Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Villanelle for Brad Morris and Jean Villepique

Choose an improv duo to adore
Comprised of two grand talents in a row 
Morris/Villepique through Mainstage door  

Aft Razowsky, Clifford grace the floor
Order drinks and bask in glory's glow
Choose an improv duo to adore

While practicing improv and improv lore
You have no reason not to up and go
Morris/Villepique through Mainstage door

There's not a group of two you ought see more 
And double two will surely, amply flow 
Choose an improv duo to adore

To glean from those who've mastered "it" before
Dave, Carrie, Brad and Jean make one big show Morris/Villepique through Mainstage door

Experience the wit or pay the score 
Be grateful that it costs so little dough

Choose an improv duo to adore
Morris/Villepique through Mainstage door

Brad Morris and Jean Villepique of Morris/Villepique can be seen the first two Mondays in October at 9pm on the IO West Main Stage right after the legendary Razowsky and Clifford.

Villanelles (real ones) and other poetic forms may be found at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where the Danger Snack did they get their name?

As an improviser, one of the things I always wonder is How did that team come up with that name?  

Sometimes it seems to fit so perfectly, and other times, I think: Where the WIFFLE WAFFLE did that come from?  

My team-name story is simple. We named our team after the first organic opening we did together.  In the opening we created a mystery box so MYSTERY BOX we became.  

It was simple.


Not so much.  

Mike Sally Faerber says he once had a group after college for which the naming ritual involved a giant google doc spreadsheet and a 40-email-long chain deciding where they should meet to further argue over their name.  

He went on to explain a flawed voting system and the flawed notion that the name just had to be perfect.  

He remembers thinking This is improv, so it shouldn't matter.  

They ended up choosing OH, SCIENCE.  And, for the record, Sally is now on MYSTERY BOX, and I'm pretty sure he was the one person on the team who couldn't care less what name we finally chose.

Chris Stathis recounts, "It's sketch now, but Drug Puppy used to be an improv team, and we got the name from when Adam and I were once in a scene together. We were two police officers about to raid a house.  I was the senior officer and he was the rookie.  Each beat was showing how unprepared he was for the job.  I finally asked him if he had the drug dogs and he looked at me and said, ‘Um...I have a drug puppy.’ And that name kinda stuck." 

Still others take a slightly sarcastic approach.  Chris Thompson said, "Well, one time, Paul and I realized 'Hey we were friends,’ so we named our two-person show CHRIS AND PAUL ARE FRIENDS

I've always loved that simple, silly name.  I've often suggested that they should rename it every time they play: “Chris and Paul Go To The Zoo,” “Chris and Paul Play Catch,” “Chris and Paul Braid Each Other's Hair.” 

LOCAL WIZARD came after a class exercise in Level 2.  They were asked to derive ideas and themes from openings, and one guy replied, "All I got from that was something about a wizard."  They found it funny, added “Local” and the name remained.

The Mainstage team, NATURAL 20 took an intellectual approach.  One of the players suggested the name because in Dungeons and Dragons, Natural 20 means "critical success."

Regarding her show with Paul Detrick, Molly Matthews explained, "Paul and I have a two-man show, SLICE. We were on the DCT team, CAKEWALK, together for a year. Before every show, I had to have a slice of pizza in order to be able to perform. Actually, I just always forgot to eat dinner, and pizza was the closest thing.  Also, Paul and I often met over slices of pizza to discuss our ideas.  And, we like to think that our show is like a slice of life."  Molly also pointed out that the 90's soda, Slice, is also cool, which, of course, it totally is.

I guess the point is, everyone comes up with their name in a different way.  I've always been of the view that it should involve a process that is short and sweet -- that is should arise naturally from a funny or meaningful moment that you experience together as a team. But others like the whole voting system, or email chain thing or whatever floats their
WATERLOO. I say, just keep it CLASSY or RAT PAGEANT, It's entirely up to SPEAKING MOOSE.

