Interview with Michael Jastroch of Victrola

Victrola is a weekly comedy podcast produced by ColdTowne founder and senior faculty member, Michael Jastroch, who recently appeared in the 2017 SxSW comedy lineup. In this post, we discuss Victrola’s start, the cast and their selection as finalists in the first annual Improv4humans/Earwolf competition.

How did you get started with Victrola?

Funny. I just had a facebook memory come up for this. Bryan Roberts posted in 2013 the phrase “Car Bits, Seriously.” It refers to a road trip we took to OKC along with Josh Krilov and Steve Donovan to perform sketch. The way there and back, we improvised dumb audio bits for seven straight hours – basically pretending to prank call us and it was maybe the hardest I’ve ever laughed.

Josh, Bryan and I started getting together to record audio bits from time to time with the intention of turning it into something –  a podcast or a stage show – but nothing ever came from it. Mostly because of lack of know how and proper equipment.

I have a few recordings from that time, and I may release some of them someday as curios. There’s a bit – unedited – we did that I eventually cut up into an audio add for ColdTowne. I can’t find the finished version, but the unedited clip is pretty solid.

A few years ago, I got fed up with doing shows and having no record of my work or “product” to sell. A decade of shows, and the only thing to point to was some vague memories. The kicker was one night doing a show one night with Irene White that may have been the best thing I’ve ever been involved with and realizing that even though 50 people saw it, it’d be forgotten in two months.

Film is challenging, because you need a lot of people to make it happen and having relied on goodwill and favors for most of my creative life, I knew it’d be difficult to put stuff out consistently. With podcasting, at the end of the day, if it doesn’t happen, I’ve only myself to blame.

So I bit the bullet, dropped $500 on audio equipment and podcast hosting, taught myself some basics, and made myself a rule. I’d never miss a deadline, even if I put out crap, I’d put something out. Recording sessions are deliberately kept fun and casual, so people never have to feel like a dick for not making it  – although everyone in the cast makes 9 out of 10 sessions. And here we are.

My only regret is Krilov moved so he can’t bit out with us.

Bryan Roberts, Jericho Thorp, Dalton Allen

Recording: Bryan Roberts, Jericho Thorp, Dalton Allen

What do you think each of the cast members brings?

I casted the thing mostly based on a history of hanging out and doing bits. How easy does this person play and get what makes something funny? So they all have that in common. Plus, they all have a few voices up their sleeve. We all make each other laugh, and that’s important.

Lance Gilstrap – the perfect straight man. Very few people can maintain that much anger on stage and keep the ball rolling. It’s a skill I envy.

Molly Moore – such great character work. You never know what’s going to come out of her mouth, completely sincerely, as whatever nutball she’s playing.

Bryan Roberts – perfect timing and delivery. He could make a phone book funny. He’s also great at constructing actual jokes on the spot.

Bob McNichol – plays three dimensional chess while the rest of us are playing checkers. He doesn’t say the most, but everything that comes out of his mouth is funny on another level. Plus, he’s got that amazing dry delivery that sounds so sweet on podcast.

Cortnie Jones – is such a great character actress and she swings for the fences with

Molly Moore

Recording over a weekend retreat in west Texas: Molly Moore (foreground). Michael Jastroch and Bob McNichol (background).

whatever she’s doing. If Molly plays the affable loons, Cortnie plays all the sociopaths.

Jericho Thorp – One of the best character improvisers in the city. Such a great listener and so wonderful at making even the nuttiest stuff grounded in truth.

Me – I don’t know anymore.

Also, Dalton Allen, who helps with the editing and is unofficially now in the cast has a wonderful dry wit.

What do you think is the biggest deal about Victrola as a comedy podcast?

The great thing about podcasts is they are so easy to start. The horrible thing is they are so easy to start. Meaning, it’s real easy to assume you’re charming enough to carry on unscripted comedy – scenic or banter. But the truth is, that’s not only difficult to do, if you’re not a known quantity, no one gives a shit.

I didn’t want to do another four dudes talking around a microphone podcast. That niche is filled. So what makes us a big deal is when we put stuff out, the extra effort has been put in to make it as funny as it can be every time. Otherwise there’s literally no point in us existing.

If you could have one special guest superstar, who would it be?

All of Superego, who are huge inspirations. We were doing these bits and thinking about releasing this before we heard Superego, but they showed us the way forward.

What’s up with Improv4Humans and Earwolf?

Yeah! We are among the top three finalists in the Improv4Humans Contest4Humans. Which is awesome, because locally and nationally we were up against some heavy hitters. It’s a real honor and very validating to make it this far.

We’re recording a set on Tuesday the 28th. If we win, we get flown to the Del Close Marathon in NYC to record with Matt Besser. Which, given that we’re laboring in obscurity far away from industry or celebrity, would be very validating and hopefully expose us to a wider audience.  We don’t do this to be famous, but so much work goes into the thing, audience is nice.

