TRUST US review…

March 30, 2011 at 3:42 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Trust Us... TJ & Dave

I watched TRUST US, THIS IS ALL MADE UP on Amazon-On-Demand the other night ($1.99). It is a documentary/concert film that records one of the shows by TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi’s – known as the duo TJ and Dave – at Barrow Street Theatre in NYC.

From a June 15, 2008 article in The New York Times: “Mr. Jagodowski and Mr. Pasquesi  have to pull an hour’s worth of story and anywhere from 5 to 12 characters out of thin air. They’re not even assisted by plot suggestions from the audience, something they see as the tired gimmick of many another improv outfit.”

I’ll grant the duo this, they are very, very good. Technically, they portray distinct characters, keep the story of their scenes mostly moving forward and work incredibly well together (this last point may account, really, for the secret of their high status in the improv community).

I couldn’t help comparing what Swearingen and I do as Fun Grip to that of TJ and Dave. They are two men who do long-form. They, too, play each other’s characters. They, too, follow mostly one narrative line with small tangents of word play and games.

What sets Fun Grip apart from TJ & Dave is first, a subtle improv snobbery.

Also in the NYTs: “When you take suggestions, a lot of it is to prove to the audience that you’re making it up,” Mr. Pasquesi explained. “But it doesn’t prove it. Also you do it to engage the audience into thinking they’re participating in the evening, which I don’t think we need anymore.”

Don’t get me wrong. Jeff and I think we are awesome. But we don’t make platitudes about the Art of Improv. One way is not better than another. Improv is big enough to encompass all kinds of approaches.

The second thing from the film I noticed is that TJ & Dave, at least in the performance committed to video, are extremely measured. They play for versimilitude, for realism. Their characters are subtle and low key. They are, in fact, mostly talking heads who move about the stage in predictable patterns (meaning, chairs are chairs. There is lots of sitting and standing. very little creating of dynamic space). This is not a fault, it is their style of play. There is room for all.

Fun Grip on the other hand, is very theatrical (at our best) and we constantly create outrageous situations, outlandish characters and a variety of “giant robot” moments. We give each other a good-natured hard time as much as we work together earnestly.

We, Fun Grip, are not as innovative as we have thought ourselves to be, but we are original in incredible ways.

I tip my hat to TJ & Dave. They have paved a path, and though we trail-blaze ourselves, Jeff and I must acknowledge a road does now exist and thanks must be extended to TJ Jagodowski and David Pasquesi… those who have gone before.

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TJ and Dave

October 13, 2010 at 6:03 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I have to admit… until a few minutes ago, I’d never heard of TJ and Dave. Apparently, they are a very well-known and well-loved longform comedy duo. I stumbled upon a NY Times review of a new documentary about them that shows some of the process behind how two guys put together an unscripted hour-long play onstage together. I’m obviously interested in this because, well, of course, that’s what Swearingen and I do with Fun Grip.

I have two initial reactions to hearing about the TJ & Dave documentary.

First, I realize how out on the fringes Jeff and I are. We are self-taught (mostly) and have forged our own brand of two-man longform through many, many shows. We’ve essentially learned it by doing it. I think this is unique in that we have had no one to compare ourselves to as we’ve developed. We are kinda outside the national improv scene (hell, we’re kinda outside the local improv scene). On the downside, we don’t know crap about what other folks are doing around the country. On the plus side, we don’t emulate anyone. Our particular brand of improv is idiosyncratic to us and only us. And that’s nice.

Second, it is good to know longform improv (particularly two-man longform) has caught on enough to warrant a documentary. It shows that our art can puncture through, just a little, to the mainstream/greater culture.

Info on TJ & Dave here.

Questionnaire

August 4, 2010 at 6:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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A fellow named Abe W. from the Ursinus College of Pennsylvania contacted me (Brad) recently about an independent study course he was doing this summer. He is polling a bunch of improvisers around the country to compile a report on longform theatrical improvisation and the Harold.

I thought it might be neat to post the answers to the questionnaire I sent back to him.

Name: Brad McEntire

Troupe/Company Name: FUN GRIP

How many members does your troupe have? 2

In what city do you primarily rehearse and perform? Dallas, Texas

How long has your troupe/company been together? 4 years as this group, 10 with various other groups.

