Risk and Reward

Last year we had the pleasure of being invited to the Del Close Marathon in New York, put on by the increasingly popular Upright’s Citizen Brigade (UCB) theater. The range of improv we experienced at the festival was enormous and it was paired with seeing headliner performances from a lot of actors making their living in the industry, some well known names. One of these performances was a show called ‘Gravid Water’. The concept of the show was to pair performers on Broadway with performers from UCB. Scenes from iconic plays were selected for the Broadway performers and they memorized their character’s lines. Costumes and sets were utilized and when the UCB performer walked on stage, they were cast into an environment and forced to trust and react.

Fast forward to three months ago when Mallory and I were discussing the spring season for Yeti. We dialed in to wanting to do a different show each month to keep it fresh and show our new partners at 49th State Brewing Company we had a lot to bring to the table. We had an amazing set with Whiskey Tango, revived our very first show Frigid Affair to sold out acclaim, but how do we end the season on a high note?

It was Mallory who capped off the run: Remember ‘Gravid Water’? Why not here in Anchorage?

I was skeptical, it was a lot of risk. We would have to find 5 actors to pair with our improvisers, who never did anything like this, and pour through scripts to find the right scenes. What if someone can’t commit? Someone doesn’t show up out of 10 performers? What if it doesn’t turn out well and our guests don’t have a good time? What if the audience doesn’t dig it? What if we don’t have enough plays to find scenes? What if what if what if what if?

And once again, it was Mallory who came in to cap off the run. She took care of it. She contacted our friends over at TossPot productions, recruited 5 amazing actors, poured through scripts to find the right scenes, organized rehearsal space and advertising strategy, and just plain helmed the project.

We had one rehearsal with the whole group, switched scene partners so folks could get a little experience in the format without actually running their scene for the performance to maintain the fresh nature of the improv. It was a great rehearsal, but the scene runs weren’t necessarily all solid. Some performers struggled a bit as we built the concept from the bottom up. Everyone was wonderful and talented, but it was just hard for all of us to grasp. I’m ashamed to admit: I was still skeptical.

So what came of all my skepticism? What happened to these 10 brave performers?

They killed it and I’m a wiser director because of it.

It was one of our riskiest shows ever performed and it was wonderful. The audience was packed, the energy was delightful and fit the show format perfectly. From introduction to player warm-up to Off-book set to second half short form, it all blended into a unique one time experience ranking up there as one of our best performances to date.

Thank you to TossPot. Thank you to Jill, Taylor, Kalli, Danielle and David for getting on that stage and taking risks with us. Thank you for showing a sense of professionalism that sets a standard for the rest of the community. Thank you for instilling a sense of respect for art in our audience we love to see while they walk out the door. Afterward as we were talking to several audience members, there was a genuine awe in your ability to perform, especially when you pair it with an improviser in the basement of a bar. Yeti gives you a standing ovation.

It’s okay to be skeptical, it is just a translation of being uncomfortable and I wrote in my last blog about the importance of being uncomfortable. I’m nervous for every show we do because I desperately want the audience to see the amazing art we see on a day-to-day basis. During the rehearsal run for Off-book, I could tell our performers were genuinely nervous and I want to thank them for that. It means they were invested in the risk we were about to sell. I couldn’t ask for a better ensemble to share this with.

Thank you to Mallory for taking control and moving Yeti a step higher. We are the mom and pop of this operation and you deserve the credit for last night’s beauty.

The Yeti now heads into summer hibernation but you’ll see a lot of our performers continuing to do shows with Scared Scriptless throughout. You’ll see Mal and I coming out to support. We will begin our open rehearsals again on first Wednesday starting in June, so come out and give improv a try. Have some fun with us. We are also applying to festivals again, so we’ll let you know how it turns out. The secret to our hibernation is it isn’t necessarily a complete rest from improv, it’s really a rest from the standard cadence of advertising campaigns. To be honest, we find this helps boost creativity and builds momentum for our product in the fall.

Some additional honorable mentions for the final season blog:

  • Did you see Kristen Doogan enjoying the show last night? We did, and we appreciate the fact she came to check it out, even with guests in town. That’s one classy lady people. We appreciate the Doogan’s support in our new arrangement at 49th State Brewery.
  • One of my favorite moments of the show was in Erik and David’s scene when Erik said ‘I’m starting to feel like you have an ulterior motive’ and then later bringing it back with ‘See, see that’s there ulterior motive’. Sometimes just stating what you are feeling will always be the best option for an improv scene.
  • I had a conversation after the show last night with a huge supporter of Yeti, Vikram Patel. There is a 99% chance you know him because he knows everybody. He asked me a question a lot of people do: Why I don’t perform more. Some might see it as a control or fear issue. I always stress my vision in improv comedy includes a skilled host and my vision of a thriving improv house includes someone devoted to directing over performing. It’s a good question and it was a good conversation. In thinking about it more Vik, I feel like I have a much simpler answer this morning: Right now I’m just happy with the way things are. Nobody will ever be prouder of what Yeti is doing than me.
  • Our audiences are great, but last night’s audience in particular deserves a special mention. When your theater has a full bar, sometimes better beer can mean rowdy audiences. During our last show, I think a lot of us were starting to think we were headed to these rowdy type shows for our entire run at 49th State. You showed us we still have some control in the matter. You joined us for something new and you respected it. Thanks for making us more comfortable with the range of what we can do in this town.

This is where I usually I try to end with something classy and inspirational. So this is it: