A Debaucherous Slam Dunk

 
Last night we debuted Urban Yeti Improv's second season, which included a new show format entitled Debauchery.  The basis of the show was exploring the themes around the word Debauchery, including what makes people angry, what are elements of their fantasies, what do they consider as indecent.  We then took these suggestions and applied the creative process to build characters, stories and worlds around them.  For those of you who are dropping by but unable to travel all the way to Anchorage to see our show, a detailed breakdown of the format is as follows:
 
  • Audience Warm-Up:  Human Symphony
  • Player Warm-Up:  Short form game of Building Blocks.
  • Debauchery is...Wickedness:  As audience members arrived to the show they were asked to fill in slips of paper containing the line "It really pisses me of when ___________".  A random one of these lines was chosen and the players did a montage of scenes all culminating in the same line being spoken with a scene wipe as transition.
  • Debauchery is...Corruption:  Short form game of Interrogation.
  • Debauchery is...Promiscuity:  As audience members arrived to the show they were asked to fill in slips of paper containing the line "My fantasies typically consist of ____ , ____ and ___".  A random one of these lines was chosen and the players performed a 15 minute scene incorporating all three elements into the story as direct / subtle as they so chose.
  • Debauchery is...Craziness:  Short form game of Slideshow.
  • Debauchery is...Murder:  Short form game of Chain Murder.
  • Debauchery is...Indecency:  As audience members arrived to the show they were asked to fill in slips of paper containing the line "I was once kicked out of ____ for ____".  A random one of these lines was chosen and the players did a scene where the only restriction was the end had to culminate in the suggestion provided.
  • Will we survive this Debauchery:  Short form game of Survivor was played to close out the show.
 
The Wickedness / Promiscuity / Indecency portions were the longer form foundations of the show while the rest was opportunity for intermittent short form and fun with the audience.  After closing Frigid Affair in April, we built this format around two principles of more audience interaction and applying improv creatively in a themed environment.  Thus, Debauchery was born.

I was very pleased with the product.  The numbers are still pending, but I'm fairly sure we sold out the show with an audience who had an outstanding time.  The reception both I and the players received after the show was genuine and loaded with positive comments.  We even got some unexpected t-shirt sells and fan mail sign-ups, which we are particularly happy to see given there were a lot of new/unknown faces in the audience.  The foundation of a business is a great product the community will support and the last four shows have reinforced Urban Yeti Improv as legit.  We still have some administrative things like space flow, ticketing system improvements and getting the color red into the projector to work on, but we will get there.  A lot of effort is going on behind the scenes to fine tune Urban Yeti as we want the customer to have the best experience possible.  But we are in the game, folks, and we are hungry for more.  My thanks goes out to all the wonderful fans who had fun with us last night in addition to Alaska Experience Theater who continues to support our art in Anchorage.

Let's talk about the improv!!!  If you could have been in my brain from 7:00 pm - 8:10 pm you would have experienced a lot of nervousness.  I don't really get nervous about hosting, the nerves come from having to balance box office, customer happiness, seating, tech, warm-ups and high energy introductions at the same time.  In addition, we want creative improv fueling Debauchery, not scenes based on dick and fart humor culminating in quick, easy to achieve laughs.  When the first suggestion I had to pull from the audience during warm-ups was bathroom stall, I literally died a little inside.  What have I done?  What will Debauchery become?

But guess what, the performers came in and rocked it.  They played at a highly intelligent level and as a result, the audience followed suit with great suggestions and engaged in an experience of watching stories built for them.  Even more impressive, the troupe was able to do this at a premiere event and first run of a new format.  If you asked me today what I am most proud of in regard to Urban Yeti, it wouldn't be the show sell outs or audience laughter.  It is watching performers who want to perform better improv rehearse diligently and produce better improv as a team.  We are getting the best out of our players and they deserve a lot of accolades.

