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Trophy Wife : Improv Comedy from Los Angeles

Trophy Wife

Improv Comedy from Los Angeles

Trophy Wife is a long-form improv comedy group that performs "The Harold," the signature improvised piece of the iOWest. Based on a single audience suggestion, Trophy Wife weaves a series of completely improvised scenes, stories, and games into a single hilarious piece. Each show is broadcast worldwide via the group's popular podcast.
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The Insider's Guide to iOWest Harold Auditions

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Work it

This Sunday brings with it the latest round of Harold Team auditions at iOWest: a day-long process in which recent alumni, ad-hoc student teams, and free agents battle it out for a coveted regular performance slot.

I’ve been there. I’ve run the audition gauntlet three times – the last being almost five years ago when I was put on Trophy Wife. I consider myself extremely lucky to have been put on such a long-running, talented, and tight-knit team. Especially since it means I don’t have to audition again (for now – knock on wood).

I’ve also been on the other side. As a coach, I’ve sat through the seemingly interminable rounds of Harolds and discussions and Harolds and discussions. I’ve watched teams get put together and pulled apart.

And the more time I spend at the theater, the more I see the same behaviors play out around audition time. So I thought I’d take a little time here to pull the curtain back and provide my perspective on this improvisor rite of passage. Take it for what you will.

——

To me, the most important thing that auditioners should know is this:

Your performance at the audition has very little to do with your selection.

I know that sounds reductive and counter-intuitive. And I’m not suggesting your performance has absolutely nothing to do with anything (a bad audition will almost certainly hamper your chances of getting on a team). But with every round of auditions, I see players apply a tremendous amount of undo pressure to themselves and their 20 minute Harold – when in reality, the selection process has so many different factors that your performance is only one small component.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the other elements I’ve seen go into Harold team selection (in order of importance):

Team Chemistry

This is perhaps the most important element I’ve seen in player selection. James (Grace – the artistic director for you non-natives) really does take the time to think about how a team will function as a whole. Like a fantasy football draft, a majority of the post-callback discussions are devoted to matching players up to create a diverse and viable ensemble. So assuming you’re a competent player but you’re not chosen for a team, it’s probably because the overall mix this round wasn’t quite right.

The Bigger Picture

The sad truth is that there’s only so many performance slots open at a given audition. The auditions are supposed to serve the overall good of the theater. Teams get shuffled around, put together, and broken apart. And sometimes great individual players get lost in that shuffle. I’ve sat through long discussions where one or two really talented people have been on the cusp of getting on a team – if only there was one or two additional open slots. It’s heartbreaking, but it happens.

Who You Are

I often hear the lament of “I didn’t get on a team because James hates me” – especially from repeat auditioners (see more reasons here). And while it’s true that who you are does factor into your selection, thinking that James is going out of his way to keep you from getting on a team is giving both you and him far too much credit.

It’s entirely possible that James doesn’t know who you are. The best way to determine that is to take a look at your role in the iO community. Do you intern? Do you volunteer? Do you do other (i.e. Non-Harold) shows? Have you done The Cagematch or The Lottery or The Jam? I’m not saying you have to be at the theater every night (in fact, as Jill pointed out, you shouldn’t), but the more you show your face around the theater – the more you add to the community – the more likely James will have at least heard of you, and the more likely you’ll stick in his mind as he makes his choices.

Or maybe he really does hate you. I don’t know. Try not to be such a dick.

Your Peers

Similar to contributing to the community, having an ally in the room during the selection process can really help you out. Like I said above, it’s very possible that James isn’t that familiar with you, so having a coach or teacher in the room who knows you and can vouch for your talent can help you get selected. Yes, it’s a little political, but it can work in your favor.

Unless you really suck – in which case having someone in the room who knows the truth might actually hurt you.

Your Performance

This is last on the list because, while important, it’s not as important as you might think. I remember going through auditions and stressing out – wondering “Should I hang back and support? Or should I stand out and try to shine?” Truth is, it doesn’t matter. Just go with the flow of the show. The rest is really out of your hands. Which is exactly why it can all be so frustrating.

Alternate Strategies

There are a few strategies you can implement to increase your chances of selection.

Suicide

The first strategy is to put together and audition as a fully-formed team. This all-or-nothing scenario is called a “suicide” (though I think it should be called “seppuku“ because it implies more honor). Powerhouse, Sweetness, and Suckerbet were all formed this way (I believe).

My only advice in a suicide scenerio is this: make sure your entire team is on the same page. Decide beforehand if you want to suicide and tell James at the top of your audition. I once went through auditions with a team that said they wanted to suicide, only to watch it become every-man-for-himself once it was clear some of us weren’t going to make it. Not very honorable.