How many sandwiches have you eaten at once.

More than 2, less than 6.

What do you have strong opinions about?

Everything. It makes me a better teacher and director, but occasionally paralyses me as a performer.

On the podcasting tip, one thing I hear all the time is how awesome Victrola sounds. Which to me is nuts, because I literally have no idea what I am doing and basically watched two youtube videos.

Which means if your podcast sounds like shit, you don’t care enough to watch two youtube videos. If you’re going to phone it in, isn’t there a better way for you to spend your time?

Recording: Lance Gilstrap and Molly Moore.

Recording: Lance Gilstrap and Molly Moore.

ALSO – I support crowd funding thing as a concept, but I think we’ve gone too far. What happened to – you know – paying your dues. I’m annoyed by people who have never made anything asking for handouts for friends and family. Make a few things on your own dime before you start begging for funds. You’ll learn more.

If Victrola wins and gets to go to DCM, what are you going to do to celebrate?

Go to New York on Matt Besser’s dime is all the improv reward I need. Maybe finally get one of those fancy VIP DCM wristbands so I don’t have to wait in line 6 hours to watch shows I used to be able to just pop into back in 2005.

Victrola records for the Improv4Humans finals tonight at ColdTowne at 10pm.  Check out the Facebook event here. Even better, subscribe to the podcast for weekly goodness.

Make It About The Relationship

TJ & Dave

TJ & Dave

By Sanjay Rao

“Make it about the relationship”. You probably get this note in class and rehearsal all the time. It’s one of those golden rules of improv. When in doubt focus on the relationship. Say you’re in a tag out run and you’ve tagged in with your hilarious quip. It gets that big laugh but no one tags you out or edits the scene. Or you’re in a scene and so much craziness is going on you don’t know what to do. Now what? Focus on the relationship!

The relationship between scene partners tends to be the most compelling aspect in any scene regardless of style or format. It’s also something that you can always go back to. That weird, quirky way you mispronounced a funny word has only so much fuel behind it but a good, believable relationship can power an hour long show (just ask TJ and Dave). But how do you make it about the relationship especially if you’re already confused or in your head?

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 12.23.48 PM

Digging a ditch

So how do you focus on the relationship? One very simple and useful way is to call out your scene partner’s behavior. This doesn’t necessarily mean what they are physically doing. Let’s take an example. My scene partner has grabbed their mimed shovel and starts digging an improvised ditch. The scene is not about digging a ditch. HOW are they digging the ditch? Are they happy about it? Are they sad about it? Are they being lazy about it? Are they perfectly content? These are all behaviors that you can call out. It’s the “how” that fuels all of it. Once you know how your scene partner is behaving then we can explore how that makes you feel. Going back to the last example, your scene partner is digging a ditch and he’s angry about it. Better yet something more specific like it makes you feel proud of them. Anything is valid here, just let yourself feel something!

After we have that established we can fill in the gaps of where we are, who we are, why we’re here, what do we want, etc. Now you know how you feel about one another in relation to this activity that is happening RIGHT NOW. We’ve developed a relationship! An added bonus is that since we started with an activity (in this case digging a ditch) the scene is more active and engaging. Once an audience is truly engaged the jokes will come out more naturally and land harder. All the little games you find along the way, like mispronouncing a word, will mean more because they will be built on top of a relationship that serves as a foundation for the scene. But getting an audience to be engaged isn’t as simple as that. You have to do all this stuff well. How do you do it well? Practice!

A very basic exercise to build these muscles is to have one scene partner come in and start an activity and add an emotional element. After a beat a second person enters the scene and calls out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Going back to the previous example, if the first person starts digging a ditch happily the second person will call out “You’re digging a ditch happily!” and then he or she will make a choice about how they feel about that. After letting that sink in, the first person can then call out their behavior, “You’re happy too!” From here we begin the scene by responding to the last thing and we can fill in the blanks like who, what, and where. This exercise will help you read behavior as well as starting scenes more physically and emotionally active.

Sanford Meisner

Sanford Meisner

If you want to go deeper you can study the Meisner exercise that actors have been using for ages to learn to read and explore behavior. It’s a fantastically simple yet endlessly complicated exercise that a single paragraph of a blogpost would not do it justice. There are, however, several acting teachers both in the improv community and in the Austin acting community that can help. I’ve provided some helpful links and videos below. I can personally attest that doing this type of work has helped my performances tremendously and I sincerely hope it helps you too!

Information about the Meisner Technique:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meisner_technique

http://esperstudio.com/about-2/library/an-interview-with-william-esper/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jP1Nkr1kc5o

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBszDobYD8w

Acting Teachers in Austin:

http://www.inthemomentacting.com

http://www.ckmcfarland.com/classes.htm

Helpful Improv Workshops Coming Soon:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1111192518931315/

Learn Some History You Bums:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantin_Stanislavsky


Sanjay Rao is a writer, actor, and comedian based out of Austin, TX. You can catch him around Austin, TX performing improv, sketch, and stand-up and has played on stages around the state of Texas in addition to New Orleans, Phoenix, and New York City. You can also see him in various films, series and short videos on the web.

