All the Improv this Year

2018 has been a great year of improv for me.

First, I was cast in ¡ESCÁNDALO! The Improvised Bilingual Telenovela, the Hideout Theatre’s first all-Latino show and the second student mainstage production of the year.

Second, I just wrapped up The Well-Made Play, the fourth student mainstage production of the year — and the only grounded Hideout production in 2018.

Both of these shows were incredibly successful with extended sold-out runs and rave reviews from audience members — and we had audience members return for a second and third time to watch these shows! It’s been a pretty surreal experience.

WAit. what?

Some background on how all of this works…

For those unfamiliar with improv, there are a variety of kinds. If you’ve ever watched Whose Line Is It Anyway?, that’s short form with games that are quick and hilarious. The Hideout specifically focuses on narrative long form, aka improvised plays, inspired by the philosophy of Keith Johnstone. These plays aren’t necessarily comedies. (More on that below.)

The Hideout Theatre has two stages tucked away behind the Hideout Coffee House. The downstairs theatre is larger, seats more people, and home to the mainstage productions; the upstairs theatre is more intimate and has a built-in set with a door, window, wings, and some other nooks and crannies, and is home to the student mainstage productions.

Mainstage show runs are typically eight performances with a rotating cast (though some shows are all-play), while student mainstage runs are four performances with all of the cast. All of these are 90-minute shows with 10-minute intermissions between Act I and Act II.

So,
Downstairs = mainstage productions; typically eight shows
Upstairs = student mainstage productions; typically four shows

Still with me?

¡ESCÁNDALO!

Our improvised telenovela (which you can read more about right here) had four regularly scheduled shows Saturdays in April, plus a bonus performance on Cinco de Mayo that would be in all-Spanish, another first for the Hideout Theatre. This show was so much fun. Even though we all had different backgrounds in terms of nationality and language, we were bonded by our shared culture. The cast and crew quickly became family.

The show was a huge success. We sold out all of our five scheduled performances by the end of the second week. Because of that, we were offered an extended run Fridays in May, giving us a total of nine shows! This is unheard of!

I was able to perform in 8 out of the 9 (I was in a wedding in April). We sold out every single show. We took our show to San Antonio where it was well received, and we also were selected to perform in the Out of Bounds Comedy Festival. We were on 🔥🔥🔥.

And just yesterday, the B. Iden Payne Awards nominations were announced, and we were nominated in two categories: Best New Troupe and Outstanding Improv Troupe (the only categories we were eligible to be nominated in).

All in all, this show exceed expectations and broke records! We’re the only student mainstage to get 9 performances — something even the downstairs mainstages rarely get!

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Audience Review 🔥🔥🔥

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The format was fun and challenging and pushed me to perform outside of my improv comfort zone. I’m truly a much better performer because of it.

I honed skills and learned new ones: how to narrate, give monologues, heighten drama, raise the stakes, add plot twists, and even became comfortable with stage kissing. I also got really good at dying slowly and reciting last memorable last words — and learned how to play villain. I was too polite of an improviser in the beginning, but by the end of the show I had no problems of doing evil things on stage, like shoving Celestina’s face into a deep fryer in a carnival to avenge my cousin’s death. You know, typical family drama, right?

Our show was so loco! And audiences came back over and over again to see the drama unfold. Ah, what a wild and rewarding show that was.

The Well-made play

Now, this was a MUCH different type of drama from Escándalo.

The Well-Made Play (which you can learn more about here)  was an improvised version of the scripted well-made play format. It’s about a group of people (friends and/or family) meeting together for the first time in a long while. One of them has a secret. Suspense builds as the audience realizes which character has the secret and when it’s finally revealed, everything has changed and can never be the same. If you’re familiar with plays like Proof, The Humans, or August: Osage County, those are well-made plays.

The Well-Made Play we just wrapped up was patient, grounded drama — something that you rarely see in improv. In fact, I’m certain that no other improv show has ever done the well-made play format.

I admit that I was very nervous about this one. Our rehearsals were serious and brought us to tears. Would an audience be able to sit through an improvised drama for 90-minutes and enjoy it?

The answer was HELL YES!

We had a total of six performances and I’m not exaggerating when I said that every single one was amazing. Usually in a show run, there’s a dip around week 3. But because we were a cast of eight rotating — only six cast members per show — the chemistry was always fresh. Some of us only did four shows. I was able to be in five. Each week we made audiences laugh and cry and feel all the feels. It was incredibly rewarding.

People came up to me after each show in tears or holding back tears to say how much they loved it. Every character on stage felt so real. It did feel real. In the last show, two of us shed real tears on stage. It took an emotional toll on me some weeks, but it was all worth it.

So many people have told us that it was the best improv show they’ve seen all year and one of the top improv shows ever. What. The. Fuck. I can’t believe I was in something that people loved so much. 🤯 People talk about our shows long after they’re done, and gah! My heart! I don’t think I have the words to fully describe what an amazing experience this has been.

It’s the most patient and satisfying improv I’ve ever done. And it worked my acting muscles, which I didn’t think I even had! I auditioned on a whim expecting to not get cast but I did, and I’m so grateful for the experience.

what comes next?

I’m taking somewhat of an improv break right now. I have existing obligations that I’m keeping, like shows and classes already on my schedule. I’m supposed to not add more shows to my plate this month and next month… but I did say yes to a couple of other things though. I’m the worst at breaks.

I’m TAing students from levels one to six so that I can hopefully start teaching classes next year. It’s an unpaid gig (like 99.999% of all improv-related activities) and a 36-week commitment. (Yep! There are six levels. Each level is six weeks, and classes are 3 hours long.) However, as much as it is difficult to stay up late on a Monday, I am really enjoying watching these students learn and grow. And they make me laugh so much. My cheeks hurt every week from laughing.

I also have aspirations to direct. I pitched a student show idea to the Hideout, but I’m not eligible to get on the path to directing there because I haven’t been cast downstairs (yet 🤞🏽). If it’s not selected, I plan on pitching it to another local theatre or trying to put it up myself somewhere else, though the latter is the hardest as I’d be responsible to paying for pretty much everything out of pocket. We’ll see what happens in the next few months.

The Well-Made Play applied to perform in the Alaska Improv Festival, and we should be finding out whether we were selected sometime by the end of the month. It’s supposed to be one of the best improv festivals, both in quality of performers and the amount of fun. Fingers crossed we get in! I’d love to go to Alaska. It’s definitely on my bucket list, and we’d stop at Seattle and maybe Vancouver before arriving in Juneau. The festival is in April which is supposed to be a beautiful time of the year.

I’m also focusing on writing. Austin Film Festival is next month. I submitted an hour-long drama pilot but it didn’t advance. I’m now working on a feature, and I hope to have it done by the end of November so that I can schedule a table read with friends sometime in early December or January. Then submissions all over again next year.

I have a lot of personal stuff going on — stuff I plan on writing about in the future but not right now — so a break was much needed. I’m definitely feeling the FOMO and want to still do all of the improv things. I just keep reminding myself to let myself rest so that I can jump right back in early next year.

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