Josh Steinmetz: It’s fun to play scenes based on a troupe member’s stories. Josh was traveling a bunch while we were prepping for a show, so he did monologues, and we did scenes. Not only did he know exactly what and how and when to feed us—we learned some really great stuff about his formative years. (OCD dad. AWESOME.) Josh told the stories back when we were first playing the ASSSSCAT/Armando format; the funny thing about watching those shows is how little we seemed to be in our heads. We hit fun themes and pounced on some goofy details. I wonder if we’d play the same things from the same stories today.
Dan Walsh: Being vulnerable is fun—at least for the audience. Prompted by a suggestion from the audience about looking fat in a dress, Dan confessed to being a fat kid (but assured our festival audience it was OK—he’d gotten over it) and brought out our collective soft underbelly. Storytellers can bring everyone together by showing they’re willing to be genuine.
Valissa Smith: She was our first “outside” monologist, and showed us complete trust from the very first rehearsal. From Valissa, we learned the value of fresh perspectives. She talked about where and show she grew up…and opened up a whole new playground. After her first show, she said, “Oh! I wish I’d said…” and made us realize the value of the second time around. Since then, we’ve invited monologists back for an encore—which has been a blast for us, them and the audience.
Tom Farnan: There’s such a thing in our circle of friend as going “too Far-nan”—to that uncomfortable place where you maybe reveal a liiiiiiiittle (or a lot) too much. Been there, did that, got the t-shirt. We’re usually the confident ones—with Tom, we were on edge. What would he say? What would happen? It’s not a bad thing to get nervous.
Jim Howard: He’s one hell of a storyteller. I’ve known Jim for 20 years—he was present at Lighten Up’s very first show—and couldn’t wait for my Tantrum friends to meet him. His first question was something like, “What do have to have to be good at this—no sense of shame?” Absolutely true—and a great reminder about what makes this stuff work. Jim’s writing ability shone through in beautifully constructed stories with glorious details. And he was willing to be touching and melancholy. That’s a place I’d love to see us explore further—what happens when everything doesn’t have to be funny?
Kevin Dilmore: Kevin was the first monologist to throw his hat in the ring, after seeing one of our shows with Jim. More nervousness on my part: Kevin’s not just a friend—he’s a coworker. And, as it turns out, a natural. I think Kevin had more fun than any other monologist so far—and honestly, would make a pretty damn good improviser. Because he enjoyed it so much (and maybe because of the coworker thing), Kevin felt like a member of the troupe—who just happened to have a slightly different job.
We’ve got two more coming up:
Sassy B Yatch: She rehearses with us for the first time this week. She’s a derby girl—so she’s used to things hitting her from all sides. She can take whatever we bring.
Cindy Weiner Schloss: She worked out with us last week. Cindy came to us through a friend of a friend, and we had no idea what to expect. What we got was hilarious—she’s got a built-in sense of timing, natural ability to follow what the audience is responding to and a lifetime of ammunition.
Bringing in monologists is one of the best things we could have done. They inspire us, teach us and help us draw audiences who might never hear about us. They remind us what warm-ups are really about: Shaking off the day, building trust and bringing us together.
The most surprising thing, though, is that they remind us that not everyone can do what we do. Every single one of our guests has told us—in one way or another—that they feel lke they’ve been let in on a secret. That our rehearsals feel like “VIP Shows.”
Because we’re professional improvisers, we (some of us more than others, as Pete reminds me) judge our own work, sometimes pretty harshly.
There’s a style of improv called Playback Theatre. The Chicago troupe attended a few festivals years ago, and we were always struck by how moved audiences were by seeing their own stories brought to life on stage. Their goal is to honor “the dignity, drama and universality of their stories.”
Without getting all mushy, it’s not bad to have a reminder that sharing stories is a pretty big deal.