By Alyce Wilson
March 26, 2007 - Red Versus Blue
(from left) Tim, Jen, J.T., Colleen, Carol, me, Geoff with Dave as the referee
On Saturday my advanced improv class at ComedySportz gave a performance. I had sent out word to all my local friends, and a couple agreed to show up. The White Rabbit met us at our house and rode in with us.
We parked in the garage on Market Street we knew about, since I wasn't sure if the parking lot at the end of Samson Street would be open.
The intermediate class was also giving a performance that night. Originally, both groups were going to perform in the Playground, which is the same theater that ComedySportz uses, in the Adrienne Theater, 2030 Sansom Street. The intermediate class was supposed to go on at 4, and we were supposed to go on at 5.
But an unrelated play was going on at 4 in the Playground, so the the intermediate performance moved to a smaller theater on the second floor, which had a set that looked like an adobe house. It took a long time to get everyone seated, since there were 13 people in their class and lots of friends and family, not to mention any of our guests who had arrived early. By the time we started, it was standing room only, and I believe they started a few minutes late.
Originally, our class wouldn't have had a chance to see them perform, since we were going to be warming up at that time. But instead, our instructor, Dave, suggested we watch the intermediate class and then prepare afterwards.
Their instructor, Karen, had them run through a large series of games, touching on just about everything I could think of. I think this was because so many people were in the class.
Some of them were very good, and I found out later that one of them is a new addition to the ComedySportz troop. I have to admit, I was a little jealous when I heard that, since I had auditioned earlier this year, but seeing her on-stage, I could see why they chose her. She's really good with characters and scenework.
Among the standout scenes was one involving a pony in a bathroom, which became a really funny scene between an emotional daughter and a father at wit's end. Another was the game Four Corners, which I'd never seen played before.
Fran, who took the beginning class with me a year ago was in this game, and she did really well. Four people are on-stage, two in front and two in back. They take a suggestion for a scene, then rotate clockwise, which puts another pair up front. They take a new suggestion and so on, until they're back where they started. Then they rotate between four scenes, based on the suggestions they'd been given.
Fran started out with a scene where the suggestion was France, and somebody gave her a large baguette. She looked bewildered, staring at this huge piece of bread, small person that she is. Finally, she said she was on the Atkin's diet. The scene rotated, and one of the in-between scenes was coworkers, with a guy clearly hitting on his coworker, telling her she had nice eyes. So when they got back to the French scene, the French person gave Fran a steak, and she told her she had beautiful eyes. End scene.
When the show ended, we were both psyched up and a little psyched out. The class had done well, some of us worried about having to follow them. Not to mention the fact that we were doing some of the same games they'd done. But Dave reassured us, reminding us that it was improv, so it was bound to be different, and reassuring us that we were ready and were going to do a great job.
We had a lot of energy, so we did a few rounds of Zip-Zap-Zop. We ran down the rundown for the show, which Colleen and I wrote down on clipboards, since we were the team captains, me of the red team and Colleen of the blue team. We were all wearing shirts in the color of our team, along with dark athletic pants.
Before the show, we did a 30-second meditation and then a group cheer. We followed Dave downstairs, who gave us the order for going in.
The first thing I noticed was that we had a much smaller audience, which didn't really surprise me. After all, we had half as many people in our class, and several of us didn't have much family in the area. But I had invited everyone we'd been in classes with before, and Lori not only showed up but also videotaped it for us, which was really sweet of her.
Dave got the audience worked up, and then we ran out to the music, pumping our arms as we were individually introduced. We had some trouble making out the announcer, who was Jessie. We thought maybe there was a problem with the levels, but I heard later from my friends that it sounded fine to them.
Dave as referee
I could pick out my little cheering section, of The Gryphon, The White Rabbit and The Dormouse. But honestly, I couldn't see anyone terribly well, with the spotlights in my face.
I won the Extreme Rock Paper Scissors challenge, by holding a position with my arms up over my head, while Colleen crouched on the floor. This meant we initiated the first game, a team challenge.
Since the other class had done What Are You Doing?, Dave had us start with Story instead. Our story title was Moby Dick in Outer Space. We had a lot of energy and kept the story going, but it was kind of aimless. Moby Dick went to Neptune, where he encountered some Martians. They became friends and taught each other games. Even Ahab got involved. But then Moby Dick's mother showed up and was upset because she was left out, and she took him back to earth with her.
It was close, but the blue team was the last one standing on that game. They did the first challenge, which was Spelling Bee. Again, they did a great job, with a lot of energy. They used the same enthusiastic kid character that they'd used last week during class. They did have a lot of trouble spelling one of the words, now, which I forget right now.
