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February, 2012

I’m Not From Austin But I Got Here As Fast As I Could

by Caitlin Sweetlamb

Having recently moved back to Texas after 5 and a half years in my native New York City, I’m in the market for one of those bumper stickers.

I first came to Austin as a UT undergrad in 2001. I found my way into the burgeoning improv scene during my freshman year of college and am fortunate to have belonged to the community (from near and afar) for more than 10 years. Though New York City will always have a claim on my heart, I feel more at home and at ease here in Austin, in the sunshine. Over the years, the Austin Improv community has furnished me with many dear friends, strengthened my sense of self, enriched my sense of humor, deepened my appreciation for the power of storytelling, clarified my day-to-day worldview, and led me to my husband!

The recipient of all these gifts, I have the further good fortune to be a cast-member in the March/April mainstage show, Process: An Unscripted Scripted Play, directed by aforementioned husband. The cast has been rehearsing for the show for almost two months now and I continue to be blown away by the level of commitment, creativity, talent, openness, and positive energy that exists within the group. Being part of this show contrasts sharply with my experiences doing improv in New York City—where comedians and actors go to make it.

Trying to pursue theater in New York, in my limited experience, involves lots of networking, hobnobbing, capitalizing on your connections, pounding the pavement, selling yourself the right way to the right people, and performing shows at weird times on weeknights in the backrooms of bars to audiences of 5-8 people. I feel incredibly grateful to be back in a community where folks are more interested in making compelling art together than they are in making money. I am awed and humbled and excited by how much Austin Improv has grown in the last five years, how it continues to expand to include more people and more forms. I feel lucky to be a living, breathing part of it again—no longer a sad Facebook stalker 1,700 miles away.

One of the best things about Process (in which we put up a “scripted” play from auditions through opening night) is that we get to poke some fun at those people who take theater too seriously or are overly concerned with the business. I met some people like that in New York and prefer playing them onstage to playing with them onstage. So, thank you, Process cast-mates for inspiring me with your talent. Thank you, Hideout Theatre, for continually experimenting with new and exciting formats. Thank you, Austin audience members, for coming on down to see the show and welcoming me back to the stage I so sorely missed.

Process runs on Saturdays in March and April at 8pm. Get your tickets here.

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Announcing the Improvised Play Festival, April 12th-14th

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The Hideout Theatre in Austin, TX is hosting the 2nd annual Improvised Play Festival… an improv festival focusing on and showcasing narrative and theatrical improv.

Improv is funny. Improv is spontaneous. Improv is delightful. At The Hideout, we believe that improv is also theatre. Over the years The Hideout has built its reputation on producing full-length improvised plays in a wide range of styles: Shakespeare, Dickens, Star Trek, Film Noir, and more.

The Hideout certainly isn’t alone in its approach, and it’s time to bring like-minded improv companies together to celebrate and show off the more theatrical side of improv.

Hence, the Improvised Play Festival.

The festival will be held  from Thursday April 12th through Saturday, April 14th.

Last year’s festival featured Code Duello as the headliner, as well as groups improvising in the styles of Film Noir, Shakespeare, Star Trek, French Farce, David Mamet, and the 1960s Batman TV show.

Benefits for performers include:

  • No Application fee!
  • Photos of shows in digital form
  • Your own hour-long show block
  • use of an Austin-based technical improviser (well versed in our sound and light equipment)
  • use of a musician (should you need one)
  • fancy lights (multiple ‘specials’, RGB-spectrum wash)
  • access to all shows and after-parties

Final decisions and notifications (one way or the other) will be sent out no later than March 8th. Applications are welcome up until March 6th, but the longer you wait, the less likely there will be an available slot.

For more information, and the application form, go here:

http://www.improvisedplayfestival.com/

Thank you,
Roy Janik
Artistic Director
The Hideout Theatre

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Local Genius Society Interview on their show at The Dive Bar

Roy here!

Starting Sunday, Feb. 12th, The Hideout is teaming up with Local Genius Society for a brand new weekly show called Underground Improv. It’s free, and takes place at The Dive Bar, located at 1703 Guadalupe St. at 17th St., across the street from the Dog & Duck Pub.

Local Genius Society is made up of former Hideout students: Kayla Freeman, Karen DeWitt, Zac Grantham, Nicole Beckley, and most recently, Ryan Austin.

They love to improvise full-length stories, which is not an easy thing for a relatively new group to do. But they’re passionate about improv, and they’ve been firing on all cylinders. I chatted with the geniuses to discuss the group, where they see themselves progressing, and their plans for Underground Improv.


Are you up for the challenge of doing a weekly show? How do you think it’ll affect the troupe?

Karen: I’m always up for a challenge! I think getting to perform weekly will help us grow closer as a troupe and help us discover abilities we never even knew we had. Hopefully mind reading is one of those abilities.

Nicole: We felt really lucky to get to do a run of Threefer shows at the Hideout in December. Getting to perform together consistently each week helped us feel confident as an ensemble and helped strengthen the way we tell stories. From mid-November until the beginning of January, I think we performed nine shows in 10 weeks. Doing this new kind of show will force us to use some different muscles. We sort of can’t rely on typical theatrical conventions — there’s no backstage, there’s no lights up/lights down. I think, as a troupe, we’ll have the opportunity to build some new skills.

Ryan: Absolutely. I think everyone’s really ready for it by now, we’ve been preparing for it for a while so we’re ready to jump in. I think it’s going to result in a lot of Gmail activity. Haha. It’s requiring us to communicate wildly often which has really got that group mind effect pumping even during the days we’re not performing. I dig it!

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Q & A With Randy Dixon

Seattle’s Randy Dixon is coming to Austin for a weekend of workshops. He’s the artistic director of Unexpected Productions and has been improvising and teaching since the late seventies.

What kind of work is Unexpected Productions doing right now? Anything that you’re especially excited about?

We are excited to be moving back into our 220-seat venue. The last six months we have be in a 500 seat venue! The current show is Blank Slate, where the audience writes the show. They make all the key decisions. It’s a great form to train actors to trust story. In general, I am especially excited about Unexpected Productions bringing theatricality back to improv through metaphor, symbol, movement and ritual. Trying to get away from talking heads.

Register for Raising the Stakes in Your Scenes and Stories Saturday, Feb 11, 1-4pm

How did you get interested in the myth and personal story work?

I grew up interested in myth. As I began traveling to teach and direct, I noticed a lot of the same material kept coming up again and again. I recognized this as mythic, and it was the same everywhere I went. I knew I wanted to go deeper into this material, so set about to study systems of myth and belief, which is really about how story lives in us.

Register for Personal Storytelling Through Myth Sunday Feb 12, 3:30-6:30pm

You’re one of the original synthesizers of the two dominant schools of improv (Chicago and Johnstone). Where do you see them overlapping? What are the most striking differences in your mind?

Great question. Well, off the top of my head, I think they overlap as two paths to the same destination. I think they mingle well and are very. very useful to each other. The differences in very general terms is the Chicago style seems very broad and general, big strokes of structure. Johnstone’s work is very specific and geared towards giving the improviser focused skills.

How would you sum up your philosophy of scene work in a sentence or two?

The audience comes to TELL a story, not WATCH a story. Our job is to give them the means to do that.

Register for The Mechanics of Great Scenes Monday, Feb 13, 7-10pm

For a more in depth interview with Randy Dixon, check out this excellent podcast.

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