Sunday, March 6, 2016

Interview with Jamison Webb

Danielle Solzman:  Thanks for joining Chicago Improv Celebrity News. How are things treating you in Chicago?

Jamison Webb:  Very well! Springtime keeps threatening to break through the winter sludge and stay awhile. I am optimistic, and also very proud of that last sentence.

Danielle Solzman:  Fool Me Twice, Deja Vu is your first Mainstage revue. How does it feel to join an exclusive fraternity of comedians to have performed as a member of the Mainstage ensemble?

Jamison Webb:  Every time I go on that stage, I feel very, very, very lucky. The Second City is a special and important place, and to even be a small footnote in its long and famed history is a gift.

Danielle Solzman:  What was the process experience like?

Jamison Webb:  Challenging but rewarding! You’re generating lots of material with extremely talented people and trying it out in front of an audience 6 nights a week. The whole thing is a whirlwind. Or maybe it’s a full-fledged storm. Actually, you know that giant storm on the planet Jupiter that’s been raging for like 200 years? It is exactly like that.

Danielle Solzman:  Both the Annoyance and iO opened their doors up to the Mainstage cast to do their free set after the fire last August. What does it say about the Chicago improv community when other theaters have opened up their doors to Second City?

Jamison Webb:  And Victory Gardens Theater hosted us for a weekend of shows in one of their performance spaces! Look, clearly, the fire sucked and we all wish it had never happened, but that said, it was cool to see Chicago’s improv community—and its overall theatre community—come together in the wake of it to help The Second City. It says a lot about what a special and supportive town Chicago is for artists.

Danielle Solzman:  How did you fill your time after the fire?

Jamison Webb:  The Mainstage cast met regularly to pitch and rehearse new material while we waited for the theater to reopen. So my time after the fire was filled with writing, reading, and spending time with my wonderful fiancee and our cute pitbull, Boo.

Danielle Solzman:  When did you first catch the improv bug and at what point did you know it was something you wanted to do for a living?

Jamison Webb:  I think my discovery of improv is pretty similar to a lot of people my age (59 years old): I first found about it watching reruns of the UK version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? on Comedy Central after getting home from school. And then when I went to college, I found out there was a campus improv troupe, so I joined it (shout out to the University of Florida’s Theatre Strike Force!). I reckon the bug done bit me somewheres in there. But I’ve always wanted to get paid to write; all that’s changed is what I wanted to be writing. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a writer/illustrator of kid’s books. And then from middle school on, I wanted to write comedy. Now, I am finally pursuing my TRUE passion: writing young adult novels about dystopian horse racing.

Danielle Solzman:  You’re from Florida.  What was the adjustment like during your first Chicago winter?

Jamison Webb:  After living my entire life in Florida, I was happy to be somewhere where the seasons changed. During my first winter, everyone kept saying “Wow, this is Chicago’s worst winter in 15 years,” and I remember thinking “Oh, this isn’t that bad. I can do this!” So I enjoyed it. But I must’ve been storing some residual Florida heat in my bones, because now I think winter is awful and I am rooting for climate change’s continued success!

Danielle Solzman:  What was your improv training like?

Jamison Webb:  I took TPP3124, the improvisation class at the University of Florida during the spring semester of my freshman year. I wasn’t actually enrolled in the class. I just showed up and hung out...for 3.5 YEARS. I got to do shortform and longform, with some great instructors and directors and performers teaching me a lot. I was very lucky. Then I moved to Chicago, took classes at iO, and then later did the Conservatory program at The Second City. You learn something different and valuable from each training program and each teacher.

Danielle Solzman:  Which instructor has had the most meaningful impact on your improv career?

Jamison Webb:  I’m afraid to name just one. What if the others read this and get mad?! I can just see the emails now: “What, I didn’t have the most meaningful impact on your improv career? Go to hell, Jamison!” I don’t know if I can handle that. Let’s go with Shelley Gossman. She made it fun to be taking a class at 10 a.m. on a Saturday.

