Like many of you, I'm perusing Eventbrite for a way to avoid household chores. Then I came across the official description of a show at The BIG Theater called Extra Credit: An Improv JAM!
I’m very confused, what is this! So I demanded answers from the show’s producer and host, Barry Wright. This sounds way better than dusting my baseboards. Read on for the transcript of our discussion.
Mitch Fishbein has definitely made an impact on the BIG community since taking his first class in May 2016. Mitch played an integral role in the fundraising campaign to make 1727 N. Charles St. the home for BIG’s classes and performances in 2017.
Thanks to his support, performers and audience members can hang out in “Lenny’s Lobby,” named after Mitch’s father. The front classroom in the has been dubbed The MITCH (for Musical Improv Training Comedy Home) for all of his contributions to the BIG community.
You can find Mitch at Club 1727, the weekly musical improv jam Mitch helped to create. Club 1727 takes place in Lenny’s Lobby.
Mitch performs regularly with Bad Karaoke Experience, an indie musical improv team which recently presented “Mitch’s Fairy Tale: An Improvised Musical” as part of BIG’s Wednesday Lab show. Mitch co-founded the team with Brian E. Young.
Besides his support of the BIG community and love of musical improv, Mitch also recognizes the importance of history.
“As a 6 year old, my father, Lenny, took me and my brother to see JFK's funeral procession in 1963,” he said. “Fifteen years later, I met my future wife, Yvonne, at the Reflections Disco in Baltimore. Yvonne and I got married on Nov. 22nd, 1981, the same day of the month that John F. Kennedy was shot in the head.”
BIG is going free in May. The Baltimore Improv Group, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to the performance and teaching of improv comedy, will make all of its shows free during the month of May, according to BIG Managing Director Terry Withers.
“It’s an exciting experiment for us. When I first proposed we not charge anything for our shows, I got some weird looks. But the more I talked to members of our community about it, the more people got excited,” said Withers. “Improvisers are generous by their nature, and none of us is in this to make a fortune. What we want most of all is to share the wonderful fun of watching and participating in improv comedy.”
The improv group performs six nights a week at its current home The BIG Theater at 1727 N. Charles Street in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District.
Highlights on the May calendar include Shakespeare Out of the Park (Thursday, May 10, 7:30 p.m.); We Need a Hero, (Saturdays at 8 p.m.), an epic improvised spoof of “Avengers: Infinity War;” and BIG TIME (Fridays at 8 p.m.), in which a Baltimorean of note is interviewed on stage only to have the interview spun into no-holds-barred comedy. May’s guests include Jamyla Krempel (WYPR, May 4) and Lou Catelli (the “patron saint of Hampden,” May 25).
“Improv has its roots as a performing art form for the everyday person. It isn’t ballet or opera. It’s all about listening, sharing ideas and supporting each other’s disparate points of view with abandon,” said Withers. “I think free tickets underlines our commitment to those values. We want you here, we don’t care about your money. If a month of free shows results in just one or two more great improvisers joining our community, it will have been immeasurably worth it."
Now in its 14th season, Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) is dedicated to advancing the art and appreciation of improvisational theatre in the Greater Baltimore area through a dynamic program of performance, instruction, and outreach. A 501(c)3 non-profit, BIG believes in “Yes Anding” its community members, students, performers, audience and the larger citizenship of Baltimore, both on and offstage. If you’re looking for a laugh or to make great new friends, then you’ve found your home at BIG.
What a weekend! Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) started a new Friday evening event that honors Baltimoreans who make the city a better place.
Last Friday, Deputy City Solicitor of Baltimore Dana Petersen Moore told a story about her life. BIG's best improvisers then created a series of scenes based on her experiences.
The BIG Time starts at 8pm on Friday nights, and here is the schedule for the rest of January:
January 12: Doreen Bolger, arts supporter and former director, Baltimore Museum of Art
January 19: Colin Campbell, Reporter, The Baltimore Sun
January 25: Ann Costlow, Founder, Sofi's Crepes
Jess Henkin and Laura Wexler of Stoop Storytelling Series hosted a successful fundraiser for Baltimore Improv Group. We can't thank them enough! Mike Subelsky, BIG Founder, also shared a story along with Thomas Dotstry, Patrick Hampton, Jordan Lally, and Sheila McMeniman.
Will Hines (UCB - LA) told a story about taking a leap and booking time to record a podcast session at the famed Abby Road Studios. Talk about taking a leap!
Several improvisers also took workshops with Will Hines and learned about the importance of details in scenes. Everyone had a blast!
We hope to see you in January, and stay tuned for February's schedule!
The first time I met Mitch, he was wearing a Beach Boys Pet Sounds t-shirt. I couldn't resist complimenting the shirt. For the optimal reading experience, I recommend listening to this album while you read this article. Or soon after if you have a hard time reading and listening to words.
Mitch started taking improv classes after watching his middle son, Adam, perform at Washington Improv Theater and with his team The Female Accent. After asking questions of Adam like 'what is a warm-up' and 'what do you do for 2 hours in an improv class?', Mitch decided to jump in and take Tavish Forsyth's 101 class at Baltimore Improv Group. It turned out to be games! And fun with strangers.
His one true love is music, and soon after he jumped at taking Musical Improv with Bridget Cavaiola. Soon after the class ended, Mitch and Brian Young started Bad Karaoke Experience to continue exploring the world of music made up on the spot. Almost a year later, they are performing at Mitch's birthday party this Saturday, November 18th at The BIG Theater.
Come see some of BIG's best improvisers incorporate stories of Mitch's life into a set and several scenes. Maybe a scene will come up about his favorite restaurants. Daniela's in Hampden is one of his favorites, and it reminds him of travels to Sardinia. He also celebrated several birthdays and events Helmad Afghan Restaurant in Mt. Vernon. Will those places be the place of a scene on Saturday? We can't wait for you to come and see!
Lookout for a sign commemorating Mitch's father, Lenny, in the lobby. Leonard Fishbein (1929-2009) introduced Mitch to The Ed Sullivan Show, George Carlin, and Alan King. As part of BIG's mission to serve all of Baltimore, anyone who cannot afford a ticket to a show will get to see great comedy on Lenny.
What does Mitch plan next? His goal is to perform a fully improvised musical in the coming years. He started the Club 1727: An Open Musical-Improv Jam open musical improv night, and this happens every Wednesday in the BIG lobby. Mitch's vision for BIG includes having programming seven nights a week and, eventually, a BIG Musical Improv Festival!
Baltimore Improv Group opens at The BIG Theater at 1727 North Charles Street on Friday, October 6th. The move is a positive direction for BIG, as it can hold classes, workshops, and performances all in one space. The 3,000 square foot space is four times larger than any space BIG worked with in the past.
Opening weekend coincides with Free Fall Baltimore. What this means a weekend of free programming at the new space!
Friday, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.
It's Opening Night! Happy Hour
First Show! First Night! Baltimore Improv Group inaugurates its new home in the Station North Arts & Entertainment History with an evening of great improv entertainment. First up, a double-fill featuring the short-form experts Plan B, one of BIG's orginal troupes, and the always wonderful Hostel. This Free event is presented as part of the 12th annual Free Fall Baltimore, a citywide celebration that offers hundreds of free arts and cultural events at participating venues throughout Baltimore City.
Friday, Oct. 6, 8 p.m.
It's Opening Night! Unscripted
Opening Night at the Baltimore Improv Group's new home in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District continues with a very special free presentation of "Unscripted," a BIG favorite that has a fearless troupe of performers creating a fully improvised two-act play. The audience is invited to bring props that may end up in the show. This Free event is presented as part of the 12th annual Free Fall Baltimore, a citywide celebration that offers hundreds of free arts and cultural events at participating venues throughout Baltimore City.
Friday, Oct. 6, 9:30 p.m.
It's Opening Night! Triple Play
Opening Night at The BIG Theater concludes with a triple-bill of popular BIG troupes -- Bears Only, Aftermath and Old City. Come see these charming and experienced troupes feel their way around in BIG's beautiful new home in the Station North Arts & Entertainment District. This Free event is presented as part of the 12th annual Free Fall Baltimore, a citywide celebration that offers hundreds of free arts and cultural events at participating venues throughout Baltimore City.
Saturday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m.
It's Opening Weekend, Part Deux: Casually Dope and Lekker
Opening Weekend at Baltimore Improv Group's new home in the Station North Arts & Entertaiment District continues with a double-bill featuring two of BIG's favorite house troupes -- Casually Dope and Lekker. This Free event is presented as part of the 12th annual Free Fall Baltimore, a citywide celebration that offers hundreds of free arts and cultural events at participating venues throughout Baltimore City.