I never realized before how much of the show's momentum comes from the format. For example, every time we started a new game, the referee called one or both captains out onto the playing field. The audience gets worked up, especially whenever there are callouts for them. It helps to keep the energy exciting.
The red team then did Arms Expert. I was the person talking, while Geoff was my arms. Carol was the interviewer. Our topic was burned fish. So Carol asked me how I got involved in burnt fish, and I let Geoff's arm movements lead me. He pantomimed catching a fish, so I talked about that, and then he seemed to be lighting a lighter, so I talked about cooking the fish. Then he had me eat it.
The first question an audience member asked us was actually one that Carol had already asked, so Geoff pointed at them, and I said, "I already answered that one." Then Geoff rubbed his index fingers together and I said, "Naughty boy."
I chose a fairly strong character, sort of a whacked out hipster. We got sillier as it went, with one of my favorite moments being when Geoff made a lot of upward movements and I talked about how the smoke was intoxicating and peaceful. Another time, he had me knock knuckles with the interviewer. One of the last questions from the audience was,
"When did you discover you were addicted to smoke?"
Geoff did wide outward hands. I got all defensive: "I don't know what you're talking about." End scene.
The blue team won that challenge, too, I believe. Of course, it's all sort of arbitrary. The referee determines who wins, based on audience cheering, and I've noticed that, with every ComedySportz show I've seen, the scores go back and forth, to keep the competition interesting.
Since we were behind, Dave had us do Chain Death Murder for extra points. I started on-stage and sent the others out of the room, but when I thought about it later, I might have been better off having Carol start out, since she's stronger at clue giving than guessing.
The site of the murder was the beach, the occupation of the murderer was a tattoo artist, and the murder weapon was an umbrella. I had to convey all of these to Carol through mime and gibberish, and she had to then convey it to the next team member, and so on. We got points at the end for the number of them we got right.
The beach took longer than I'd expected. I managed to convey to Carol that there was water there that you could swim in. But she seemed to think she was at a swimming pool, so I had to convey the idea of the beach. I was lying on the beach sunning, but I supposed I could have also put suntan lotion on or something obvious. She finally got it when I began digging in the sand.
Tattoo artist, though, was really rough. It's hard to think on the spur of the moment how to do that, especially since you have to have her do the activity. I came in all tough, and drew something on a piece of paper and gave it to her, asking her to put it on my arm. She had no idea.
I actually shouldn't have done this, but I tried doing basically the same thing again, drawing a heart in the air and then gesturing to my arm. Still no response. So I thought, "What kind of a person gets a tattoo?" I rode in on a motorcycle, dismounted, and mimed removing my shirt, acting all tough. I tried to convey a scary dragon, then pointed to my back and gave her a needle. She tied a tourniquet in my arm and began to give me an injection. No! I tried one more time and then moved on.
I suppose one thing I could have done would be to draw something on my arm with my finger, then hand her the needle. But I'm not sure that would have helped, either. Plus, it gets a little close to doing it myself, which you're not allowed to do.
The umbrella was easier, thank God. I conveyed that water was coming out of the sky, then I put up an umbrella and was all happy. She started doing something I couldn't understand, so I hit her with the umbrella. Then Dave, who had been side-coaching for this one, told me to mime it again. This time she got it, and she killed me with the umbrella by stabbing me in the gut.
I rolled off to the side, with my face towards the back of the stage, so I had no idea what the other players were doing. Carol acted it all out for Geoff, who then acted it out for Jen, who we'd recruited from the other team. She told us later she wished her team had done Chain Death Murder, because she loves that game.
I had a pretty good idea something had gone wrong when I heard Dave tell Jen he'd give her a million points if she got them all right. Sure enough, she got none of them, but she'd only had about 20 seconds, because that's all the time left by that point. For the murder weapon, she said a tutu, which really confused me. Geoff got the beach, missed the occupation and said ballet slipper for the murder weapon. Carol had guessed a doctor for the occupation and did get umbrella.
Later, I heard that to convey umbrella, Carol had been dancing around like in "Singing in the Rain." She was following the instructions to try to convey it in a different way from the way it had been conveyed to you.
No harm no foul. After all, we picked up a few extra points, and the audience seemed to enjoy it. Dave said that that game is actually funnier when you get things wrong. Also, I've been told that one of the major things they work on with new troop members is that sort of guessing game, which doesn't come naturally to many people.
Next was the team challenge Blind Freeze. This is where we have our backs to the stage. Two people are on-stage, acting out a scene until one of the team members claps and says freeze. They then take over the space of the person from their team. They begin a new scene based on a new suggestion, which Dave got from the audience before we started.