Danielle Solzman:   How long did you tour with RedCo?

Jamison Webb:  I toured with RedCo from January 2014 to August 2015. Let me tell you, it was about the best 20 months you could ask for. A great group of super funny people trekking across the good ol’ U.S. of A. I learned so much about hotels. The next time you’re in a hotel and it has a flat-screen TV, check to see if it’s an LG. I bet it is. I think the LG people made some big deal with a bunch of hotel chains.

Danielle Solzman:  Many celebrities stop by to check out the show and later perform in the free set. Has there been anyone that you were very excited to meet? Is there anyone you would like to see show up some day?

Jamison Webb:  I’ll single out Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors coaching staff as being particularly cool guests to meet. Coach Kerr did our set, which consisted of me asking him a bunch of questions interview-style to inspire our scenes. That was wild. When he came out on stage, people were leaping to their feet to cheer him on. A Chicago Bulls great and the head coach of the reigning NBA Champs, and I’m getting to talk to him one-on-one? Nuts. As for anyone I’d like to see show up, the answer is simple: The Rock. Dude’s the most charismatic man alive. Mr. Johnson, I know you are an active reader of improv interviews: consider this an OFFICIAL invitation to come to The Second City Mainstage!

Danielle Solzman:  If you could go back to your years in high school, what would you tell yourself?

Jamison Webb:  Eat something. You were too thin!

Danielle Solzman:  Thanks again for joining us and keep up the great work.

Jamison Webb:  Thank you, Danielle.

Monday, February 29, 2016

My Improv/Sketch Calendar This Week

I've been back in town for two weeks now and keeping busy.

Monday: BlueCo plays The Best of Second City on Mainstage.  It is Liz Reuss' last night with BlueCo.  Tickets are still available so have a drink in Liz' honor and stay for the set after the show.

Tuesday: Pending any scheduling conflicts, I'll be headed to Secrets, Lies, and Alibis' March Show at the Elbo Room.  The show starts at 8:30 PM and will be hosted by Alex Seligsohn.  The show has an incredible line-up:
Azhar Usman ("American's Funniest Muslim" by CNN, Opened for Dave Chappelle 50+ times, MTV, Funny or Die)
Natalie Jose (Last Comic Standing, Sadsacks and Wisecracks)
Sammy Arechar (RIOT Fest LA, Standup Standup)
Amanda Lynn Deal (Secrets, Lies & Alibis, Ego Trip Club)
Shanna Strum (Life of the Pahrty)
Becca Brown (School of Rock, iO)

Wednesday: I'm usually always at the free 8 PM show at iO on Wednesday nights.  Playing in the Del Close Theater this week are Big Judy, Virgin Daiquiri, and Carl and the Passions.

Thursday: I'll be a regular on Thursday nights at Second City Mainstage's free set.

ETC is in the process of creating the 40th Second City ETC revue so their third act will feature scenes they are working on for the next revue in addition to some improvised sketches.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Back in Chicago!

I've been back in town for nearly two weeks now.  I've hit the ball rolling with getting to as many shows as I can possibly see!

2/16: Second City Mainstage
2/17: iO's free show on Wednesday nights
2/18 Messing with a Friend: Ryan Archibald
2/21: Second City ETC
2/24: Howell and Waltien's last show before Steve moves
2/25: Second City Mainstage free set (You had to be there for this one!)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Interview with Chelsea Devantez

 Chelsea Devantez took some time out of her schedule to speak with Chicago Improv Celebrity News.  Devantez is currently starring in Second City's 104th Mainstage revue, Fool Me Twice, Deja Vu.
(left to right) Rashawn Nadine Scott, Daniel Strauss, Sarah Shook, Jamison Webb, Paul Jurewicz, Chelsea Devantez.  Photo by Todd Roseberg.
Danielle Solzman: Thanks for joining Chicago Improv Celebrity News. How are things treating you in Chicago?

Chelsea Devantez: Wonderful, our new mainstage show just opened this week.