Saturday, Oct. 7, 8:00 p.m.
It's Opening Weekend, The Movement
Back by popular demand, The Collective and The Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) will pair up to present an evening of unscripted comedy and dance with The Movement. Always an audience favorite, the dancers of The Collective use their moving bodies to provide sets and props for the improvisers of BIG. Using input from the audience, the improvisers and the dancers create a seamlessly-woven, impromptu performance that blends theatre, dance, music, and laughter!
Saturday, Oct. 7, 9:30 p.m.
It's Opening Weekend, Part Deux: CommuniKate and GUS
BIG's opening weekend in its new home in the Station North Arts & Entertaiment District continues wiht a double-bill of great impro entertainment. First up is CommuiKate, Kate Billingsley's funny, tender, insightful, genre-busting one-woman show that she is preparing for a run at Chicago's famed Second City -- see it before Chicago does! Then, one of BIG's longest-running troupe's GUS helps break in the new stage at the BIG Theater. This Free event is presented as part of the 12th annual Free Fall Baltimore, a citywide celebration that offers hundreds of free arts and cultural events at participating venues throughout Baltimore City.
Sunday, Oct. 8, 7 p.m.
It's Opening Weekend: Sunday Funday
The last show of BIG's Opening Weekend in its the brand new BIG Theater features a double-bill of Radio Pigeon, a pair of British ex-pats turned American Improv Duo, and the longtime BIG project Local Spot. Last Show of our Free Fall run. This Free event is presented as part of the 12th annual Free Fall Baltimore, a citywide celebration that offers hundreds of free arts and cultural events at participating venues throughout Baltimore City.
by Kat Martineau
The Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) had several troupes and members perform at the 19th Annual Del Close Marathon in New York City last weekend. They joined performers from around the world for three days of laughs with an inclusive community of performers. Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) theater hosted the marathon that took place at 10 theaters and featured over 700 performers.
BIG troupes and special projects Gus, Local Spot, and Minority Re’port played at various stages in Manhattan. Andy McIntyre, who has attended and performed in the Del Close Marathon for three years, said 'Every year, DCM is one of my favorite times as you get to see and meet improvisers from all over the world. I think it is something that should be on all improvisers' bucket lists.' This year, he performed with BIG special project The Local Spot and indie troupe Remote Possibilities.
Del Close is one of the originators of improvisational comedy who trained heavyweights Amy Sedaris, Horatio Sans, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, and more. When he passed in 1999, UCB started an improv comedy festival to celebrate his legacy. Nineteen years later, the festival continues to attract improvisers from as far as Australia.
Managing Director Terry Withers also attended the festival and performed in more than 10 shows around Manhattan over the weekend. That is a lot of running around! ‘Probably my favorite experience was running Short Form Is The Only Art Form. This wasn't a DCM show but it was inspired by DCM. Well attended in a terrible venue, this show featured Jason Herbert as a Judge. Also judging the proceedings was Beth Appel, a past Harold Night teammate of mine and the current Artistic Director of UCBLA. I thought that was neat to see Biggies and UCBers together in an indie show I created 5 years ago.’ Terry said.
Heather Moyer, one of the founding members of BIG, also attended the festival with her troupe Gus. 'DCM was a very fun time. I really enjoyed the wide variety of improv I saw and meeting lots of new people. My favorite troupes were UCB's The Stepfathers, Two Man Movie, UCB's Grandma's Ashes, and the Shahs of Improv.' said Heather.
The festival fun continues this summer with Baltimore Improv Group's festival from July 31st - August 6th. Get your laugh on, and join talented improvisers from New York City, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and more! Week long passes are $55 and can be purchased on the festival website in July.
by Chloe Scully
The host stands in the middle of the small stage, clutching a metal bucket. “Welcome everyone to ‘Impropourri!’ Show of hands, who has never done improv before?”
It’s my first time attending ‘Impropourri’ with Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) and it looks promising. The seats are filled, the air is filled with excited murmurs, and I can recognize about a third of the room’s inhabitants from previous BIG shows. Today’s show is going to be amazing, I know it.
For those who don’t know, ‘Impropourri’ is one of BIG’s improv shows in which anyone - yes, ANYONE - can participate for free. You can come with a group or join one, and then you spend the next two to three hours having fun, watching other people perform, and improvising yourself.