Saturdays in June, The Beach Boys Solve a Mystery!

ColdTowne Theater, Austin’s home for live comedy 7 nights a week, proudly announces its
June 2015 Mainstage show –
beach boys revision 5.14.15

The Beach Boys borrow a page from the Hardy Boys as they fight crime in the secret underbelly of the seediest beach town you know (think Galveston, but prettier and with more crack cocaine).

This improvised comedy features a live surf rock band, improvised performances by the Beach Boys and giveaways from Half-Price Books!

Can “America’s Band” defend their beloved hometown from the degenerates of Surf City while resisting the urge to experiment in 1960’s counterculture?

Every Saturday in June @ 8:30 pm. $5 online/$8 at the door. BYOB.

6/6 Tickets 6/13 Tickets 6/20 Tickets 6/27 Tickets

The ColdTowne 2015 Mainstage Season

2015 ColdTowne Mainstage Season

ColdTowne Theater is Austin’s only entertainment option with improv, sketch and stand up shows seven nights a week.

We’re excited to announce our 2015 Mainstage Season – a collection of shows featuring unique concepts and high production value.

JANUARY
Church of Indeterminate Divinity
Directed by John Ratliff

Each service, some of the best improvisers in Austin perform with live musical accompaniment to create an event that’s part tent meeting, part house concert, part campfire singalong, and part barn burning. Real as rent and funny as hell, it’s unlike any improv show you’ve ever seen.

FEBRUARY
A Brief History of Murder
Sketch Comedy by Comedy Bazaar

Enjoy a deep red soak in these expertly-carved, acid-laced comedy sketches that explore the darker side of human nature. Laugh long into the abyss, and let the abyss laugh long into you…

MARCH
TGIS
Produced by Nathan Sowell

Sometimes a sitcom is so ahead of its time, it barely lasts four episodes. Jeannie and Sabrina have nothing on the type of high concept sitcoms created by ColdTowne Studios. Tune in for a month of Fantastic Buddies, Step Dad Djinns, and enough pop to wet at least three separate beds.

APRIL
Smash Hits
Directed by Curtis Luciani & Courtney Sevener

Join us at the top of the charts for this improvised comedy game show about and inspired by the biggest blockbusters in the history of recorded music.

MAY
The Ultimate Sketchprov Project
Directed by Dave Buckman

Dave Buckman draws on his two decades of comedy training (The Second City, Boom Chicago) to direct a cast of the city’s best multi-hyphenated writer/improviser/actors to develop a sexy and professional sketch revue created entirely through improvisation.

JUNE
The Beach Boys Solve a Mystery
Directed by Frank Netscher

The sleepy town of Surf City, California has been struck by another gruesome murder, and the Beach Boys are on the case! Along the way, they’ll get help from some of their pals, Dick Dale, Charles Manson, Janis Joplin, and others. They’ll solve the mystery in no time, even if they have to surf, cruise, and croon their way across California!

JULY
Improv Fantasy League

Our signature Summer event returns. Veteran comedic talent will be drafted alongside our improv students to compete against each other in a month long improv tournament that features live commentary, free agents and pre-show tailgating.

AUGUST
The Presidents of Comedy Tour
with The USA

A group of America’s hottttest and brighttttest comedians make a stop in Austin as part of their national tour. Together they’ll interview historians about America’s vibrant past to inspire their own brand of red, white, & blue collar comedy.

SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER
Sgt. Preppers – An Improvised Preppers Musical
Directed by Erika McNichol

What if Infowars and Ty Segall had a baby? No really. Think about it.
ColdTowne explores prepper culture through a garage rock musical in this new work.

NOVEMBER
Your Redneck Neighbors
Directed by Will Cleveland

Everyone’s got one or maybe you are one. Either way, this show is for you. Come laugh with some of Austin’s best improvisers in this show inspired by true tales of yard cars, gun racks, and turkey fires.

DECEMBER
The 8 Plays of Addison
Written & Directed by Addison Billingsly

Know Your Troupe: After Midnight

After Midnight started on a whim when some Level 1 students decided to enter the ColdTowne CageMatch.  They went on to win that series and have kept performing together regularly at ColdTowne while still taking classes.  Now in Level 5, Chelsea Bunn, Vickie Dinges Grier, Kim Lowery, Brian May, Lance Nealy, Frances Nguyen and Bobby Stover tell us what it’s like to play shows while still learning the basics.After Midnight

Before we get into the nitty gritty, can you all explain what exactly the ColdTowne CageMatch is?