Danielle Solzman: How have you been filling your time since the fire knocked Second City’s shows out of commission?

Chelsea Devantez: When the fire took Second City out for a month the cast continued rehearsing for the new show in an office space that was generously donated by the Chicago History Museum. At night I tried to take in as many shows as possible and see all my friends work—something that you can't do on the mainstage schedule. I also spent a lot of time finishing writing some personal projects. On a few occasions thought it was a good idea to hit up a popular restaurant at 7pm which I regretted every time.

Danielle Solzman: Both the Annoyance and iO have opened their doors up to the Mainstage cast to do their free set. What does it say about the Chicago improv community when other theaters have opened up their doors to Second City?

Chelsea Devantez: The comedy community in Chicago is unbelievably supportive; it's one of the things that compelled me to move to Chicago. Every theater has it's own thing going on and can be competitive, but when it comes down to it we're all just humans obsessed with the same art form.

Danielle Solzman: When did you first catch the improv bug and at what point did you know it was something you wanted to do for a living?

Chelsea Devantez: I grew up in the Southwest and did not even know improv existed. I wanted to perform and even though I knew I was weird and funny I went to NYU to study dramatic acting. I was super depressed in college. Then one day I walked into the Upright Citizens Brigade on a Sunday because it was free. I saw Amy Poehler and her friends improvising and it absolutely blew my mind. I thought I was witnessing some sort of magic. My hands were shaking in my lap. I knew I had broken open the kernel that led me to perform and that improv was what I had been searching for.

Danielle Solzman: How did you learn about the Comedy Studies program at Columbia College/Second City?

Chelsea Devantez: I'm obsessive when I love something and I was looking up every way for me to study improv. I think I found a blog from a student in the first semester of the comedy studies program and applied immediately.

Danielle Solzman: Which instructor has had the most meaningful impact on your improv career?

Chelsea Devantez: Anne Libera, Mary Scruggs and Andy Miara were some of my teachers in comedy studies. All three of them changed my life and taught me things that I use daily.

Danielle Solzman: Many celebrities stop by to check out the show and later perform in the free set. Has there been anyone that you were very excited to meet? Is there anyone you would like to see show up some day?

Chelsea Devantez: So many. Too many to name. Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, RuPaul Katya Zamolodchikova, Gina Davis, Rose Mcgowan, Jill Solloway, Dolly Parton and the ghost of Mae West.

Danielle Solzman: This is going to be your third revue. What has the process been like so far for the new show? Should we expect a fire sketch when the show opens?  

Chelsea Devantez: Since I'm writing this after the show opened, no, you should not expect a fire sketch!

Danielle Solzman: You attended NYU. How does living in Chicago differ from the Big Apple?

Chelsea Devantez: I'm in love with Chicago. To me, Chicago is the greatest city in America. Chicago has all the same art that NYU does, but this city allows you to just concentrate on doing great work and making friends and finding out what kind of artist you are. You don't have to worry about insane rent prices, or how it takes an hour to get across the city to see a friend, or what you're wearing. You can just keep your head down and concentrate on what matters most to you.

Danielle Solzman: If you could go back to your years in high school, what would you tell yourself?

Chelsea Devantez: Leave, bitch! Get the fuck out of that small town! High school was hell for me, I went through a lot of shit there. As with every hard thing in life, it makes you who you are, but I still wish I could have skipped it. Annnnnd on that note, our current show deals a lot with the past and what you would have said to yourself way back when. If you want to hear my joke answer to this question, come see the show and listen for it in the closing song.

Danielle Solzman: Thanks again for joining us and keep up the great work.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Interview with Storytown's Jill Olson

Storytown Improv founder/producer and Funny Bones Chicago director Jill Olson took some time out of her schedule recently to talk with Chicago Improv Celebrity News.

