1. What were the qualities of your teammates that drew you to this collaboration?
Holly: I really wanted to play on a team with each of my teammates because they were amazing friends- people that I clicked with immediately in improv classes and that I had the most fun with. Plus, I thought they were all hilarious. I couldn’t wait to get onstage with each of these guys individually. I always had a blast playing with them no matter how the scene went. They all have different strengths in how they play, (which are also different from mine), so we’re all constantly learning from each other. They each have different skills and moves on stage that I want to be better at in my own play, so I really learn a lot from playing with them.
John: Whenever Holly is in a scene, the stakes are always high. She is very generous with her emotion right off the bat, and that gives us so much to play off of and react to. Scenes with Holly are always easy and never inventive. She gives so much great specific detail, and that really makes it easy to remember the scenes she’s in, and it’s easy to string those specific details throughout the show. She can also play high status characters and low status characters equally, and she knows how to flip her characters’ status because of her great vulnerability and commanding stage presence.
Todd is fearless with his characters, and his emotions. He never holds back. Todd will always jump right in and is ready to make big strong moves that keep the show moving in new directions. He says everything with absolute confidence, which makes me feel just as confident when in a scene with him. Todd is extremely honest, and his humor on stage stems from that. Todd reacts to everything that happens, and this gives us more opportunities to react his reaction and make new discoveries. Todd has a great sense of classic comedic sensibilities, and has unbelievable comedic timing. Todd also really knows how to make a high status character lose his status and become a victim.
Dave is unbelievably supportive and never afraid to take things into a direction that is completely off the wall. He is also a great listener, which not only makes his scenes great, but also allows his walk-ons and tag-outs to make perfect sense and are hilarious, especially when they are taken to a place that is out of left field. Dave can also play high stakes relationship scenes which give him a chance to lob in ridiculously funny one-liners that always come from a unique point-of-view. Dave has a great, unique joyful energy that is not only fun to play with, but great to watch.
Dave: I first met Todd and Holly through my conservatory class at second city and was introduced to John not very long after.
What first drew me to Holly was her confidence on stage (or in front of a classroom). She never hesitated to jump out there and was immediately ready to either initiate or support. I loved how she could always find the emotion of the scene while providing great details and gifts. I remember thinking how easy and seemless she made scenes when I was in them (she’s like the improv santa of scenic gift giving). Plus she has rockstar bangs.
Even in my first class, I knew that Todd would be a character machine. It was always a blast watching Todd play because he could bring these versatile characters to the stage and he always brought a fun high energy. I think it can sometimes be easy for improvisers to fall in the habit of playing certain characters so it was always really cool to watch Todd play and try new things all the time. No matter what choice someone made on stage, Todd would always support the idea 110%. I’ve pimped him into doing a lot of crazy monologues and songs and he’ll jump right to the front of the stage without blinking an eye. Plus he is one helluva dancer.
From the first time I met John as well as during our first rehearsal, I immediately knew that he was such a natuarally funny guy on and off stage. John brings such positive and contagious energy to the stage every time. He has such a keen sense of the game within a scene and heightens his partners choices with such ease. You can always tell that he is having fun on stage and he constantly cracks me up. Plus he claims to be the 3rd Hardy Boy…and I believe him.
Todd: I like Holly, John, and Dave as people first. They are great friends. I was lucky in that Holly, John and Jules Duffy (our fifth member who is now in DC at the WIT) were some of the first people I met in Chicago when I moved here. I met them in my Level D class at Second City. They all had great energy while performing and were of course funny. By Level E class together we were talking about forming a group. Then we met Dave in Conservatory 1 and we all knew instantly that Dave was the last piece to the puzzle, and for the same reason. He was a great person to hang out with, had positive energy and was hilarious. These are also qualities that find in my favorite performers as well.
2. What things do you tell yourself during a show to help you perform?
Holly: I really try not to think at all during the show-unless it’s filing away a detail for a future scene. We really spend time focusing on the show during our warm up. We each discuss what we want to work on individually, as well as what we want to work on as a group before every show. We might discuss something from a previous show that did or didn’t work, or maybe a skill we are really trying to perfect, or even giving each other simple reminders about the important basics- like listening and reacting, or developing strong relationships.