Free Agency

If you don’t have a full team to audition with, you can find out which established teams are looking for new members and lobby them on your own behalf before auditions. Go to a few of their shows to see how they play, and if you like them, tell both their coach and members you’d love to be a part of their team. That way, they’ll know to pay extra attention to your audition. A little gumption never hurt.

In The End

Before and after your audition, remember to ask yourself – how much does this all really matter? Sure, we’d all like to have a regular performance slot in which to hone our craft. But sometimes, in the words of Powerhouse’s Jason Frederick “it’s a little too much drama for something I’m not getting paid for.” So try to keep it all in perspective.

Best of luck to all the auditioners this weekend. Please relax, have fun, support each other, and – above all – enjoy yourselves.

Break a leg,
-K

Love Improv? Get a Life!

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I was asked to write a guest blog from a coach’s POV for IOWest Harold Team’s USS Rock ‘n Roll’s Improv-o-riffic website.

I thought I would share it here:

LOVE IMPROV? GET A LIFE!
by Jill Alexander

A few weekends ago I was at a party full of improvisers. A lady-friend whom I perform with at IOWest and I were chatting about the new teams we would be coaching. She said “I love improv.”

“I love improv, too,” I added.

“Me, too,” chimed in another gal, who doesn’t perform, but is a big fan of the shows at IO. She then actually started to cry as she went into detail about how incredible she finds the art form and how talented anyone is who performs it. My husband grabbed my hand and pulled me to the car. His message was gentle yet clear: Enough.

This happens. We stand around in a circle and talk about how much we love improv.

“I like music.”
“Cake tastes good.”
“I love improv.”

Duh.

A friend recently mentioned to me the hypothesis put forth by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers” that one can become an expert at something only after having devoted and practiced said thing for 10,000 hours.

I did the math: If I had been studying/practicing/performing improv for an average of 8 hours a week for the past 15 years, then I have been at it for about 6,000 hours.

At this rate, I still have about 12 years to go to become an expert. However, I don’t expect this to be the case. I never expect to get to a point where every scene I do is spontaneous, thoughtful, and entertaining. This persistent challenge is one of the things I love about it. 10,000 hours of practicing piano or foul shots or roofing might make one an expert at those tasks, but improv is different.

Improv is social.

If theater is art and improv is theater then yes, improv is art.

Most of us who go around gleefully stuttering “I love improv” are delighted not so much by the art of the thing, however, but by the sport of it: We get to do it with others.

We play together when we improvise. Sometimes we are troupes but more often we are teams. We warm-up. We drill. We compete at Theatresports or in cagematches. Comedysportz embraces the parallel fully with team uniforms and a referee whistling through matches.

Improv is something we do together. The variables are constantly shifting because there are other people involved here. I might be the greatest player in the world but unless I can work with others, my talents are useless. Teamwork. Group Mind. Multi-headed Monster. The sport of it, more than the art of it, is why I think people who like improv are always blabbing “I love improv.” We don’t have to do it all ourselves. We get to be a part of something bigger. That’s the best part.

Plus, while you’re developing your improv skills, you’re gaining Life Skills. You’re benefiting from the confidence that comes from trusting your instincts: You solve problems more quickly. You’re more comfortable in social situations. You’ve even become a better writer.

You love improv!

So, here you are, improvising. You’re in a group! You’re on a team! You have a show!

You’re now part of a community filled with people who love this as much as you do. And, oh boy, is it big. It extends way outside of the 8 people on your team; or the 30 people in your company; or the 70 main-stage players at your theater; or the 1000 students and performers who work on the same boards that you do. There are hundreds of thousands of people who love improv!

That’s why shelf-loads of books have been written on the art of comic improvisation and shelf-loads more are yet to be published. There are hundreds of schools of thought about “the rules” and varying philosophies on the best exercises to practice them. There are as many different improv forms as there are people teaching this stuff.

The trap here for Beyond-Beginner improvisers is that after having worked so hard to break down their own walls, they become comfortable with a particular group or style and slowly build those walls back up again. It happens: you fall in with a fellow group of performers who “get you.” You gel. You do great shows. You might even refer to each other as family. In the process, you close yourself off to new ideas. It’s a form of protectionism. After all, we’re only human.

I urge you to fight this instinct. It will only benefit you to be reminded that by exposing ourselves to as many styles and techniques as possible we become more well-rounded players (and well-rounded people.) The more we stretch our abilities and challenge what we know to be the “right” way to do things, the more tools we have at our fingertips. One method is just as credible as another. Long form vs. Short form. Relationship vs. The Game in the Scene. It all comes down to this: We like making stuff up with other people. It’s fun. The parameters may shift, but we’re all trying to get to that place where the muse takes over and speaks through us and utters the most poignant, effective, and hilarious lines. Whatever route we take to get that to happen is valid.

