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February, 2014

On Building Worlds

On Building Worlds
David Schwartz

When Ruby, the director of What The F@#$!, taught me the term “world-building,” something suddenly clicked. Though its title previously eluded me, it had always been one of my favorite aspects of improv. Imagine: establishing enough platform and context to allow an audience to suspend its disbelief and fully support your brief, brief world. In many ways, improv is all about control, and world-building showcases this by causing audiences to accept and relish in fleeting, false realities. Let’s take a moment to bow down to improv, guys. I mean, isn’t that what improvisers do after every show, anyway?

Working with narrative, world-building was a skill that I and the rest of the What The F@#$! Cast sought to finesse. We used scene-painting to evoke shared understanding, established platform to invoke empathetic relationships, and played obviously to convoke a society of rules and order within our little one-hour worlds which would extinguish with each blackout like a sigh or a dream.

Yet, even out of rehearsals, I couldn’t get world-building out of my mind. As a designer, writer, and traveler, I am constantly in awe of its power of experience. And there’s a fourth-wall wink here, a meta-narrative: I realized that I, as a recent Austin transplant who moved here alone from college in the Northeast to pursue a job, who left friends and roots behind, had much of a world to build myself.

Maybe it started with scene-painting. Within the Hideout, within WTF, I painted myself to others. I colored in 22 years of existence of which my new acquaintances had not the opportunity to observe. I filled them in, and they I, within the lines, with bright hues, boldly. We accepted these backstories. There was trust.

And it caused us to build platform, manifested as Whiskey Wednesdays, as hangouts, as yoga, as “real talk.” Inside jokes and Sardines. A lot of laughing. Much like we do as characters when the lights come up, we fostered empathetic relationships we could call our own, something meaningful.

Eventually, this led to creating our own order and rules within our microcosm of such a welcoming improv community, established by spells as obvious as: “You’re my friend,” “I miss you,” or “I love you guys.” We cast an invisible structure.

After our fourth sold-out show, at a group sleepover that concluded our run save a bonus performance, I suddenly grasped our world-building and realized that we had truly done it successfully. We did something in real life by doing something improvisers strive to do on-stage: create a world so truthful that it exists outside of the players, living on so believably in the minds of the audience that they can’t help but laugh or cry or be fascinated. At the end of our run, the casters fell off, the mold was removed, yet something still remained. We built a world that transcended a three-month experience such that it could exist past rehearsals and Hideout doors. We pushed beyond the form that gave us this gift in the first place and are left with something that is not made up. A truth. A reward. Our world.

What the F@$# runs every Saturday at 6pm in February, and the first weekend of March. Get tickets here.

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A Hideout Love Letter

by Jennifer Paine, Hideout House Manager

I took my time walking downtown last week as I made my way to the Hideout. I love the idea of being in a downtown, a little town compressed into a walkable area. I watched the people, heard the music, was encompassed by trees, and felt the energy. It’s exciting to me to see the street musicians (the bucket beaters are my favorite), the food trucks, and the construction. I love all the lights, the horses clip clops, and the pedicabs. I had plenty of time and got to really look at what I was seeing. I got to feel my feelings. I had such a wave of love for Austin and felt so honored to be a part of downtown.

I get to work at an amazing theater, located in a downtown, and be a part of something special. That’s what I’ve always wanted, to be a part of something. I’m part of a team. I get to help prepare the Hideout for a night, just for you. I know lots of tricks. I know that typing and hanging up a sign to tell you about our shows might help you decide to visit us. I know that learning and remembering your name makes you feel welcome and start to fall in love with us. I know that if I put a trash can in front of you, you are more likely to use it. I know that pushing in all of the seats makes it easier for you to go to the end of the row.

Almost everyone I know, I met at the Hideout. I feel so comfortable being here and love that I know and recognize so many of the students and performers. I once met a boyfriend here. I’ve had crushes here. I get hugged here. I goof around with the baristas. I clean up, oh boy, do I clean up. Even knowing that it will need to be cleaned up again tomorrow, I clean up. I’m happy to unlock the door, straighten the green room, and (try) to get the shows started on time. I’m happy to do it again next week, and the next, and the next. That’s what I do. So come on down, I’m getting everything ready for you.

