Before and After
The Twilight of a Season
The twilight of a season beckons great performances in a company’s players. Perhaps it is the onset of an inevitable end that provokes a player to make a final statement of some kind in the form of an awesome performance, a sort of epitaph for the season that only makes sense in the mind of the player who made it. Or maybe it is the setting sun of a productive artistic cycle that induces in the player a sense of urgency to purge every creative impulse inside of him, a fire sale of creativity that saves great ideas and prevents them from going unused. There is something about the end of a season – in improv as much as in sports – to elicit a great performance in players of all kinds. Last night, I was witness to great performances on the part of my improv brothers-in-arms, Improvinitus – Leo Alex Martinez, Pierce Nahigiyan, Ethan Serna, and Robert Souders.
A packed audience of loyal fans awaits the debut of our Western long form, a one act play in the style of an old school, rough-and-tough, down-and-dirty, Wild West flick. To create our Western, we interview an audience member, Bobby, about his life. He shares his desire to never work again and a bully from his middle-school past, the androgynous “Dakota,” a being who Bobby introduces as a male, but whose pronoun usage (“She”) says otherwise. He seems a bit nervous while we grill him on stage; we improvisers forget how nerve wracking it is to be in front of a huge crowd after so many years of exposure. His participation provided us with much source material to create a Western from – this mysterious Dakota and Bobby’s murky past with said person would provide much inspiration for the coming tale of a veterinarian seeking justice for his slain apprentice.
The team grills Bobby, the night’s inspiration for the Western
Our brave volunteer, Bobby, dives into the abyss of audience participation
Our western begins with a shot of a tavern. A local ranch hand (me) and the bar keep (Pierce) discuss the recent massacre of small animal life by the hands of a notorious and unnamed fiend. Next, the local veterinarian, Billy, played exquisitely by Leo, explains to his new protege, Bobby-Ricky-Jerome (played by Rob), the heart and logic of the animal doctor trade. Moreover, Billy reveals his past animosity toward Dakota, the small animal executioner. Unfinished business lays between the former friends. Next we see Dakota, a nefarious Ethan, deal kindly with a dog wrangler on the road (a bit part made great by Pierce’s commitment). Ethan and his henchman, Lumpy (yours truly), extort a tribute from the dog wrangler, but not before a round of an arm wrestling match, Texas Style – the bad guys puts a gun to your head and he shoots if you beat him. Billy and BRJ decided to confront Dakota to make him answer for his crimes; Dakota mercilessly executes BRJ with a pistol blast to the forehead. Upon the suggestion of Dakota’s henchman, Lumpy (moi), his henchman, Lumpy and a Skunky, a discombobulated Pierce, commence to execute Billy, but the rage of seeing his protege butchered before his eyes drives him to disarm the two incompetent henchmen. After an apology from the 3-foot Sheriff for failing to do his job, another great small part played hugely by Pierce, the 3-foot Sheriff relinquishes his badge to Billy so that he could seek out justice. The showdown occurs where Billy and Dakota play “Bang-Bang-Bang, you’re dead,” a three gun shot shoot out with the last man standing declared the winner. Awaiting death, Dakota reveals to Billy that he meant him no harm, but simply wanted to apologize to his friend for past grievances. As evidence of his sincerity, he asks his two henchman, Lumpy and Skunky, two become Billy’s deputies. Billy accepts them and moves beyond this unnecessary tragedy to assume his new destiny as Sheriff of a town we never named.
The Western had a simple narrative, clear characters, and no unanswered questions: A man must face his unfinished past with a former friend if he is to go one with the rest of his life peacefully. What made this long form go over with the audience was the fact that each individual performer bought his talents to bear on the one act play. Pierce was the utility player, providing support throughout. Leo was the story tactician pushing the show forward logically as it played out. Ethan assumed the role of villain so that the rest of the show would have an axis to spin around. Rob sacrificed his character in order for the rest of the story to have firm ground to build on. And I restrained myself as I witnessed magic happen before my eyes.
Pre-show game faces
Ethan preps in the back with a list of the night’s short form games
Pierce gave a superb performance on Friday night. During the Western, he filled in with many support roles – a barkeeper, dog wrangler, the town’s three-foot tall sheriff, and the audience favorite, Skunky, a dim witted goon who didn’t know his left hand from his left ass cheek. Pierce served as the Western’s utility player; his small roles inserted big laughs into the show while adding to the overall substance of the narrative. The barkeep gave necessary exposition in the beginning for the rest of the cast to build from; the dog wrangler provided an arena for Dakota’s malevolence; 3-foot Sheriff gave Billy the means to extract his justice. And Skunky, well Skunky was just a silly side character whose epic ineptitude endeared him to the audience (small and cheap laughs are important to sustaining the energy of a long form narrative). His support choices – whether regarding plot or just being silly – played a key role in the success of the Western. Good job, brother.
