About two months ago I returned home to Australia from a massive trip around the United States. The major thing that drew me to America in the first place was my love for Improv so my trip revolved around visiting arty cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to take classes, see shows and perform. As my post-vacation sadness begins to subside, now seems as good a time as ever to document my adventures. I will begin by recounting my time in New York City and the Del Close Marathon.
I travelled alone which is a character-altering experience I’d highly recommend. I spent the first two weeks passing through Louisiana, Texas and Maryland before arriving in New York City via bus from Baltimore. The bus was double decker and I scored the front seat on the top deck (the best seat) and spent the ride reading Patti Smiths book, Just Kids. I finished reading the book just as the bus rolled into the City - another experience I’d highly recommend.
A few months earlier, I found out some friends of mine from Melbourne would be in New York City at the same time to attend the Del Close Marathon and were putting a team together to submit for a performance slot. I didn’t really know what the Del Close Marathon was but it sounded like an Improv nerds dream so I jumped on board. We spontaneously got together to perform in a Cage Match in Melbourne, filmed the show, uploaded our submission and then forgot about it for a couple weeks - until we found out our submission was accepted!
2015 marked the 17th annual Del Close Marathon. The festival has taken place yearly to honor the passing of Del Close, the man who pioneered long form Improv. The marathon kicks off on a Friday night and runs non-stop till Sunday night. Throughout this time, multiple performances run concurrently in theatres and Improv venues all around the city. Performers and teams from all around the world are invited to submit for a place on the lineup. Our slot was 11.20am on Saturday on the UCB Chelsea stage - The UCB Chelsea stage! The queen herself, that is: Amy Poehler; has stood on that stage!
After two weeks of travelling alone, it was a wonderful feeling to arrive in New York City to meet with the team. I arrived on Wednesday the 24th of June and checked into my accommodation on Bowery. It was booked last-minute as a result of my AirBnB apartment falling through a few days earlier. I got to my room, which turned out to be a tiny cubicle that barely fit my suitcase between the bed and the wall but not even that could bring me down because I was in New York City.
We saw The Book of Mormon, drank fancy cocktails, walked the skyline and faffed around the city together for some team bonding. We didn’t really know what to expect for the performance but we were confident that there’d be very few audience members in the theater for our time slot so our mission was to have fun together – we were just happy to be there!
One of the many great things about performing in the Del Close Marathon is that you get to participate in drop-in UCB workshops as an out-of-town performer. I signed up for a bunch because it’s rare to get the opportunity to take a class with the UCB if you’re not based in the city. Plus, their entry-level workshops always sell out in a flash. The classes I did were really great and had a focus on game and finding the fun in scenes, which was interesting to me. The instructors I had were from New York and Los Angeles and they were all bursts of energy and light. The UCB training center in New York City is absolutely incredible and when I entered the floor for the first time I couldn’t believe how many people there were, spilling into the lobby, hallway and (numerous) classrooms to take a workshop. I had never seen so many improvisers before. I had never seen so many people who knew the meaning of longform improv in one room before.
Friday night rolled around and I had bought a bunch of tickets to a couple of premium shows. The first one was Broad City Live! The one bad thing about the festival (there’d be two if I were to count the beer that was supplied at the party space - but that was free so I’m willing to let it slide) is that even if you’re a performer and you buy a ticket to a show, you still have to line up for ages to get a decent spot. However, we discovered @DCM_lines on twitter, an account dedicated to informing the punters of the line status at each venue around the city, so that was a helpful tool. Josh, Amruta and I waited in line for over an hour but it was worth it to see Abbi and Ilana grace the stage at the FIT. The show was super loose and silly and fun. I didn’t really know what to expect but they certainly delivered. The FIT was a huge auditorium with a massive audience. Amruta and I stuck around afterwards to see The Gay Pride Improv Spectacular (That weekend happened to be Pride in NYC- and I didn’t think it could get any better!). It was a bunch of experienced queer improvisers doing a living-room type longform format. It was really funny and they all worked really well together.
Looking around the auditorium that night, I began to realize how dweeby this whole thing was. A whole festival dedicated to improv? Where pretty much every attendee is an improviser? And they came from all around the world for it? Good thing I’m a proud dweeb!
The team met early on Saturday morning in central park to do some warm-ups and get into the group mind. We reiterated that the main goal was to have fun, as there were no real stakes (right? Right.). The UCB Chelsea theatre was epic! We got to hang out backstage before our set and we were able to watch the act before us on a screen by the couch – woah, technology! There weren’t many people in the audience. We were satisfied with this scenario and even more so after our 20 minutes was up because we all agreed that it was terrible. But that’s the nature of improv – failure is inevitable. We had a laugh over a beer (or two) after the show at a nearby pub disregarding the fact that it wasn’t even noon yet. We checked twitter and realized that if we wanted to see a block of shows that featured a whole host of the cool famous inspirationally talented and successful improvisers, we’d have to head back to the Chelsea theatre and start lining up now. On the lineup, was the UCB 4 (the creators of the UCB theater, who are pretty much improv royalty: Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts). For hours we sat on the concrete together playing mind games and riddles to pass the time. It started raining and we stuck it out, allowing one person at a time to have a break from the line and roam the streets nearby.
When it was my turn, it was approaching 6pm, which was the time they’d be letting people into the theater for the block of shows. I had just enough time to get a coffee across the road so I left the line and cruised up the street and over the road. As I was about to enter the café, Amy Poehler emerged. I took this as a sign that the show would be starting soon so I ditched my coffee idea and froze at the traffic lights. Amy Poehler was also crossing the road. Time slowed down. I was standing at a crossing with Amy Poehler. This was a moment I thought I could only dream about. Luckily, I constantly play hypothetical scenarios in my head and in the one where I met my hero, Amy Poehler, I knew exactly what I would say. I would say “Thank you for being you”. Nice, huh? Well, as I mentioned earlier, time slowed down at the crossing and I completely forgot my preparation. I knew I had to say something so I blurted out “You’re amazing” and then she looked at me through the rain and said “thank you”; and for a moment, everything in the world felt right.
We all got seats in the packed theatre and sat there for hours watching some of the best improv I’ve ever seen. Overall, the weekend was an amazing experience I’d highly recommend. I hope to return to the Del Close Marathon again in the future!