With this post I launch “Letters from Ben”, the replacement for the monthly newsletter we used to generate. At the beginning of each month I will post a rumination of sorts about the work Bright Invention is doing some area. My goal is to create a personal connection to you through writing. I hope you like it. Feel free to comment and ask questions!
As some of you know, Bright Invention is an extension of a strange collision of concerns of mine. On the one hand, a concern for the extraordinary genius of the actor; how we are descended from a lineage of celebrities, vagabonds, eccentrics and seers beginning with tribal shamen, who were healers as well as performers. On the other hand, an interest in the economic pressures on the modern American performing artist; how commercial forces dehumanize this most human of all artists, turning us into things which are bought and sold, and capitalizing on our ambition and vulnerability for profit.
Recently, in preparing our show we are calling Improvasushi!, I began to understand that what I am interested in doing is a 21st century version of the Renaissance Italian theater known as commedia dell’arte. And the more I explored this connection, the more excited I became. I studied commedia for two extraordinary weeks in 2006 with the acknowledged master of the form, Antonio Fava. I was entranced, not only by Fava’s energetic and elaborate teaching style, but by the boldness and creativity of commedia itself. You can read about this experience more fully in my personal blog here. For Fava, commedia the performance style cannot be understood without understanding commedia the economic entity. “Commedia dell arte means ‘professional theatre!’” Fava would bellow. And he explained that these companies (and they called themselves companies) were the first western example of professional actors.
I left that experience regarding the commedia actor as heroic: perfecting the performance of stock characters within unscripted plots - the shows were enormous structured improvisations - and at the same time, being occasionally persecuted by prelates and nobility, suspicious of these actors with bawdy senses of humor, and smarting from the satire they put on display. The shows, Fava explained, were not only un-scripted, they were calibrated and adapted to the specific audiences they were being performed for. They were breathtakingly immediate and personal to the people watching on that day (always in the day of course - no electricity.) I found myself moved and inspired.
Our ensemble Bright Invention practices and performs long form improvisation. What’s that, you ask? Well, good luck finding a succinct definition, and if you do please let me know. Here’s a short Medium article about long form improv which also has some useful links. And here’s my little snapshot:
Short form improv is what most people think of when you say “improv”: short, absurd and silly scenes and sketches based on audience suggestions.
If short form uses clever ideas to generate laughs, long form explores deep relationships to reveal shared humanity. Long form is based in realism, short form is not.
Long form is often funny, but it doesn’t have to be. Once improvisation is freed from the requirement to be funny, entire galaxies of experience open up.
Long form is “long” because the relationships between characters developed in shows continue through the entire show. This is seldom the case in short form.
Short form is often a means to an end, the end being scripted sketch comedy based on improv. Long form is the end itself.
But our ensemble is also dedicated to “expanding the genre” and it is in this vein that we will begin to merge our work with some of the traditions and approaches of the commedia companies. We will begin to include rehearsed performance in our improvised long form shows. As with the commedia companies our shows will begin and end with rehearsed music and song. And we will soon begin to develop lazzi - rehearsed, solo set pieces sometimes comic, sometimes not, performed by individual members of the ensemble, and inserted into our shows. What these little solos are, and how they appear in our shows remains to be seen. But what I am sure of is that they will showcase the remarkable range of talent in our ensemble, from music and singing, to spoken word poetry, to dance and circus performance, to clown and physical comedy.
What we won’t borrow from commedia are the masks and precisely organized performances of stock characters. But we do strive to have the same sense of immediate and personal audience connection that commedia companies thrived on. And, as with these extraordinary Renaissance ensembles, we are determined to explore new paradigms to support the economic needs of the modern American actor through our corporate training work.
It's a match made in heaven:
What? Longform improv and sushi!
When? First Saturdays at 8 pm beginning Saturday March 2nd!
Madame Saito's Tokio Headhouse Sushi
122 Lombard St
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Sushi and improv . . . they go together like . . . well, they just go together! Especially now as Bright Invention launches our downtown shows upstairs in the Tokio Ballroom at Mademe Saito's!
