Urban Yeti Director's Corner

A Taste of What's to Come

This blog entry might be a bit of a roller coaster ride. After all, our last show was on Dec. 5th at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts where Urban Yeti and Scared Scriptless sold out a 300 seat theater and left the audience hungry for more comedy in Anchorage. That was nearly 4 months ago. On top of that, we now pop up with 2016 shows scheduled at a different venue. Why so long? What is going on here? All in due time friends, but let's start out with a very special experience for 170 people packed into the grunge headquarters of improv comedy last night at 49th State Brewing Company.

It just all clicked. Scene creativity, staging, show pace, audience and improviser, pre/intermission/post show atmosphere, sheltering in a crowded theater after a foot of snow dumped on Anchorage. The range of talent is what was truly inspiring to me as I watched the show from the hosting position. I saw three of our Yeti performers merge with some of the fine gentlemen of Whiskey Tango to put on a 2 Player experience that was unforgettable. Superhero package delivery men, a case of awesome elevation. Deceptionist as our first scene inspiration, perfection! The short form even looked like they had performed with each other for years. There are so many positive points to focus on that I can't name them all. The audience left very happy and it is a production I am very proud to have been a part of.

I want to send out a sincere thank you to Jake Michels and Leon Anderson. It was not only a pleasure to watch you perform, but it was also a privilege to get to know you better. True talent gentlemen! We are stronger performers from sharing the stage with you. Over the past year, we have gotten to travel to a range of festivals around the country, meet new people and see some amazing improv, but it is special to have an event where you focus on integrating your team with some talent from elsewhere on your home turf. I immediately want this experience again, because I felt stronger connections made doing something like this than what you get at a festival. On top of that, Jake and Leon helped Yeti send a message to the Anchorage community: We are more successful by diversifying our improv experiences, for both audience and performer.

I also want to plug Anchorage audiences. I want to plug you! You are hungry for improv and we love it. Something we seem to notice more and more as we dive into this industry is several communities out there struggle with audience bases primarily built out of improvisers and close friends. But here we have a community so curious and supportive that the energy is electric. Two thirds of our crowd last night had never seen an Urban Yeti performance and everyone went home happy. The cherry on top: our guest performers can feel it too. They are on a plane leaving Anchorage salivating for another crack at it. Thank you is not enough, so we'll continue to sweat on stage for you.

Now, how did we get here?
 
First, a strong thank you to the Alaska Experience Theater, where we have called home for the past two years. They have supported us in our start-up and I still think their theater is one of the best places to perform improv in town. Their management and staff is some of the most courteous and professional people you'll ever work with. We owe you, and we leave you knowing we'll see you again. Thanks for having faith in us.

So why the change? The opportunity at 49th State Brewing was too intriguing to pass up. After our December show, Scriptless and Yeti discussed ways to further collaboration for improv in Anchorage, but the conversation was strongly controlled by the future plans of the Brewery. They were interested in making 49th State a headquarters of improv when we brought them an idea to co-locate Scriptless and Yeti at their theater. The final product for us was 6 performance nights donated to us by Scriptless for 2016. This made it so audiences would get a range of experiences on 2nd/3rd/4th Saturdays. Some might scoff at the minimal 6 show roster, but it is the perfect amount Mallory and I want to balance with our other aspirations. By focusing on a truly unique experience on these 3rd Saturdays, we can continue to replicate experiences like our Tango this past weekend. We got off to the perfect start with our new partners. The place was packed, the show was excellent, the bar was hopping.

But once again, this blog is about honesty and the truth is the negotiation to get here was difficult. Although I think our product is excellent, we are still in a certain corner of the larger Anchorage entertainment market. So you might struggle to see the significance of a 'negotiation' for these six performances. But our passions are approached in a manner that teaches us a lot about ourselves. It was a tense night for me on Saturday because although we got what we wanted for the new Yeti season, I made some mistakes along the way to get it. The reality is the performances donated to us are at the cost of others who are not directly part of the Yeti performer experience. On top of that, I didn't want to be in a situation where our new partners at 49th State didn't feel the 'juice was worth the squeeze'. We needed to send the opposite message and we successfully did just that, but as I look around the room during the middle of the show and don't see any of our partners in Scriptless watching, I realize something needs to change in how I approach our goals. To those reading who are more personally connecting with this, I am ambitious and I make mistakes, but I'm working to figure out the right path. Let's talk and figure it out. I'm confident the path we set with our future at 49th State Brewing is the starting point of something greater for improv in Anchorage.

