On February 12th, 2016, I walked into the Ong King Arts Center a complete nervous wreck.
Several months ago, I proposed to the founders a new show format that technically showcased teams that didn’t exist. Regardless, I believed just like Kevin Costner: if you build it, they will come.
The idea for the show format is not one that necessarily has never been done before. In Hawaii’s case, however, it certainly is a first, at least as far as I know. It was simply this: a whole night dedicated to long form improvisation that showcased two player teams.
The Power of Two
I always found two player improv teams to be an amazingly magical, hard, and rewarding experience. It’s a thrill to rely on one partner. It’s a different level of trust and comfort you must have in your partner and with yourself. It’s slow and fast all at once. It’s another level of vulnerability and power in a performance art that has no solid path.
Being on a team of 17 players -when our schedules and the planets align perfectly- it’s easy to get wrapped up in the whirlwind of gamey scenes and excessive use of the “special edits” spice. A two player scene is enfolding before an audience, and the next thing you know something quirky got said and every player on the wings is thinking, “I want to play with that gift!”. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, having a team of players actively listening and being completely focused on the scene. What I did notice though is that our scenes don’t breathe as much as they could. The spice of silence is rarely used, if at all. Slow play can be misinterpreted as a scene struggling. So when on an intimate team of two, the beats change. The pauses and the breaths between words linger and hang in the air, and it’s comfortable.
I think on another point, the idea of being on a two person team communicates to the community that these two people are on an entirely different level of comfort and performance intimacy, or even some sort of expert skill level. Yes, I think you should definitely be knowledgeable in the art of improv, but I don’t necessarily think that you have to be some sort of veteran to attempt a two person form. When I got invited into one, I barely had 2 years of experience and was still dealing with my own self-judging criticism after every performance.
Certainly all the shows I did were not gems. What I can tell you though is that I learned so many things about myself as a human, an individual, a teammate, and as a performer when on a team with just one other performer. I discovered my bad habits, I realized my strengths, I found my voice, and I uncovered method after method on what it means to support your only partner.
Cut back to now.
Looking at the improv community as it stand, we are blessed to have such a growth of large improv teams. Most of the large teams are actually established improv theater companies or school teams.
Where are these duo teams that I’ve been going on and on about? At this moment I can only think of two established teams, funny enough, that are two person improv teams. Why aren’t there more?
I wondered, if maybe, the reason why there may not be as many duo teams is because perhaps there wasn’t a platform for two person teams. I’ve heard of entire shows in the mainland, festivals even, that only had two person teams. So maybe, if a show platform was created here on Oahu, maybe they’d come out. Like Ray Leota.
Back to February 12th, 2016. I was a wreck. We had five teams established, myself being on a team. It had been years since I had been one on one with another performer for over ten minutes on stage in front of an audience. The other night I tried to create some sort of line up with the talented teams, and I couldn’t do it. I had no idea what the other teams would do for openings or formats. I decided to let fate choose. I wrote the names of each team on their own card, handed the cards to Aaron -our host for the evening- and told him to let the audience pick a card for the order of the night.
With each flay of the cards before an audience member as they gently picked one of the five cards, each improviser performing that night held their breath in anticipation and their energy only surged.
It was an incredible night.
Aaron welcomed the audience and went over the house rules. We warmed up the house with two group short form games, which also settled our nerves as we broke the stage together. The drawing was held and the first team of the “Let’s Duet” show was “Jaleel Black”, with improv couple Leka Nieves and AJ Nieves. Their form was all about uncovering the truth and lies within stories.
Second team of the night was “Cereal”, in which when Diane Kim and David K Jones came on stage, they explained their format. That tonight would be the beginning of an ongoing story that would be uncovered with each performance. Tonight, as David said, was the groundbreaking pilot episode of “Cereal” and you can catch the next episode at the upcoming Improv Brew Haha.
Beth and Casey came up third in the evening as “When in Romance”. Based off of relationship questions from the audience, their opening was them as a senior married couple. From there, they performed a monoscene of a couple going through natural events and how they persevered.
The night continued with the fourth team starring John Mustache and John Cummings III as they joined forces as “This is Middle Age.” Starting out with an honest conversation with the audience based off of a suggestion, they told three separate stories expanding on the themes of their opening.
The last team was randomly selected, and Rory and myself took the stage as “Square Peg.” What was meant to be a la Rounde format naturally became a monoscene. We started with a natural conversation about the suggestion which bled into a monoscene inspired by the ideas and themes brought up from the opening.
Let’s Duet Again
What was magical about this night was that each team brought their own style, flare, strengths, and forms. None of these teams had ever performed a two person form with each other, including myself with my own husband! The audience applauded, roared with laughter, and embraced the stillness of the breaths taken in the scenes. After the show, improvisers congratulated and commended each other on their forms. Even echoing memorable scenes and lines shared in the moments before.
Even though we didn’t all perform together, we experienced the moments together.
It was amazing.
I already know that this is something that needs to continue. We need to keep this show format open to the community and welcome new teams with their own stories and visions on duo forms. We need to let go of this idea that two person forms are only for the experts. That duo forms are hard, scary, or impossible. Because I saw four other teams attack the duo form with ease.
Our thanks, of course, goes to the Ong King Arts Center for hosting us. To Aaron Pughes for leading the night expertly. To Jeremy Castillo for helping at the door and greeting our audience. To all the wonderful people that came out to enjoy a performance art never done before. Finally, and most of all, to the players who played with heart and attempted something entirely new and beautiful.
*If you would like to watch the teams performances of the first Let’s Duet show, visit our Vimeo page at www.vimeo.com/thinkfastimprov
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