Whether it has been with the Brave New Workshop, Ferrari McSpeedy or another improv group with a bizarre name (which only came into being after months of argument), I've always entered into my first day of rehearsal with nothing. Me expectation has always been that in eight weeks, there would be a show and it would be funny. Sure, maybe I'd come into a first rehearsal with a few ideas, a nugget of funny, a scenario or a line of dialogue, but it would never be more than that.
Since this is my norm, I find the unknown to be incredibly exciting, like walking into a bar and seeing that all of the appetizers are half price and the girls in the bar are interested in flirting with me. In fact, I find the idea of walking into a rehearsal room and coming face to face with a script I had no hand in developing to be absolutely terrifying, like walking into a bar only to find out that the appetizers are double the normal price and that all the girls in the bar are friends with your ex.
Working together over time
I've been at the Brave New Workshop for so long, and have known my frequent collaborator Joe Bozic for so many years, that working within these improvisational parameters are absolutely second nature to me. At the BNW, we will present ideas, go off on our own to write sketches, and reconvene to go over sketches. After a few rewrites and after the the show has begun to take shape, the director takes our material and sketches and merges them together. Lines are lifted and replaced and what was once the individual ideas of seven or eight people becomes a cohesive whole. It's liking baking a pie. A pie filled with satire.
As for my own comedy team, Ferrari McSpeedy, I'd like to think that we work for the love of the art form and mutual respect. However Joe Bozic, the Ferrari to my McSpeedy, sees our process in a somewhat more cynical (truthful?) way.
Bozic says, "Ferrari McSpeedy uses the trust built over 15 years of friendship when creating shows. The normal process is to wait until the very last minute before the deadline, then trust that whatever crap that ends up on the page is good enough. The end result is usually enjoyable to some, and jarring and off-putting to everyone else."
If you've ever seen one of our shows, you know which camp you fall in.
Developing a new project
Recently, I have taken on a new project at the Brave New Workshop that combines improvisation and trivia, called The Sunday Sunday Sunday Show. Working with a group of very talented improvisers, we have taken on the task of finding a way to combine two very unlikely bedfellows. On paper and in brainstorming meetings, it sounded like a great idea. Both are interactive activities and both have loyal followings. Also, there are a lot of improv shows right now, and we felt that in order to stand out, we needed to aim for something different.
The major obstacle has been finding a way to intertwine the improv with the trivia. There isn't a blueprint for this show, so there's no way to know how to run rehearsals. Essentially, we just get up onstage and brainstormed as a group. On the first day of rehearsal, I walked into the room and said, "This show is going to combine improv and trivia. Bobby Gardner and I will host. As of right now that's all I've got. If you need more certainty, this might not work."
I was thrilled when everyone stayed, mostly because if everyone had left, my little speech would have gone down as one of the least effective openings to a rehearsal process in the history of theatre. From there we just brainstormed. What improv games would work? What kind of trivia do people like? How do we introduce the games, transition from games into trivia and tally all of the scores? What if there is a tie? Oh my God!
Bobby Gardner, co-director of the show, was also worried that audiences would think that the improv was thought about beforehand. He explains: "The tricky thing with long form improv is that, when done well, it can look very scripted. We don't want the audience to think just because the questions are scripted that the improv is too. We have certain improv structures that really tie into the trivia, but we can't tell the cast what the subjects of the trivia are until it's time to do the structure."
We met about 10 times before our first two preview performances. We had great crowds for both shows. Even better, it was a mix of improv and trivia fans, which answered a big concern going into the show, namely: who would show up? Improv hipsters or trivia hipsters? The answer? Triviaprovsters. They were loud and boisterous and forgiving and served as excellent tests for what worked and what didn't.
For example, we were worried that audiences wouldn't care about whether or not the trivia was too directly tied to the improv, but after reading feedback, most audiences wanted to see more of it. We were worried that the show was too long. It was. We were worried that because it was a Sunday, people wouldn't buy beer. We were very wrong about that. We were worried that the cast for both shows was a little too large and that people wouldn't get enough stage time to get in to a flow. We were right about that as well. But mostly we were worried that audiences wouldn't be into the combination. Luckily, it seems like we've stumbled onto something that has some legs.
The show opens officially on the 20th. We are all going to meet a few more times to fine-tune the show and hopefully invent brand new games to try in front of an audience. That may not happen for a while, but that's fine, since the cast has fully bought into the idea that this show, by its very nature, will always be evolving. Brian Rice, a cast member, describes the process this way: "It's been very rewarding. Collaboration works well when everyone gives, takes, and compromises. Egos were checked at the door."
Well said, Brian. At the sake of contradicting that last quote, I hope you come to see the world's funniest people perform in the world's most unique and beautiful show.