Come at 7 for drinks and sushi downstairs, then come up to the ballroom for our special brand of intimate, immersive improvisation!
Easy to remember dates: first Saturdays! Easy to locate venue: just off of Headhouse Square in Society Hill, Philadelphia!
Sushi + improv = joy!
World class Japanese cusine
Our hour-long show begins at 8 pm
Dinner and a show - what's not to love?
Click the button below to reserve show tickets. Restaurant reservations please call: (215) 815-8266
9 improvisers. 6 hours of #improv. 6 special guests. Many cookies/donuts/pringles. And . . . we shattered our goal! $1,025 raised for The William Way LGBT Community Center! Thank you to Arch Street Meetinghouse for being such generous hosts, lots of audience dropping in throughout the day, and our amazing Inventors! Improvathon 2019 has come to an end with great success!
Here’s a slide show! Click on the image to go to the next one!
For Philly Theater Week 2019 we are presenting THE IMPROVATHON! to raise money for the William Way LGBT Community Center. On Saturday February 9th at Arch Street Quaker Meeting House, we will begin improvising at 10 am and won’t stop until we have raised $500 for William Way!
Saturday, February 9th, 10 am - ???
Arch Street Meetinghouse, 320 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA. 19106
Here is our schedule of Special Guests!
10 am - 11 am. Tara Demmy! Tara Demmy is a comedian, theatre artist, and teacher straddling both Philly and DC. She trained at the Upright Citizens Brigade NYC, Philly Improv Theater, and completed her Lecoq training at Helikos: International School of Theater Creation in Italy. She is a proud company member of Tribe of Fools where she performed in Fishtown – A Hipster Noir, Antihero, Zombies with Guns, and Shut Your Wormhole. She is a writer and performer with ManiPedi Sketch Comedy. Tara received her masters from
Villanova University and is currently pursing her PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies at University of Maryland. tarademmy.com
11 am - 12 noon. Michelle Pauls! Michelle Pauls is a theatre artist, artist educator and mom. She has worked for many years in the Philadelphia area doing theatre, film work, cabaret singing and improv! In fact, she was one of the founding members of Bright Invention. She also teaches theatre and the like in the college setting. www.michellepauls.com
12 noon - 1 pm. Ed Miller! Ed Miller is an actor, director, and writer from the Philadelphia area. He has worked with the Arden Theatre, Theatre Exile, Swim Pony, The IRC, and Secret Room Theatre. Ed spent 3 years living and teaching in South Korea where he also made time to act, direct, and serve on the board of Seoul Players. He was a founding member of SCI: Seoul City Improv and graced the TV screens for young "English-hungry" Koreans on such programs as "Story Time", "T-Girl!", and "Cooking with Red Hood”. Ed is a current proud member of Tongue and Groove Spontaneous Theatre.
1 pm - 2 pm. Brian Anthony Wilson! Brian has been on numerous Philly stages, feature films like The Postman, Creed and Limitless; and TV shows The Wire, Hack and Law and Order.
2 pm - 3 pm. Sharon Geller! Sharon Geller is a comedic actress who has appeared on Saturday Night Live 4 times. In addition to performing in the national touring company of the off-Broadway show “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” Sharon does radio and TV commercials and teaches improv at the Walnut Street Theatre. She trained with Chicago City Limits. www.sharongeller.com.
3 pm - 4 pm. Joy Wier! Joy Suzanne Weir has been an improviser for the last seven years. She is a company member of Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theatre. Some of her favorite scripted roles include Leonardo's Wife in Philadelphia Artists Collective's performance of Blood Wedding and Blackberry in Simpatico Theatre Project's Watership Down. She has also been a teaching artist for various companies including Bright Invention's sister company, White Pines Productions. She is very excited, and a little scared, to be part of the Improvathon. Let's get weird.
Each hour will feature:
fun with our special guest!
a spoof of a popular film or TV genre!
Bright Invention’s long form The Sun and its Planets!
