Out of Bounds Improv Festival and Miniature Golf Tournament Wrap Up

Man, Out of Bounds was an awesome blur of improv and parties and golf. For me, the best thing about OOB is the chance to get rejuvenated about improv. I get to see great shows that inspire me to work hard and try new things. I get to take workshops that expose me to new points of view, techniques, and terminology I can use in my teaching. I get to meet really cool people that give me even more of a reason to travel to their cities and do improv somewhere else for a change. OOB 2007 definitely succeeded on all these accounts.

I want to share some of my highlights:

Thursday 8/30 8pm

I got to host the shows in the upstairs theatre. The show was sold out and I got a chance to wear my scene-stealing red dress, in line with the Soviet graphics of this year’s festival.

The show featured Improv for Evil (Austin), Curtis Needs a Ride (Fort Worth), and Knife Fight (LA). My favorite was the cuties from Curtis Needs a Ride. First of all, they wear ties. Improv can be such a casual thing, I like it when performers chose to bring a bit of class and professionalism to it. It elevates all of us. In my opinion, if you are asking people to pay to watch you, so you should put some effort in to looking nice or at least interesting.

[Sidenote: I listened to an interesting interview with Paul F. Tompkins (my favorite commentator on Best Week Ever) on The Sound of Young America (which also happens to be an OOB sponsor.) Tompkins is known for always dressing up for performances, all the way to a handkerchief matching his tie. When asked about this, he said he always dressed up, even when he started in the local clubs in Philly, because when he was a child, that’s how the stand up comedians on the late night talk shows dressed and that’s how he assumed comedians should present themselves.]

Curtis Needs a Ride also had a great spirit on stage. A playful and honest dynamic that took them pretty far. They mixed a few short form games with some flowy donut scene work. It was nice.

Thursday 8/30 10pm

I went downstairs for a show that knocked my block off. First was American Standard featuring some Austin Improv Alums currently living in NYC and a guest appearance by Kacey Samiee of Girls Girls Girls. They had a format where they used contact improvisation and really physical interaction as the transition between scenes. I LOVED how physical this show was. I loved the fact that it was four very smart people (in fact one of them studied physics at Harvard) chose to perform in such a visceral way. The improv was still smart, just dynamic as well. And especially in improv, when you really have actors on a blank set, exploring the physical possibilities of the performance makes it seem fresh and alive with possibilities, as the photos attest.

After American Standard came Silver City Pink, an all female troupe from Los Angeles. They rocked the house. It opened with Mikey D telling this great story from his childhood. I don’t remember all the details, but it involved high school boys getting drunk, camp grounds, a garage band with a really awful name, lots of vomiting and nowhere to shower.

The ladies used the monologue to inspire their show. They had great characters, wonderful timing and shape of show, strong recalls, and were just adorable. GGG is hoping we can make it work so they can come back for the second annual LAFF in April 2008.

Friday 8/31 10am

Classes began with a bang. I took Beth Burns “The Groundlings Method.” Beth has just moved to Austin from LA and it was my first chance to see her in action. She is a great teacher. Energetic, direct, funny, strong point of view, new (to me) ideas and exercises. There were a couple of teaching tricks of hers I’m definitely going to try to use. One is she had everyone make thunderous applause BEFORE anyone began a scene or demonstration in front of the group. I thought this drastically improved everyone’s performance. Just giving them a tiny boost in confidence to get things rolling. I realized it’s something I do on the first day of class, but I might try to use more consistently.

Beth also used her hands as puppets to demonstrate a scene, which I thought was useful. I often just act out both parts, but it’s tricky acting out examples for students. You want them to get the idea of the exercise and sometimes just showing them is easier than explaining it, but students often take your example as literally the only way to do an exercise. Then they just repeat what you did, which is not the point. And you don’t want your example to be too good, because that puts pressure on the student. But you don’t want the example to be too bad, because they will just mimic the bad example. So I think the hand puppet technique would be good to get the idea across in a vague/sloppy/abstract yet efficient way.

The second class of the day was the Master Class with Razowsky and Clifford. (check out their online videos I like Maladies and Mediterranean Diet.) What I really got out of this class was the focus on the initial moment of connection between the players at the very top of the scene. They had several exercises where you were moving around the space, then froze, then checked in with your scene partner and named or called what you saw. “You are scared of me.” “You are mischievous.” This is a gift to your partner that helps them play the scene. It’s also an affirmation that all the information you need is in those opening moments, with whatever that person brought on stage. I really enjoyed it.

