I’m moving!

Hi, comedy lovers! It’s been a while since my last post! And while I’m still an avid fan of the NYC comedy scene and take in any many improv shows as I can–I’m moving on for a bit. The Fall TV season is fast approaching and you can check out my site at greenietv.com, where I’ll be discussing and recapping some of of my old and new favorites!

I’d love to see you there…

See Poehler, Corddry, Fey, and More Having Fun at the Old UCB Theater, Circa 2000

See Poehler, Corddry, Fey, and More Having Fun at the Old UCB Theater, Circa 2000.

I wanted to share this link from nymag.com because it’s a perfectly example of what I’ve been finding in my coverage of New York City improv. Improv groups and the study of improv are ideal training grounds for performers to sharpen their skills and find their own unique voices as artists. Thinking back on all the artists I’ve seen in the past few months, I wonder if I’ve already met some of the future’s next comedy leaders.

Kendell Pinkney, Writer Coming Soon

Musician and writer, Kendell Pinkney, discusses his work.

Musician and writer, Kendell Pinkney, discusses his work.

Spring has finally come to New York City and the streets of Greenwich Village are humming with activity. Beneath the pink cherry blossoms and NYU’s signature purple flags, joggers, dog walkers, street performers, and commuters begin their evening. Inside Think Coffee, a popular cafe for students, it practically buzzes.

Within this activity, in the middle of the line, Kendell Pinkney unhurriedly and patiently waits to order his medium coffee.

Having spent a childhood singing with the Texas Boys Choir, followed by training at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, followed by a year pursuing Jewish Studies in Israel, Mr. Pinkney, now 26, is graduating from NYU with a Master’s Degree in Musical Theater Composition. He is also poised to be the next original voice in comedy and sketch writing.

Amid the chatter and whirring of steamwands, at a table tucked away in the corner, as an Emeli Sande song played, I asked Mr. Pinkney how he classifies himself as an artist. Without hesitation, he answered “a writer.” Pinkney continued: “My background is in music, I was in a boys choir for 8 years … I studied classical music at Oberlin Conservatory, but I get the most joy out of writing words.”

Greenwich Village's Think Coffee is a popular spot for both local residents and NYU students

Greenwich Village’s Think Coffee is a popular spot for both local residents and NYU students


Noting a personality that tends to seek and find new interests to explore, writing for Mr. Pinkney serves as a way to express whatever obsession he is working through—a highly personal experience without any self indulgence.

Take, for example, “Jerusalem Gold,” Pinkney’s original hip-hop musical. Conceived from a class assignment to come up with musical theater ideas, Pinkney had not particularly planned on writing the piece, but asked himself “What do I know about?… I know about being in a boys’ choir in south Dallas… and I know about living in Israel.” Added were the witnessed struggles of Ethiopian Jewish friends and “Jerusalem Gold” was born. It also got him into NYU.

Extremely focused when discussing his work, nothing about Pinkney seems accidental, but comedy writing wasn’t always his goal. A self-confessed “classaholic—If there’s something you can take a class in, I’ll take it,” he says—Pinkney took a sketch writing class in an effort to sharpen his comedy skills for a specific project, and found that it might be the perfect fit.

For Pinkney, the appeal of comedy is its brevity and immediacy. As a comedy writer, it’s about “getting in there quick, being funny and getting out.” It also presents “the most subversive” way of allowing him to explore topics. Take for example a class assignment to write something political, a topic Pinkney is generally adverse to. But the emotion associated with politics is much more appealing.

Admitting that much of comedy writing is merely about just telling a joke while he prefers to write about “things that make me scared or make me angry,” Pinkney created a musical satire mocking the political divisions about America’s love/hate relationship with President Obama, through the conceit of a faux-discovered video at Fox News. An audience member fell out of his chair laughing, so Pinkney is clearly onto something.

Talkative and engaging, Pinkney paused when asked what his ideal project his, the work he is meant to do as an artist. Looking about the coffee shop to collect his thoughts for a moment, he offered: “I know that I want to work with stories, things that mean something to me, putting that out there. … I never feel that I’m part of a group; that I’m always on the margins. I’m not a comedy nut. I think ultimately the work that I want to do will consistently come from that place of what scares me and exploring what angers me and why.”

