline, he gets where a scene starts and therefore where it should end. He can anticipate what’s about to happen and lend to it with a lighting change or music or even over the microphone. And if you don’t want him involved you can ask him to stay out and he’s not offended, unless he decides to jump in and fuck with you anyway.” – Gary Rideout Jr

“He is often the best improviser in the room – and that’s behind the tech booth. I’ve seen his tech choices save scenes and make them better, and I’ve been there when his choices are the scene. He is insanely quick with improvised tech cues, and they are always on point.” – Matt Folliott

“The shows Mark techs are alive. There’s this feeling of security when he’s in the booth. I trust him immensely. But also there’s this feeling of danger which I love, because he’s good enough to fuck with you and heighten what’s going on, so again, it’s like there’s an all-seeing, omnipotent being watching over the show and pushing you to play better. Oh, and he also appreciates and respects good theatre. So he knows how to push the boundaries of what’s possible.” – Isaac Kessler

“Mark Andrada puts a huge amount of effort into making sure Mantown is the best [show] it can be every month. We throw a lot at him and he’s never complained, been frustrated or unreliable.

Just this last Mantown, we had a pre-recorded insult that was supposed to show up in our second audience interaction game. We assumed the audience was going to have a hard time reading a joke we had written down and we could play the recorded “T-T-Today junior” from Billy Madison. However, Rob Baker got a little confused while explaining a game in the first half of the show and instantly Mark Andrada played the insult and it was perfectly timed and unexpected. The audience blew up with laughter and Rob Baker blushed, as he does.” – Adam Cawley

And there you have it. A great tech person listens, watches, pushes, and plays, shaping and heightening what’s happening, and lifting the performers, the audience, and the show.

It’s a demanding and often thankless task, so let’s show them some appreciation. For all those who do it, week after week, in Montreal, Vancouver, New York, Chicago, LA, London, and beyond, this one’s for you…

Today marks the launch of Toronto’s new independent improv fest, Big City Improv Festival. We asked Gary Rideout Jr of Comedy Bar for the 411.

P&C: This is the first annual Big City Improv Festival. What’s different about it from festivals Toronto has seen in the past?

GRJ: I think the thing I’m most excited about is the production team. There are a lot of passionate improv people involved, and everyone’s not afraid to share the workload so that everything gets done with plenty of time and attention. As someone who’s been an Associate Producer with Toronto Sketchfest since day one, I know it takes great leadership and a solid support team to build a great festival.

Julie Dumais produced the Combustion festival for a few years and she did a great job. I think it took something like that to prove we could put on a world class improv festival here in the city of Toronto. Something that would help our reputation in other markets, and something that would show the international acts that we have great audiences who do support good improv.

P&C. Comedy Bar has become a hub for improv, attracting some of the best local and out-of-town talent. What kind of acts can people expect on both the main stage and side stage at this year’s festival?

GRJ: I can tell you that with the production team involved, cultivating submissions from the best local, national and international acts won’t be a problem.

That said, coming up with a great festival schedule is like coming up with a good running order for a sketch show, or composing a great piece of music. There’s ebb and flow, and there will be both massive highlights and hidden gems. There’ll be party shows and thought-provoking shows, all with the onus being on what is funny and now, and what, with this great opportunity, can we present to the public to get them coming out to see improv, not just every night of the festival, but year round.

Festivals are a great place to showcase local favourites or have a local show become a new local favourite. The lingering effects of a great performance here can translate into continued success for that act.

P&C: Are there any special guests planned?

GRJ: We’re tinkering with the idea of some special guests. Bringing in someone famous helps get press for the festival as a whole, and gives a bunch of improvisers the opportunity they might not have otherwise to perform with someone cool. That said, with this being our first year it’s also important to focus on all the already-great local acts that exist in this city, and help expose them to the general public and let them know they can see those acts year round.

P&C: There’s been an explosion of interest in improv in the last few years. What do you think accounts for this?

GRJ: It’s crazy. I’ve always had a theory that the interest in styles of comedy goes in waves. For awhile, everyone’s doing stand-up, then sketch gets big for awhile, right now we’re in an improv boom.

The Second City Training Centre expanded and always seems to be full, and everytime I see a Bad Dog class in the cabaret at Comedy Bar, it’s full. It’s a great time.

I think before Comedy Bar, there were opportunities to perform improv but you really had to be pro-active in terms of finding a space where you could produce an “improv show.”  In some ways improv was being looked at as an exercise you do just to get better at improv. So you go on stage for 25 minutes and then sit around and get told by someone else what they would have said or done in that situation.

With Comedy Bar, it’s kind of paint by numbers; you pitch a “show concept,” then you produce and perform that show for an audience. Bad Dog and National Theatre of the World have strived to put a focus on the value of improv as the presented artform, not just the vehicle to get to the content. Other acts see that and are doing the same thing in their own way. Improv is the show.

One of the first things I did with Catch23 when we brought it to Comedy Bar was move it from Mondays to Fridays. I wanted more people to see the show and the stories that come out of it, not just in the scenes but in the fake competition and relationships between judge, audience and players. It’s always packed, and almost always a great show. (I said “almost” there on purpose, I can’t help being a little bit critical.)

P&C. What’s the vision for the future of Big City Improv Festival?

GRJ: Big City Improv Festival has an opportunity to be the improv festival that properly represents the city, and all the great performers that call Toronto home. It’s something we’ve desperately needed for a very long time, and something that could go a long way to help Toronto’s reputation internationally

The festival runs October 15-20 at Comedy Bar.

Image © Big City Improv Festival