Collaboration Beyond The Norm

One of the four core CSz and ComedySportz values is Collaboration.  It’s relative easy to think of collaboration in terms of working with fellow CSz performers, with our audiences, and with our clients for Applied Improvisation.  It’s a little more challenging to think about collaboration with performers from rival theaters.  On the one hand, all of the improv theaters in a given area share a common goal to enjoy and foster improv as and art form and life skill.  On another more practical hand, there are the realities of competitions, particularly for what is often a limited pool of improvisers.

Because improvisers often favor one home theater, often the one where they first took classes or performed, developing an improv group with players from different theaters can be very challenging.  It even worse when some theaters, via methods ranging from subtle to overt, pressure their performers not to play elsewhere (for the record, CSz Sacramento has always had an open play policy, i.e., performers can play any where as long as they are also contributing to our theater).



Despite these challenges I am very happy that over the last two years I was able to develop an improv group with the specific goal of combining performers from different theaters.  My inspiration was The Traveling Wilburys, the late 80s, early 90s rock super group that included legendary talents Bob Dylan, George Garrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty.  All of these artists had already developed successful careers with other bands or as solo artist.

When I set about forming this group, which came to be named Shower Thoughts, I specifically recruited performers based primary at rival theaters.  And as the group has lost performers, I’ve strived to keep at least 50% of the group non-CSz performers.  It hasn’t been easy; as mentioned about there are miscellaneous forces that often pull performers back towards their home theaters. It has also been an interesting experience because Shower Thoughts is the first improv group I’ve directed without also performing in as part of the group (more of that difference in a future entry).

Tonight is show #25.  Given the monthly performance schedule, that means my little experiment in inter-theater collaboration has now been running for just over two years.  I’m delighted with the collaboration within Shower Thoughts, and grateful for all the fun, laughter, learning and camaraderie has provided me the theater. 


Be Our Guest

We love hosting guest improv performers.  Guests are not only fun, but also provide excellent learning opportunities.  It is valuable to see how other people perform improv in terms of Art – their unique style for creating and expressing ideas – and in terms of Craft – how do they utilize specific skills like space work, character voices, etc.

There are many sources for guests.  If your part of CSz, you can start by inviting players from other cities.  Many cities are now making it easy by hosting special events throughout the years, e.g., invitationals that mix players from different cities onto special teams.  Invite performers from other improv groups within your city and other cities, particularly if you’re having a special event (please be sure to give them good time slots!).  There are plenty of ways through social media and podcasts to make contact with other groups and performers.



Sometimes you get lucky, and a guest performer contacts you.  This Saturday we’re happy to welcome back David Magidoff, an LA based actor, improviser, and comedian.  David contacted us out of the blue last year, and we had a great time (he was hilarious and very gracious).  So I was happy to hear from him again this Holiday Season.  If you’re a Marshmallow, i.e., dedicated fan of Veronica Mars, you’ll recognize David from his fun portrayal of would be Veronica foil Jeff Ratner.  David has also been a regular on two MTV shows, Joking Off and the Broke A$$ Game Show, as well as a guest actor on CSI, NCIS, and other TV shows. He performs improv all around the world including UCB, iOWest & the Edinburgh Fringe Fest.  David founded Monkey Butler - an international comedy school that has taught free improv classes to over 3,000 people in the US, England and New Zealand.

So if you’re reading this entry and want to guest perform at CSz Sacramento in the coming year, let us know!

Feast Or Famine

Attendance can sometimes slow at the theater during the Holidays.  And it probably doesn’t help when some plucky film makers decide to release the latest offering in a beloved franchise.  Therefore it’s quite possible during the time of the year that we find ourselves entertaining a rather modest crowd some nights.

The largest show in which I’ve ever performed was for over 1,400 (and included two large HD screens to show the stage action) while the smallest show I ever did was for 4.  But having now by conservative count been lucky enough to perform in over 2,000 improv shows, I have observed that having a large audience is no guarantee of success, whether you opt to measure in laughter or artistic satisfaction.  Many of the best or most shows were for smaller audiences.


One private show (in the very early days of CSz Sacramento) that is particularly memorable was for a small wedding reception of 10 people.  The bride hired us but kept it a secret from everyone else, including the groom.  Pretending to be a wandering improv group, we showed up at the B&B to offer a show in exchange for food.  The bride had provided inside information that we slowly worked into the scenes to the astonishment of the crowd.  It was a lot of fun to watch people catch-on at various points.  And afterwards we were also invited to share a very lavish array of catered gourmet food (still the only time I've eaten lobster on a private show...)

Anyway, I sometimes wonder if the players worry less about the audiences and perform more freely when there is less audience to worry about.  Perhaps there is some threshold below which the performers are doing it more for themselves and each other.  Some people would argue that’s how art should always be, i.e., do it for yourself, not for the audience, payment, etc.