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Posts tagged Matt Folliott

Improv teams come and go, but every so often one beats the odds and stays together for six months, a year, or longer. And the longer you stick together, the more you can heighten and explore what makes your team unique, both onstage and off.

Toronto’s Standards & Practices have been together since 2007. Over the years, they’ve developed their own style of performing. And as they’ve evolved, so has their image. We thought we’d share some, to inspire how you think about your own team.

In the beginning, S&P had 10 members. At some point Tom Vest took it upon himself to develop a graphic look and feel for the team, including fake merch (and possibly our favourite promo video ever):

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When Tom left, the group had whittled down to Matt, Cameron, Kevin and Isaac. They began using random images of foursomes to represent themselves on social media.

Spot the Isaac.

More recently, Kevin Whalen has steered the team’s image in an ever-more-imaginative direction where, like an S&P show, anything is possible.

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When you’re committed to a team, you can have a lot of fun with how you perform, dress, write about, and present yourselves. Here are some more ideas to try:

• Get a professional photographer to take some team pictures. Bring a couple of changes of clothes, or even costumes.

• Make promo videos. They can be themed to tie in with your show, an ongoing series, or just funny one-offs. Use live action, finger puppets, stop motion, parody…whatever. It might be a 30-second gibberish scene with subtitles that you film on your iPhone. Experiment and see where it leads you.

• Don’t just write a straightforward description of your upcoming show; let your inner David Sedaris (or Steve Martin, or Hunter S. Thompson) loose. Here’s a sample S&P description:

Standards & Practices take you on a groovy trip through the silky smooth Dream Highway on the road to Laidbackville U.S.A. – RIGHTBEFOREWEFUCKYOURBRAINS – tonight – 9 pm – Comedy Bar.

Honestly, who could resist an invitation like that?

• Choose a theme song that reflects your team’s vibe, gets you in the mood to improvise, or just means something to you. TJ and Dave always come out to Commie Drives A Nova by The Ike Reilly Assassination. S&P shows start with the first few bars of Carmina Burana in total darkness, then the lights come up as they kick in to an upbeat song like Move Your Feet to blast the cobwebs from everyone’s minds.

Now, maybe you’re more Improvised Shakespeare than crazed comic superheroes, and that’s cool. Whatever your flava, just make sure you celebrate it.

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Improv attracts some very smart, very funny people, each with their own unique style. You can learn a lot just by studying how your fellow improvisers perform. Here are some of our faves:

The Chameleon

Most of us have a go-to on stage; some back-pocket character we can pull out if we start to panic.

Not Matt Folliott.

He’s equally comfortable being low or high status, male or female, hyperbolic or grounded and real. What’s more, Matt’s talent for accents is nothing short of astonishing. He does Southern, New York, Jamaican, Italian, Liverpudlian, German, Australian, Spanish, and dozens more so flawlessly, you’d swear he was born there.

The Magician

Kurt Smeaton finds something playful in everything, no matter how small or mundane. His ability to turn straightforward scenes into something Spielberg-ian is awe inspiring:

• He once played an entire village of people running from an exploding volcano. One character saved the day by stopping the lava with his bare hands, then rolling it up like a rug.

• His motorcycles sound like horses. He once rode one into a scene, kicked it and gave a “Yaarrr!” to send the bike on its way.

• After initiating with “The end of the world is nigh!” he mimed handing things out to passersby. What would have been flyers in someone else’s hands became “Frisbees! Get your end-of-the-world Frisbees here!”

The Shapeshifter

Mark Meer is the king of transformation. Watching him perform The Harold of Galactus is a master class in character and physicality.

His characters are always strongly defined; once he establishes them, they’re instantly recognizable later on. In one swift motion he transforms from a stiff-spined butler, to a hunchbacked gnome, to a drug-addled lunatic and back again.

The Clown

Jet Eveleth, Becky Johnson and Isaac Kessler all have strong elements of clown in their playing style.

There’s a fluidity, vulnerability, and openness to whatever is happening on stage that characterizes their performance. Nothing is off limits, no move is too risky. (That’s him as a ribbon-twirling gymnast in the photo.)

The Imp 

Sarah Hillier has a childlike, mischievous quality that makes every scene sparkle. Her playfulness is infectious: she has an ability to make scene partners corpse like no one we’ve seen.

