Thank you Eau Claire Improv Festival! We had so much fun this weekend! This festival was truly a special, unique, and freezing cold experience! Here’s how the days went:
The whole trip was insane, starting with the 5 hour drive to Eau Claire Friday night through the snow! David booked us a minivan, and when we showed up we didn’t know it would be a candy-apple red, tricked out, Chrysler Town and Country, with TWO TVS IN IT! Xzibit himself would have been proud. Alan laid in the back row and slept through practically the whole car ride; Collin couldn’t stop snapchatting; Dave was continuously working on his Indian Chief impression; David couldn’t stop grumpily coughing and sneezing; and Ryan couldn’t stop coming up with ridiculous Italian names…It was a typical “Switch” car ride. During the drive we stopped off at the Pine Cone Restaurant, in De Forest, WI, which served you unlimited chicken and fish. Alan got the Porcupine Meatballs cause he’s disgusting, Ryan got a chocolate milkshake because he’s a child, and David got the only vegetarian thing on the menu…plain eggs. We also attempted to do a podcast, but things went to hell once the food came to the table.
Arriving in Eau Claire during a storm at 12:30 am is the ONLY time to arrive. We walked into the front door of what would be our home for the next two days. The best way to describe it is to have you picture a frat house in a movie after some crazy college party: Couches displayed in a Tetris-style fashion, art-deco pieces built from empty beer cans, an old school N64 plugged into a TV (despite there being 2 newer gaming systems behind it), and a vinyl record collection deep enough to insulate the house. When we asked if we could get the playlist because the music was so good, we were directed towards the record album which was, fittingly, playing The Animals. We were told to head downstairs where there was an Improv Jam going on. The basement was decked out in lights and rugs with a small space for a stage, and people were sitting and laying about, just having a good time. It was so awesome to see people performing because they love it, in a basement at 12:30am.
After the Jam was done we were shown to our room. It was one large room with three large air mattresses on the ground. Literally, the entire bedroom was mattress; if you stepped off your bed, you were on someone else’s. Naturally, Collin and Alan slept while spooning together, David got his own air mattress because he was sick, and Ryan and Dave were able to share a bed without laying on top of one-another. This has naturally morphed into the “Switch” sleeping arrangement. Leaving us in a small room like that may have not been the best idea, because it took us a few hours to fall asleep, as we were constantly jumping on top of each other and cursing. “Vincenzo Velucci, Velucci Fixtures!” was shouted as we dog piled on top of one another. We didn’t find out until the next morning that we kept the whole house up with our antics. But being amazingly nice, small town Midwesterners, they were incredibly polite about it. “No we heard it. All of it.”
We woke up Saturday and our wonderful host Elliot was making us Blueberry Pancakes. Dave said they were the best blueberry pancakes he had ever eaten. Ryan agreed…they were the best pancakes that Dave had ever eaten. We then taught our Hyper-Play workshop down in the cool hybrid basement/ theater space. It was awesome to see people show up to take our workshop even though it was snowing and 10am. The workshop was awesome. We had them killing each other and slapping one another right from the start (just like how we warm up). After our workshop, we asked some of the students where the best pizza place is, and so off we went to JimBob’s where they have a deal – Buy One Pizza, Get One pizza free! Are you kidding me!? Is this real life!? We got a Smotherella pizza which was basically a giant cheese stick, it was disgustingly delicious.
After filling our bellies, Rick Andrews of the Magnet Theater in NY, was nice enough to offer a workshop with us, so down we went again to the basement. It was so great to work with Rick, as there was an instant connection. Though we had never met him before, it felt like we knew exactly where he was coming from and he knew what we wanted. We screwed around for 90 minutes, learned some new games, then took turns taking naps or playing Super Smash Bros. and Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey with the boys of the house until showtime.
Wow! What an awesome job the festival producers did! The performances were held at Pizza Plus, a large pizza place/bar/ theater in downtown Eau Claire. On our way there Ryan thought he saw a little kid in a tattoo parlor peeing in a plant, but it was just a statue. The theater space was huge, probably had 250 people packed in, and the energy was amazing! This pizza place was one of the coolest pizza places ever. They had arcade games like Terminator and Big Buck Hunter along with a stereo system so you could hear everything that was said on stage even if you were in the way back. The crowd was so excited to see comedy and were incredibly inviting. The great people at Pizza Plus even offered us a free pizza! If you’re counting at home, that’s three pizzas in one day for the boys of “Switch.”
Our show was amazing. It started off with us lifting Alan up as a scarecrow and tying our ties on him to look like dead snakes to scare the kids away from stealing our pumpkins. Of course, in “Switch” fashion, the scarecrow came alive and killed us all, including Collin who wasn’t actually an adult, but two of those pumpkin-stealing kids on top of each other dressed in a trenchcoat. This led to a homicide scene where Alan the Forensic Analyst, and Dave the Detective, needed to get their hands up the bodies butts, to check for exit wounds, which led to a lot of “downstairs” touching. It was a series of scenes where they shoved their hands up Ryan’s ass. “This reminds me of that other murder a week ago, I think we have a copy cat! We cut back and forth to the ‘other’ murders, each one with Ryan laying face down ass up…BUT IT ALL MADE SENSE! The show was lunacy after that, with David having flashbacks to his days of getting stabbed at Miami Clubs, to all the guys shrinking down to go into Dave’s Rectum to find out who killed him, and meeting David, the Cinnabon-eating Ass Troll as well as Collin, a stripper who’d been eaten because she was inside of a cake for a bachelorette party. We also got to see behind the scenes footage from Slumdog Millionaire with Ryan, Dave, and Alan. The reaction from the crowd before and after was incredible.
We rose to the gentle sounds of sickly Schwartzbaum snores. It sounded like the engine of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. We gathered our things, as quietly as the five of us were able to do, and said goodbye to the sleeping bodies cluttered around the house. The sleepy car ride home was filled with hilarious memories of the weekend, the newfound love for Wisconsin cheese, and the appreciation for the art we love.
We’d just like to take a moment, one more time, to thank the Boys in The House on Chippewa Street – Alex Raney, Elliott Heinz, Mack Hastings, and Lucas – for being such great hosts and offering up their home to us; to Amber Dernbach and the entire Eau Claire Improv Festival for their hard work putting such a fantastic festival together; to Rick Andrews for the super fun workshop; and to all who came out and supported live comedy! Yes, it was cold and snowy, but I think the performers melted some cold hearts with warm improv performances…well, everyone’s hearts except David’s. We can’t wait to go back next year!
Thank you Eau Claire Improv Festival 2013!
Sadly, an improv show has been canceled. We would like to take a moment to thank Rusty Petersen who hosted the THORprov (formerly Good Times) improv show for the past 4 years at the Horseshoe Pub. Anyone who has performed in Chicago knows about the Horseshoe because it was a place where you could regularly perform every Tuesday night. Finding a venue, securing a time slot, and maintaining that in Chicago is a pretty damn hard thing to do. For someone to do that for 4 years in a row is an amazing accomplishment. A lot of independent teams owe thanks and appreciation to Rusty for creating this show because this was where those teams got their start. We are one of those teams. This was where we had our first show. We remember the moment we first got there like it was yesterday. It was a dimly lit bar with shudders (literal shudders on the wall). There were album covers on the wall outside the bathroom, which of course was after you went through a ‘horseshoe door’ to get to them. There was a sick PBR/Chicken Tender combo deal that was a steal. There was a giant bar on the stage that provided a visible blockade between the performers and the audience (which was mainly the other performers and a few townsfolk at the bar). To us, though, it wasn’t a blockade….it was something to climb on. More importantly, it was an opportunity to perform. It was a chance to get on stage and play with one another for the first time ever. That night we had our first show and we loved it. So much that we stuck with it and came back to perform there regularly. This was where we got our start and we thank Rusty for providing us a place to perform and grow as a group. There are a variety of places to perform in Chicago, but this was a regular spot for us and one that we enjoyed playing at every single time.
Thoughts from the guys:
Collin: Rusty Petersen is one of the reasons groups better themselves in this community. I believe that becoming proficient at performing comes from taking classes, watching shows, and most importantly, doing shows. I was able to perform my first week in Chicago because of Rusty and independent show producers like Rusty. I’m very grateful for all he has done for so many, and all he continues to do.
David/Alan: The Horseshoe, the Underground Lounge, Upstairs Gallery, Bughouse, the Playground and more were not just “spaces” to perform in. They were homes. People like Rusty ran shows that welcomed and encouraged performers of all levels to come in and grow. Whether it was them asking us to perform or us asking them and always receiving a yes, knowing you had a place to perform consistently and with support is an incredible experience that is too easy to take for granted. We had 31 shows in April 2012, all of them booked through the independent theaters. If you want to perform, they will let you. They don’t give you an excuse, they give you the playing time and they help you by offering a nurturing environment. We are happy to have taken advantage of the huge opportunity Rusty and others provided, and will never forget where we came from.
Dave: The Horseshoe was where we got our first start performing as a group together, so I’m incredibly thankful for all Rusty has done. He’s worked incredibly hard to organize and host those shows, week after week, for four years. Rusty was always so accommodating for us, and we played there frequently while we were trying to figure out who we were as a team and to get our legs under us. And he’s just so incredibly nice and supportive.
Ryan: I remember the first night I stepped into this place. I was terrified yet so excited to perform. It was my first improv show in Chicago (I’d done improv in college, but never in Chicago). When I read the email from Rusty saying the show’s been canceled I said to myself, “well this sucks.” Why? Because I know the power this place has and how it has helped to fuel the independent community for years. I’ve done a ton of shows at this place because of what Rusty created and I’m sad that I won’t be able to do it again. This is where we had our first show. It was where Switch started. When I did 31 shows in January, Rusty was one of the people who helped me schedule some of my Tuesday nights. He has been an asset to the community and gave countless groups the possibility to hop on stage (for free) and play with their friends. Not to mention, he’s a damn nice guy and a joy to talk to. I’m grateful for everything he has done for not only me but the countless number of improv groups that have come and gone through the weekly independent show that he produced.
In the end…
Thank you Rusty. We’re sad the show has been canceled, but you’re awesome for putting it on for so long. It was a major accomplishment and springboard for a lot of people’s success. With every show, we grew closer together as a group and it is because of you and people like you that we are where we are today.
How do you warm up for a show? Every improv , sketch, theater, or team in general (ex: sports) does something before a show to get themselves mentally or physically prepared. It is entirely different for everyone. It’s even different on an individual level. For improvisers, groups typically do a warm up of some kind to get their brains working or to untangle their tongues so to say. Like saying, “tip of the tongue, teeth, and lips.” It’s the same process for the beginning of a class or a rehearsal. At a basic level, it’s something as simple as Zip, Zap, Zop and it can ramp up to a Beastie Boys rap. For this post, we thought we’d share what exactly Switch Committee does before a show to get ready. If you’ve ever performed with us or been at iO in the alley prior to our Thursday night shows, you’d know it’s pure and utter insanity. There’s a lot of screaming and jumping all over the place and all over each other. It looks like a bunch of wild animals in ties running around aimlessly without any plan or action. However, there is somewhat of a game plan going on. Specifically, this is what we do:
1. We immediately start killing each other once we step into the alley. No joke. We start slaying each other left and right in every possible way imaginable. Why? Because it’s hilarious. Really why? Because it’s big and physical. It’s a fun way to get out of your head. Getting to strap a rocket on Schwartzbaum’s back and firing him into the dumpsters or stabbing Ryan with a Katana sword and throwing him under a tank that Dave’s joyriding while Collin snipes Alan who’s juggling molotov cocktails is…glorious. We beat the living hell out of each other yet we love the living hell out of each other. The fun here is that anything is possible (duh it’s improv). Really though, if I wanna have panda hands (literally hands that are snarling pandas) than I’m going to do it. More importantly, I’m going to kill my friends with my panda hands and they’re going to love it. In short, find the people you can kill with panda hands before you go on stage and you’re set for life.
2. We pass some patterns around after everyone is good and dead. We do the word association game or theme association through patterns. So with word association, for example, if I point at you and say “Holidays” you may say “Christmas” and then the next person may say “Santa” and then the next person may say, “Gifts!” and the person after that may say, “Birthdays.” You see what we did there? Yes, us too, it was magic. So, we do that, and we try to do at least 3 patterns. That’s the minimum. The more you do it the better you get at it though (just like anything in life). At the moment, we can do 5 patterns without all hell breaking loose. It’s tough, but it can be done. Tip: Try to increase the number of patterns you do. Not only is it fun, but it’s also challenging. It’s tough as hell but hilarious when everyone is rapid fire throwing patterns at your face. If you don’t keep the pattern going, the game is over and all the patterns will be waiting on you. You fail. You die. You’re a disgrace to the group and your family back home. Just kidding, it’s not that serious. It’s just a fun way to get your brain ready for anything that is thrown at you and the ability to juggle multiple mental balls at once. It helps you focus on what’s important at the moment.
3. We find out what’s up our butts… (LONG DRAMATIC PAUSE FOR THE NON-IMPROVISERS WHO HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY JUST READ). Well, ‘up your butt’ is a rhyming game and it goes as such:
Ryan: I’ve got a bat up my butt
Dave: I’ve got a cat up my butt
David: I’ve got a hat up my butt
Alan: I’ve got a thermoSTAT up my butt (this one actually makes sense)
Collin: I’ve got an aristoCRAT up my butt
Ryan: I’ve got a diploMAT up my butt!
We got around in a circle and everyone starts and finishes a rhyme. So, as you can see from the above, Ryan started and ended that sequence. You get it. Duh. Why are we explaining this? You’re probably sitting there thinking, “I’m getting too old for this shit” with the voice of Roger Murtaugh in your head. Right? Nope? Just us?
Tips for your Pre-Show Activities:
- Do something. Anything. Seriously do anything to prepare yourself for a show. It doesn’t matter what and you shouldn’t be worried about people judging you. If you wanna lay down on the floor and kick your feet into the air like you’re riding a unicycle, go right ahead, that’s your thing. The hell with anyone who think’s that’s ridiculous. If you wanna sit in the green room and watch inspirational or motivational speech videos like this on YouTube than do it. If that’s what gets you ready for your show than by all means do it. The important part is that you’re mentally prepared. The green room is the calm before the storm.
- Be physical. We’re not saying run a marathon and make the stage your finish line, but get your legs, arms, and groin (especially your groin, wink wink) moving so you don’t end up walking on stage later that night and just standing there like a scarecrow the whole show. Talking heads…the worst. For us, we kill each other. That’s our thing. If you wanna do that too go right ahead. Whatever you need to do to get your blood pumping. Then, pump your friends….wait what?
- Connect. Right before we get on stage we huddle up like we’re the Permian Panthers. We each look into eachother’s eyes, touch each other’s backs and simply say, “I’ve got your back.” So simple. So basic. Yet this is ESSENTIAL. It might even be more important than everything else we’ve done prior to that moment. It’s the time where we all know that we’re on the same page together and that no matter what we’re going to support one another. You need to connect with your partners before you step on stage. Even if you’re on stage and just got a suggestion, take a second to look into your partners eyes to express “we’re in this together.” Too many times (usually during auditions), Wally Wackadoo will just run onto the stage without connecting with his partners and just start doing his own thing without even acknowledging or listening to anyone. He’s just sitting in all the seats, breaking the fourth wall, and throwing out one-liners galore. Don’t be that asshole. Connect with your partner. It will change the entire way your partner and you work together (stress work together) to create art.