This morning at breakfast, Jake and Leon had a lot of fond reflection on last night's show and thought it was one of their best road shows to date. That meant a lot to me. I hope it means a lot to Josh, Mallory, John, Mary Jo, Erik and Aneliese as well. I hope it means a lot to you. Let's use this as fuel for the fire. Wherever this is going, I'll make you a promise: It's going to be raw, it's going to be hilarious and it's going to be ridiculously fun.     

 

Author: 

F&^% Your Tired, Yeti Says Double Down

A Reflection on MashUp at the Performing Arts Center

This morning I got up at about 7:00 am after five hours of sleep. Mallory and James drove me to the airport where I boarded a flight to the frigid north: Prudhoe Bay. I stepped off the plane to a -50 degF wind chill. An hour later I rolled into camp, geared up and headed for the west side of the field where I met up with a team who I worked with for the next eight hours on piecing together a mystery. I am now sitting in a conference room typing away in an eerily quiet camp where almost everyone is sleeping after a 12 - 16 hour shift...

And I'm still pumped from the energy of dat show last night yo.

There is no more perfect way to cap off an incredible year for Urban Yeti than the MashUp at the Performing Arts Center. 300 people in the audience, bringing together the improv brands in Anchorage, folks leaving happy and wanting more. I've never seen a show in the Sydney Laurence where they had to open the mezzanine. And box seats!

Yes, I've been a bit cocky today with the number 300. But that is just so people understand. The real gold? I have never in my life done a show with that much energy pumped into a stage. And it was fun as hell. Every performer had a moment, the ushers and house staff were even in on the fun. Sure, we can find show notes and there are always things to improve, but screw it. Just hold on to the feeling and let it fuel your creativity for years to come. Do you know how many improvisers are out there who won't get to experience something like this? Anchorage is a city on the boundaries of the artistic world where you can play and find your own voice. This show was not for Urban Yeti or Scared Scriptless. This show was for you, the audience. The community of Anchorage supports local comedy and we are willing to serve.

A Reflection on Urban Yeti Improv in 2015

John Hanus, 5 things you adored about Urban Yeti in 2015.

Getting accepted into Juneau, New York and Austin festivals. Representing Alaska improv comedy at the national level. 

ONE.

The feeling you get when you shake an audience member’s hand after you know you had a great show and people genuinely want to tell their friends about it. Most notably our PAC shows, Iditarod Harold and 2 Player experience.

TWO.

Successfully finding a passion to play and unleashing the beast of long form improv comedy.

THREE.

Teaching improv in the community through mentoring the Alchemists, directing open rehearsals and teaching a course at ACT.

FOUR.

Merging improv, business and friendship. The strength of the Yeti family endures.

FIVE. 

It has been a hell of a year ladies and gentlemen.

I have spent hours blogging throughout our previous seasons on what we have been working on, our successes, our opportunities for improvement and giving you the best perspective I can from an artistic director. At times I get introspective, others times I might tactfully scratch the surface and promote a positive message of endurance through commitment, better art through smarter rehearsal. To re-hash all of these messages in reflection of 2015 would be repeating what has already been said. I don’t know what the future holds and I always hope for brighter skies ahead, but somehow I think 2015 will remain very special to me and my fellow performers for years to come. I have had opportunities I never thought I would get to experience and the evolution was surprisingly quick. As always, you helped. Thank you. 

As Yeti sits down to congratulate the journey taken thus far, some will wonder what path the Yeti will take tomorrow and beyond. We converted a recent rehearsal in the dojo into a conversation amongst Yeti players about where they want to take Yeti and their improv next. There were similar themes to those discussed in the past: more butts in the seat, more festivals, more community involvement, driving towards an institution of comedy with Urban Yeti as a foundation.

But more is not always better. 

I have been open about ideas I’m thinking about for Yeti in 2016 and I have made every attempt to get a sense of what our players want to do next in their artistic careers. I am forever in their debt for how positive they speak of Urban Yeti Improv and the pride they carry. My greatest fear as a director, which I suspect is the same for many, is my perception of the product does not match the ensemble's.