Leo’s dynamism is always on display when he is having fun on stage. He’s able to build a fleshed out character – a kind veterinarian with a murky past – while moving the narrative forward. The best part, however, is that you can tell Leo is having a good time. No, he’s not breaking character by being subdued by the absurdity of a scene, a common catalyst for breakage among improvisers. But rather, he’s quick and clever, for he is able to deliver in the moment quips as he drives the narrative with lots of visible emotion and logical choices that facilitate his character’s next move. For example, his character, Billy, “needed something to drive him over the edge,” in order for Billy to confront the past he had been running away from (Leo). So Leo asked Rob’s character to take a bullet for him, that nudge over the cliff. Leo’s consideration for plot and character development are on of his strengths as a player because his choices end up to the benefit of everyone – fellow players, the audience, and the logic of the narrative. Kudos to you, brother.
T-minus 15 to showtime
Last minute war cry!
Ethan is always able to assume responsibility for a lead character regardless of moral position. Irrespective of hero or villain, Ethan submits himself to the necessary character role so that the rest of the narrative will have an axis to gravitate around. A certain darkness emanates from Ethan when he plays a villain: he has no problem creating a concrete fiend for the hero to oppose and differentiate himself from. I applaud him because evil is easier to mock than actually embody when playing a villain in front of a live audience at a comedy show; people like to laugh at evil as a form of incompetence played by a cheesy villain, not actually fear his capability to kill, maim, and mutilate his victims on stage. Ethan was able to play a convincing villain that was neither likeable nor incompetent – he evoked shock laughs in the audience: fear laughter from an anxious audience unable to cope with the evil on stage. I congratulate him for bringing weight and commitment to a role a lesser actor would buck under.
Whereas Leo, Ethan, and Pierce got plenty of stage time throughout the Western, Rob’s character played a crucial part in the beginning that allowed the rest of the narrative to build on the crux of his sacrifice. Rob began as Bobby, then Ricky, and finally, after much confusion, he was deemed Jerome. BRJ (Bobby-Ricky-Jerome) was Billy’s apprentice in the trade of veterinary. Leo – writing the story in his head as it played out – decided that his character needed to be “driven over the edge,” (Leo). Rob took it upon himself to sacrifice his character in order to give Leo’s character the necessary motivation for him to seek retribution and closure with Ethan’s character, Dakota. I commend Rob for trusting his partner’s instinct regarding plot and character development, and for putting the story ahead of the opportunity to be a lead in the western. Indeed, Rob’s character was as viable a protagonist as Leo’s character in the beginning. But he put his own individual glory aside so that the success of the Western would take place. I commend you good sir for a sacrifice well done.
As for me? – I did not do much. I had some fun playing Ethan’s henchman, Lumpy, a sober goon to balance out Skunky’s bonkers like wackiness. The narrative seemed to zeroing in on Ethan and Leo, so I decided that the best move I could make was not to interfere with that. It was a prolonged exercise in restraint because an ambitious and attention craving performer, such as myself, always wants to maximize his stage time. But the dynamic between Ethan and Leo, with support from Pierce and Rob, seemed so divine that it would be criminal to interrupt that. I censured myself because I was observing something magical happening in front of me. Sometimes the best move is not making one.
The show’s producer and Improv Collective leader, Jeff Ambas
The College All-Stars leader in home runs, RBIs, space object work, and zaniness, Liam O’Mahony
The End of A Season
Indeed, it was a pleasure to see a sound narrative with fleshed out characters manifest before my eyes; I applaud the entire team for coming together and creating something wonderful for the season to end on. Despite a three week gap in between rehearsals, we were able to create a good story that entertained the audience and left its creators satisfied with the final product. Everybody brought their unique talents to the Western – by trusting each other to do what each of us does best, we created something special for the season to end on.
The night was an A+ show – all the things that could go right did. The short form hit too, and that just added to the over all good vibes of the night. There must be something in the end of a season to bring out the best in a player. I don’t know what it is, but the show on Friday got me closer to the answer. Genius needs pressure occasionally for it to be evoked. And what’s more pressuring than the fact that this show – this performance, this spectacle, this whatever – will be the current testament to your abilities as an artist until the next season. I’m convinced its about making a final statement of some kind to your fans regarding your prowess as a player or genius as an artist while everybody awaits the coming spring. I need more ends of seasons to find out if my theory is true.
To all our fans who came out on Friday for one last great improv show in 2014, Thank you.