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Posts tagged Mantown improv

On March 28, improv powerhouses Mantown and Notorious (featuring Ashley Botting) come together to use their power for good, with a hilarious night of comedy to benefit Haven Toronto, a drop-in centre serving homeless, marginally housed, and socially isolated men age 50 and over. Producer Mat Mailandt described his experience working with the men from Haven:

“Every day I walk by homeless people. I never know what to do or say. Do I make eye contact and smile? Do I apologize for not giving any change? Do I ignore them completely? I’m confronted on a daily basis by my privilege, and saddened by their lives. Generally I feel hopeless and overwhelmed; truthfully, these interactions make me very uncomfortable.

It was with this sense of discomfort that I visited Haven Toronto for the first time. I’d arranged to train some of their guys to improvise. Walking in, I was incredibly nervous. I didn’t know what to say, if I’d act in a way that would offend someone, or if the men would be open to doing improv.

The second I walked, everyone turned and looked at me. I clearly stood out. Someone said ‘You look like a lawyer!’ I replied, ‘I’m not, but I’ll take that as a compliment.’ I smiled, took a deep breath and reminded myself that everything worth doing is scary.

The first class started like any other: chairs in a circle, eye contact, introductions. I expected the process to be difficult; I figured these guys would have built up some walls, understandably. I thought some of them would get up and leave the workshop with no warning.

What I discovered pretty quickly was these men were some of the most open, kind and supportive students I’d ever worked with. Within minutes we were laughing and cracking jokes. They all entered into exercises with enthusiasm, took feedback well, and told stories about their lives. They shared things they loved, like one former truck driver who missed meeting women on the road, especially in Kansas. Another guy talked about his struggles trying to find an apartment amongst the waves of Syrian refugees looking for the same thing. These men seemed to have so little, but they still have an incredible ability to create. Their perspectives were diverse, touching and shockingly, full of hope.

Now I’ve completed my training sessions with them. On Tuesday, they’ll perform in a fundraiser show for the organisation that supports them. I’m excited to raise some money for a worthy cause. But equally important is that these guys are going to get the chance to get onstage. Our goal is to shine the light on elder homelessness. And we’re going to do it. Literally.

A friend of mine told me we’re all one life event away from being homeless. That really resonated with me. For most of my life I’ve felt sympathy for those less fortunate, but basically I’ve done nothing to help. My excuse was always that I’m broke and so what could I give? I can barely pay rent, let alone donate to charity. What I now realize is that I do have time. And I know how to listen.

The whole experience at Haven was less about improv and more about sharing. I shared my expertise and time and they shared their experiences, their struggles and their joys. What I realized is that in that room, the one with the most walls was me. The hardest part was walking in the door. The rest, I improvised.

About the event:

A night of improv to benefit Haven Toronto, featuring top Canadian comedians and a very special performance by Haven members. Hosted by comedic duo and real-life bothers Freddie Rivas (Rapp Battlz) and Miguel Rivas (The Beaverton).

Tickets are $20, available here. For more info visit: www.notimprov.com

March 28, 8:00 p.m., Comedy Bar Cabaret, 945 Bloor Street West

 

When one of Canada’s longest-running improv teams-slash-shows makes changes, it’s big news.

When one of those changes involves adding more X chromosomes to a show called Mantown, it’s even bigger.

Founded in 2006 by Adam Cawley, Jason DeRosse and Rob Norman, along with former Big City Improv Festival Artistic Director, Bob Banks, Mantown has been hosted by Rob Baker for the past seven years.

Now some of Toronto’s rising stars are joining in the debauchery: Sharjil Rasool (Second City Touring Co), Andrew Bushell (Bamboo Kids Club, Fake Cops), Carson Gale (Moist Theatre), Leanne Miller (Bae Watch, Abra Cadaver), Geoffrey Cork (Orson Whales) and Noemi Salamon (Chakra Khan, Orson Whales).

We trust that they’re all legal drinking age.

You can enter the city of Mantown the first Friday of every month, 10:30 pm at Comedy Bar.

Image © Mantown

Image © Mantown

“No one who grew up watching comedy says, ‘One day I hope to do openings.’” – Matt Besser

Whether you agree with Besser or not, openings are a fact of longform life. If you’ve been on a Harold team for any length of time, you’ve probably grappled with what form your opening should take, how long it should be, and what (if anything) to take from it.

We’ve all seen – and God knows I’ve been in – plenty of terrible openings. They’re instantly identifiable by:

• “whooshing” sounds

• players standing in a semi-circle, waiting for someone else to make a move

• one player making a move while everyone else watches

If you find yourself struggling with openings, here are some tips to help you get more out of them. Whatever you do, it’ll be exponentially better if you commit to whatever is happening right now.