Lately I have been a bit down and stressed about my position as director and owner with Urban Yeti. Some poor thoughts pop in to the ticker regarding the need for more help. Why do I have to decide everything? Why do I have to take on the burden of moving this machine forward? But I am lashing out in the wrong directions and I am just as much to blame. This has been my leadership style and I have trust issues. An exciting year for Yeti was coupled with an engineering management position and a family entering life with a two year old. This blog is about complete honesty and I have spent a lot of time in the last month considering curbing back some of Yeti’s activity. But to go backward is not fair to those who worked hard to get us here and it is not fair to my future self. Although I like the idea of a smaller weighted ball to juggle, I know myself well enough to realize once I get a bit of rest under me I’ll be ready for more and sad I let an opportunity slip. Urban Yeti will continue working an evening of performances a month starting in February and looking for more unique performance opportunities and festivals. Yes, I get wide eyed and ambitious when the gossip train and the Facebooks promote a culture of comparison. Why not me, why not us, why don’t we do gigs like that, why didn’t our show go that well, why can’t we headline, why why why why. But this gets you nowhere and hungry for ever. Why?

Because more is not always better.

I'm having some problems balancing, but we have created an efficient platform with Yeti to do what we want creatively. We will take off December and January to regroup and start the next season with a fresh perspective (although I suspect we'll want to continue 2 Player because it's ridiculously fun). 2016 for this artistic director will be finding a renewed happiness and craft in what we have. I’m certainly open for more people to come on board in helping with some of the foundation work and even a tighter collaboration with other groups, but my standards will remain high, I'm going to continue embracing my type of leadership for now. Helping and collaboration are not merely ideas for Yeti to strengthen with Hanus work ethic, they are for those who truly want to find that immense pride in creation cradle to grave. Not all of it is fun. To those in Yeti, even those outside, who want more than I'm offering, come to the table and show me how we can get there.

The Yeti project is thriving, the family is strong. The director is a little tired, but he’ll go away for a month and come back stronger than ever. We are open to a new way of doing things and new projects, but we won’t sacrifice our standards. It’s been an amazing year and even if we don’t do or see as much in 2016, we’ll still find ways of coming out on top at the end of it. I’ll leave you this year with what I tell everyone who says ‘John, I still haven’t got a chance to see a Yeti show yet’.

We’ll keep performing until you get here and we’ll keep giving you opportunities to come back. We know you'll want to.

Author: 

A Passion for Play or Silly Engineering Improv Diagrams?

Sorry I sweat so much everybody.

We just wrapped our second run of 2 Player / After Dark fall shows last night. Over the past couple of seasons, our team has had a unique experience with second shows. Usually work schedules limit some of the ensemble from playing and they also end up having both a dose of comfort and uneasiness. The second show slump, some might call it. On the scheduling part, last night was no different. Down Erik and Mary Jo, the Yeti's took the stage twice for a four player tour de force. But I'm excited to say: No second show slump here. With unexpecantly large crowds for both shows and a renewed passion for unique story telling, I sit here at the Ted Stevens International Airport (don't worry, my work computer has a Yeti sticker on it) looking back fondly on a lot of our scene work from last night. Let's dive right in.

We have spent a lot of time over the past couple of months giving you a taste of what the improv community is like outside of Alaska. I hope you have enjoyed following along, but now is a good time to demonstrate how we have internalized our experiences in rehearsal. Lately the improv dojo has taken the shape of the Hanus Haus Garage. That's right, we moved rehearsals out of the theater and into our garage. We mainly did this because Mal and I were shelling out $60 per rehearsal (improv as parents!), but I was pretty nervous. I do a good job keeping the floor clean, but I thought our players would feel it was unprofessional and weird. But I'm not kidding when I say the rehearsals have been pretty rockin'. We switched to one a week and limited them to about 60-90 minutes. Everyone is really comfortable and our scene work has been even more fun. We are truly getting around the concept of passion to play. How do you build yours?