Danielle Solzman:  Thanks for joining Chicago Improv Celebrity News.  How are things treating you?
Jill Olson:  Thank you for having me.  I can't complain.  School has started and I'm gearing up for a nice fall even though we still have a little summer left.
Danielle Solzman:  When did you first get bitten by the improv bug and know that it was want you wanted to do?
Jill Olson:  I had no idea what improv was and fell into it.  I was waiting tables in harford county MD with a girl who was going to a audition for a theater company in Baltimore and wanted someone to go with her.  I had nothing to do so I went too.  They were auditioning for EVERYTHING in the theater, a play, a late night ongoing series, a couple other things in addition to an improv group.  I got a call asking me to join the improv group because I obviously had a lot of training.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  They said I was great at the improv section... and I was like, oh, you means the warming up?  I did that during college and did comedies.  When I graduated I wanted to move to NY because I was in love and the boy wanted to move there.  A professor of mine said I couldn't, that I had to move to Chicago.  I can to visit and he introduced me to my godfather of improv Nick Kanel from Baby Wants Candy.  I moved here two months later.
Danielle Solzman:  You produce and founded Storytown Improv.  When did you get the idea for this?
Jill Olson:  I was an actor in a similar children's production and slowly worked my way from acting to help producing it.  There wasn't a script but a beated out story structure.  The company dissolved and I wanted to continue working on a show for kids because it was so amazing to see kids get so involved in theater.  At the time I was working at iO and Charna Halpern was a blessing and said that it was my theater and I could try whatever I wanted on Saturday mornings as long as I was done by the time classes started.  We went to a fully improvised format.

Danielle Solzman:  How many shows do you perform per year?
Jill Olson:  Storytown performs every Saturday at Stage 773.  So we are a weekly staple.  Then we try to go out in the community as much as we can.  In the summer we partner with the Lincoln Park Zoo on Tuesdays and Sundays for multiple mini shows a day.  We've done two events with the Art Institute.  We just started a after school program at the Chicago Jewish Day School.

Danielle Solzman:  You’re also the Chicago Director of Funny Bones Improv.  What do you feel is the most important thing about this organization?
Jill Olson:  I could go on and on about Funny Bones.  I'll try not to... I love that Funny Bones gives kids who are going through something hard a relief.  We do not treat them like children in a hospital.  They are kids that deserve to laugh.  The performers also give their all to every show to help make these kids feel amazing and involved.  Their energy and heart and commitment does not change if there is one child versus a whole room of kids.  They take their time and do what they can to make sure each person has a great experience.
Danielle Solzman:  What improv instructor has had the most meaningful impact on you?
Jill Olson:  Oddly enough, through teaching, I learned that my dance teacher growing up impacted me so much.  For her it was about the practice and process rather than the bells and whistles of competitions at a young age.  I think that is why I love the process of improv and using at as a tool to appreciate the arts.
Danielle Solzman:  You teach improv at The Laughing Academy.  If there is one thing that your students take with them after they finish your class, what is it?
Jill Olson:  That's hard.  It changes day to day.  But I guess what I would want them to walk away with most is the teamwork aspect of improv.  None of us can do this alone.  YOu need your scene partner.  You need your classmate.  They need to be able to work with other people regardless of whether we are friends outside of class or not.  It doesn't matter who you think is cooler than someone else.  In class, we are a team and can only succeed together.
Danielle Solzman:  You’ve trained at both iO and Second City.  What were your initial thoughts in seeing the improv community come together after the fire a few weeks ago?
Jill Olson:  Well, we can only succeed together.
Danielle Solzman:  Thanks again for joining us and keep up the great work.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Catch Second City Improv Sets at The Annoyance

You can catch the cast of The Second City Mainstage show doing free improv sets at The Annoyance Theatre and Bar.

From their Facebook page:

The Second City Improv Set @ The Annoyance - Tickets are FREE! Yes, FREE! Use the links to RSVP:
Sun, Sept 6 at 11:00p after Cartoon Sex Book ➙
Tues, Sept 8 at 10:30p after TNT ➙

Second City Thanks Chicago Theater Community

We can hardly thank them enough, but hopefully this Facebook post will suffice for now! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK...

Posted by The Second City on Friday, September 4, 2015