Lance: The CageMatch is like a bracket-style tourney.  Each Wednesday night at 10, two or three troupes will each play twenty minute sets with the audience voting on who they liked best.  The team that wins that night advances.  There are usually a few weeks of preliminaries, then the semifinals and then you’re ultimately left with two teams.  The troupe that wins that final round are made CageMatch champions and get to sign their name on the chump chucker, this barbed wire-wrapped 2×4.  It’s bad-ass.  They’ve also recently added a four-show run to the deal.  Since Raw Power won the last series, they get to host the current one and close out every CageMatch show.  But the best part is that anyone can form a troupe and enter.  The commissioner can only take so many troupes, but pretty much everyone has an equal shot.  That’s how we got in, dumb luck.  Part of winning is putting on a good show, but an equal part is marketing it, so you get all your friends to show up and vote.

Bobby: For me Cagematch epitomizes what I love about Coldtowne: that everyone, regardless of experience level, is eligible to perform and participate. It just makes the improv community seem so open and inviting.

How long have you all been performing improv comedy?  What made you start?

Brian May

Brian May

Brian: I started in January along with most of these people.  I had recently gone to NYC and seen some amazing stand-up that got me really into the whole comedy world, and I had always watched “Whose Line” growing up.  Then I had a friend from forever ago that tried improv to get stage experience for Blue Man Group, and he loved it.  I took his suggestion and ran with it, couldn’t be happier he told me to go for it.

Kim: My husband sent me a text one day with a picture of a ColdTowne poster someone had hung up in the break room in his office. (Thanks Sarah Coker!) His message said, “You could do an improv class =)” So I went to the free Monday night class with Cody. It was so exciting, and I was happy for the challenge.

Bobby: I saw a rap battle show at another improv studio in town and thought it looked like a lot of fun. Then Frances and I wound up in the same free class with Kim and, BAM! Next thing I knew I was standing on stage, blinded by bright stage lights. Nicely done Cody!

Vickie: A friend did an interview with Sam for the my husband’s podcast and I fell in love with the idea. The hubs got me Level 1 classes as a Christmas gift.

Lance: My neighbors took me to see The Frank Mills and Midnight Society at ColdTowne and I had a blast.  I kept that ticket stub with the free class info on my desk. I was working from home at the time, and was new to Austin so I really needed to get out and meet people.

How did you all meet?  How did After Midnight happen?

Brian: We all just met through classes at improv.  Bobby just asked who wanted to try to enter the CageMatch, and then a Facebook chat was born, and eventually we got to the CageMatch.

Bobby Stover

Bobby Stover

Bobby: I became aware that Level 1’s can participate in Cagematch on the eve of the deadline so as Brian said, I just asked everyone in my class and signed us up that night. Luckily you can change rosters before the first show because we lost about half of the people who originally said they were interested. So between those few brave remaining souls and a couple free agents we picked up as late as the evening of our first show – Kady and Vickie I believe? After Midnight became a thing!

Vickie: I believe Bobby is right. I asked if they had enough people and Bobby said “come on.” When we advanced the first night, I didn’t even realize they said our name.

Lance: Yeah, Vickie was totally “What just happened?”  That first show was so much fun and just crazy.  At this point I feel like we need to pour one out for our dead homie Kady Ferris.  She’s not dead, but she moved to Portland after we won the CageMatch series, which basically makes her dead to us.  But in a nice way.  Hi, Kady!

Where did your name come from?

Frances: Bobby signed our group up for the CageMatch, but he did so after the deadline which is at midnight. Hence, After Midnight.

Lance: I used to really hate the name, but it’s totally grown on me.  It definitely fits the material we did in that first run of shows.  Very perverted.  Very blue.

Brian:  I’m with Lance, I really didn’t like it, but it is growing on me, plus some one found a theme song with our troupe name, so that’s not a bad thing.

Bobby: I stand by my late-night, half-thought out decision on a name. Glad ya’ll finally came around!

Are you nervous before you go on?  What’s the mood like in the hallway?

Frances Nguyen

Frances Nguyen

Frances: Excited mostly. A little nervous. And just trying to keep the momentum from warming up going as we’re waiting. My favorite part is right before going on when we all pat each other on the back and say, “I got your back.” It’s slightly cheesy and totally sincere.

Brian: I’m always really excited before and not nervous at all before we get into the hallway, then it’s like game time and the mood gets more serious, and we do the got your back thing, Frances hit the nail on the head, if you read this I applaud your dedication to the interview.

Kim: I’m not always nervous until I get in the hallway, then I’m pretty much immediately giddy and sweaty and unsure. It’s like being strapped into the seat of a Roller Coaster ride. There’s no turning back, and I almost always regret my decision to put myself in these situations. But afterward, I’m so excited and proud that I did it.

Vickie: Love Fest!

How do you get pumped up for a show?