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I Heart WTF

By Chris Albano

On February 1, 2014, I played my first show with the cast of What The Fuck. I didn’t realize until the next day that there was basically no better way for me to spend that night: I moved to Austin on February 2, 2013, and I can’t think of a better way to close out my first year in this city.

When I decided to move to Austin, I remember thinking that it felt too crazy to not do. I was living in Connecticut at the time, and I was comfortable. I had a good job, I had friends, and, perhaps most importantly to me, I had a wonderful improv team. We met together in a class, and from day one we loved and trusted one another. But I had lived my entire life in the northeast, and I wanted to push myself to grow outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t know much about Texas, but I had heard rumblings about a good improv scene from my friends, so I decided to try.

One of the hardest parts for me about moving to a new city is that it takes time to really find the people who will be your real friends. Like, in college, I always heard that you will spend your freshman year hanging out with people who are great but who you don’t fully click with, and then at some point in your sophomore year you will look around and say, “Holy crap, I have a community now.” It is the same when you move to a new city. When I first came to Austin, I felt lost without the strong community that I had left behind in Connecticut. I had assumed that that kind of kinship would take care of itself. I am a personable guy, I get along well with folks. I figured within weeks I’d meet a new team that I got along with as well as my old team. I realized quickly how special and rare it is to find a team that becomes like your family.

I will always remember the first rehearsal of What The Fuck. It was a room full of strangers, and yet our work was deeply intimate. We were real, we were honest, and we were vulnerable on stage, in a way that I hadn’t felt since I moved. I even kissed one of my scene partners on stage, which was a first for me. I felt connected to all of them, and I barely knew them.

Over the course of this project, I have taken steps to spend as much time as possible with my fellow cast mates. We have Whiskey Wednesday every week, where we play games and have strobe-light dance parties, we have movie nights, where everybody gets upset at me because I haven’t seen Bridesmaids yet, we sit around a table and play War, and the winner has to tell everybody a personal truth. The What The Fuck cast has become some of my best friends in Austin in two months. They have become my family, and I feel so lucky.

Throughout this process, I keep thinking of a blog post my friend Julia wrote about improv. She wrote, “The trick is to improvise with a team you know, trust, and love, in that order… That is, for me, the real joy of improv: knowing other people. No, no. The real joy is learning other people so someday, somehow you will know what they are going to do.” I first read this on February 9, 2013, it has taken me the full year to understand what she meant.

Thank you, What The Fuck.

What the F@$# runs every Saturday at 6pm in February. Get tickets here.

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The Starborn Descend

The Starborn, the brainchild of Mia Iseman and Ryan Austin, headlines The Threefer in February of 2014. Here’s a little chat with them about the show and everything that goes into i.

What is The Starborn? How is it different from other improv shows?

MIA: The Starborn is more interactive with the audience than most improv in Austin, and it’s one of those shows where the actors never break character but do scenes in their characters.  It’s weird, I guess, is what I’m trying to say.

RYAN: There’s no traditional narrative or common improv-y elements like edits, really. We describe it as an interactive, improvised alien invasion. It’s very similar to what Deanna Fleysher does with Butt Kapinski (http://www.buttkapinski.com) in how it’s an experience. So, yeah, weird.

 

What is the audience participation like? Has anyone been disruptive?

RYAN: I think the example that best illustrates the participation element we shoot for was when we endowed this one man as being James Bond. Mia ran up and set the scene, playing a bond girl in trouble. I urged him to go rescue her with his “helicopter tie” (his invention!) and he rushed on stage, picked her up and helicoptered away! I’ve never heard an audience cheer so hard. They weren’t cheering for us, of course, they were cheering for their own. Mia looked at me after that show and said “The audience is thestar of this show” and that has been our goal ever since.

MIA:  No one has been disruptive, but when you open the show up to that kind of interaction, you have to be ready to let them take the lead if they want it- which is awesome when it happens.   There was some dude once that was probably really drunk, but we just called him out as our crazy stowaway uncle alien and then moved on.

RYAN: Uncle Jack!

 

How did you guys come up with the idea and what were some of your influences?

RYAN: After watching Super Mega Art Show (from Seattle) and Butt Kapinski, I really wanted to try something similar to what they were doing with a focus on the audience interaction. I don’t know how I landed on the David Bowie influence but Sci Fi some how led to Ziggy Stardust and it went from there.