- Kate Nielson

Monday, September 26, 2011

A student's take on teacher and performer Dave Hill

There are few wonderful people in the world that give you all of their attention when you speak with them. Maybe it's due to his extensive improv training, but Dave Hill is one of those people.

I fell in love with Dave’s fun and supportive approach to improv during Level 1, and, like so many students, I'm really looking forward to coming full circle and having him again for level 7.

However, Dave is such an active member in the iO West community, there seem to be so many opportunities to otherwise study with him.

Like so many iO alums, Dave began his improv experience in the improv paradise of Chicago. What Chicago lacks in palm trees, it makes up for in theaters.

Throughout his years in Chicago, Dave performed regularly at Second City and Improv Olympic (now called iO) after completing both improv programs and Second City's writing program.

In Los Angeles, Dave has continued his improvisational performing while also focusing on writing and acting for television. Dave has been on shows like Reno 911!, American Body Shop, and he has taken advantage of the web series boom, showing us improvisers once again: adapt or die.

Dave Hill’s workshops and intensives are some of the most popular in the iO West program. There’s one called “Just the Facts," which focuses on teaching performers how to focus on what's really important in a scene when it's not going anywhere and how to infuse helpful specifics.

Coming up this month, Dave is teaching his very popular Character Workshop, which emphasizes not only creating fun characters, but developing them and experimenting with them throughout the length of a show. Registration is available now, and I imagine the class will fill up fast.

I imagine that Dave's accessibility and versatility as both a teacher and performer stem in part from his varied educational background. In addition to his writing and acting training, he got his BA from Princeton in Politics with a minor in East Asian Studies, which gives folks like me, with a degree in Theatre Arts and a minor in Japanese, even more hope for their improv future.

 - Elizabeth Steele

A student's take on teacher and performer Dave Razowsky

The thing is, I don't consider myself very funny.  

But when I recount to my friends the awkward, stupid and ridiculous things that happen to me with some dry, witty commentary, people laugh and tell me I'm funny.  
Sometimes, though that "You're funny," reads more like "Oh, aren’t you cute." But like most of us who didn't get enough love in our childhoods, I’ll take praise where I can get it.  

Convinced as I was that I was the next big dramatic actress, I got a fancy theatre degree, which is pretty much toilet paper here in LA, and have been paying for it ever since.  Now, don't get me wrong, that witty lyricist Billy Shakespeare is one funny guy, but knowing that about Shakespeare didn't earn me many friends outside of the Renaissance Faire circuit.  

Fast forward to a year ago, where my admiration of actresses like Stephnie Weir, Mo Collins, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey led me to UCB and iO West, wishing I could somehow hone my ability to make people laugh.

Dave Razowsky was my Level I teacher at iO West, and I had so much fun learning to ignore the critic in my head and to just go with all of my crazy tangents, or, as they say in improv, to just say “Yes and” no matter what, supporting not only my ideas, but those of my teammates as well.

It's all about trust.

Trust that your ideas will be supported and your teammates will back you up.  

If you think you're a monkey, and someone says lovingly, "Honey, I can't believe we've been married for ten years!" Guess what?  You're a monkey who's been married for ten years.

Is your spouse, then, also a monkey? Who knows? Maybe.

A major tenet of Level I and, of course, all successful improv is Be present.  

Know what's going on so you can be there for your teammates and so you can pick up on what Razowsky calls "shiny objects" that may be reinserted later.  

"Hold on to your shit!" Razowsky would shout if we started to cave in to our teammate’s character or to solve the problem that lies between us.

The tension is what makes the relationship interesting. If f you give in too soon, the power dissipates and a great scene deflates.  

Keep doing what you're doing until you can't do anything else BUT change, and THEN you change.

Level I was heavy on character and object work, rightfully establishing the importance of these skills from the jump.  

As one moves forward into the ensemble work of Level II – learning the games, edits, and skeletal parts of the Harold – it becomes quite apparent how right Razowsky was.

Hold onto your shit, because shit's about to get crazy!