Brian: I love warming up, it’s just a great way to shake everything out and get psyched for whatever is about to happen.

Kim: Warming up in the parking lot is so fun. We play games and run through our opening. It’s pretty incredible being able to play with friends like I did when I was a kid and know that they won’t make fun of these stupid and sometimes vulgar things popping out of my mouth.

Vickie Dinges Grier

Vickie Dinges Grier

Vickie: Usually, Kim says something about poop or Lance gives a character the attribute of having one leg shorter than the other. I also love the addition of Chelsea, who brought Bunny and Froggy into our lives.

Lance: There was some Yelp review online that complained about shows not being improvised because people were rehearsing in the parking lot.  To the uninitiated, we’re not rehearsing lines or anything, we’re mentally stretching.  Getting loose.

Is it weird taking classes, but also performing?  Has one helped the other?

Brian: I don’t think it’s weird, it’s so helpful to have both sides of it going.  Currently we’re doing some coaching as well, which is extremely fun and helpful.  We have class which we really break stuff down and play less, but learn SO much.  It’s nice to be able to play in coaching, and then get down to the nitty gritty the day after, let our minds go over it and then we play again.

Kim: It was weird at first. I sort of had the thought, “Who do we think we are, we don’t know anything yet!” But I think that’s what made us decent. We were learning and we were excited. It still feels that way most of the time.

Vickie: I think they go hand in hand. Classes are the hard work and preparation that make performing fun. And, yes, some of the Level 3 sessions were difficult for me, but I learned a lot. Thanks Dave!

Lance Nealy

Lance Nealy

Lance: It’s actually funny how quickly we all moved from being terrified of being on stage to being absolutely addicted.  Most of us are in multiple troupes now because we just love playing.  There’s Loverboy, Side Hugs, Sorry For Your Loss, GameTowne, Grounded in Harmony, Save By the Bell, Replacement Mark and probably a few more by the time you read this.

What’s it like coming off stage?

Brian: It’s always a little strange, it never feels like it was 20-30 minutes, it goes by in what feels like 5 minutes every time.  Sometimes I get so caught up in watching the troupe that I almost forget that I am supposed to get up and play too.

Bobby: Oh man, I always feel in a daze and can barely focus on anything people are saying right after a show. It’s an adrenaline rush being under the lights in front of a room full of people. I love it!

Kim Lowery

Kim Lowery

Kim: After a good show where we each got a few laughs, coming off stage is exhilarating. But we recently experienced coming off stage and sort of staring at each other in disbelief. We all knew we hadn’t had fun out there.

Vickie: It’s a feeling of exhilaration and relief all at the same time, but then we start talking about what was good and what could’ve been better. I love it when our coach, Emma, is there because we can get notes right away. I am glad she didn’t see the show Kim described though. It was craptastical.

Lance: Yeah, that one show.  We had a run of shows we had really enjoyed.  I think part of them was “Wow!  We did it.  We got up.” And we were inexperienced enough that we didn’t see things we should have done better.  I think the longer you’re doing it, the more likely you are to find fault with something you did on stage.  Well, we finally hit that show that was just craptastical, as Vickie said.  It just wasn’t fun.  We had weird energy going in, lots of people had crappy days, etc.  But, two days later we had a great show.  So much fun.  For me it was very much like, “Well, nothing could be worse than that crap fest that just happened.”

Do you all hang out when not in classes or practice?

Frances: No. We all actually hate each other. Sometimes I pass Kim in the hallway, and we try really hard not to make eye contact with each other.

Brian: There’s some animosity in the group, so it’s best to act like we get along on stage.

Bobby: Occasionally we’ll show up to the same bar by accident and it’s super awkward. Lance usually gets buzzed on fruity drinks and then things just get weird!

Kim: Lance sometimes sends us nude photos. Of course, they’re unwanted but it’s nice that he’s reaching out, trying to keep us all connected.

Vickie: The troupe has kind of made me the mom figure, which means we are horribly dysfunctional.

Lance: Can you feel the love?  Seriously though, we do hang.  After Midnight is very fond of happy hours and day-drinking.  Except Chelsea.  She doesn’t like to drink.  So never offer her a free beer.

After Midnight

After Midnight

Is there something you feel you still struggle with?

Brian: I feel like I struggle with keeping it slow and not jumping to something for a crazy statement.  Characters are also not my strong suit I feel, but now you guys all know what to look for and to point out how terrible I am at them, GREAT.

Vickie: Impulse control and remembering to develop relationships with the other characters. I like playing with Frances because she is really good at both.

Bobby: So many times in a show you wind up just jumping up on stage at a moment’s notice which makes it very difficult to truly internalize a character and be able think and act like they honestly would in the various weird obscure scenarios we create. Thank goodness for practice time!

Frances: Aww, thanks Vickie! Something I struggle with is just going with my gut and having confidence in what I have to say, which is something I think a lot of members in our group, especially Vickie, are great at.