Standards & Practices are known for their high energy, character-driven openings. They start with a word and quickly generate ideas, characters and situations using physicality and soundscapes. These may or may not come back later in the show.

Watch how they go from zero to 60, forming different points of view while staying connected in this opening:

Sometimes their openings are so physical, they go into their first scenes out of breath. The opening isn’t a separate entity; it’s an integral part of the set. And check out that time: just under two minutes, or about the length of a good youtube video.

Get Cooler Gets

The drunk guy in the third row has been waiting all night for this. If you just say “Can I have a one-word suggestion?” odds are he’ll yell out “Fuck!” or “Shit!” or the more imaginative “Dickwad!”

Instead of making them go through their mind dictionary, help the audience by narrowing it down. For example:

“Can I have a location that would fit on this stage?”

“What’s your favourite sport/colour/product?”

“What’s something you would never pack on a vacation?”

“What’s a tattoo you’ve always wanted?”

It doesn’t really matter what the question is. Just keep it as short and focused as possible. And if the first suggestion is “shit,” wait for another. There’s nothing set in stone that says you have to take the first suggestion. Be choosy.

“If we’re on the same stage, we’re on the same page.” – Joe Bill

It sounds so basic, but the most important thing you can do in an opening is agree. However many players are on stage, your opening will be stronger and more dynamic if you build on each other’s ideas right from the start. That means really listening to whoever initiates, yes-anding and either matching or heightening their physicality, behaviour, voice, and whatever else they put out there.

Like scenes, your openings will be so much better if whatever you’re doing, you commit, fully and joyfully.

Information, Sound & Movement, and Stage Picture

Too much stand-and-talk is boring. Look for ways to add to what’s being created. You can:

• Narrate the action

• Scene paint

• Use your environment to create a more interesting stage picture. If the suggestion is “baseball,” maybe you take up positions on the stage like a baseball diamond.

• Become an object. Someone taking the form of a physical object is always more interesting to watch than an empty stage.

• For bonus cool points, use symmetry. If someone moves on one side of the stage, mirror them.

Go Deep, Not Broad

It’s easy to go on a tangent and start listing things (“salad ingredients,” as Jet Eveleth aptly calls them).

Player #1: We see a ball.

Player #2: It’s a colourful beachball.

Player #3: There’s a man holding it.

Was Player #3 listening? Absolutely, and you could argue he yes-anded. But in openings you want to go deep, not broad.

Explore the first thing until you’ve exhausted it, before you move on to something else. Is the ball made in China? Is it partly deflated? Does it have shark toothmarks on one side?

A Word About Length

During a rehearsal, my team got the suggestion “shining.” I initiated with “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” One of my teammates stepped out and said “Heeeeeeere’s Dave!” Others joined in: “Heeeeeere’s Marcie!” “Heeeeeere’s Donna!”

We went on to a second and third beat of that opening, but our coach pointed out that we could have ended it after the first. “Your set could be about exploring each of those characters you initiated.”

Boom!

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

“Decide what you want from an opening. Once you’ve got that, you can end it.” – Cameron Algie

In other words, you don’t need three beats, and it doesn’t have to be five minutes long, unless that’s what the team feels like it needs.

Finding Your Own Style

After you’ve performed as a team for a while, you’ll probably find yourselves gravitating towards a specific kind of opening. Then you can really have fun exploring it.

Mantown is another team with a signature opening style. They stand and face the audience, beer in hand, and deliver short monologues based on a word or topic. But really, they’re taking turns trying to make each other laugh. The audience goes crazy for it. Here’s a sample from one of their shows:

Adam Cawley: Sega Genesis was the better Sega.

Bob Banks: Better than the master system? Of course. It was the second generation of the master system. That’s like saying Super Nintendo is better than Nintendo. Yes!

Jason DeRosse: Genesis was the second-coolest book in the Bible.

Bob Banks: It was also the second-best time in Phil Collins’s life.

Like S&P, they throw out tons of information that they can use to inspire the set – or not. The monologues are fun in and of themselves. You can see a Mantown opening by clicking here here.

For another, thoughtful take on openings, check out this guest post by Erik Voss.

Photo © People & Chairs

Photo © People & Chairs

Imagine a place where beer flows like water, fearlessness is a way of life, and shirtlessness is always an option.

Welcome to Mantown, an improvised frat party featuring Adam Cawley, Bob Banks, Jason DeRosse and Rob Norman.

What began as a side project has turned into one of Toronto’s longest-running comedy shows. They perform to packed houses the first Friday of each month at Comedy Bar, from 10:30 p.m. till the last person is wheeled out from an overdose of awesomeness.