How do you measure success in improvisation?

 Everyone walks away happy – meaning the audience had fun, the performers had fun and the box office person had fun ($).

How do you structure your performances? Does your troupe use the Harold (or a variation of it)? Why or why not?

 We do longform, and have several formats we’ve adopted (like Typewriter/ Elevator) or invented (Dual Interview), but most often perform an original format we just call Fun Grip. It is a story-based format, but quite different than the Harold.

We have sat in with other groups and played Harold and Armando, but we have found these formats too restrictive for our own creativity and prefer a more organic approach. If you’re really curious about our format, there’s info at: https://fungrip.wordpress.com/about/

Describe your rehearsal process.

 We most often rehearse by doing, meaning we simply perform an improv set and then have a talkback afterwards, looking for points where we could be stronger, noticing habits forming and just having fun. Lately, we are doing enough gigs back to back (more than or at least once a month) that we have stopped rehearsing and just perform.

Rehearsals for a two man group are tricky. They can easily become self-indulgent. You might start to practice trying to make the other person laugh, rather than focusing on techniques, etc. We are also always wary of peaking in rehearsal, or coming up with something really hauntingly good, and it is a little wasted without an audience seeing it. They’re the last ingredient, after all.

How do you connect to your audience?

 We don’t chit-chat and clap at the beginning. I hate the clapping. We quickly introduce ourselves, grab a suggestion and go. The ride has begun and with high energy. Real high energy, not schmaltzy “host” energy. Throughout the set we will frequently go into the audience, pull up audience members into the set, break the fourth wall, etc. We don’t take the format so seriously that the audience isn’t in on the whole thing.

 When I do solo improv (I have a format called DRIBBLE FUNK) I stand silently onstage before I begin the set, taking a beat to take in the audience.  

Do you have any other advice for young improvisers or beginning troupes?

1. Perform at a lot of places instead of just one home base. That way your audiences will change more, too. And perform a lot.

2. Get the branding down, complete with website, photos, videos and press kit asap. Festivals are sticklers for this. Early on, I think we missed a few good opportunities just because we were not packaging ourselves properly. While I’m on this subject, have one person in your group be that manager, who books gigs, applies to festivals, etc. This stuff is one of those things that is almost impossible to really stay on top of.

3. Be good. Not just good on stage, but be good off stage, too. It is always a sad situation when you’re around a big group of improvisers and half of them are assholes. It is a field filled with both genuinely delightful, inventive people and a whole bunch of insecure, dick-measuring folks.  I always think it should be more like the golden age of jazz musicians (supportive, interested, willing to jam together). Being good includes not bad-mouthing anyone publicly EVER and writing thank you notes/emails when needed (in fact, thank you notes with your troupe logo is always classy).

Good luck, Abe. ~Brad of FUN GRIP IMPROV

Improv and Greatness

April 3, 2010 at 6:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I read an article about studies done recently concerning “greatness.” Seems that research supports the view that hard work and persistence far out weighs talent as a deciding factor in success. Common sense, right? Sorta. Seems practice does make perfect, but only specific continual practice. And there is a ten year rule. Seems anyone who has struck it big had about ten years of steady hardwork and practice behind them (as a minimum) before they made it to greatness. Even Bobby Fisher had been playing chess nonstop for nearly ten years when he became a grand champion at age 16.

It dawned on me: the only thing I’ve put nearly ten years of continual hardworking trial-and-error practice into has been performing comedy. Even playwriting, which I don’t do continually enough to say constant practice, I’ve only been plugging away at seriously for a few years.

I’m stuck out here in Hong Kong, which is not an altogether bad place to be stuck (but stuck all the same), with little opportunity to further develop my improv comedy chops. 

So it’s got me thinking about improv lately. I was trying to explain the concept of improvisational comedy to someone I work with at the school I teach at. She is in her early twenties and was born in China.  English is her shaky second language. The more I tried to explain it, the more it sounded like a quirky vaudeville act done in late-night bars. Which, it sort of is.

But is can be so much more.

Continue Reading Improv and Greatness…

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