 - D. Amelia

Saturday, September 24, 2011

LA Weekly calls Parvesh Cheena hysterically funny

Frequent Top Story! Weekly performer and BANDIT member Parvesh Cheena performs three characters "hysterically" in Shane Sakhrani's "fun and frothy" play A Widow of No Importance, which plays through October 9 at the East West Players in the David Henry Hwang Theater at 120 Judge John Aiso Street in Little Tokyo.

What says LA Weekly? Go.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cento for Phillip Wilburn

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Illuminating all the motionless world of Time between
Touch it: it won’t shrink like an eyeball
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I stand amid the roar
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay
I hear the gush of air
That sleeps, a mimic echo, in the shell
Home for now. Hidden in weeds
The place where the sidewalk ends
Beside the white chickens

A cento is a poem comprised solely of other poems.

Phillip Wilburn is an impressionist who takes on the persona of any one of a myriad celebrities and characters, including Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Edwards, Al Gore, George Bush, Bill Clinton, Muammar Gaddafi, Tim Gunn, Jeff Foxworthy, Homer Simpson, Austin Powers, Kermit the Frog, Elmo, scores of others and perhaps soon the Pixar lamp.

Wilburn is the executive producer, staff writer and impersonator exceptionnel on Top Story! Weekly, which is a live sketch show based on the previous week’s news every Sunday night at 9 on the iO West Main Stage. It's actually how I get my news.

Holy Istanbul!
Good news, good news. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

From the mouths of babes

When asked about the various opportunities to perform at iO West as compared to some of the other improv schools, iO West student, intern and frequent performer, Mishell Livio had this to say:

There are thus three times as many opportunities to get up and perform.

I’ve done everything from a sketch show, complete with costumes and props in the Loft to a two-person, 10-minute Harold on the Main Stage to a one person accapella musical in the DCT.

Every night is hosted by a different group that has its own unique feel and flow. The performance slots are anywhere from five minutes to an hour and a half.

There may be one to eight different groups performing per show slot. You could perform the same piece in each theater (not that you would when it's improv), and every time it would have a different feel because each theater has its own unique energy.

I love performing in all of the rooms because it’s a great way to showcase, in a nurturing environment, the skills I’ve learned in class."

For a list of team-hosted events that are always looking for guest teams to round out their shows - events such as Ruffneck Improv, La Granja Presents Game Night, Mystic Mondays with Tarotdactyl and One Hour Improv Festival with English Speaking Moose - visit the calendars for the various stages and click the links for the sundry host teams.
"The thing I love most about iO West is that performing is encouraged. There are three complete theaters: the Loft, the Del Close Theater and the Main Stage.

Lost's Jorge Garcia's acting and improv tips

Lost star Jorge Garcia took some time to talk to iO West about acting, improv and his career after he played in The Armando Show. Check out the ways that Improv can help your career!


The Armando Show is one of the more popular shows at iO West because celebrities and friends of the theater perform monologues that inspire scenes. It's called "The Armando" after Armando Diaz, an improvisor who started the form by sharing interesting stories from his life. Be sure to check out The Armando Show on Saturdays at iO West.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ode to Kate Flannery

In leotard and soft delusions dance
Red pants and hair and lips and heart for him
Despite all claims of cool indifference
To Paul Masson Grande Amber or his kin

You slant-smile, sing and joke with sublime grace
And high-pitch squeal and squat and wince and hum
You show us gals just how to love a liya

Asleep and unaware of your sweet taste
You inspire in us the quest to be your chum
Or catch a wink while you croon “Light My Fiya"

If you haven’t seen Kate Flannery from NBC's The Office and Scot Robinson of Anchorman perform as Kassie and Hori in "The Lampshades," you can bask in their whimsy and smarm, live, one Saturday each month at iO West in Hollywood.

