Debauchery is so damn cash…

First and foremost, thanks to everyone who came out to our show last night!  We closed our second season with another near sold out crowd and this time the achievement was in even more spectacular fashion given it was a perfectly beautiful Alaskan evening.  In spending some time with our audience in the box office, a lot of our advertising methods were bringing people in, ranging from newspaper listings to Google searches and even some folks who saw us on KTVA news a couple months back.  The good word of Urban Yeti is spreading around the community and although there are a lot of stresses with publicity during the summer in Anchorage, we rose to the challenge and had a very successful run of our Debauchery series.  Usually this morning we would be heading into a relaxing week and slowly starting strategy for our next first Saturday, but that is not the case during August.  Our PAC shows are on the horizon and we need to utilize every day for the next five weeks to plan and execute for these shows.  I want Urban Yeti to be a place where we follow-up great achievements with more opportunity.  Today we follow up two strong seasons with playing in Anchorage’s ‘Big House’.  Let’s do this.

Our last showing of Debauchery was very comfortable.  A lot of appreciation goes out to the staff at Alaska Experience Theater.  Bar, box office and tech ran flawlessly which gave us more time to interact with the audience beforehand to set up an energized environment.  We had a diverse crowd of locals, tourists and even an improv guest from Boston College (raise a glass to Tabitha!).  Some notes I took away as a host for improvement were transition back from intermission and how to keep a strong flow for the second act.  Technical areas of improvement for our show.  I know I know, shut up John, we want to hear about the improv. 

Last night’s showing had some great improv and we were on the upswing for a majority of our sets.  I was happy with the product and we once again had genuinely positive interactions during our receiving line.  We are consistently taping our shows to allow our performers and staff to revisit the performance.  This will be a good set to showcase strong examples of advanced improv technique and strong character work.  This will also be a good set to pull some examples of opportunities for improvement, we’ll get to these points later on.  This show was a tale of two acts when it comes to excellent improv examples and areas we need to work.  In my opinion, the first half of our show was probably the best improv we have put up this season.  It’s also important to note this doesn’t necessarily coincide with the biggest audience laughs or hilarious themes.  I say this was our best improv because there was a lot of great natural scene builds which led to natural laughter.  A lot of our laughs came from the truth in the comedy rather than quick wins.  Each of our performers had strong examples of great instinct which showcased their talents.  Overall, throughout the first act, everyone stepped to the plate and did what needed to be done.  John Parsi had an awesome moment of introducing a scene oddity to play around with by being a cop who framed a citizen with multiple crimes.  Every time the scene was revisited, he elevated from speeding to possession of weapon to drugs to a dead body in the back, all of which he successfully pantomimed putting there himself.  Great energy, fun idea, great improv.  Mary Jo and Aneliese had an awesome moment of connection by elevating the oddity of a mother treating her 35 year old son like a teenager when dropping him off at an Eagles concert.  Oddity introduced and established, Aneliese steps in with the female factor, Mary Jo comes back in to torpedo her son’s chance as the mom (loved the condom reference).  Great sharing, great teamwork, great improv.  In our promiscuity set, two performers are in ‘Easy Park Jail’, a fun base reality to play around with.  Strong characters are introduced, but the limited cell starts getting a bit dry.  Erik walks in and introduces the oddity one of them doesn’t even have to be there and now we get to play with the idea of the old seasoned veteran ‘Easy Park’ inmate who doesn’t want to leave, the Brooks of Easy Park (Shawshank reference anyone?).    Great idea, great execution, great improv.  Eagles scene needs to get to the final line of being in the fast lane, mother and son driving home from the concert, Mallory steps in as a different vehicle with a different personality.  Her pantomime work and staging allows the audience to see a developed road conflict which also leads to one of my favorite moments of the show, when the final line in a wickedness set was modified to ‘It really pisses me off when someone drives slow in the fast line, but not tonight’.  Great staging, great elevation, great improv.  This sort of fun on stage is what connects an audience to a show and what connects performers to one another.

Other good examples worth mentioning include our short form.  We had a solid interrogation set and even though we pulled a basic suggestion of Abe Lincoln.  The guesser had a nice moment when they guessed the crime was shooting the fish in the back of the head.  Remember, a guesser creates humor when they communicate their thought patterns and dive in with confidence.  Slideshow was executed flawlessly with a strong narration and fun uses of slide transition.  This makes me excited for our upcoming After Dark series in October, where we will solidify Urban Yeti’s place in Alaska’s short form improv market. 

Urban Yeti Improv takes rehearsal and improvement very seriously, which is why we always spend some time on weaker areas needing improvement.  I think most folks know this section will be focusing on our Indecency set in the second act.  We had strong character and energy work last night which held throughout the whole show, but we found a bit of quick sand at the Loussac Library.  Rather than focus on choices made or confusion into why we felt the need to stay in certain environments/character interactions for so long with no progression of an oddity or objective, I want to focus on transition and wipes.  Over the last two rehearsals we have been working on more of a free form palette in our scene work.  The idea of taking a suggestion and then just playing, meaning our players can transition to different characters, different environments or even wipe the world entirely and start new.  But we still have further to go in this space.  I sense players are nervous to wipe out their partners work and are attempting to find glimpses of strong in a sea of mundane.  Our indecency set needed to go somewhere else.  I understand we have to get to a library and a food fight, but that can be built in less than a minute if necessary.  This also applies to our Promiscuity set, which was modified from our previous shows.  In both rehearsals and the show, there were opportunities for wipes not taken, but likely needed.  Like most good practices in improv, it comes with more time and more playing.  We will continue to work this and I suspect you’ll see a troupe in the future more comfortable with leaving an environment or even a whole world behind.

I’ll focus the last discussion of improvement on myself as artistic director.  I have learned a lot throughout our first two seasons about show formatting, especially when dealing with longer form scene work.  Throughout these experiences, I will be taking two lessons away to utilize in our upcoming seasons.  The first is to make longer form sets less restrictive.  Although I like the premise of a scene culminating into a predetermined audience objective or having to include different elements, we perform better when we can just explore and find the fun.  I would likely execute our Promiscuity and Indecency sets differently a second time around.  The second lesson I’ll take away is always leaving the audience wanting more.  The last two games or sets are very important and although I like the way our team plays Survivor and the uniqueness they bring, it is no longer the ideal closing game.  I don’t believe either of these points were detrimental to either of our seasons, but rather opportunities to create stronger formats in the future.  Our players aren’t the only people on a steep learning curve, their director shares in the journey.

We have all been putting a lot of work into Urban Yeti and I can personally say sometimes it gets stressful.  But whenever someone asks me if I’m still having fun, I never have to pause and think about it.  I have tremendous pride in what we are doing and those we are working with.  We are getting the best out of people, and no matter how hard the work gets, it is rewarding.  But the simple answer?  Of course it’s fun, because this shit is so damn cash.