Beyond exposing yourself to as many ideas about improv as you can wrap your brain around, you can become a better player by Getting A Life.

Yes, pursuing further knowledge of the art is both noble and worthwhile. But you’ve got to do something besides just improvise. First off, you’ll starve. Secondly, your existence will fold in on itself and collapse. No joke.

The best improvisers I know are those who are well informed about the world. Having a general knowledge of current events, history, and literature will afford you a wealth of information that you can tap into if only to get your lizard-brain started. Your more evolved improv-brain will take over from there and fill in the blanks.

Listen to NPR. Pick up a newspaper. Read a book. Oh, and before you get that tattoo of your theater’s logo, hold on a sec. You’re an improviser, right? I bet you can think of something more original…

Also, have hobbies and friends outside of your scene. If the only theater you see is improv and you find your character work limited to those you’ve seen on SNL, its time to take an Extension class or join an intramural league. As improvisers, our job is to reflect on the stuff we see each day. If that stuff is limited to other improvisers and late night comedy shows, we’re working in a vacuum. You’ve got to feed the beast with outside information.

Additionally, if you haven’t trained as an actor, take an acting class. You can be a great actor without being a good improviser. But you CANNOT be a great improviser without being a good actor. You might be extremely clever and a technically brilliant player, but if you can’t embody a character and show us what you’re thinking, you’ll never be that fun to watch.

And one more thing – if you find yourself standing in a circle with other improvisers, all of whom are muttering “I love improv,” it’s probably time to go home.

Jill Alexander started improvising at Northwestern University with the renowned college troupe “The Mee-ow Show.” While in Chicago, she studied at ImprovOlympic and performed in Sue Your Ex under the direction of Matt Besser. Jill moved to LA to study at the Groundlings, where she spent a year performing with their Sunday Company. She also performed at ACME Comedy Theater with Houseful of Honkeys and in the west coast iteration of SITCOM. Jill taught improv at The Empty Stage Theater where she performed with Bucket and The Waterbrains. She has studied at UCB and currently teaches and coaches at IOWest. Jill is an original member of IO’s long-standing house Harold team Trophy Wife. She performs genre-styles with Kind Stranger Presents and writes bits and performs characters for The Friday 40. Jill is also in lots of TV commercials.

Del Close Awards 2009

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The IO West Theater held its annual Del Close Awards this past Friday. It’s a night where the self-congratulation is limited only by our imaginations, our fading senses of dignity, and—for the younger crowd—the fact that the bar closes at 2 am.

The Del Close Awards honor Del Close, one of the founders not only of the IO Theater and but also of long-form improv as we know it today. Award categories ranged from the sensible (Best Scripted Show, Best Coach/Director, Best Bartender) to the silly (Best Randomly Selected Student).

Kevin McShane created the look of the Del Close Awards and runs its excellent website —photos and videos are there for your viewing pleasure.

Jill Alexander was nominated for Best Portrayal of an Object. In her case, the object was a doughnut mascot that danced at a street corner to bring in customers to its doughnut shop. And it proved to be the Dancing Doughnut That Could, because Jill won. When her name was called, she took to the stage and recreated that dance routine right there for the live audience. Up to that point, we had seen smarty-pants irony, we had seen honest humility and gratitude, but we hadn’t seen Midwestern dance-team spirit until Jill took the stage.

Trophy Wife was nominated for Best Harold Team this year. But alas, it wasn’t to be. The USS Rock n Roll took home the well-deserved honors.

Trophy Wife emeritus Eric Hunicutt received a James Grace award for contributions to the IO West (he just completed a four-year tour of duty as Director of the Training Center). And our former coach Irene White also received a James Grace award. Irene was one of the founders of the IO West’s Del Close Awards. Her acceptance speech elicited tears, laughter, applause, and a few cat calls.

After the awards ceremony, the theater took advantage of the prom-like conditions (gowns, tuxedos, and the feeling that if Nick Armstrong is sexy, so aren’t we!) and had a dance party.

Keep your eyes out for award-worthy performances—IO West shows from now through July will be eligible for Del Close 2010 nominations.

May Madness

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If competitive improv is your game, have we got a hot offer for you: Tuesday night at 8, Trophy Wife goes up against Steve Holt in the first round of the IO West’s annual Harold competition.

Each group will put on a show full of sympathetic characters, memorable lines, and eureka moments. Then you—our audience, our friends, our critics, our muses—will be asked to vote on which group had the better show. The winner goes on to the next round. We all go home thoroughly entertained.

So don’t miss out—get over to the IO West tomorrow night and let’s do this!

