Saturday, January 28, 2012

Instructor Karen Graci in brief

Several iO West instructors have listed during these brief interviews Harold team King Ten as one to watch.

King Ten team member, performer, producer, and iO West instructor Karen Graci is a key reason we should.

I recently caught up with Graci briefly to see if I could distill King Ten's magic elixir. The ingredients for improv success seem to include confidence, a sense of play, continuously challenging oneself, and generous ensemble work…

Well, sure. I suppose that's why the instructors keep hammering those lessons home.

Like all great teachers, Karen Graci knows and does what she's talking about.

Graci graciously offered even a few more drops of wisdom for the iO West community.

SKK: What was the moment when you first discovered you loved performing improv?

KG: In college. I was studying at American University in Washington, DC and was in a play called The Nerd with my friend, Dave Buckman. It was a fun comedy, and I remember him saying to me, "You love comedy, I love comedy: we should do improv."

And I said, " What's improv?"

And he said, "You know, like Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

And I was like, "What's 'Whose Line Is It Anyway?'"

So, basically, Dave started the first improv group at American University. There were about six or eight of us, and we did short form games. That's when I really started loving the surprise and discovery of improv, the challenge of having to be so clever so fast while still having fun and being stage-worthy.

SKK: What has been your favorite on-stage experience so far?

KG: That's hard to say. I've been fortunate to have many. I was able to perform with an improv group called Baby Wants Candy, and we performed a fully improved musical in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, which was really fun.

I also loved performing with the Second City National Touring Company, doing the first-ever Second City USO Tour to the Middle East in Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It was exciting to be able to perform for American troops who were sitting in the audience with guns in their laps. (Talk about having an incentive to do a good show!)

They genuinely appreciated us being there.

And I really loved doing weekly shows in Chicago with iO groups like Rockstar of Siam – which was actually a Cage Match team that won so many shows [we were made into] a Harold team.

We were young and hungry and did the La Ronde and really tried to go for it with each show – to really have fun and do inventive work.

I have to say, though, that King Ten is so fantastic for me right now. We are all genuinely close friends and love being together, love cracking each other up. We try to raise the bar each week for ourselves and push ourselves to do better work, too.

It's hard to have a bad show, then, because you don't want to let your friends down. The best feeling is when I can make my teammates laugh. It must be funny if they laugh.

SKK: What led you to begin teaching improv?

KG: I wanted to teach because I love playing so much. I love the feeling of not having a script, of not knowing what's next, and of embracing the idea that whatever will be will be right. And it will be great.

And it's such a thrilling feeling to create something from nothing that is your own, that entertains people, that surprises them or is truthful to them. The downside is that it is just as fleeting as it is thrilling.

SKK: What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching for you?

KG: The most rewarding aspect of teaching is seeing people's enthusiasm to try, to take a risk, and to be willing to look like a complete and utter douche bag while doing so.

I love seeing more experienced performers go from thinking too much to feeling more on stage. Usually their work gets better when they do that.

I love helping performers switch from being in their head to following their instincts.

There's not much better than seeing students surprise themselves with characters and ideas they didn't know they had...being proud of their work, and having fun.

SKK: What has been your favorite in-class experience so far? This experience could also be "as a result of class."

KG: All of the above, I think. Little moments. Students having more confidence in themselves and their choices. Knowing that they are only as good as they believe they are.

SKK: Lastly, for everyone reading this blog who is trying to figure out what shows to see first, which are a few Harold teams you think are particularly successful, and why do they work so well? You can include your own.

KG: It's hard for me to say which Harold teams people should see you because I don't see as many as I would like. I wish I could say I see every team every week and immerse myself in every show and I am just not able to do that these days.

But I think the key is to see as many shows as you possibly can. I remember being a student in Chicago and being at the theater four or five nights a week to really absorb the whole world of it. I saw terrific shows and many not so great shows. But that's how you learn.

I went from being more of a passive audience member who was just enjoying the show to being one who could actually analyze the moves that people were making, figuring out why, for example, a support move works so well, or how an edit was missed, or when something on stage wasn't working how would I fix it?

Then improv goes from being entertainment to being instruction. The more shows you can see, the better – of all teams, of all levels. It'll make you a better performer. And if you have time to see King Ten or Bandit (the team I coach), well, then, I'm not going to stop you.

I'd also like to say that I don't think there is some sort of magic formula for making a great improv team. You can put fantastic players on the team but if there's no team chemistry, if there's no group mind, if there's no listening, if there's no give-and-take, then it's just a bunch of people throwing elbows to get their ideas out and that only lasts so long.

And frankly, that isn't very interesting to watch. I prefer to watch teams that make each other look good by physically, emotionally and intellectually playing to the top of their game to make each other look good. Those are the teams to me that are funny as all hell. It's not only who they are individually that matters, but also what they create between them that's money in the bank.

Karen Graci's bio:

A proud native of Buffalo, NY, Karen Graci performed for Chicago’s The Second City for more than three years. While touring the US and abroad with The Second City National Touring Company, Graci was grateful to perform in The Second City’s first-ever USO Tour, entertaining American troops in Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. She was also a resident cast member in The Best of Second City at The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas for over a year.

Graci co-wrote and starred in the sold-out run of Camp Hot, a three-woman sketch show featured at UCB LA and the Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival. Her one-woman show, Her Potential, was a 2008 Del Close Award nominee for Best Scripted Show at iO West.

A veteran of ComedySportz Chicago and Baby Wants Candy at iO Chicago, Graci now performs regularly at iO West with King Ten. Graci is an instructor at iO West and also taught at Second City Las Vegas and Second City Los Angeles. Most recently, Graci coached the iO West Harold Team, Local 132.

Keep checking the iO West website for Karen Graci's teaching schedule.

- Shawn Kathryn Kane

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring interview, thank you for sharing your insight!