A Glimpse of the Future

Last night Urban Yeti Improv closed it’s Harold season with a double dose of improv comedy for Anchorage audiences. Numbers were a bit down due to a combination of beautiful weather and Second City performing at the PAC, but to be completely honest the laid back nature of both shows combined with great performances led to some pretty awesome sets. I’m proud we pulled in sizeable audiences regardless of the obstacles and even greater was the surge of people who came to After Dark after the Second City performance at the PAC. I bet they laughed more at our show anyway. Oh come on, let a director puff their chest every now and then. 

A few words need to be said about Urban Yeti Improv’s participation in the Alaska State Improv Festival (ASIF) which took place in Juneau from April 23rd – 26th. First and foremost, it is a hidden treasure that Alaska needs to know more about. 17 improv teams converged for ASIF from across the nation. There were talents from New York, Chicago, Austin, Portland and Seattle. Even more awesome, the Alaskan troupes held their own with groups from Anchorage, Talkeetna, Sitka and Juneau. Yeti performed two sets (long form with our Love is Blind show and short form with After Dark) plus all of our players performered in one of the mixer shows with players from around the country. We also individually took 12 hours of improv workshops from the festival headliners. Have you heard of the Alaska State Improv Festival? I bet not, but you need to spread the word. National, professional, quality improv is happening in our backyard and a lot of Alaskans still have never seen an improv show. You, reading this right now, help us correct this. Scream it from the mountains, the Alaskan improv revolution is on fire and burning brighter than ever! A strong thanks to Eric Caldwell, producer of the festival, for putting on such an incredible event. Although some might not see it, ASIF 2015 has marked a significant milestone for Yeti: We brought our talent to the wider community and gained the respect of our peers with fearless improv.

Now onto the main event, the final shows of the Harold season. I have been a bit leary of my choice to do a Harold set for a whole season. You can revisit previous blogs where I talk about the difficulties of the longest running long form standard in the world. Improv is sometimes having to work through scenes that fail and the Harold is unforgiving. Last night, however, we put on a strong product and I firmly believe the foundation of our success was in committment to characters. Whether it be two southern lawyers, an alcoholic Costco sampler, a frustrated girlfriend or parent/child relationships on display at a karaoke bar, the committment to these characters brought to life some great story to play around with. The strong character choices also made it easier on the third beat to merge the worlds together. Although I believe a Harold shouldn’t always just mash characters together for a third beat, I think it was the best choice for an ending to the set. I applaud our players for taking rehearsal notes to heart to improve the performance. Each beat started with strong two character inititations, action was played more to the front of the stage and we saw more of what character’s wanted rather than getting lost in dialogue. Looking back at the entire season and some new learning’s at ASIF, I’m starting to catch glimpses of the future. I would like to work on finding the game quicker in our scene work. I’m not saying I want to find the game quicker in every scene, but I would like to work this muscle to be able to vary our pace. What does finding the game mean? It means finding something odd to elevate in the story, like a southern lawyer’s illicit relationship with a judge, or having interventions in mundane every day locations. These are the games and I want to see us spend more time in elevation and less time in discovery.

If you missed After Dark last night, you missed a real treat. I surprised our performers by placing five games in the set list they have never played before and I made sure we got to all five. There were no backstage antics or cheap promotional tricks, they didn’t know the rules and we never played them. On top of that, the audience was really into the show format with a nice level of uncensored improv and great audience participants in our Moving Bodies / Objection games. There were times where it got pretty raunchy and silly, but I identified some moments of great creativity throughout with these suggestions. Also, think about this: these player’s EXPERIMENTATION with five unknown games yielded show ready material. Fearless improv, fearless improvisers, the Yeti’s are dangerous.

So why hibernate for the summer? We had some solid summer shows in our first year of performances, but it was twice as hard to keep momentum going in the summer. Scheduling was harder with our performers, publicity was harder because you are forced to change your market from local to tourist, and energy was harder because nice summer days in Alaska can often inhibit the excitement of being on stage. This year we are trying something different. Our fall contracts are already in place for AET and the PAC and we are going to take a break on shows we promote alone. There is a strong possibility we will leverage some partnerships made to do gigs throughout the summer elsewhere, whether it be the valley, Talkeetna or even out of state with other groups we have met. I’m excited about this model over the next 4 months, so keep up with our facebook page to see how Yeti is having fun this summer. We’ll call it a hibernation with random Yeti sitings. Don’t worry, we’ll find ways to bring the funny, you just sit back and laugh.

There is an additional highlight for me from last night and this season as a whole. I look back on season highlights like two sold out PAC performances, a submission worthy Valentine’s Day performance of Love is Blind, a strong opening of the Harold season lined up with the Iditarod, a sponsorship of our friend and musher Bryan Bearss, trips to Talkeetna and Juneau, engaging with the wider improv community and the list goes on. I can feel a sense of pride in our players as they walk away from their sets. Sure, sometimes we might have a rough show, but I’m starting to see a stronger record of success in our experimentation. We have also done a lot of workshops in the community, allowing folks to share in the fun. I’m seeing a similar sense of pride in the Alchemists at UAA and the random person wandering into open rehearsals. This is something Mal and I were missing for a long time before we created Urban Yeti. If you are reading this, thank YOU. You helped us find it, and we are greatful. On the road ahead, there will be successes and failures, acceptance and rejection. But I will take 10 rejections for the moment of walking off stage with a group of performers who were proud of the set performed.

Our hunger means it is never enough. Two people on stage please…