Jen and me as metaphysicists
I was happy to work with suggestions, since it's easier than doing it without suggestions. They didn't always make sense, though. Like for example, when Jen was below me with her arms down and I was above her with my arms out. "Catch these files," I called. "This is training day."
I heard a lot of laughter from the audience, and I think we got a lot of good scenes in there. I'm not sure how they judged that, but he gave a few more points to us on the red team. Just to keep the competition interesting.
Because we won that round, we went first for the group challenge, Count Down, starting with me and Carol on-stage and Geoff off-stage. The suggestion was Fantasy Island, so at first Carol and I both got down on our knees to be Tattoo, then she got back up. She started by asking when the next guests were arriving. I said any minute now, and she sent me down to the docks.
Geoff arrived and said he was ready for his fantasy. I crossed the stage, walking on my knees, and gave him a grass skirt, which he put on, then a mallet, and then a pig.
Me, Carol and Geoff on Fantasy Island.
He looked a little bewildered, until I called, "Hawaiian food tonight!" The pig got away from him, and he chased it, and we helped him catch it. In the center of the stage, he asked if someone would help him kill the pig. I said, "That's not my job." Later on, I realized it was a denial, but it seemed to be in character to me at the time. Carol jumped in, "I can't. I'm Jewish." End scene.
We had trouble doing it in 40 seconds, but we did manage to do it in 20 seconds and then in 10 seconds. I was pretty proud of us. As soon as I stood up, though, and felt the burn on my knees, I kind of regretted that choice! I scuffed up my left knee pretty bad, even through my sweatpants. Wouldn't have been such a problem, but they stage was covered with Astroturf (part of the sport theme).
The blue team did Blind Line, leaving the room while Dave took suggestions from the audience for lines to write down and leave on the stage for them to work into their scene. One of the audience members got brown-bagged for an off-color suggestion he made which I didn't hear.
Then they came out. Their suggestion for a scene was mobster, and Colleen and J.T. started on-stage. He was her underling, and she was preparing him for an assignment. Then she read the line, "Leave the gun, take the canoli." He started to panic that he was going to be killed. Meanwhile, Jen shows up with a tray of canoli. Colleen gave her the gun, and she shot J.T. with it. He collapsed on top of some of the lines but then rolled off of them.
Colleen told Jen that she was a good worker and she was going to put her on a job now. Jen was all excited, and one of them read a line about how it was just like being at a kid's recital. Jen talked about what a recital was like. Just then, Tim came on as a little kid and asked his mother, Jen, to take him to his recital. He actually read a line that J.T. read before, which he hadn't pocketed, which was, "I'm going to be in it all." He justified it by saying he was going to be in the whole recital, and Colleen said she'd take care of that for him, since she had some connections.
At this point, I can't remember who was ahead. Does it matter? I think the red team had edged ahead. We ended with 185, telling jokes based on audience suggestions. The format of the joke is, "One hundred eighty-five somethings walk into a bar. The bartender says, 'I'm sorry, we don't serve somethings here.' And the somethings say, 'Punchline.'"
I really played up the personality I'd been developing for this game, sort of part Catskills comedian and part Fozzy Bear. Dave actually said on the mic after one of my jokes, "Alyce Dangerfield everybody," which is the nickname he'd come up with for that character.
At the end, after they tallied the points, we on the red team won by a couple points. We ended the show with slow motion fighting. I paired off with Colleen, and we had a lot of fun with it. When I realized everyone was bunched up in the middle, I drew her outwards by falling outside. From the pictures I saw later, everyone else spread out, too.
Group melee in slow motion
We left as we were individually announced, running out to music, and we lined up in the lobby to greet the fans as they came out. Being family, though, they didn't leave but instead talked and hung out. We did, however, all slap hands with each other and congratulate each other.
A bunch of us went down the street then to Oh! Shea's down the street. Lori joined us, and The Gryphon and I treated her to dinner to thank her for videotaping us. She said she was just happy to see us again, and she's such a sweetie I believe her.
We got a table for 10 people: me, The Gryphon, Lori, The Dormouse, The White Rabbit, Jen and her husband, Colleen, Carol and Geoff. We ordered burgers and beers and hung out, talking about our performance and about whether we'd keep going with improv. Geoff told us all about a site called PhillyImprov.com that has information about other things going on in the city. I checked it out and might take a workshop or two here and there, though I'm wary of any big time commitments right now due to the wedding planning.
we did a great job. As far as I'm concerned, we're all winners!
2006 by Alyce Wilson