Long term, Pinkney plans on working in television as a writer. In the short term, he plans to hone his skills in New York sketch comedy. Having taken sketch writing classes, he is currently studying sitcom writing and recently began writing for PITtv, the sketch podcast produced by the People’s Improv Theater. We parted ways on the corner of Mercer and 8th—Pinkney had errands to run and work to do. If what he’s accomplished in 26 years is an indication, we have a lot to look forward to.

It's springtime in New York and this year's NYU graduates are getting ready to take on the world.

It’s springtime in New York and this year’s NYU graduates are getting ready to take on the world.

What does it mean to be a writer in New York City?

Click here for some of Kendell’s thoughts on being a New York City writer.

Just Another Day in the Matrix for Junior Varsity

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Thursday Nights at the Magnet Theater (254 West 29th St @8th Av New York City, NY 10001) offers shows from 7p.m.-11p.m.

It began with a spoon and ended in the Matrix—just another Thursday night for Junior Varsity, one of the Magnet Theater’s most successful improv teams.

Thursday’s show began with the usual question: “Can we get a suggestion from the audience?”

“Spoons!” shouted an anonymous audience member, triggering a series of scenes that might have begun and ended with spoons, but included much more.

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A simple spoon is the only suggestion Junior Varsity needed to create an entire improv show Thursday night.

Two friends searched for spoons in Bed Bath & Beyond. One of them wanted to reinvent his life. “Like a Phoenix?” the other asked. No, more like a forward-moving penguin. Penguins rising from the ashes were later enacted, documentary-style, in between scenes from a poster shop, and the making of Scarface 2.

Then things got really interesting. No spoons in Bed Bath & Beyond? No problem—a worker from the actual “Beyond” found them. “Looks like you left the entrance open to the Beyond, and we don’t much like that here,” chided one coworker to another, informing him that they actually work in the Matrix.

This may seem unusual, but for Junior Varsity, this effortless creativity is just what they do, exhibiting a longevity rare for the average improv team. “Being together six years is pretty unusual,” team member Jamie Rivera shared after the show, reflecting on what makes the difference between teams that last and teams that don’t. Teammate Megan Gray added, “there’s very much a science of making a team … there’s a real chemistry with putting a team together.” And yet, still sometimes teams don’t last.

So what sets Junior Varsity apart? Both actors, with the rest of their team, displayed razor-sharp timing and inventiveness onstage. Offstage, they exuded craftsman-like awareness of what it takes to succeed in improv.

With audible laughter from behind the stage doors, amid the chatter and laughter at the lobby bar, Gray elaborated: “I think it comes down to how well you’re listening—that’s the biggest skill in improv.” Rivera agreed and added: “I think we do try to bring the craft of acting, to integrate that into what we’re dong on stage. … I think the best improv is something that draws from truth. Even when we are being very silly we’re applying a layer of truth.”

“Go home,” said one character to another during Thursday’s show. “The Matrix will be here on Monday.” It was just another extraordinary day at the office. They could just as easily have been referring to themselves—just another regular day creating the exceptional.

Junior Varsity performs at the Magnet Theater every Thursday night at 8 p.m.

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The Magnet Theater offers “Thursday Nights Out,” which is $7 for the whole night.

Click here to hear Jamie and Megan discuss the role of gender and women in comedy.

Practice Makes Perfect for 10,000 Hours of Improv

New York City Improv team Milhaus hangs out outside the People’s Improv Theater, March 24, 2013

New York City Improv team Milhaus hangs out outside the People’s Improv Theater, March 24, 2013

The Beatles. Bobby Fischer. Bill Gates. Milhaus. Three of these are known experts in their field, and the fourth is right behind them. Being the best takes time; takes practice; takes opportunity.

“How much time are you putting in?” asks 10,000 Hours. Founded just over a year ago by New York actor, improviser, and teacher, Julia Morales, 10,000 Hours is a program designed to give improv students a chance to practice their craft within a supportive community.

10,000 Hours takes its name from the theory in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success. The idea is that 10,000 hours is what it takes to become an expert. If Morales gets her way, the improv and comedy world should get ready for its next big stars.