Lastly, I did the Shakespeare workshop with the cast of Impro Theatre from LA. After introductions, they started the class by doing about 15 minutes of a performance to give us an idea of what we were working towards. Then we had all sorts of fun exercises. One person would start with a scripted Shakespearean insult and their scene partner would respond with an improvised insult. There was a focus on repeating the other persons words and turning them around on them. We were given an object and an emotion or characteristic and had to give a soliloquy comparing the two. I had to speak of how hunger is like a fairy. We gave our partner a line of dialog in modern English and they translated it into Shakespearean language. I gave a flowery description of my desire for a grilled cheese sandwich. Then we had some tete-a-tetes in iambic pentameter. Very tricky. We practiced being a character hidden onstage and narrating what another character is doing. At the end, we worked together to improvise a sonnet a line at a time. The first stanza the thesis, the second stanza the antithesis, the third stanza the synthesis and the last two lines the summary. Excellent.

This workshop made me want to work really hard. I could see that this skill was within my reach, but would require some serious study and being in the room with all those excellent improvisers really made me want to get to work. But I had to close up the classrooms, rush home and change to return to The Hideout in time to play w/ GGG in the 8pm show.

Friday 8/31 8pm

Girls Girls Girls show. The suggestion was “Factory: The Musical!” I think it was Madeline’s idea that we were a peanut factory that packed the real peanuts in Styrofoam peanuts. The audience seemed to really enjoy this show, even if GGG did not seem as pleased with it. I think GGG has constantly rising standards (something I think is a good idea.) that sometimes keeps us from realizing what a good job we are doing.

This is the opening number of the musical with all of us “working on the line:”

This is me as a disaffected youth whose mother sings of how she dreams her daughter will one day be crowned “Miss Peanut.” I’m singing an off-key “la la la” in the duet.

This is the beauty pageant coach working with me on my technique:

And here she teaches me how to dance.

Friday 8/31 10pm

I stuck around for the sketch comedy set downstairs at the Hideout. It started with the hometown favorites, Backpack Picnic. They were great as always and showed some of their online video sketches. The most impressive thing was their singing. They did these musical parodies of a Christian barbershop quartet that was freakin’ amazing. The lyrics were hilarious and their voices and arrangements were stunning. I want the album. As soon as they make it.

Then I was really impressed with these newcomers fresh out of USC in LA called Good Neighbor. I really enjoyed their style of comedy and their patience with laying out the platform of the scene. You must watch My Mom’s A Milf, Arrival, and Parliament Sports


And would you believe I was at the after party till like 3:30 in the AM? Oh yeah!

Saturday 09/01/07 10am

Oh snap. I had a long day of improv classes and shows ahead of me and not enough sleep. I even tried sleeping on a table in the lobby of the State Theater, to no avail. I was able to head home and take a nap and come back to the theatre refreshed to perform in the 10pm Get Up show.

Get Up had a killer set. The audience randomly chose a soundtrack to inspire the show and it was this great tribal drumming thing. An audience member listened to the song and said it suggested a man swinging from a vine with not much clothes on.

So the show opened in this Polynesian Island, where the chief was about to sacrifice his virgin daughter to the volcano. The show was kind of a mix of Tarzan, King Kong, and Lost.

This is me as the feral ape-man, swinging from a vine with the runaway virgin daughter on my back.

This is me (as the village chief) abducting me (as the planewrecked honeymooner) to use as a substitute sacrifice.

I stuck around to catch a little bit of the Phrenzy from Chicago do some sweet scenework and then off to SVT to party once more.

Sunday 8/02 1pm

Minigolf was hilarious as always. Although I got there too late to actually play, I got to see all the creative holes. My favorites were the Civil War Reenactment Hole, The Sprite or Sprite Zero Hole, the Performance Art Audition Hole.

Sunday 8/02 7:30pm

The Headliners Show. This show really lived up to its name. It filled me with pride and filled my heart with joy. Afterwards I just kept grabbing my chest and feeling the fullness in my heart. At the time I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I think it’s because I have devoted my career to improv. And improv can be hit or miss. And a lot of the improv that a lot of the country sees is probably not that great. And so often I identify myself as an improv teacher, hoping to help the situation. But deep down I am an improviser. And when I see masterful improv, it makes me feel proud to be an improviser. As Shannon said when he was hosting the show. “OOB is sponsored by a grant through the City of Austin made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts: because a great nation deserves great art. And Improv is a great art.” And I really felt that that evening.

In a way too brief summary because I am running out of steam here, The Available Cupholders, the hometown team, destroyed the place with a really strong set that was totally their own style. And to take the place down, Impro Theatre from LA did a 40 minute unscripted Shakespeare play that was out of this world. The language was beautiful. The story heartwarming. And the laughs strong and full.

Huzzah huzzah!

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About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.
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One comment

  1. Anonymous said:

    Lovy!! What a great narative. And who is that skinny babe in the red dress??

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