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Posts tagged Matt Baram

Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus are inseparable, both onstage and off. They’re Second City alumni, founding members of the National Theatre of the World, and creators of a new sketch revue, Baram & Snieckus: You And Me Both. We asked them about their unique brand of chemistry.

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P&C: How and when did you meet?

Matt: I was just coming back from a west coast swing with the Second City Touring Company. In fact I had to leave the tour early because my mother had passed away. And at the same time, I found out that the rest of the Touring Company had been let go and replaced. And when I came back to work, I saw Naomi’s headshot on our touring manager’s desk and I was intrigued to find out who the new firecracker was. Because I knew everyone else but I didn’t know her.

Naomi: Right, because I crashed the auditions. I happened to be in town visiting friends. So you wouldn’t know me. And we ran into each other outside of Second City.

Matt: And you had told me that your-

Naomi: My grandmother passed away that morning.

Matt: And so there was an immediate um…

Naomi: Connection.

Matt: Right. And I told her I was going to get a coffee, did she want one?

Naomi: And I thought that was lovely. I don’t know why I was so moved.

Matt: Had anyone else asked you?

Naomi: Nobody else has ever asked me if I wanted coffee before that.

Matt: In your life?

Naomi: Nope.

Matt: There you go. And so there we were in front of Second City with our coffees. Both of us dealing with so much. Naomi having just moved to Toronto from Vancouver. Her grandmother just passed away. And there I was, all of my friends had just been let go and I was about to meet my new company, and my mother had just passed away.

Naomi: Little did we know, we were about to start this new chapter together. A partnership that would take us to where we are today. Baram and Snieckus.

P&C: When did you know you liked each other?

Matt: Well we started doing Main-stage and we discovered our chemistry together. We started to create more and more together until it became annoying to others in the company I’m sure.

Naomi: We began to build up this stockpile of relationship material. If there was a relationship scene at Second City from 2003 – 2006, chances are, we were in it. If someone else wanted to do a couple scene, we would come and say, no!

Matt: Yes, we would come and we would threaten them. Relationship premises was our turf.

Naomi: We slowly realized that we had gone through the entire evolution of a relationship together in the sketches we were developing.

Matt: That’s right. There was the First Date Couple, Couple Running Out Of Gas, Proposal Couple, Sleeping Together Couple,  Anniversary Couple, Dominatrix Couple. We even did a sketch where we played two dogs falling in love.

Naomi: And we would spend all that time creating together. And performing together on stage. And so in a way, the audience knew that we were in love before we did.

Matt: It was a complicated time beyond belief because we were both in committed relationships. We both loved our partners deeply but we also couldn’t ignore how special our relationship was becoming. It was literally the best of times and the worst of times.

P&C: Wow. So, what’s the funniest moment you’ve had onstage together?

Matt: For me, I think it’s hard to think of the funniest moment we’ve had because we are so invested in the moments and it’s hard to step back and really enjoy them. But that being said, we also record a great deal of what we improvise for the purposes of developing our ideas further. And I can remove myself enough from the moment then and really enjoy the stuff we’re doing. And the stuff Naomi has done has made me lose it on many occasions.

There’s this one sketch that’s in the current show called “Make A Wish” where Naomi’s character is attempting to stop me from wishing aloud because it won’t come true if it’s wished aloud. And she demonstrates how to wish without speaking and it makes me howl every time.

Naomi: We used to do this show called The Carnegie Hall Show and Matt had just proposed to me the night before. And we had agreed that we weren’t going to tell anyone until we got married. I think it was Matt that insisted that. And then we were doing the intro bits and Matt says, “Uh… I proposed to her last night.” So we told our audience before we told many of our friends.

Matt: It’s weird that way. You just get so used to the audience being there for you that you end up feeling comfortable sharing everything with them.

Naomi: I’m not sure you had told your brother yet.

Matt: Still haven’t.

Naomi: Anytime you have a mustache onstage, I can’t help but laugh.

Matt: You too.