MIA: The costumes are inspired by cheesy sci-fi movies from the 70s and 80s.  Personally, I am inspired by Ryan Austin and the body language and eye contact in the foamy latte scene from Zoolander.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMLCGnADyCM)

 

What has the development process been like?

MIA: The most difficult aspect for me has been fighting the urge to feel like the show must have certain elements in order to be good.  I think we have ideal beats that we want to hit, and it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that it’s totally fine to not hit those beats. We keep having to remind each other that the aliens can literally do ANYTHING because they are not human, but it’s so hard to get over our human tendencies!

RYAN: We’ve been working with Asaf Ronen as our coach and he has helped us discover and evolve the core tenet of the show. For the audience interaction, the main tenet is misinterpretation. If a man is wearing a Batman shirt, he’s probably Batman. Glasses? He’s a scientist. There are a few sprinkles of satire but for the most part we like our human mocking to be completely wrong, so we make WILD assumptions based on reads of the Earthlings.

MIA: I’m most excited to play this February run and see how the show evolves over 4 weeks, since we’ll more than double our stage time by the time the run is over.  It’s pretty exciting for ze twins!!

Where did those decidedly German accents come from?

MIA: They are decidedly great fun to do, so we stuck with them.  I don’t know where they came from.  Is that something we straight up ripped off of Super Mega Art Show, Ryan?

RYAN: Yeah, they’re [respectfully] lifted from Super Mega Art Show. I kept trying other accents in the car on the way to our first show but nothing stuck. I think our accents are a bit sillier than theirs, so maybe that helps? I met one of them in Hawaii and he was super nice, so I feel like he’d be cool with it. I hope, anyway.

 

Mia, You made the costumes yourself?

MIA: Yes.  I did it on the cheap too!  Except the damn leggings.  American Apparel is too expensive.

RYAN: She’s being modest! She worked very hard on them and made sure to include differences to distinguish brother from sister. (Cape size, footwear etc) The first time I saw them I was blown away. She sewed for hours. Also, she added star glitter to a pair of my underwear. That’s a true friend.

 

Talk a bit about the theatrical elements of the show.

MIA: No, come see the show to find out!

RYAN: Agreed! Though, I do want to mention our troupe Technical improvisor Neal Tibrewala. He has added a lot to the show way beyond lights and sound. I think the biggest thing is he stops us from adding any unnecessary elements. He always puts the purpose of the show in the forefront, even if it means simplifying the tech needs.


Any guesses as to the kinds of audience interactions you’ll have over the next 4 weeks?

MIA: Your guess is as good as mine.  I hope even more courageous strangers talk to the freaky aliens.

RYAN: Man, there’s no telling. I can’t wait though! I’d love to endow someone as Wolverine…

The Starborn descend upon the Hideout every Thursday in February at 8pm in The Threefer. Get your tickets online (no fees!).

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Carefree and Fearless: Thoughts on What the F@$#

By Lindsay Hejl

A few years ago I chose to get a tattoo on my hand that translates to both “carefree” and “fearless.” Those two words are very similar yet they each carry a slightly different weight. For a while I saw them as separate. My tattoo had two meanings and I could listen to whichever one I wanted on any given day. But it can mean both at the same time. I realized I could smash the two meanings together on stage and boom- improv! That’s what this show is all about. Playing a game and telling a story with no fear and having a blast while doing it. The connective energy it creates is just as infectious as the laughter it leads to. I love every second I get to spend with this mischievous and loving cast.

Sunday has been my favorite day of the week these last two months because I get to hang out with all these amazing, hilarious, and caring people and do improv with them. When we started this journey as a cast I did not know most of them. It took a single rehearsal for me to feel comfortable around everyone (which for me, a somewhat shyer type who peaks over the walls she builds, that is really saying something). Now I cannot fathom my life without each of them. I sat around a table with some of them the other night and just thought to myself, “Man. My friends are so funny.” And each in their own unique and silly way. They’re more than funny, though. They’re loving and brilliant and supportive. They make playing warm-ups and games more exciting than I could ever imagine and they also listen patiently as I attempt to give a genuine weekly check-in. I thrive off all the laughs we share and swim in the support they give as I continue to learn to laugh at myself. I am incredibly lucky to get to share a stage and tell a story with such talented and wonderful people. I love you, my friends. Let’s fuck things up.

What the F@$# runs every Saturday at 6pm in February. Get tickets here.

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