Night of the Refugees

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By now, everyone knows that a recent accident has brought all shows and bar service at IO West to a grinding halt. For some of us, that means drinking far less. For others, it means having to get attention elsewhere. And for a few others, it means no paycheck. With the IO bar closed, a lot of members of the IO community are finding themselves out of work for the time being. That being the case, Nick Armstrong, 2007 Del Close Award winner for sexiest player had an idea. Let’s do shows somewhere else and donate a portion of the proceeds to the IO bar staff. Brilliant!!

This Wednesday at the the Tres Theater on La Brea four of IO’s best groups will come together for a night of revelry, improv, and drinking for a good cause. Doors open at 7:30 and your $10 admission is good for all four shows. Local 132, Kind Stranger Presents: Improvised Tennessee Williams, a Nite Terrors reunion show, and of course, yours truly Trophy Wife. A portion of the proceeds will go to the IO bar staff so we’d like to get as many folks out to enjoy these great shows as we can.

Our Favorite iO SUV Jokes

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iO Front Doors 6/26 - Never Forget

If laughter is the best medicine, then the iO West community is already on the mend. Late last week, we solicited your best “iO SUV” jokes in light of the SUV that slammed into the front of the theater. In order to sweeten the deal, we offered a free Trophy Wife t-shirt to the best of the bunch. Well, over 100 submission later, we’ve chosen our favorites.

Special mention goes to our very own Opus Moreschi. As a member of The Wife, Opus isn’t eligible for the free shirt, but the former Late Late Show writer did produce some of our favorite quips, including:

  • And you thought the bar was full of bits before…
  • Next week, UCB will do the same thing, and all the converse-wearing vampire-weekend-worshipping Los Feliz hipsters will assume they invented it.
  • This was merely the first entry in the new Two-Drunk-Guys-And-A-Midsize-Vehicle tournament.
  • Well, I’ve never heard of “Car Smashing Through Wall”? either, but, they’re from Chicago and Charna loves them, so, they get a slot…

And the groaner

“That was a Del Close one!”

Honorable Mention goes to Moxie’s Graham Douglas for his entry:

I drove a car into iO and all I got was a lousy Trophy Wife t-shirt.

Graham’s bit of meta-humor has convinced us to make him a custom Trophy Wife shirt bearing his entry. So watch for Graham wearing that when the bar reopens.

And so here now are the TROPHY WIFE TOP 10 FAVORITE iO SUV JOKES:

  • 10. Someone didn’t make a Harold Team. . . -Joy Allen
  • 9. Damn, I paid the guy to hit Vice. . . -Rich Talarico
  • 7. In Soviet Russia, improv theater crash into YOU! -Hollywood Phony
  • 8. Can we have a suggestion of an automobile that will fit on this stage? -Zach Huddleston
  • 6. That’s not bad…but if you REALLY want to see SUV’s crash into improv theaters, you have to go to Chicago. -Mike Hughes
  • 5. You mean this isn’t what Miles means by ‘Deconstruction’? -Faryl Who?
  • 4. When Trask goes big… -Dave Ball
  • 3. I keep trying to run into you at IO West, you just never seem to be at the bar. -Hawkins
  • 2. Looks like Joey’s out of rehab! -Rebecca Hotpants Stevens

And OUR #1 FAVORITE iO SUV JOKE:

I haven’t seen a gaping hole like that since Beer Shark left the lineup.

Congratulations to DHT’s Dustin Sterling for his winning entry. Dustin will receive a free Trophy Wife t-shirt in the size of his choice at the next DHT/Trophy Wife show.

Thanks to everyone who entered. Those of you hoping for a Trophy Wife shirt, don’t despair – we’ll have them for sale on the site soon.

And feel free to add more jokes to the original thread (since as we all know “comedy = tragedy + time”), but we now pronounce iO SUV jokes officially dead.

SUV Smashes Into iO West. Hilarity Ensues.

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A rogue SUV parks inside iO.

At approximately 4pm today, an out of control SUV traveling eastbound on Hollywood Blvd. crashed through the front of the iO West, coming to a stop deep in the iO West bar. Nobody was injured, but the Mainstage and Bar have been closed until further notice.

More importantly though, this accident has proven to be instant inspiration for a seemingly endless stream of “iO SUV” jokes among the improv community.

So in order to help the iO West community begin the healing process, we’d like to hear your best “iO SUV” jokes. Use the comments below to submit them. The best one gets a Trophy Wife t-shirt.

UPDATED: We’ve got a winner.

Trophy Wife T-Shirts

Non-Trophy Wife Shows

featuring Trophy Wives

Week of 11.21.10

Mike Coen Zabeth Russell
Mike C. and Zabeth in
The Armando Show
(Saturday 9pm, Main Stage at IOWest)

Trophy Wife Live!

iOWest
Saturday, June 14th @ 8pm
iOWest
6366 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90038

323.962.7560 for tickets/info

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Trophy Wife 2009 Calendar!

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