The etymology of the word 'bingo' is unknown. Unsatisfied, I reached out to Robyn Stegman to at least find out the etymology of her show Improv Bingo Night.
See below for a live transcript of our discussion as it happens.
Tell us all about Improv Bingo Night. How might you describe your show to someone who knows nothing about improv?
Improv Bingo is just as it sounds, a strange marriage between improv and bingo. Each audience member gets a bingo card with a wide range of things that might happen on stage. You might see people playing animals, a job interview scene, someone digging a grave, etc. When something on your card happens on stage you get to stamp it off. When someone gets five in a row they get called up to choose from one of our awesome prizes. It's great for people who have never seen improv before because we go over what you are going to see on stage and no matter what happens there's a chance you could be taking home something awesome.
For the more knowledgeable improv crowd, what do you hope they’ll take away from the show.
I love Improv Bingo because it gets the audience engaged. You're plugged into the show because you want to see if someone sneezes or if someone starts a scene in a park. I hope the audience gets invested in the scenes not just to fill their bingo cards, but because they love the characters and their shenanigans on stage.
I love when the audience cheers or reacts to a random thing because they checked it off on their card. The performers don't actually know what is on the cards so it is a surprise for them too. There was a scene at a recent show where two of the performers were trying not to sneeze. Well, sneezing is one of the things on the bingo cards. The audience was at the edge of their seats waiting for one of them to break and actually sneeze. I love that level of intensity in the show when everyone is keyed into a moment happening on stage.
Tell us about what have you learned in improv? Is there a story about being a student, a performer on a team, or as a teacher?
Improv has taught me to fail. I fail hard and repeatedly. It's incredibly scary for me I want to be supernaturally good every time I do something. That's just not how learning works. We need bad scenes to teach us how to do good scenes. It takes a LOT of bad scenes to make a good improvisor. Failure is a necessary part of learning. I think that's why it is so hard to learn something new as an adult. It requires vulnerability. I'm trying to not beat myself up for making a mistake on stage or getting a big note, but I'm human and it happens. I'm not great at being generous to myself as a newbie and learner, but improv is helping me get better at not being great.
What advice do you have for people looking to do improv?
Find people you love doing improv with and form a group with them. Chicken Shit Bingo, my indie troupe, is so important to my growth as an improviser. When you have a group where you feel comfortable and supported you are able to test your limits and try new things in a safe environment. It's also just fun.
When I'm having a rough week where I'm struggling with a concept in class or feeling like I'm out of my depth, I dive into Chicken Shit Bingo practice like a warm bath. It's a time where I can have fun with this art form we all love and create some magic in the process. I feel like my heart grows three sizes every time I get on stage with them. I am so lucky to be surrounded by improvisers I love and respect each week. Improv is collaborative, you have to listen and support in order to be great. Building a team where you can build those strong connections is crucial to excelling as an improviser.
What kind of work do you do? How does your work or career influence you as a performer?
I have one of the greatest jobs in the world. I work as a marketing coordinator for Waterfront Partnership where I am the voice of Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel. (For those of you who don't know, they are two sentient and hilarious trash eating machines in Baltimore.) I use my ability as an entertainer to help address the issue of ocean plastic and improve our city's Waterfront. I have a great symbiotic relationship with my performance work and my career. Being a performer helps feed my spirit and build the tools to tap into my creativity. My job allows me to use those skills to help humans examine their impact and improve their relationship with their communities and the environment.
What in your personal life influences you either as a performer or a person?
I think my particular style of comedy goes back to my love for Douglas Adams as a kid. There's this amazing mix of sarcasm and whimsy that really appeals to me. I love the way he uses a surreal sci fi premise to make a lot of real life observations about the nature of our own day to day reality. Plus thanks to him, I was lead down a rich rabbit hole of British comedy that introduced me to the Goon Show, Monty Python, Q. and others.
Any takeaways from improv books or workshops that might be helpful to others? Who was the author or teacher?
I will not be the first or last to say this, but everyone should read How to Be the Greatest Improviser on Earth by Will Hines. His chapter on taking care of yourself was so important to me when I read it the first time. I have trouble liking things passively so I dove right into improv and took every opportunity I could. I've learned A LOT but I've also worn myself out at times. His book finally knocked it into my head that it is okay to miss the occasional workshop or opportunity. I have to take time outside of improv to rest myself and nourish my creativity. The time recharging helps me be better while I am improvising.
Also, Will Hines calls some improvisers "strange socially awkward list-makers with a good sense of the surreal," in his book. I feel personally called out, in a good way.
View our calendar and ask our staff to find out when we're having the next Improv Bingo Night.
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