Circling back to the host’s (Pamela) original question, a few people raise their hands, showing that they are indeed new to the world of improv. As I hang back, I watch to see how these newbies would interact with the pros of improv and vice versa.
To my delight, I soon couldn’t tell the difference, not due to inherent skill (although these “newbies” were fantastic), but rather due to the amount of fun that everyone was having. Laughter is rife and smiles are abundant. Not one act exits the stage without thunderous applause.
Sixteen troupes go on, with exciting names such as “Existential Angst,” “Kosher Pizza,” and “IOU.” Some of the more memorable routines involve toilet selfies, Cheerio-obsessed accountants, and even a question and answer segment with a “child of three parents.” This last segment is one of my favorites, due to the fact that everyone, even those too shy to go onstage themselves, is able to participate in.
Overall, I would say that ‘Impropourri’ is a success - it is fun, engaging, and not stressful or anxiety-inducing at all. The people who participate, whether new or used to improv, quickly adjust and their inherent comedy blooms for all to see. And don’t worry - if you’re not the type to perform onstage, you can still participate from your seat.This show is free, but donations are appreciated. So come on out to ‘Impropourri’ - it’s on at Single Carrot Theater, every Thursday 7:30pm to 10:30pm. We’re waiting to see what you can bring to our little show.
To read our last blog post, go to BIG Improv Blog. To go to Impropourri, please look at Impropourri - Eventbrite. To look at Baltimore Improv Group in general, click Baltimore Improv Group. To check out other improv jams in nearby cities, try Washington Improv Theater.
By Kim Lee
When I tell people that I’m a stage manager for a full-length improvised play, they usually react with the same set of questions. Mostly involving the word “how?” This is fair, especially for anyone who has ever seen a play, or has an inkling of the amount of effort involved in such productions. How do you stage manage a play when you haven’t worked out the blocking beforehand, when you don’t know when scene changes will happen or where these scenes even are? When you learn who the characters are, and what the plot is, at the same time the audience does? Do you even rehearse? What exactly do you do in rehearsal?
We don’t run through lines or blocking in rehearsal (our actors are all off book, because there is no book). What we do is run through a gauntlet of exercises, designed to drill elements such as the basics of play structure, character relationships, staging and environments – with the net result that these become reflexive to our cast of actors. Armed with these tools, the possible worlds our actors can create on stage are limitless.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing an under-rehearsed play, where it’s painfully obvious that the actors don’t quite know their lines, and the scene changes are sloppy – do not worry about coming to this show. Trust me when I tell you that those of us in Unscripted will take good care of each other on stage, and you, our audience members and guests to our world. We may not know exactly what we are doing yet, but we know how to do it.
Alternately (and now I am speaking for myself as an avid theatre-lover) I have witnessed performances wherein the actors seem too rehearsed. Yes, they’ve 100% nailed their lines, moved where they were supposed to move, and made appropriate shapes with their faces conveying the proper emotions. Yet sometimes – and I have even seen this with those whom I consider to be great actors – there can be some element of staleness in the delivery of words. A lack of some essential spark, or perhaps a sense that the words themselves are props borrowed from someone else.
I can’t tell you what you’ll see on the night you choose to see Unscripted . There are ten nights of shows, and subsequently, ten different plays. You might see a play about vampires who fall in love with Ostrich Kings, or a time travel adventure featuring complicated machinations involving potatoes. What I can promise is that every word, and indeed every idea, is freshly formed on stage right then and there – created especially for you (and with your input). You’ve never seen anything quite like this play, and you’ll never see it again.
Kim Le, stage manager for Unscripted – a production by the Baltimore Improv Group.
Unscripted runs Thursdays through Saturdays from 4/27 – 5/13 at 8:00 (with a special Sunday matinee on 5/7 at 2:00), at Single Carrot Theatre. Tickets and more info at http://www.bigimprov.org/unscripted.
By Terry Withers, BIG Managing Director
(Inspired by a recent professional development workshop BIG designed and provided for a corporate client’s sales department.)
One of my favorite improv exercises is really just a stupid little children’s game. You get a small group of folks together, maybe 8 to 16 people or so and you have them stand in a circle. You tell one of them that they have a clap. If they turn to their right and look whoever is standing there in their eyes, then both people are supposed to clap at the same time. Now the person on the right has got a clap. And they can turn to their right and pass it too. After people do that for a bit they can start to pass it back to the person who just gave it to them. Soon people can pass it to anyone in the circle. The best part is when everyone breaks out of the circle and walks around the room in no particular pattern while passing a clap between themselves.