Lance: Holding onto a character.  Although I recently took a character workshop with Dave Buckman and I’m definitely working on that  And I agree with Brian, slowing things down and working on developing characters, versus just doing bits.  Also spacework.  Good lord do I suck at pantomiming.

Now that you’re way past the halfway point in classes, is there a tip you’ve learned that you’d pass on to other students/performers?

Chelsea Bunn

Chelsea Bunn

Chelsea: Sit in on classes with different teachers to see what kind of coaching best suits your learning style.

Lance: Try not to be hard yourself.  The thing you hated that you did, someone else thought was hilarious.  I’m still pretty bad at this one though.  It’s good advice but hard to follow.

Brian: Listen, listen, listen.

Vickie: I second all of that. Learning to be open and just letting go can be harder than you think. Turn into the skid!

Bobby: Go to jams early and often! Doing this helped my understanding of what we were learning in classes immensely.

Frances: See shows! There are times when I get in my head about how I’m doing in classes or performances. And then I force myself to go see a show and am reminded why I started taking classes in the first place: when you see a great show, it’s brilliant and funny and inspiring.

Lance: Also if you have the time, try to intern.  You get a discount on classes, but more importantly, when you’re doing tech you get to watch shows.  You learn so much from just watching shows.

Favorite drink.

After Midnight

After Midnight

Chelsea: There is a fierce “beer v. liquor” debate within AM. I think we all know which is better… it’s beer.

Lance: Meh.

Brian: I got Lance to say he liked a beer, and of course he denied it afterwards.  But I’m a huge imperial stout fan, I used to mainly drink liquor, but this whole craft beer goodness is too good to me.

Vickie: Vodka and ginger ale—not ginger beer, not coke and sprite mixed together, not soda with bitters in it—ginger-freakin’ ale! Lance and I are the liquor hounds!

Lance: I’m a big American whiskey fan, almost anything brown.  But I’ve also been digging on the Mezcal lately.

Favorite movie.

Brian: Wet Hot American Summer, I have watched the first half of that movie drunkenly and passed out at 3:30 am than any other movie.  It’s my I-have-people-over-and-we’re-all-drinking-we-have-to-watch-this-movie-right-now-and-then-I-pass-out-halfway-through movie.  And there are so many small gems in that movie that you have to watch multiple times through, or at least I did.

Kim: I like all the movies. Especially from the 80s and 90s.

Vickie: The Big Chill, Best in Show, Caddyshack, Dogma, Toys, and A Fish Called Wanda.  I also have to watch Snakes on a Plane and Deep Blue Sea any time they are on. Hilarious!

Favorite moment in comedy.  Ever?

After Midnight

After Midnight

Brian: That’s a tough one, I honestly can’t say.  Maybe watching “Whose Line” growing up with my dad.  That’s such a hard question though, there’s so many new moments, definitely doing improv now, every time you play there’s something that is so funny that it blows you away.

Kim:

Clark: Whew, it’s warm in here.

Mary: Well you have your coat on.

Clark: Ah yes I do, why is that?

Mary: Because it’s cold out.

Clark: Yes it is, it’s a bit nipply out. I mean nippy out, what did I say, nipple? Huh, there is a nip in the air.

Vickie: I love watching classic stand-up, especially George Carlin, Steve Martin, and Richard Pryor. The Original Kings of Comedy has me in tears every freakin’ time and John Leguizamo and Eddie Izzard are pretty genius. Yes, I know I didn’t answer the question.

Lance: I can’t pick a favorite moment in comedy, but the hardest I’ve ever laughed was during the Happy Fun Ball SNL commercial.  Something about it just tickled me to the point where I started hyperventilating and I passed out.  I woke up and my friend Chris was standing over me laughing at me.  I then started laughing again and almost passed out.

Favorite thing about improv?

After Midnight

After Midnight

Brian: The ability to do whatever you want and it’s always right.  No matter how ridiculous it comes out of your mouth, it always just works.

Kim: With very few exceptions, I go home feeling inspired and encouraged. The audience is ready to laugh and support us. The best improvisers, the ones I look up to, have been so great to give a pat on the back or an encouraging word. My troupe and classmates have become some seriously awesome friends.

Vickie: I think it’s the unpredictability that comes with playing with other people. I’ve done some stand-up and this is a totally different vibe. You have no idea what’s about to happen, but you feel fearless because you know the others are there for you.

Lance: Totally sappy, but I really love making up stuff with my friends.  It’s not always gonna be funny, but it’ll always be fun.  Also, I love being in the wings cracking up, watching my friends on stage and I look across at the other wing and I see people there laughing too.  That’s the best.

What would you say to someone who has thought about taking classes, but hasn’t signed up yet?

Brian: Either try a free class on the first Monday of the month, or maybe wait until there’s a deal if you’re looking to save some money.  I can tell you it’s been worth every penny and I can’t think of anything better to spend it on then learning more and playing with these fine people.