P&C: You perform together a lot. How has improv helped (or hindered) your relationship?

Naomi: We get to play a lot together. And be together more often than other couples do. Because we have this company together. Also it doesn’t surprise me that I would fall in love with an improviser. Because when you are first in love you say yes to everything. You want that person to look good. You say yes to all of their ideas. You laugh at them.

Matt: It’s not until you really feel comfortable with someone when you can really filter in the “no”s and the “you’re on your own”s and the “I’m not going to go along with that”s.

Naomi: But you still make me feel like the funniest woman in the world.

Matt: We laugh at each other a lot. And Naomi is an easy laugh.

Naomi: Are you calling me a laugh slut?

Matt: I’m saying you give good laugh.

Naomi: Thanks.

P&C: What impact has improv had on your careers?

Naomi: I would say that because I’m an improviser and because my husband is one too, my comedy muscles are always limber. Which is good for auditions, hosting, gigs, and son on. I don’t have to gear up my funny bones to get ready all the time.

Matt: I agree and there are many gigs that require you to punch up scripts on the fly.

Naomi: We’re always punching each other up.

Matt: That sounds violent.

Naomi: It’s how we do.

Matt: You don’t talk like that.

Naomi: Word.

Matt: Also we create our own work through improvisation. So it has not only been a tool for writing and collaboration but it’s also been the main focus for us for that last several years with The National Theatre of The World. Impromptu Splendor, The Carnegie Hall Show, and The Script Tease Project are all improvised premises.

P&C: What inspired your new sketch show?

Naomi: Well, Theatre Passe Muraille asked if we wanted to be a part of their Guest Company Series. And not ones to turn things down, we jumped at the chance. To have a space offered to you like that is a real gift.

Matt: And there’s no greater gift for an artist than a deadline. We basically made ourselves find the time to write and rehearse this.

Naomi: And we spent months thinking of what kind of show we wanted to do. We came up with a half a dozen improv formats we wanted to try.

Matt: But then we also realized that over the years, we’ve created so much work that evaporates into the ether. Because it’s improvisation and unrepeatable.

Naomi: So he had the idea that we build up our sketch catalogue.

Matt: And we’re always writing based on improvisations that we do in front of audiences. Based on suggestions. And recording them. And so we decided to take those kernels and flesh then out.

Naomi: And that’s when Kurt Smeaton, our director, came on the scene. He helped us flesh some things out and helped distill our sketch list down to a cool ten or so.

Matt: I mean the type of stuff he, Scotty, and Jim have been doing with Falcon Powder has inspired us for sure.

Naomi: And we have enough material for a couple of shows.

Matt: But one at a time.

Naomi: That’s right.

Matt: We hope Baram & Snieckus: You And Me Both is the first of many.

Naomi: What are some future titles we were thinking of?

Matt: Heels over Head?

Naomi: And there was the “Reunion Tour” idea.

Matt: Right after we break up and get back together.

Naomi: They’re Still Alive!

Matt: That should be a fun one.

Naomi: I hope we’re both alive.

Matt: You and Me Both.

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Last week we had the extreme pleasure of attending Toronto’s Impulse Festival.

For organizers Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus, it was a chance to bring improv to a wider audience and showcase some of the best talent on the planet.

Whether it was Shakespearean improv by England’s School of Night, Bollywood Musicals by Improv Comedy Mumbai, or Gypsy Prov from Secret Impro Melbourne, the breadth of creativity on display was astounding.

But perhaps our favourite event of the festival was the soap-a-thon.

For the price of a donation to Gilda’s Club, patrons could see the funniest of the funny give it their all in a production that spanned more than two straight days. Folks like Colin Mochrie, Carolyn Taylor, Carmine Lucarelli, Mark Meer, Jacob Banigan, Sean McCann, Alan Cox, Chris Gibbs, Sandy Jobin-Bevans, Bob Banks, Kayla Lorette, Aurora Browne, Gary Rideout Jr, Ashley Comeau, Dale Boyer, Mark Andrada, James Gangl, Michael Grajewski, Marcel St Pierre, Lisa Merchant, Wayne Jones, Linda Kash, Dhruv Lohumi, and dozens more.

