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Del Close Marathon 13

August 18, 2011

Last week my improv group from Washington DC, Ouroboros, traveled to NYC to perform in the Del Close Marathon. Our show was on Friday night at 10:30 PM at The Hudson Guild. Our set was a lot of fun, but it was also great to see a ton of great improv non-stop for an entire weekend. I saw over 30 shows, some good, some bad, but ultimately it was a time for improvisers to come together and network as a community of performers and to just have fun. The party was a great chance to talk to people from different scenes and nerd out of seeing really cool shows. The UCB Press Conference was also really great, getting to see , Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, and Horatio Sanz talk shop.

Above: Picture of the UCB Founders taking questions at their press conference.

Here is an analysis of the top 15 shows I saw at the Del Close Marathon this year:

15. Cartel (Los Angeles)

I was very impressed to see this group that I had never even heard of before. I didn’t recognize any of them, but they apparently are a team that performs at iO West frequently. The group chemistry may have been one of the best I saw all weekend. These eight players really were on the same wavelength, understanding the comedic ideas of each other and taking it to fun places. They really functioned well as a team and committed to strong character play. They were excellent at labeling the situation and it was always very clear as to what was going on. Interesting group! Check them out.

14. Outlook of the Poet (New York City)

Outlook of the Poet had the tough job of opening the marathon up on Friday night, but they nailed it. An epic monoscene focusing on a mythical land with princesses, scimitars, pizza, and palomino horses. The content of the scene was very high concept and specific, however, the premise of Gavin Speiller coming through a time machine to help Jon Gabrus and Ben Rodgers fight off an army of ghosts and goblins was very entertaining.

13. Diamond Lion (New York City)

A collaborative musical improv group with many of New York’s best improvisers provided the audience with a fun musical montage. Scenes ranged from Fran Gillespie being a terrible childrens show character to Amber Petty singing about witnessing a hobo being murdered to Joe Wengert singing about trees. Either way, this group was totally having all the way, and it was noticeable from an audience perspective, as they were great fun to watch! See em.

12. Cannon & Gausas (New York City)

Christina Gausas from Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Kay Cannon from 30 Rock really put on a display of how to have fun for a half an hour with a best friend. This show immediately had me hooked with a high stakes suicide scene, and then organically transformed into a new scene. The transformation edits, when done correctly look flawless and I feel like every scene should transition like that. It seems so organic. Each of them let themselves be totally affected by what was being said. The strong character play started with taking information personally and reacting in a way that made scenes interesting right off the bat. They also had a lot of fun playing games with the space itself. They did a scene using chairs as cow utters, carrying a tv backstage and coming around the other side with it, switching characters and impersonating each other doing each others character, and by being multiple people in scenes. Very hard to keep track of! So impressive. See either of these performers in Let’s Have A Ball at the UCB.

11. The Premise Keepers (Los Angeles)

Comprised of Matt Besser, Katie DippoldAlex Fernie, Chad Carter, Joe Wengert, and Dominic Dierkes, this really is a super group of geniuses. Their format was very informal as they would do a premise off a monologue and then ask for more sporadically throughout. When the premise was clearly initiated, the scenes struck gold and pretty much wrote themselves. The game play of this group and “if thening” deployed was impeccable and impressive. Super smart stuff, see it!

10. The Curfew (New York City)

This seasoned UCB house team consisting of Anthony King, Jim Santangeli, Kevin Hines to name a few, did a fun show that was very connected which heightened nicely. I couldn’t completely discern the form, at first I thought it was a Harold, but I’m not positive. It had a lot of montage elements in it too. Ultimately, the show seemed very connected and everything was encapsulated within it. Also, small details became the main focus of the entire show. The discovery of bees led to a show about bees and bee life and how it was affecting these characters. Brilliant stuff and super fun group.

Above: Members of The Curfew

9. Sentimental Lady (Los Angeles)

An up and coming team from UCBLA, Sentimental Lady is comprised of the guys from Convoy, as well as some other young guns. This group started with a base monoscene, that they deconstructed and did montage-like scenes with to flesh out themes and elements, as well as to follow fun. They then came back to their monoscene and time dashed it, which was interesting to see how it developed. When a performer was inspired, it was cool to see them jump to an idea, that was very clearly communicated. Again, small mistakes become discoveries that were explored.

8. Doppleganger (New York City)

This show was such a delightful surprise! Doppleganger is an indie group from NYC made up of three UCB women improvisers. Their style was super quick and a montage in nature. They were very quick to follow the fun at any given moment and played off each other so naturally. They were a delight to see and I definetly recommend catching them at UCBNY when they perform next.

7. Bassprov (Chicago)

An amazing show with Joe Bill and Mark Sutton, two-seasoned Chicago improvisers along with guests Scott Adsit from 30 Rock and Matt Walsh of The Upright Citizens Brigade. These four improvisers slowly showed who their character was throughout the monoscene which is just them fishing and talking about topics through their own character filters. It was super impressive to watch how each of them reacted to the other and it was stunning to see how relaxed and smart it was. It was just so darn believable. Bassprov is a must see!