Bobby: Stop hesitating! It’s worth it. And who knows, you may just find out a thing or two about yourself; like that your go-to dance move is a pelvic thrust.  Lance!

Kim: DO IT! Seriously, you won’t regret it. I’m always surprised that I am doing this. I love that I’m attempting to learn how to do something that I admire in other performers.

Vickie: It’s a gift to yourself. For two hours a week, you can play and be totally in the moment. Work, traffic, bills, and anything else that’s stressing you out gets pushed completely from your mind.

Best thing that’s happened during a show? Worst?

After Midnight

After Midnight

Brian: There are so many good things that have happened, I can’t remember the best thing, they all blur together after a while.  Each CageMatch show we have had had a main point to it that we kept hitting on, and we were going through learning what we were doing, that may be the best part, but that’s just the experience on the whole… Worst thing, I can’t even think of anything bad, anything that feels rough you just forget about and move on, go through the rest of it and it all works out.

Kim: I’m not sure how this qualifies, but in one of our first shows, Bobby’s character made me get on a donkey. Everything in the show had been leading up to seeing a Donkey Show. I was thinking, “If he makes me fuck a donkey, then it’s on like Donkey Kong.” Thanks Bobby for having my back and taking our donkeys on a sunset ride on the beach.

Vickie: I have had some really funny scenes with Brian where I have gotten all up in his personal space. I also liked when I was Lance’s mom and gave him electro-shock therapy. Bobby and Frances invariably make me play the mom in scenes, which can be best or worst. (Remember our trip to the brothel, Bobby?)

Bobby: I had my improv mom, Vickie, meet my real mom once…it wasn’t awkward until Vickie said “so I took your son to a brothel last week…”. Not a bit.

Lance: There was moment on stage where Bobby and I were father and son and we were working at an Arby’s.  I said something about beating the meat and I could see Bobby almost start to break, at that point I knew it was gonna be a good night.

When people come to an After Midnight show, what are they going to see?

After Midnight

After Midnight

Brian: Honestly, who knows.  Our shows tend to have some dirty subject matter, I feel like Vickie, Kim, and I help to really drive that, maybe unintentionally, but it always happens.  We’re testing out formats, and as of me writing this we haven’t even decided what we’re doing yet, we might just make it up all on the spot.

Frances: A group of people having fun! We like performing with one another and are still learning. I feel like I’m getting up there and laughing along with my troupe and the audience.

Kim: They will see a bunch of grown ups playing on stage. We usually have so much fun, and I’m always proud of my troupe mates when they’re up there.

Vickie: Hopefully a high-energy, totally random, completely inappropriate event that’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Bobby: What Vickie really means is: donkey stuff.

If your troupe entered the Hunger Games, who would win?  Who would die first?

Frances: I think we talked about this over drinks once, but I can’t remember who we decided would win. I’m pretty sure Bobby and Lance decided to form an alliance to kill everyone else. Typical.

Lance: I don’t know, I’d probably try to form an alliance with Vickie.  She always seems to have the skinny on what’s going on in Austin. She’d probably know where all the good knives are buried and which bush is the most flammable.

Brian: I would probably talk a lot of trash and then die about halfway through, but I also haven’t seen the Hunger Games or read the books, so I don’t even know what I’m talking about.

Chelsea: Kady would definitely die first.

Kim: I would win. Because Kim gets Hangry.

Bobby: Guys, I think Chelsea killed Kady!!!

Vickie: Lance is right! I’d put your money on me. I mean, I am the person who sent out pictures of corn dogs and vodka to the entire group. I wouldn’t count Frances out either. She makes a mean cupcake and she will cut a bitch.

After Midnight

After Midnight

Besides After Midnight, who should people check out at ColdTowne Theater?

Brian: I enjoy those Miller and Purselley boys.  I’m also partial since I did graduate from high school with Pierce, and we had a very touching moment in my first improv class that we both forgot we were in class, and it stopped cause he “had to keep keeping class” or whatever.

Kim: Miller and Purselley. Anything with Juliet Prather or Sarah Coker. There are so many people to stalk… I mean watch… on stage from a safe and respectable  distance.

Bobby: The Frank Mills are awesome, Patio Talk is always hilarious, and pretty much anything involving John Ratliff leaves you wanting to become a better improviser; especially Ratliff’s Church of Indeterminate Divinity show every 3rd Sunday of the month at 5:30pm! (shameless plug, anyone??)

Vickie: There is such a variety: Frank Mills, Wink Planet, Glamazon. The jams are always a chaotic mish-mash of awesome. I also like the Triple Threat shows that combine improv, sketch, and standup.

Lance: Oh, Science! on Sundays is great and if you get a chance, catch Dervish!


All photos by Kim Lowery.

