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  "The human race
  has only one
  really effective
  weapon, and
  that is laughter."
  Mark Twain


We don't have room to put all of our press coverage here, because the Internet is already crowded enough as it is. But we'll post the good stuff. It makes us feel good about ourselves.

February 3, 2005

Expect the Unexpected
By Lorraine Zenka

The Second City may be the most well known improv group, but it is certainly not the only game in town. Improvisational comedy is edgy, risky, and artistically challenging. There's no guarantee that everything will mesh and go smoothly—or be funny. That's the challenge, and the satisfaction for the actors when scenes on-the-fly come together as they most often do for seasoned groups.

Jennifer Tribbitt, a member of Mandatory Friends Improv Comedy, is also Training Center coordinator for The Second City. "I've seen such enormous changes and growth in improv here in Las Vegas since The Second City arrived in 2001," she says. "I think troupes like Mandatory Friends is helping the Las Vegas audience understand different components of theatrical experience."

Tribbitt also points out, "There are more long-form troupes now and I think there's more experimentation as there is in Chicago, the absolute hub of improvisational entertainment. Certainly, the touring company performers who come to our main stage at the Flamingo bring with them that Chicago expertise."

With "spot" improv, a group takes the audiences suggestions and creates the scene "on the spot" to create scenes. Many stand-up comedians are grateful for their improv background when dealing with audiences who sometimes throw comments to the stage.

Most improv is done as a group so it's fundamental that there is an instinctual agreement between individuals regarding the material. Everyone has to quickly agree with each other about where they are, who they are and what's going on. to make a scene work and be able to build upon it.

Matt Phillips, one of the founders of Mandatory Friends improv group points out what makes the difference between a stand-up comedian and improvisational performer. "A stand-up comedian likes to keep the spotlight to him/herself," he says. "Working in improv requires a team player personality as everyone works off each other."

Phillips and Mandatory Friends Jennifer Smith, Scott Roeben, Veronica Moorhead, Jennifer Tribbitt and Brandon Muller get up on stage at the Bourbon Street hotel-casino every Tuesday night. "We spend an hour doing long-form improvisation," says Phillips. "It's a blank slate and we have little but ourselves to work with but we always come up with a great show."

The audience is a 50-50 split of tourists and local residents who come to see a show without props, costumes or preconceived plots. "We create characters, locations and objects as we go," Phillips says.Admission is free. "We really do it purely for the artistic love of it, honest," Phillips says. "There's no money, but lots of fun and satisfaction. I realize that's not common in a city where money rules and everyone wants to have a show to make money. It's a more common attitude somewhere like New York, which is not to say I don't like Vegas. I love it here."

Aspirations for Phillips and his troupe are purely artistic. "We want to keep getting better and funnier," he says. "And we hope someone likes us as we are and sets us up with a permanent venue."

Phillips explained that "long form" improv includes taking an idea and building the show for an entire one hour. It's sometimes accomplished when one member chooses to "tap out" characters from a scene to take the others in another direction into a whole other scene. One element builds upon another.

Meanwhile, members of Mandatory Friends keep their day jobs as a writers, teachers, car valets, training coordinators and sales reps. All have studied with the prestigious Second City.

The Second City has its roots in Chicago but has grown with strong footholds in Toronto, Detroit, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Here, their resident theatre is in the Flamingo with shows seven nights a week.

It not only offers top-notch comedy and improvisation. It has an outreach program to increase minority participation in the arts. And The Second City Training Center offers classes in the art and creation of sketch comedy, improvisation, satire and comedy writing taught by working professionals in their fields.

"Some people come with their girl or boy friends just for fun," says Kristin Burnett of the four-week Intro to Improv class. "That's enough for those who are just curious. Others have been out of the biz for a long time, and go on to many other classes here."

Training graduates have a great opportunity. "Scriptless [improv] cast can be drawn from classes," says Burnett. "It's a perfect opportunity for actors without main stage experience.

Scripted actors at the Flamingo main stage Second City are union/Equity performers. They are hired out of the main headquarters in Chicago after paying their dues performing with The Second City touring companies.

Phillips, who has been doing improvisational comedy for almost two years suggests that neophytes first read Del Close's book, Truth in Comedy. Close is touted as being a pioneer in improv. The best way to develop unique improv skills he offers, "is to take classes with The Second City, then experiment and do, do, do."

Read the full article at Backstage.com.

February 20, 2004

The Mandatory Friends comedy troupe has stormed through Las Vegas with its gritty humor, earning the praises of Ashton Kutcher and John Ashcroft, and landing a showroom on the Strip. Of course, the admiration comes from garage mechanic Ashton M. Kutcher and African dissident Jonathan P. Ashcroft, and the showroom is at the Bourbon Street.

But the troupe's members, who have all taken comedy classes at Second City, are trying to revive the art of long-form improv in Las Vegas. What's that, you say? Well, when an audience member calls out "cantaloupe," for example, the troupe crafts an hour-long show around melons.

The show is free in more ways than one--free of the cheese littering of many of the bigger productions on the Strip, free of the confines facing most shows, free to take risks--and it's just five people getting up and celebrating art for art's sake every Tuesday at 9 p.m.

At the very least, you may get some juicy tidbits on how to work cantaloupes into your next conversation.



Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.