6. Death By Roo Roo (New York City)

This group surprisingly only had three performers: Neil Casey, Anthony Atamanuik and Gavin Speiller. All excellent seasoned veterans of the New York scene. They performed a monoscene in an antique shop where there was a shopkeeper and a gay couple shopping. This monoscene was solidly grounded in want and there was constant tension which continued to heighten throughout the scene. When the tension between the gay couple erupted, they would fight and yell and then make up and fuck in the antique store in front of the shopkeeper. This recharge gave the monoscene a great rhythm and was a marker of the next beat. A big chaotic moment like that helped pace the thirty minute scene and kept things patient, which is SO important in a monoscene. By the end of the scene, information was out there that this scene was taking place in the future, which is where Atamanuik said, “Well, since we’re all holograms.” One of the funniest things I’ve ever heard in an improv scene. These guys are kings of improv. See it!

5. Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah (Boston)

This show was utter mayhem. At 2:30 AM, Boston’s finest showed the audience what improv is all about: Getting wasted on stage, interrupting each other, and getting into fist fights. Lasting 15 minutes, the entire chaotic mess was fun to watch devolve into fights, yelling matches, and spraying beer on the audience. See it at next years DCM!

Above: Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah takes the stage.

4. Convoy (Los Angeles)

This rapid fire montage group from UCBLA was so catchy and fun! The trio Alex Fernie, Todd Fasen, and Alex Berg works so well. I’ve never seen three people so on the same page about what’s going on in a scene. Every game move, the other improviser immediately picked up on, and they were willing to jump to a new page when fun would strike. Convoy’s style of following the fun at any given moment and jumping to different situations, references, and playing the logic out was so much fun to watch. I could watch them pump out scenes like this all day. Convoy definetly was the fastest group I saw at the marathon and that kind of intelligent quick play is something I aspire to.

3. The Smokes (Los Angeles)

Wow! This was hands down the best monoscene I have ever seen. Comprised of Joe Wengert, Katie Dippold, Neil Casey, Anthony King, and Bobby Moynihan from SNL. One three minute scene, with five people in a car. The patience and listening exhibited by this group was phenomenal. The audience slowing realized more information about the situation throughout the scene and got more and more incites on how the characters felt about each other. The situation continued to heighten throughout the scene and confessions and character assumptions fueled the reactions. Most of all, everyone really stuck to their shit. Each character solidly committed to having a strong point of view and milked it for all it was worth. This show really made me realize that there does not need to be any rushing as long as the improvisers trust each other and are confident that they will explore and discover.

2. Baby Wants Candy (Chicago)

This was my second time seeing them and I must say they are truly the best musical improv group around. Made up of mostly UCB performers such as Mike Still, Jeff HillerWinston Noel, Michael Kayne, and Amber Petty, as well as seasoned veteran Peter Gwinn, BWC put on a completely improvised musical complete with love songs, ensemble pieces, and regular scenes. The narrative structure was intruiging and I could not look away. The story revolved around a “Ladies Night at the Disco” where coked up people came to take refuge and three mass murderers came to steal the lives of women. The show was well connected and had some of the best high moments of any group I saw this weekend. Two thumbs up for Baby Wants Candy.

1. The Back Room (Los Angeles)

This show made me laugh harder than I ever have. At 1:30 AM, a cast of wacked out characters engaged in a thirty minute talk show monitored by Matt Besser. Characters included Darryl Strawberry played by Chris Gethard, Mexican wrestler Espanto played by Horatio Sanz, Nihilist Jeff Foxworthy played by Rob Lathan, and last but not least The Sherriff of Nottingham played by James Adomian. Each character was somewhat zany and big, however totally committed. Adomian really stole the marathon for me. I’ve never laughed harder. He played an effeminate Sherriff who was hell bent on marrying Maid Marion and being in power. If this show is done again next year, I highly recommend it!

Above: The cast of The Back Room answers questions from internet fans

The majority of the shows I saw were excellent. Still, the ones that were not as weel received come back to the basics. There were a lot of transactions, negotiations, and environmental focus which made the scenes boring; whereas, a reaction or a ‘you’ statement would have made something matter. Additionally, there was a lack of listening sometimes which became evident when group members talked over each other and did not react to what was being said. Other groups were just a bit too zany and unrealistic for me, that’s a personal taste preference though. Some late night shows were interesting bit concepts, but were just unwatchable. Other shows that did not take off were grounded in fear of failure, which definetly was noticeable and gave it an uncertain undertone. Ultimately, those shows consisted of boring safe choices than were not fun for the audience or for the performers. At the end of the day, it’s really about having fun on stage with your choices and following what’s working.

For more information about the Del Close Marathon, visit the website at:

http://www.delclosemarathon.com/dcm13/

For more information about The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre visit:

http://www.ucbtheatre.com/

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