The Arch Street Meetinghouse, 320 Arch Street Philadelphia. Site of THE IMPROVATHON!
Free parking - enter on 4th street between Arch and Market!
Complimentary light refreshments served.
Stop by any time; see some, leave, and return; BRING FRIENDS!
Donations for William Way accepted in person with cash, check or online through Facebook Donate button located here: donate online.
The Improvathon is a part of Philly Theater Week! Please check out all the other amazing shows being presented - click here!
Bright Invention will be part of another great event the very next day! Rehearsing Improv: It’s not an Oxymoron! Co- presented with Tongue & Groove Spontaneous Theatre, this is a fun and free “peek behind the scene” to see how improvisers create shows! Click here for tickets!
Ability In Action is a comprehensive, immersive and experiential program for youth and young adults living with a disability. Ability In Action utilizes performance creativity and embodied activities to enhance social skills, verbal and physical expression, communication and self determination. Here’s what Bright Invention is up to this winter/spring in Ability in Action:
Acting Out! is open to all youth and young adults with ASD, Aspergers, or any Physical or Developmental Disability. This class introduces basics of acting and collaboration in a safe and structured environment. Students will engage in an opening ritual at the beginning of each class and will gradually be introduced to games and activities over the course of the class semester. The final class will feature a share for family and friends based on the comfort level of students. This class is open to youth between 10 and 20 years old (but we’re flexible!) and is currently held at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts. Class begins February 24 - click here!
Stepping Out! Let us come to you and co-create fun and meaningful workshops and classes for your amazing community! Participants engage in Storytelling, Drama, Movement and Improvisation activities which explore specific themes curated to each group we work with. One workshop may explore the challenges in day to day workplace interactions while other workshops may help participants talk about relationships. Each Ability in Action experience addresses the personalized goals and needs of the participants. If you are interested in bringing Ability In Action to your organization or community. Please reach out today!
This winter we are offering Real Life Drama as part of Stepping Out! In this class we will create scenes about Real Life - the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the sweet and sour! Using a fun technique called "structured improvisation" we will play games, do some exercises and act in scenes we invent together. At the end of the class we might even do a show for our friends and families! This class is held in Ardmore at Common Space. Class begins February 23rd - click here!
Ability In Action builds a safe and supportive (and fun!) social environment which encourages risk-taking, deeper relationships and personal growth through embodied techniques and ensemble building. We love to work on special projects with blended groups. Examples of our special projects include developing an original holiday musical based on the arrangements of Fred Waring, an original production for the gala fundraising event supporting the Philly Friendship Circle, and an original play written and performed by one of our Acting Out! graduates. Got an idea? We want to hear it!
Bright Invention presents the return of . . .
In December of 2014 the improv group Bright Invention accomplished the unthinkable: they improvised for 24 hours straight in Philly’s first Improvathon! At that historic event, they were joined onstage by Philly arts and culture luminaries such as Brian Anthony Wilson (Creed, The Wire), Sharon Geller (Saturday Night Live), and Blanka Zizka, Artistic director for the Wilma Theatre who spanked Bright invention Artistic Director Benjamin Lloyd on stage during an improv!
Now for Philly Theater Week 2019 they will bring the Improvathon back, this time to raise money for the William Way LGBT Community Center. That’s right on Saturday February 9that Arch Street Quaker Meeting House, they will begin improvising and won’t stop until they have raised $500 for William Way!
But wait – there’s more!
In order for them stop improvising – Gritty must show up! That’s right! Achieving their philanthropic goals is not enough! Philly’s new mascot sensation must appear at this feat of creative endurance in order to save them from improvising themselves into an early grave!
What will happen on February 9th? Will Bright Invention raise enough money for Philly’s LGBT champions? Will the great orange-bearded monster appear? Will members of the ensemble expire from exhaustion, giggle fits and hallucinations? What special guests will appear on stage to support them?
Don’t miss this epic improv event!
Date and time:
Saturday February 9th, 10 am - ?
Arch Street Meeting House, 320 Arch St. Philadelphia, PA 19106