John: I try not to think too much during a show, other than trying to listen as hard as I can and feel when it’s time to move on or make a change. If I’m on the side, I always try to think about what the scene or the show needs, and keep myself open and inspired to make a move to find places the characters or show could go that aren’t necessarily linear.
Before shows, we always huddle up and say pretty much the same things every week:
-Listen, react, respond
-Keep it simple
-Don’t throw anyone under the bus at the top of the show
-Live inside of your characters; dig deep, not wide
-Keep the energy high
-Connect to your scene partner
I try not to think too much during a show, other than trying to listen as hard as I can and feeling when it’s time to move on or make a change. If I’m too the side, I always try to think about what the scene or the show needs, and keeping myself open and inspired to make a move to find places the characters or show could go that aren’t necessarily linear.-Before shows, we always huddle up and say pretty much the same things every week:-Listen, react, respond-Keep it simple-Don’t throw anyone under the bus at the top of the show-Live inside of your characters; dig deep, not wide-Keep the energy high-Connect to your scene partner
Dave: There isn’t really anything I tell myself during shows but in the back of my mind I know that I’m gonna have a blast on stage with anyone of these guys and I fully trust that I’ll have their support no matter what crazmo choices I make on stage. The shows feel like they go by so fast that it feels like there isn’t time to think….which is a good thing.
Todd: I actually try not to “talk” to myself during a show. I try to focus on listening to what is happening and must have in the back of my head what is going to raise the stakes or “I want to see more of this character, but a different aspect of them, so what environment or situation can I put them in that will help to explore and heighten the character.” I also try not to think about themes or plot, and force things. I think for me, and us as a team, it’s really about having fun, making each other laugh and what is funny to us. Also having good connections with each other and focusing on our characters’ relationships. Everything else kind of springs from that. But I really don’t “think” about it in performance. It’s just the framework that we all work within that always guides us. It’s like driving, I don’t think about turning, or hitting the gas pedal or break pedal. You know you have to do these things and you just do them when the situation calls for it.
3. What criteria do you use to define a successful show?
Holly: Success to me is being a true ensemble on stage- being four pieces that are all part of the same whole. Before every show we remind each other to make supportive moves, have high energy, and most importantly have fun. If we really follow that, we’re going to have a successful show. If we’re having fun, the audience will have fun, and it’s going to be entertaining.
John: I think the opening is the most important part, because that is the foundation for the rest of the show. Just like a good scene needs a strong foundation at the top, so does a good show. A good opening (whether it’s all or two or three of us) is when we never throw anyone under the bus. Meaning, whatever is happening is happening to all of us, and no one gets ganged up on. A lot of the time when someone is thrown under the bus, every scene after that will result in a character being thrown under, and that results in a lot of argument scenes, and not a whole lot of variety. It’s difficult to get out of that. I also think that shows need to start grounded at the top with high stakes and longer scenes. If they start too crazy, the audience isn’t really sold on what’s going on, but if the show is patient, you earn the right to go completely insane and they will be on board. Good shows also have a variance of energy. If there’s a high energy run happening, the show needs to breathe with a slower scene. If there’s a few two-person grounded scenes in a row, a high energy group scene or a run of tag-outs are things that could happen to add some different energy to the show. A perfect show would start out in one place, get taken a million miles away from where it started, and brought back to the original place, while tying everything that has happened during the show. It’s not really something that happens a lot, but it’s a good goal to have
Dave: If we had fun on stage and the audience was entertained, I’d say it was pretty successful. If I get to play a mythical creature or wield an improv gun then I’d say the show was super successful.
Todd: I think the things I mentioned in question two are what I’m looking for in a successful show: 1. Did we have strong characters and relationships, 2. Did we heighten and explore them, 3. Did we connect on stage, 4. Was I laughing at what the others were doing, and 5. Did that inspire me to bring more to the table. A lot of times I can be hard on myself because I don’t think I was bringing as much as the others, or I didn’t feel connected to the others or wasn’t inspired by what we had created. For me, a lot of it is trying to be as Zen as possible; only hearing and reacting to what is happening on stage and blocking out the daily BS that we deal with in life, but at the same time using that daily BS as inspiration for characters, relationships and scenes.
Catch Old West Family Photo every Wednesday night at 8pm at the Underground Lounge…for free.
The Underground Lounge is in the Lakeview neighborhood at 852 W Newport, Chicago IL 60657
Troupe: Old West Family Photo