I want to focus on two highlights from the show last night:  Solid oddities being introduced to enrich scenes and audience connection moments.  If you have been keeping up with my blog, you know we are trying to work long form through establishing strong scene foundations, dropping an oddity everyone can pick up on and elevating the oddity to build a strong story.  If you focus on the Promiscuity and Indecency segments, you'll see very strong oddities that make for compelling theater.  The first was a scene inspired by seduction, where a girl was going over the ways she typically tries to seduce her man with a friend.  As the character describes a variety of feminine techniques that guys typically wouldn't be into (roses, bath salts, lavender, etc), the friend starts questioning where she picked up this knowledge (several backstory transitions were fun here).  But then our performers dropped the oddity that was easy to pick up on:  The men of the scene loved these feminine techniques.  This creates compelling scene work.  The second was inspired by an audience suggestion requiring the scene to culminate with sex in the back of a movie theater.  The scene started with two teens going on a date to a movie, very anxious to get in the theater for this supposed debaucherous affair.  But as the scene built, through the efforts of the teen and parent characters, the oddity was introduced that this was not about sex at all, it was about candy addiction.  This was elevated by parents finding 'awful' things under the teen's bed (candy wrappers) and an anxious concession counter scene.  Combining this oddity with still needing to end the scene with someone getting kicked out of a theater for having sex in the back culminated in the parents, not the teens, being caught and thrown out by the manager.  This was an awesome moment.  If the parents treat candy addiction with as much worry as their kids having sex, then how do they actually treat the topic of sex?  A slam dunk for our performers and a smiling director given it was in the context of oddity and elevation.

The performers did excellent in engaging the audience through different methods as well.  The example standing out to me was the layering of the popcorn in the indecency set.  It is a subtle nuance, but one which pulls the audience into the environment.  It brings them into the scene because you know what, I watch them layer my popcorn with intensity too when I go to the movies.  Another example includes strong characters in the back story of our promiscuity scene.  I enjoyed the french character in this set of scenes, in particular because it showed a lot of commitment.  I will also take this opportunity to welcome Mary Jo to our troupe, new for the upcoming season.  She always does an excellent job with her character and detail work, which were on display last night.
 
On to opportunities for improvement!  We need to hammer out some logistical issues prior to our next show.  We have emphasized playing to the front of the space over several rehearsals, but we have developed a recurring problem with scenes sinking back into the curtain.  Sorry players, but we might have to throw some tape down during the next couple of rehearsals to retrain ourselves.  Folks can sometimes see this as minor but if there is a good scene, it is made so much more powerful when played closer to the audience.  There is also some work needed on the short form game of Slideshow.  We need the performers to take more control of the audience volunteer and the narrator needs to guide a story through several pictures.  I am still confident this game doesn't need explanation to the audience member because half of the beauty is watching their reaction in a fast paced freeze frame environment.  For the narrator position, we need to remember the pictures/poses set the context of the scene, not the narrator prior to switching.  I'll take responsibilities for this given I underestimated the need for strong rehearsal of this game.  We all need to continue working the mantra that no short form game is a throw-away.

The real push, however, is still needed with our straight characters.  Given a hectic rehearsal schedule and needing to learn the Debauchery format, we didn't get a lot of time to work skill building exercises, but I suspect we will hit on this topic during the next two now that we are settled.  Oddities and scene elevation are only strong when there are characters in the environment who are not pulled into the craziness and continue to question the reality they are a part of.  Wait, we aren't going to this movie to make out in the back?  The men actually like the rose pedals?  Why is this family so in to cats?  The normal is used to establish the abnormal and although they don't typically get the laughs, they are the foundation of the scene.  We still have several instances of losing the straight characters into the abnormalities and over the next couple of rehearsals we will work on standing our ground and contributing through strong detail as well as creative oddities.

I would also like to continue adding discipline as a layer on top of our performances.  The performers did this well through focus on the stage wings and smoother transitions.  I still, however, want to emphasize player focus during transitions and make sure we apply it as a philosophy.  People are already leaving the theater recognizing our performer's talent.  I want them to also leave astonished by access to professional improv in Anchorage, Alaska.
 
As always, awesome stand outs and room for improvement, but the big take away is the team is getting more intelligent and consistent in their scene work.  I'm excited to see our future work.  Continue on this journey with us friends!  There is more to come and big things in the future for Urban Yeti Improv.

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