We caught up with Bob, Adam and Rob to talk about improvising, childhood heroes, and vuvuzelas for the inaugural All In interview…

“No one who grew up watching comedy says, ‘One day I hope to do openings.’” – Matt Besser

Whether you agree with Besser or not, openings are a fact of longform life. If you’ve been on a Harold team for any length of time, you’ve probably grappled with:

• what form your opening should take

• how long it should be, and

• what (if anything) to take from it

We’ve all seen – and God knows I’ve been in – plenty of terrible openings. They tend to include:

• “whooshing” sounds

• players standing in a semi-circle, waiting for someone else to make a move

• one player making a move while everyone else watches

If you find yourself struggling with openings, here are some tips to help you get more out of them. Whatever you do, it’ll be exponentially better if you commit to whatever is happening right now.

Standards & Practices is a team famous for their high energy, character-driven openings. They start with a word and quickly generate ideas, characters and situations using physicality and soundscapes. These may or may not come back later in the show.

Watch how they go from zero to 60, forming different points of view while staying connected in this opening:

Sometimes their openings are so physical, they go into their first scenes out of breath. The opening isn’t a separate entity; it’s an integral part of the set. And check out that time: just under two minutes, or about the length of a good youtube video.

Get Cooler Gets

The drunk guy in the third row has been waiting all night for this. If you just say “Can I have a one-word suggestion?” odds are he’ll yell out “Fuck!” or “Shit!” or the more imaginative “Dickwad!”

Instead of making them go through their mind dictionary, help the audience by narrowing it down. For example:

“Can I have a location that would fit on this stage?”

“What’s your favourite sport/colour/product?”

“What’s something you would never pack on a vacation?”

“What’s a tattoo you’ve always wanted?”

It doesn’t really matter what the question is. Just keep it as short and focused as possible. And if the first suggestion is “shit,” wait for another. There’s nothing set in stone that says you have to take the first suggestion. Be choosy.

“If we’re on the same stage, we’re on the same page.” – Joe Bill

It sounds so basic, but the most important thing you can do in an opening is agree. However many players are on stage, your opening will be stronger and more dynamic if you build on each other’s ideas right from the start. That means really listening to whoever initiates, yes-anding and either matching or heightening their physicality, behaviour, voice, and whatever else they put out there.

Like scenes, your openings will be so much better if whatever you’re doing, you commit, fully and joyfully.

Information, Sound & Movement, and Stage Picture

Too much stand-and-talk is boring. Look for ways to add to what’s being created. You can:

• Narrate the action

• Scene paint

• Use your environment to create a more interesting stage picture. If the suggestion is “baseball,” maybe you take up positions on the stage like a baseball diamond.

• Become an object. Someone taking the form of a physical object is always more interesting to watch than an empty stage.

• For bonus cool points, use symmetry. If someone moves on one side of the stage, mirror them.

Go Deep, Not Broad

It’s easy to go on a tangent and start listing things (“salad ingredients,” as Jet Eveleth aptly calls them).

Player #1: We see a ball.

Player #2: It’s a colourful beachball.

Player #3: There’s a man holding it.

Was Player #3 listening? Absolutely, and you could argue he yes-anded. But in openings you want to go deep, not broad.

Explore the first thing until you’ve exhausted it, before you move on to something else. Is the ball made in China? Is it partly deflated? Does it have shark toothmarks on one side?

A Word About Length

During a rehearsal, my team got the suggestion “shining.” I initiated with “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!” One of my teammates stepped out and said “Heeeeeeere’s Dave!” Others joined in: “Heeeeeere’s Marcie!” “Heeeeeere’s Donna!”

We went on to a second and third beat of that opening, but our coach pointed out that we could have ended it after the first. “Your set could be about exploring each of those characters you initiated.”

Boom!

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

“Decide what you want from an opening. Once you’ve got that, you can end it.” – Cameron Algie

In other words, you don’t need three beats, and it doesn’t have to be five minutes long, unless that’s what the team feels like it needs.

Finding Your Own Style

After you’ve performed as a team for a while, you’ll probably find yourselves gravitating towards a specific kind of opening. Then you can really have fun exploring it.

Mantown is another team with a signature opening style. They stand and face the audience, beer in hand, and deliver short monologues based on a word or topic. But really, they’re taking turns trying to make each other laugh. The audience goes crazy for it. Here’s a sample from one of their shows:

Adam Cawley: Sega Genesis was the better Sega.

Bob Banks: Better than the master system? Of course. It was the second generation of the master system. That’s like saying Super Nintendo is better than Nintendo. Yes!

Jason DeRosse: Genesis was the second-coolest book in the Bible.

Bob Banks: It was also the second-best time in Phil Collins’s life.

Like S&P, they throw out tons of information that they can use to inspire the set – or not. The monologues are fun in and of themselves. You can see a Mantown opening by clicking here.

For another, thoughtful take on openings, check out this guest post by Erik Voss.

Photo © Steve Hobbs