Neither sleep deprivation, nor blizzards, nor even a Toronto Hydro blackout could keep the cast from completing their goal, which they did, with a record-setting 55 hours at 10 pm Sunday night.

It was truly a great opportunity to reflect on the generous spirit of the improv community, not just in Toronto, but worldwide.

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“Did you ever give her an orgasm?” “Well, not in the same room.” Ron Pederson and Matt Baram in Why, Julia?

In a city filled with stellar comedic talent, Toronto’s Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson (aka The National Theatre of the World) are something special.

Last night they performed Why, Julia?, an improvised play inspired by playwright and “drag queen extraordinaire,” Sky Gilbert. As part of this year’s Script Tease Project, the show was a sold-out success.

The players began by getting suggestions from the audience, including Bill C-32, a student’s rejection from Ryerson University, and body parts being mailed to Parliament Hill.

You know, the usual.

The performers then read two pages of “teaser” script, and were off (book) and running.

The play opened with Snieckus as Julia, apparently bringing herself to orgasm with a colander. Pederson played her oddball ex, Roland, while Baram took the role of anal-retentive boyfriend Barry.

With Gilbert’s bawdy intro and the audience suggestions, the threesome wove a tale of love, sex and kitchen utensils, the like of which has never been seen onstage. Or probably will again.

Besides being top-notch improvisers, Baram, Snieckus and Pederson are skilful actors. It truly was improvised theatre: a blend of comedy and drama, as good in parts as any Mamet play.

The Script Tease Project runs till Sunday, with shows based on scripts by six more playwrights.

Illustration © Kurt Firla

Photo © May Truong

The Premise: Ask well-known writers to pen two pages of a play, read them cold onstage, then improvise the rest of the play on the spot.

It’s the kind of thing that could go very, very wrong if the players weren’t very, very good.

Fortunately the players are The National Theatre of The Worldaka Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus and Ron Pederson.

Last year’s run was a smashing success, with works by Judith Thompson, Daniel MacIvor, and everyone’s favourite hemp merchant, Woody Harrelson. Now they’re back with a fresh batch of writers, including ex-Kid In The Hall, Scott Thompson.

I asked Naomi Snieckus for the low-down.

P&C: How did you come up with the idea?

NS: The Script Tease Project was invented to give a twist to our regular Impromptu Splendor format, to give us an extra challenge and to collaborate with excellent playwrights. NTOW is always looking for ways of incorporating theatre and improv in our work.

P&C: Do you know all the playwrights you’ve approached, or were some of them cold calls?

NS: We essentially made a wish list and sent letters. Edward Albee turned us down – but now I can say “I got an email from Edward Albee…or at least his assistant.” John Patrick Shanley from last year was through a friend of a friend of a friend. There were a lot of people we’d never met before but hoped they would be into a project like this.

P&C: What was your favourite play from last year, and why?

NS: That’s hard to choose they all had a different kind of magic. Mark McKinney’s was the weirdest and most stylized, Brad Fraser’s was the most fantastical, John Patrick Shanley’s was the most touching. They were all amazing for different reasons.

P&C: Do you find it easier having someone else establish your character for you, or is it harder than doing a regular improv show?

NS: The biggest challenge is processing the torrent of information in the two pages and retaining it. It’s harder than starting from scratch because you have to adhere to a specific structure with a particular tone and musical key. The playwright is making your original choices for you. It sounds helpful to be given the two pages, but it makes our brains work in a new and different way.

P&C: You’ve been playing together for a long time. How important is chemistry in putting on a great performance?

NS: We’ve put in hundreds of hours together, so the shorthand and like-mindedness has become quite keen. We also know how to challenge each other on stage to mix it up. So to answer your question: very. It’s a pretty exciting thing to share the stage with those two performers!

The show runs May 28 – June 3 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace.