SERIOUSLY HONORABLE MEN: The Debut

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

A Form Is Born

Last night, Thursday December 12th, after six weeks of daily rehearsals, runs, development and feedback from a select few confidants and aficionados, myself and Kirk Bonacci (a comedian and actor) debuted a completely unscripted, unchoreographed, hour-long piece of Improvised theater on a stage here in Madrid for an audience of over twenty. When the theater lights were restored after the closing black-out, the proof that our expectations had been surpassed was standing before our eyes. We'd received a standing ovation.

Improv as a Mirror

Theater is commonly seen as a reflection of our world. "A mirror held up to society" Improvised theater (or Improv) is a form capable of generating this reflection in perhaps its most pure, organic state.

In improv, the player mounts the stage and for all intensive purposes launches into a public stream-of consciousness diatribe. 

Often it is manifested in the form of a conversation with another player, sometimes it is a monologue. Frequently the result is funny, sometimes dramatic. Many are the times which the content provokes debate and sometime the result has very little entertainment value at all.

In spite of all of this, what inevitably results is an ephemeral "script" incubated by the players' life experiences up to that moment, together with the energy of the people (audience especially included) in that space. The idea here is that improv is always a reflection (or an intentional distorted reflection) of that player/group of players experience in our world.

 

The Road to Release

When Kirk and I first worked together (we met on the set of youth situation comedy The Avatars, here in Madrid) we had a scene in one of the earlier episodes in which I was his "Karaoke Sensei". In that, our first scene with extensive dialogue together, we went completely "Jimmy Falon a la SNL." We corpsed (corpsing is when an actor breaks character by laughing). We corpsed until the entire crew had had enough of our uncontrollable laughter. That's when I knew I wanted to work more with Kirk.

After the series ended, Kirk, remained in Madrid (initially he'd come expressly to work on the series). I wasn't going to miss an opportunity with this young (23 year old) energetic, and remarkable focused talent. The two of us searched for a troop. We knew we wanted to do something within the world of Improv. I myself was "improv-starved." I'd moved to Madrid from Barcelona after helping found the Barcelona Improv Group (BIG) two years earlier. In our search in Madrid asked any and all English speaking actors that we could find,  but there was never any time on their busy, already established schedules. We joined "Freshly Comedy" (Dáire McGill, Dan Feist, Just Shaun, Toni Rodriguez) to develop "Freshly Baked" a branch of the group solely dedicated to Improv. We found an awesome, dedicated and loyal following attached to these guys  plus they are loads of fun to work with.

But Kirk and my style was based more in theater and they're more stand-up and gag based. We'd made a great connection but we knew our strength was in playing off of each other in a strictly free-format improvisation. When we'd exhausted our resources and found that everyone already had their "thing", we looked at each other and said why the F not?! 

And so necessity was once again the mother of invention.  

We began rehearsing our two-man show in late October. It wasn't easy-going at first. We overcomplicated the show and the result was a choppy, jarring and forced runs.

Then in late November we were invited by Will Luera of Improv Boston to an informal workshop here in Madrid run by Omar Argentino (That's really his name. He is from Argentina, but it's also his last name). There we rediscovered the liberty which simplicity brings to a scene. Less is more.  After the workshop we had the honor of grabbing a drink with Christine Cuddy, Dave Sawyer, Robert Woo and later in that evening Paul Dome all of Improv Boston. They made some great suggestions on how we might simplify our act and referenced other two-man acts from which we might gather inspiration.

From that day forward rehearsals for Kirk and I were increasingly productive and enjoyable.  Often rehearsing can be an agonizing process. You're performing essentially for no one.  Your partner(s) is there, but they're mostly concentrating on their own performance. So your motivation in the rehearsal has to come from an imagined projection of how you want the show to be. One must imagine how an audience would receive this and react at a given moment. This is next to impossible to predict as every single audience is different. But these rehearsals were different. We were having fun. We just played and created the most absurd, outlandish, fun stories. Kirk and I knew we had something special going.

One of my favorite aspects of improvised theater is sitting down after a performance and talking about the show that you just witnessed/created (recent conversation I had with the top English Language Director in Barcelona, Joshua Zamrycki ). Observations like; "When you jumped out of the bestiality ringleader's window, I thought you were going to shoot him first" or "... and after you got your head chopped off and you to become a statue in the museum..." or even the occasional "I loved when you beat Darth-Xylaphone in the Xylophone competition" are all within the norm. A reality which had never before occurred to you, is created.

In spite of our great rehearsal run and an optimistic expectations, we were both humbled by the audience's reaction last night. 

Where's This Going

Bertold Brecht tells us "Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it."

Bertold, if you're reading this from wherever it is that thespianic eccentrics go after they've crossed their last stage, we're still here and our hammers are banging away!

Look for SERIOUSLY HONORABLE MEN on Facebook for show dates and venues. If you'll be in the Barcelona area on the 27th of December, reserve your spot at their next show right now

****Special thanks to Scott Cleverdon and Asumpta Serna at Fundación First Team as well as Kelsey Caine, Chus De Castro and Rusty Birdwell for their support in the rehearsal process and to Summer McClanahan for her superior poster design.

 

Something Is Happening In Barcelona

by Benjamin Nathan-Serio

On the sunny shores of the Mediterranean, something momentous and historic is in the air. 

It's a reservoir of energy and resources that have been rising for years now, but the waters are about to crest and the international flood-gates are opening this November.

It's the theater. Specifically the English language theater scene.  This city's subculture of artists, thespians, bohemians and creatives of all walks of life have always had a firm presence. But over the past five years the English language theater scene has exploded. Just this past year, two new companies debuted their first shows and yet another company resurfaced. That, on top of the handful of regularly performing groups.

Globally, the tides are shifting. In times of societal challenge and change, people innovate, invent and re-invent. Communities return to self expression. Creativity, spectacle and ceremony are therapeutic and often free (or at least cheaper than the cinema).

From this new prevailing tide of creativity, a buried treasure is exposed. One of the crowning Jewels and indeed a catalyst behind this Barcelona creative renaissance is the Barcelona Improv Group (BIG).

BIG was cured in the basements of bars in the gothic quarter and in members' apartments (to the chagrin of many a roommate) and in any number of other makeshift, back-room, rehearsal spaces more then three yeas ago. It is the conglomeration of comedians, actors, aficionados and finally, in the Fall of 2011, the anchor, task-master and some might say guru of BIG, Noah Levin, a professional improviser and comedian, fresh off his flight from New York.

For the first time in Barcelona, a consistent, adult, bimonthly, English Language theater show had come to port. And as the water flowed under the bridge the audiences came and grew!

Two years later BIG is harboring Spain's very first International Improv Festival. 8 teams from 6 different countries and around 100 participants representing almost 15 different countries.

 The prevailing winds tell it all. This festival is an event that is worth you scribbling into your diary/calendar/ship's log. If you're an actor/comedian/performer/naval admiral, if you're in the entertainment/production/nautical business, or if you just want to take life by its veritable bollocks, laugh (a lot) and generally be entertained, you need to not miss this opportunity. 

Even if you're reading this in New Jersey or Shanghai, I urge you to set a course.  I'll be performing on Friday night the 8th at 22hrs.

The creative juices are flowing in Barcelona and from the 6th thru the 10th of November you can rely on some serious (but mostly funny) white water.

INFO: http://www.barcelonaimprovfestival.com/