I can watch that exercise for a real long time and be very entertained. I think of it as the smallest piece of pure improv. Just like an atom of any element is the smallest piece of that element, this exercise contains all of the key properties of good improv. You can’t succeed or fail by yourself. (If you clap together with a fellow participant then you succeeded together. If only one of you claps, then you’ve failed together.) You have to pay very close attention to what is happening around you. And it’s pretty stupid with a high chance of giving you the giggles.
Also, just like in an improv comedy show, teamwork counts for more than speed when playing the clapping game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen groups get really good at this game and start passing a clap so fast it almost sounds like a machine gun is firing. Behind the back passes, over each other’s heads, bouncing claps off of walls to others who aren’t even looking at the passer but clap with them nonetheless. And that’s all great. But at the end of the day, clapping in unison is still more satisfying then any of that fancier stuff done in discord. So it’s no wonder this game serves as a common improv warm up exercise when the same dynamics are evident in improv: teamwork is better than speed or other showboat-y accomplishments. Two improvisers cooperating to build a simple scene with a simple comedic premise is better than a scene with two improvisers trying to top each other with spectacular moves that are not supported, created or received with cooperation.
Here’s the thing, sales people should be warming up with this exercise too, not just improvisers. Sales teams that want to improve their performance should come into the office every morning, drop their stuff off at their desk, have a cup of coffee and then meet up in the large conference room for a quick round of the clapping game. Think of the instincts it would reinforce. The clapping game would remind you:
1) To pay very close attention to what your clients are saying, not just out loud but also nonverbally.
2) That you can’t close a sale without a client agreeing to it. You either close the sale or lose the sale in concert with your client. Rushing your client won’t help.
3) That your day will probably go better if you don’t take anything too seriously and infuse your work with a sense of fun.
I remember when I worked in Ad Sales I had a VP who used to wander around the sales floor and ask reps who their hottest prospects were. After listening to a rep run through the particulars surrounding a given prospect this VP’s advice was invariably the same, “Why don’t you ask for their business by faxing over a contract?” The idea was that assumptive confidence would close sales. I think it ruined relationships, you ask me. Just like clapping at someone before they’re ready to clap with you feels aggressive and disconnected.
Great clappers, like great sales people are marvels to watch. I remember there was a guy in one of my intro to improv classes who couldn’t clap in a predictable rhythm. He’d keep his hands apart way too long, even as his eyes grew wide in terror as he watched someone else passing a clap to him. Slowly the person passing to him would close the distance between their hands, hoping he’d match their speed. And then with no warning his hands would slam shut while the person who initiated the clap would stare at him, stunned and slack-jawed by the unbelievable suddenness of his decision! He was impossible to clap with! At first his other classmates would roll their eyes and scowl when “he” messed up. But this class was a very supportive group and somewhere along the line they stopped blaming the guy who couldn’t clap in an easily anticipatable way and started trying to succeed with him. And seemingly against all odds they figured it out.
I remember one student in particular figuring it out first. She clapped at him real fast but then right before her hands met she pulled them apart again. This would trigger the “bad” clapper to realize he was going to miss the clap and so he would begin to clap himself and as he did that she would finish her clap, real quick this time for real. It had the same rhythm as a basketball pump fake and it worked like a charm. Soon everyone in the class was using the same trick. They had met this “bad clapper” where he was. They had figured out how to succeed together with him.
How many times have you heard a sales rep tell a story about a big sale they almost had, if only their client weren’t an absolute idiot? Whenever I hear a story like that I know who the real idiot is. A salesperson trying to change a client’s beliefs, behavior or list of priorities will never be as successful as a salesperson who seeks to understand their clients and then use that understanding to build strong, successful relationships by working to harmoniously succeed in concert with them. What point is there in selling a client a product they don’t want or pressuring a client to make a purchase before they feel organically ready to? It might help your numbers one month, but in the long term that’s a great way to lose clients.
No, if you want to be a great salesperson then you need to act like a great clapper. Pay careful attention to your client’s idiosyncrasies so you know whether you should close a sale real fast, real slow or with a pump fake.
Various BIG members and friends contribute to the blog. Enjoy!