I spoke with Morales March 23, at a 10,000 Hours mixer—a casual meet and greet over cocktails and baked goods, hosted by Manhattan’s Comedy Bar. Over a tray of blondies with Cadbury eggs baked in, Morales described her program as a way to “pay it forward” to the artistic community. Improv, by the very nature of its form, is supportive and team-oriented. But in a city where classes can cost hundreds of dollars and competition to get on performing house teams can be fierce, the chance to practice regularly and affordably is invaluable.

Open to all artists, 10,000 Hours’s coaches donate their time and only charge participants five to eight dollars—and sometimes even this fee is waved if students just can’t pay. Nobody is turned away. The goal is to “get in as much practice without breaking the bank,” says Morales happily.

And Morales should be happy because her program works. I spent the following  evening with improv team Milhaus as they moved from a jam (a session where performers and audience members can get on stage together) to their regular 6 p.m. Sunday performance at the People’s Improv Theater to a third venue at the Triple Crown Ale House. The group’s nine actors moved seamlessly from one event to the next.

Clearly friends on stage and off, they exuded the confidence and camaraderie that comes from performers comfortable in their own skin. With no formal director on site, the team quickly assembled outside the doors of the PIT to break down their performance. They discussed what worked, what they liked, and what to keep in mind for their next show—only 40 minutes from away.

No arguments, no egos, no fuss, they picked up their backpacks and were on their way down 24th street, heading west through Madison Square Park, towards 7th Avenue. Passing around a bag of peanut M&M’s, they shared their thoughts on the 10,000 Hours program with me. All spoke highly of its contribution to making them better improvisers, better artists. “I’ve learned to make big choices.” said Jamie Aderski, both as an improv actor and theater actor. Cayla Merrill, petite and bubbly—was quick to agree with the benefits of the program. “I’ve learned to trust myself.” Merrill said, referring to the confidence consistent practice offers.

And as for the support and community 10,000 Hours offers, all stressed the impact it has for performers.  “I think it validates it. If you’re doing it, you know how much work it takes.” said Greg Boz. In a city known for theater and theater schools, improv isn’t immediately seen as an equal craft. What is something they’d want people to know about improv? “It’s an industry … this is something bigger.” Said Boz.

Milhaus performed its second show of the night, the second of three teams, and concluded with a jam.

Further proof that 10,000 Hours works to foster the improv community? When it was all over they asked me why I didn’t join them on stage for the jam. One thing is sure… they definitely made it look tempting.

One of the three major improv theaters in New York City, The People’s Improv Theater also helps support the 10,000 Hours program to train and nurture emerging improv artists.

One of the three major improv theaters in New York City, The People’s Improv Theater also helps support the 10,000 Hours program to train and nurture emerging improv artists.

Milhaus is about to take the stage for their regular Sunday show. With no props, no sets, and no costumes, well-trained improvisers know how to create a story together.

Milhaus is about to take the stage for their regular Sunday show. With no props, no sets, and no costumes, well-trained improvisers know how to create a story together.

It takes 10,000 of practice to create an expert. Improv team Milhaus concludes a Sunday night show and is one hour closer!

It takes 10,000 of practice to create an expert. Improv team Milhaus concludes a Sunday night show and is one hour closer!

Following the Fear and the Art of Improv

ImageImprov is a serious craft that requires performers to act truthfully in the moment, while living out spontaneous and occasionally absurd circumstances. Collaboration and trust is crucial for improvisers who work to create a supportive community in which to practice and hone their craft. I spoke with New York City actress and improviser, Jamie Aderski to explore what the study and performance of improv is like.

LGreen:

interesting article I wanted to share!

Originally posted on Style & Design:

A woman, as Dirty Harriet might have said, has got to know her limitations. In the past seven years Tina Fey has written a best-selling book; starred in three movies; created and nurtured a TV show that was so influential and critically acclaimed, it’s amazing it wasn’t canceled; won enough awards to mobilize her own metallic-statue army; and had a key part in contributing the following words and phrases to the lexicon: Blerg, What the what?! and I want to go to there. Oh, and given birth to two children. Plus, with one dead-on impression, possibly helped decide the 2008 presidential election.

So now she’s ready for a nice lie-down, thank you very much. Or at least a coffee. Arriving at an old-school bistro near her Manhattan home, she looks like any other local mom after the school run: sensible boots, puffy jacket, cardigan and striped T-shirt. She orders…

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