If you’re the kind of improviser who likes rules and order, beware. The only thing predictable about Sarah’s performance is that it’ll be wicked funny. (Click here for a glimpse of her as Arya Stark.)

The Wild Card

The Wild Card comes out of nowhere and fucks with reality. Andy Daly, Rob Baker, Devon Hyland, and Cameron are all Wild Card players.

On his improvised podcast, Andy Daly and Matt Gourley played water-skiers, with Andy standing on Gourley’s shoulder to form the top of a human pyramid.

“I got your foot tattooed on my shoulder!” said Matt.

Without missing a beat, Andy replied, “Yeah, I had no idea you were gonna get that till I saw you.”

With one small move, he shifted time and smashed preconceptions. Suddenly Gourley’s character had to justify getting a foot tattooed on his shoulder before Andy’s character stood on it, which is hilarious. When the world you thought you were seeing is turned upside down, you’re watching a Wild Card.

The Everyman

Some performers stand out for their ability to blend in. While everyone else is larger-than-life, the Everyman quietly plays in the spaces between, often the scene’s voice of reason.

That doesn’t mean the Everyman is boring. Far from it. Because he (or she) plays so many roles with ease, they can do weird stuff like this and be totally believable.

Jim Annan, Jameson Kraemer, James Gangl and TJ Jagodowski are all superb Everyman performers.

The Kraken

We had to make a category for this rare, sometimes terrifying improviser. Jason Mantzoukas is one. So is Alex Tindal.

The Kraken is fearless, owning the stage the moment they set foot on it. Like the Clown, they don’t flinch from what’s happening, but rather, turn it up to eleven.

We witnessed Mantzoukas play a psychopath at the Friars Club Improv & Sketch Competition. His character took Ed Herbstman’s hostage, raped him (in real time), then shot an audience member in the head. If that doesn’t sound funny, it wasn’t. But it was electrifying, honest, and completely unforgettable.

You

The intent isn’t to mimic your favourite performers, but to find ways you can bring as much commitment and passion as they do to every set.

“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” – Mark Twain

For years, Chicago audiences have watched scantily-clad men improvise some of the dumbest scenes ever played on a stage. Now it’s Toronto’s turn.

Created by Mick Napier of The Annoyance Theatre, Skinprov is pretty much like it sounds: a bunch of guys do improv while wearing increasingly smaller pieces of fabric. Which makes the non sequitur scenes all the more hilarious.

Audience favourites Adam Cawley, Rob Norman, Wayne Jones, Kris Siddiqi, Dwayne Wilson and Matt Folliott bare their souls, or at least their flesh, next Wednesday, November 21st, 9:30 pm at Comedy Bar.

Ladies, start planning your staggette party.

Matt Folliott is an actor/improviser/comedian, and member of Standards & Practices. He’s performed in festivals across North America, including DCM, CIF, VIIF, Out Of Bounds, Improvaganza, and Mprov. He even has a couple of souvenir tattoos – but that’s another post.

Inspired by Amy Shostak’s 12 Tips for Festival Organizers, I decided to write a post from the other perspective: that of the festival performer.

I’ve had the pleasure and honour of attending some of the best comedy festivals in North America. There’s nothing like a well-run festival. The energy is electric, the performers feel welcomed and supported, and everyone leaves saying the same thing: “I’ll come back!”

These are just a few tips to help make your festival experience even more enjoyable and worthwhile.

1. Have a game plan. Plan your trip. Plan your trip! PLAN YOUR TRIP! Most festivals will have activities planned for their guests, and that’s awesome, but it never hurts to have your own agenda. Take advantage of your time like a member of the illuminati takes advantage of our ignorance. Also, if you’re heading to the States, have a game plan of what you’re telling Customs. They don’t like performers crossing the border, so make sure you have another reason for entering. You don’t want your trip ruined before it even begins; ruin it with drugs, alcohol and sex with strange people, not poor planning. Key Word: Research

2. Smile, be friendly and engaging. Let’s be honest. Only ten percent of improvisers get paid for festivals, so get that out of your head right away. You ain’t doing this for the money! You’re there to meet fellow performers, create friendships and make professional connections. Always be thinking, “I’m so LA,” and force yourself out of that shell, Franklin! Meet people, you won’t regret it. Key Word: Shmooze