Below you'll find how I displayed our current improv exploration to our team at the beginning of our 2 Player season. We started out in Yeti focusing on the UCB formula, which is strongly woven throughout. But then in our second year, we have been exposed to alternative philsophies of relationship work, playing from the heart and making sure the scene is about you and your partner. I wove these concepts in as well. There are always dozens of philosophies in art, improv is no different. Also, I want to stress these are our observations collected from some pretty extraordinary teachers out there. Take a look:

 

During the previous blog, I mentioned giving some notes which might have shaken our players a bit. They certainly internalized and responded with an exciting passion I haven't seen before. They were associated with the enablers and disablers you see above. To be honest, the disablers are often enablers done poorly. How have we used this display to help our improv? I'll use myself as the example. We are our own harshest critic, but that doesn't mean there isn't truth to learn from. There are both personal and ensemble learnings I can display. Personally, I put my name next to a need to work the enabler of true listening and internalization. When you primarily direct and promote, it can be hard to find your personal play time. The first thing to go is your listening muscle ability. You start to jump into scenes occasionally and realize you are moving the story forward without really accepting the offers of your partners. When you start getting the muscle strength back, you then face contributing on an equal playing field. Always a work in progress.

From the ensemble perspective, after our last show we made a concerted effort to hammer environment and object work. We are working this by having a single person connect emotionally with an object to begin a set, with other players fully comprehending what they are handling before stepping into the 2nd player spot to elevate. We found through rehearsal the world's opened up much quicker. Instead of jumping all over one another with dialogue, the object work forced a slower start and greater ability to get on board with the group think mentality.

By the end of this you're going to think I'm way into my silly engineering diagram of improv theory, because we're going to run our shows last night through the same visual. 2 Player was solid improv. I remember standing in the wings during the very first scene of the show, watching story and character slowly developing and Yetis exploring the offer. Short form John Hanus would have been trigger happy and just waiting for a plot point to jump on, but I find both myself and fellow players are now much more likely to just find a movement or distinct character choice to play around with. I see a lot more exploration over driving, which has lead to a distinct comfort in both rehearsal and show. Whether it be creepy Dwayne or the subtle differences between the angel and demon workplaces, I hope the audience can notice how fulfilling the slow build can be. The show last night had two indicator's of great improv as a result of this committment and comfort: call backs and controlled elevation. As a director, one of the most satisfying experiences is watching an ensemble specifically call back scene references and elevate a scene to a strong cut point. Last night in 2 Player we were able to do that throughout the initial 30 minute set, even multiple times. 2 Player is exciting and I personally want a lot more opportunity to play. If you haven't got a chance yet, come out and see us on November 7th.

I also think it's worth discussing After Dark in context of the theory. It's continuing to be tough to run two shows a night, and last night was even more challenging with four players carrying the load. The four of us took the challenge in stride and for every performer out there: tired is never an excuse. I do believe we pulled a rough first act set list with the After Dark numbers and it indicated some of our short form game theory probably deserves some rehearsal time to strengthen. The singing games were a bit unexpected with needed rehearsal focus if we want to continue and at some point I'm going to have to accept the fact Dead Celebrity Diner exists and we need to find more unique ways of increasing it's success rate. For me personally, when the uncomfort of an occasional poor game sets in, the theory, enablers, disablers start to blur together and you can't see straight. In several of the first act After Dark games, I felt myself reverting to the same character, same tone of voice, less environment work, dropping too far back in the stage, throwing energy and sweat into a desparate audience reaction. I don't take this as a need for change, I take this as a reminder to slow down when the going gets tough. Shake it off and look towards the next game with the same passion as our 2 Player. We also need to make sure our show introductions and scene transitions are not taken for granted. In a short form show, being outside of the game is where energy goes to die, and both team and host need to make sure the product is smooth and well transitioned. After intermission, I do believe we shook it off with a strong finish including Weekend at Bernie's, Complaint Department and Objection. The audience left with similar compliments. Never an excuse ladies and gentlemen.

We approach an extended break given the 5 weeks between now and our next shows. A well needed break. If I look back at the past two months, we started with a special guest show in Anchorage, travelled for a festival in Texas then came home and ran two weekends of shows with all the associated rehearsal. Engineer, Lawyer, Counselor, Mother by day, improviser and entertainers by night. Balancing family, friends with going on the road and meeting new ones. And you help us do this, you are part of this amazing adventure. The community and family support is what drives Urban Yeti to keep this going. Sorry, gushing I know, but I just thought it worth mentioning. I get a little reflective when I travel.

Author: 

Pages

Subscribe to Urban Yeti Director's Corner