You can see After Midnight perform Wednesday, November 5 @ 8:30pm – tickets available now.

Check out the next FREE Improv 101 Class,  the first Monday of every month at 7pm.

Bot Party — Improv and Robots During Fusebox

Arthur Simone is an actor, artist and co-founder of Austin’s ColdTowne Theater. He graduated in Theatre from Oberlin College and studied improvisation at Chicago’s Improv Olympic. Notable live performances have included improv with a dog, Carla Goodman’s Failure: a Big Stupid Mess, Rubber Repertory’s Jubilee and his one-man show Dear Frailty, which earned him an award as Best Actor in Austin. As a film and television actor, he’s appeared in everything from Big Momma’s House 2 to Parkland. Arthur has been a sometime fixture on the annual East Austin Studio Tour and has been a finalist for the Hunting Art Prize.

Bot Party is an ongoing conversation between improviser Arthur Simone and social roboticist Heather Knight. Advances in robot technology have been traditionally limited to manufacturing or military applications, but new generations of interpersonal bots are being adapted for use in medicine, housekeeping and soccer. In this meeting of theatre and tech in a shared space, machines designed solely for utility can be re-purposed for a very human uselessness that approaches play.

We sat down with Arthur to discuss his latest project! Read more about it here.

One of the things you’re best known for is being the first person to improvise with a dog. What have you learned about improv doing this show? Have you been able to apply any of those lessons to your upcoming performance? Are you worried this is going to be your lasting contribution to the art form?
Most comedic improvisers know how to work a crowd, and performing Buddy Daddy (improv with beagle/dachshund Robin Goodfellow) took that to some interesting levels. I found that many people came expecting or hoping to see dog tricks or scenes about dogs, but that’s not what it was about. Anyone who’s ever met Robin knows he has no interest in any such thing, and that’s what made the show work. The dog was given every incentive to do whatever he felt like, whether it was lapping up water from his bowl, soliciting an audience member for a pet, following a strange smell or responding in the moment to an interesting sound.

Teaching Robin to roll over, play dead, beg or fetch was never in the cards, so I used it as a gift and ran with it. There are only so many jokes you can make about characters fetching things before you get bored with the same performers doing them, no matter how unfairly cute they are. What gave the audience such a baseline of empathy with Robin was his complete ability to live and react in the moment, which made my job easy. The more Robin didn’t want to play along with my scene, the better. But he had to visibly enjoy himself while denying those ‘trained’ responses, so it’s fortunate he has a tail that communicates waggin’ dog laughter. Cheese nibbles were my go-to.

What drew you to the idea of doing improv with robots? Where did the inspiration come from? Dogs are kind of useless. Some of them have real-life tasks like rescue, leading the blind, hunting or herding, but mostly they eat food and shed and need to be walked and some don’t do anything useful at all. So why do we keep those around? They’re useless! Robots too are kind of useless unless they have happen to have a use. Why would we build robots without uses?

I got inspired watching Heather Knight work stand-up comedy through her Nao robot, Data, a few years back. I sent her a link to a Buddy Daddy show and we started a conversation about what improvisation with a robot would look like. If you watch her TED talk, you’ll see that she created awesome feedback loops to help Data choose his next joke. She was teaching a bot to work a crowd! But what does it mean to pin down a guffaw or a chortle? How do you qualify something as a feelin’-good giggle or a condescending snicker? How can you tell a heckle from a shout-out or a groan of boredom from a groan of pun-ishment? There’s a raw visceral immediacy in live theatre that combines with a buzz of of danger in anything-goes improvisation, and it is in this atmosphere of biofeedback we hold our revival to reward empathy and nurture social bonds.

People like seeing uselessness in their performance, it’s something we relate to.

What has the process of putting together this show been like?
True autonomous robots are hard to come by. Programmers generally need programs with purpose. Batteries don’t hold charge. Artificial Intelligence can retain predictive patterns but don’t compensate with their own voice. Sensors have limits and lots of data is tough to categorize. “Improvisation with robots” is impossible! But the technology is coming and it’s coming fast. It will be interesting to see what happens. Robots are slaves born of the village as a gift to the village, and it behooves us to consider how to work them into our collective moral compass without losing sight of our humanity in the process.

What have you learned about robots? What have you learned about the human condition?
It’s easier to fool a robot than a human, but why would you do either?

What continues to excite you about improv?
The sheer boldness of improvisers willing to make mistakes. An audience freed from apology or expectation.

Where are you hoping to take this show in the future?
I’ll record and document Bot Party to submit to potential sponsors or as grants. I’d love to share space with engineers and explore some of the mind-boggling technology that’s out there in academia. Robotics needs intuitive and counter intuitive voices alike to truly reflect and complement our unique social development in this brave new world, so why not throw my dumb hat into the ring? Do you want robots in the idiot hands of the professional military or militantly in the hands of professional idiots?