And you can see Kate Flannery perform tonight on the 2011 Emmy Awards where all kinds of improvisers, including iO alum like Tina Fey, will vie for acquisition of the coveted statue.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Musical improv

There are few groups in Los Angeles who improvise with song. Following are three groups that perform regularly at iO West:

Opening Night: The Improvised Musical!, under the artistic direction of Shulie Cowen and musical direction of Michael Pollock, graces the main stage every Friday night at 9 with an hour-long improvised musical based on an audience suggestion. The music, which is the style of classic Broadway and which is influenced by legends such as Gilbert and Sullivan, Rogers and Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber is completely made up. The cast of singing improvisers includes Derek Miller, Norm Thoeming, Hilary Rowe, Matt Jones and Shulie Cowen. The keyboardist is Michael Pollock. Since the group has been together for 13 years, their impeccable timing and bold moves are guaranteed to impress, and their catchy and hilarious songs will never leave your head. In fact, I still hum a tune they made up a year ago about lettuce.

Sister Wives, a newly formed group who performs some of their shows a cappella, is led by Mishell Livio, coached by Anne Gregory and accompanied on occasion by Kristin Erickson, Ben Bromfield, Scott Passarella, Brett Knickerbocker and others. Sister Wives performs a unique, organic blend of Bobby McFerrin and Disney and showcases the talents of Jessica-Reiner Harris, Mishell Livio, Paige Tierney , Andrea Kittelson and guest performers, such as Erik Voss, Scott Passarella, Tiffani Ann Wells, Maurissa Afanador and others. Sister Wives performs in the Loft, the DCT, the Elephant Theater on Theater Row, Room 101, and this coming Friday at 11, the main stage at iO West. While this group is only a few months old, their unique brand of musical improv is already generating buzz.

Operocka, under the artistic direction of Marion Oberle and music direction of Alex Burke, blasts onto the main stage every other Friday at 10 with a 30-minute improvised rock opera wherein every line is sung. The music, in the vein of Tommy and Hedwig and the Angry Inch is created on the spot. The cast of improvisers includes Anne Gregory, Molly Hawkey, Ronnie Karam, Tim Jennings, Genevieve Jones, Darrin Yalacki, Eric Schackne, Hanna LoPatin, Matt Rocheleau, guitarist Eric Schackne and keyboardist Greg Jenkins. Operocka has been together for over two years, and their diverse and versatile cast makes every show a unique experience.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Steel City Sandwiches at iO West Tuesday nights

Like the improvisers at iO West hail from all over, so do Los Angeles food trucks. There are trucks that serve Cajun food, Mid West comfort food, kosher deli treats and more. And, like improvisers, food trucks cover all kinds of ground throughout Los Angeles and are sometimes hard to pin down.

Well, luckily, one food truck is settling down right at iO West. Because of the relationship between the truck’s proprietors, Taylor Funkhouser and Neil Shuman, and the brilliant minds on the iO West marketing team, iO West will be home to Steel City Sandwiches every Tuesday night from 10:30 to midnight. And for those with an iO West ticket stub, all eats, from the signature yinzer to the traditional pierogie, will be $1 off.

Steel City Sandwich offerings include:

The Yinzer, comprised of ham, turkey, capicola, salami or pastrami topped with provolone cheese, tomatoes, Italian slaw and fries

The Champion, which is the Yinzer times two, with double the meat, double the cheese and a fried egg

The Cold Italian, consisting of cold cuts, cheese, tomatoes, slaw and fries

The Oh, My Cod, which is beer battered fresh fish filet under a heap of veggies, slaw and fries

And The California Transplant, a vegetarian amalgam of Portobello mushrooms, Swiss cheese, carmelized onions, avocado and a generous heap of classic Steel City fixin’s.

But sandwiches, or “sammies,” are not the only Steel City delights. There are of course classic pierogies, which are Polish dumplings stuffed to the gills with mashed potatoes, cheddar cheese, carmelized onions and a side of sour cream; and for the more demure, there is salad.

But before you head down to iO West to immerse yourself in Pittsburgh cuisine and see some terrific Harold teams: Natural 20, Waterloo, The Cartel, Local 132, BANDIT, Sweeterhouse, Popular Science, and Sweaty Candy, visit Steel City’s website for a quick lesson in Pittsburghese.