3. If you have the option, stay with your fellow performers in hotels or on their couches. Bonding is key at any festival, so if you get the chance to live or crash with other performers, do it. That’s also were all the fun happens; you know, when you’re hanging out with ten or so other funny people with nothing else to do but crack jokes and be silly all while you’re being fuelled by beer and bad food. Also, being billeted can really lower the cost of your trip, so look into it already! Key Word: Bonding

4. Be on time. For your call times, for festival workshops, for planned activities, for everything. No one likes a Late Larry or a Tardy Tamara. People get that you might be running behind, you were probably up late partying, but try your hardest to be on time. Festival organizers have put in work to get you there and set things up for you, so show some love back and show up. Key Word: Punctual

5. Don’t be a comedy snob. If you’re asked to do mixer shows or short form improv or to judge theatre sports, say yes! Maybe you don’t like mixer sets because they can be clusterfucks, or maybe you don’t like shows sprung on you without notice. Well, get over it pal. Being asked to do other shows at a festival is a compliment, as well as an opportunity to make new friends and admirers. Take the chance to try new things, and challenge yourself to find the fun in things you haven’t enjoyed in the past. Key Word: Try

6. Kill your shows! It’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to impress. Think of the song Lose Yourself by Eminem; that’s the type of attitude you have to have before every show. Now stop thinking about the song Lose Yourself by Eminem, and never revisit that thought again. Just remember you’re there to do what you already do at home, so don’t stress. Remember, you’re awesome! So stop shitting bricks and have fun. Believe me, audiences in other cities want to see you succeed. So take a deep breath and go out there and show them what you’re made of: star light and cosmic dust. Key Word: Play Hard

7. Meet your audience. After your show is the perfect time to say hello to the local crowd that came out to support you. Let them know you appreciate them coming, and get to know your potential fans. Plus, you never know what hilarity will ensue when you meet the people. Next thing you know you’re in the back of a van with a guy named Rainwater, hitting a four-foot bong and getting a back rub from a limber cat. What? It could happen at a festival, man. Put on your politician hat and get out there, shake hands and kiss babies, and then kiss the mothers of those babies to see if they have fathers. If not move in for the kill. Key Word: Approachable

8. Sleep. Just do it. If you go too hard you’ll burn out partying or exploring your new surroundings or getting super high with Rainwater the Albino Shaman from the strip mall. Sleep is needed at these festivals to keep your head in the game and your stick on the ice. Key Word: Nap

9. Take Workshops. Most festivals offer workshops, usually with instructors you may never have the opportunity to work with again. Did you hear me? You might never see these people again, so what you are waiting for? Take a workshop already! Anyhooter, workshops and classes are always less expensive for festival performers, and are sometimes free if you’re lucky. Plus you’ll get to meet other improvisers and have the chance to refresh your skills. If you’re really lucky, you might put a brand new tool in that old leather belt of yours, grandpa. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for that workshop! Key Word: Register

10. See shows! Festival shows are inspiring and motivating. So many of the most memorable shows I’ve seen have been at festivals or on the road. So get that performer’s pass  and watch a show. Watch a bunch of shows. Watch some shows, then watch some more. You catch the drift. Key Word: Watch

11. Meet festival volunteers and administrative staff. This one gets overlooked sometimes, and it’s a damn shame because those people volunteering to rip tickets at the door or those lovely humans sitting in the office are the life blood of festivals. Without people like them, nothing would get done. After all, we’re artists. We think with our hearts not our heads. We need these kind, caring, lovers of comedy to make sure dopes like us know where we are supposed to be and where to point the jokes. Their service is invaluable. God speed tiny dancers, you are the wind beneath our wings. Key Word: Volunteers

12. Communication. This is a two-way street and is super important if you are to enjoy yourself in your comedic travels. Ask questions, ask for help, and keep the lines open with festival organizers and fellow performers. I mean how are you going to know if you don’t ask? Key Word: Ask

Well that about covers it I think. Maybe you have a few of your own that you would have added in. You know what? Keep it to yourself, no one likes a know-it-all. Happy travels fellow comedy nerds!

Photo © James Binnie