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The Jester Interview: Marcus Bonnée

Sketch comedy group Drop Six has been performing regularly each week at The People’s Improv Theater since August 2006, and its run will continue into March. Marcus Bonnée joined the group [which includes Tim Girrbach, Watson Kawecki, Alicia Levy and Rodney Umble, directed by Larry Rosen] in summer 2006, shortly after its inception, and has been affiliated with The PIT as a performer since the theater opened (in shows such as Keanu Reeves Saves The Universe, Survivor: Vietnam, The Art of Acting, and The NYC, among others), along with work in film and television [including a part in the film thriller Little Erin Merryweather to be released in May, and I Should Probably Be Dead By Now, currently on YouTube]. Jester sat down with Bonnée at the theater recently to learn how the group crafts its pieces and what influences his work within the group.

Jester: How did you get into performing and how long have you been performing? How did Drop Six come together?
Marcus Bonnée: Drop Six is pretty much the newest venture for me. Since I joined, we’ve been performing consistently at different venues, mostly the People’s Improv Theater along with Rififi, The Triad, the Artistic New Directions benefit and the National Comedy Theater. We went to Toronto and won the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival, which was fantastic. They had over 200 entries and selected 29. We won out of that, and came back the next week for an encore performance at The Second City mainstage as the headliner of the showcase.

As far as myself, I’ve been performing since I was little. I’m from Michigan originally and moved to New York eight years ago as of March. I went to Michigan State University and pursued both theater and business, but majored in business. While I was there, I started film work, was vice president of the MSU filmmakers which was originally established by Sam Raimi. We did some really cool things there. MSU didn’t have a film program, so we kept along with this that Raimi created awhile back and re-started it. We did a couple films, which was really exciting. It’s there where I really started getting interested in film and how it works, the whole continuity aspect and how to schedule locations and actors, and we had castings for projects we were doing. That’s where a lot of my interest and knowledge about film started.

When I came to New York, I was looking mostly for film work. I performed in a lot of short films, a couple feature films here and there. Because I was trying to learn what it’s like working on bigger sets with dual cameras and so on, I started doing some featured extra work with Upright Citizens Brigade when they had their TV series. The very last episode, “Thunderball,” I met Ali [Farahnakian, past UCB member and founder of The PIT]. The PIT has been a great establishment for me, because there are not a lot of places in the city where you can go -- it’s not like you can go to someone’s house and hang out. It’s hard for people to travel from apartment to apartment to visit each other because it takes so long. But this is a nice little warm place that takes you out of the city a little bit. So I started improv about 2 ½ years ago. I got into that recently, but it’s mostly been film work and straight stage plays and parodies.

J: Did you take a number of classes here at The PIT as well?
MB: I went through all the levels here and took some extra side classes they offered. There’s a lot of nice and talented people coming through here.

J: How have some of the things you’ve learned in classes informed the comedy that you do?
MB: It’s great. Oddly enough that first show that we did when I joined Drop Six, because we didn’t have much material and were stressed for time and I had just joined, and Tim rejoined, I ended up coming up with a three-segment bit that was me coming outside of the sketch show. It was like ‘We’re in an improv theater, so why not do improv?’ So I ended up doing three almost-improv segments off that, which was a lot of fun.

We’ve actually started to improvise a little bit in rehearsals just to get some ideas. We just did this last week. Out of three times pairing two people together, we came up with three possible sketches -- just the premise -- it came together really well.

Improv is a great tool for life in general. It makes you think about things outside the norm and gives you a little bit of a slant, helps with creativity, and maybe be more secure with who you are and take more chances in life.

J: Are things you are improvising in rehearsals finding their way into the show, since you’ve been here weekly recently?
MB: Maybe not entire segments, but little bits here and there. Typically, the energy during rehearsal is very high and fun, and everyone’s having a good time, so we’ll spit out little things here and there that seem funny at the time. Sometimes those lines work their way into the shows.

J: The sketches are already there, but …
MB: Sometimes we’ll find a new bit that comes out of us goofing around in rehearsal. Just based on the experiment we did last week with the improv, we really had some good things come out of that. So we’re talking about incorporating it so that maybe once or twice a month we’ll improvise a little bit and see what we can get out of it. But right now we have so many sketches on the table that we’re interested in, because everyone writes for our group, there are so many ideas that we're excited about that will last us awhile before we even need to develop new ones, because there are already so many things that are waiting. But we’ve been performing so much that it takes away from having rehearsals to get those in.

The thing about our group is that we really don’t like to put pieces up unless it’s at least above average as far as we’re concerned. I don’t know what the audiences think, but for the most part, they really like it. We’re really specific with detail and structure of scenes, and also with transitions between scenes. That’s one thing we pride ourselves on. We try to make the show really flow as opposed to doing a sketch, having a blackout then seeing people organizing the next scene. We try to make it so even if we’re setting up for a scene, there’s at least some character within yourself setting it up, or something.

J: How has the dynamic developed between everybody in the group?
MB: It’s great because everyone really has specific talents that they bring to the table, and we’re all very motivated and friendly people who work well together. We have a respect for one another because even if it’s my scene or idea, we’ll still talk about it and throw in other people’s ideas so it’s just a very nice dynamic. But really there’s so much different talent. Alicia is great with choreography and also sings. She’s a wonderful talent all around -- characters, dialect, everything. With the choreography, she adds a lot to the group in that sense because she loves adding that into the show.

We do a dance number which has been our finale piece where we all come out and do a dance thing, and the scene ends, or you think it does, and then we perform a Janet Jackson tribute type bit to add a little button to it. Watson actually tours as a professional clown and has worked with Barnum & Bailey and has all sorts of background with that. So he’s added his juggling to it, which is nice because that also gives us -- it’s great for transitions but also gives us a little of a vaudeville feel.

A lot of us are really influenced by some of the older classics like the Marx Brothers. I’ve added a lot of physical comedy, like the nerd scene with the trips. That was my idea to throw that in, to put that kind of button on there, my character entering with a trip and leaving with a trip. Rodney has great characters and physical movement, adding quirkiness to his characters. He puts out high energy and is good at touching the heart. Out of everyone, Tim has the most improv background. He even teaches high school kids improv. A lot of his performance is influenced by improv. He comes up with a lot of one-liners and adds those in rehearsals. He feels really comfortable with things. You can feel a natural element come from him. That’s from improv.

Our director Larry Rosen has an improv and musical improv background. He will be teaching a musical improv class here at The PIT. He adds that extra flavor of a long history of doing shows -- both sketch and improv. We may come up with the ideas and get things rolling, but he knows how to help us tweak it, make it flow better, and oddly enough, that’s how the majority of the group met. Alicia, Rodney and Tim had taken his class and all met through his class. Larry met Watson somewhere else, and I worked with Rodney in “Keanu Reeves Saves The Universe.”

J: Is there specific direction Larry gave you in running the show?
MB: He really loves old-time classics, physical comedy, which really isn’t utilized as much as it used to be. I see a lot of groups doing costume and character type stuff, but not really adding in that extra -- almost that vaudeville feel. But he really enjoys all that. With things like the ‘nerds’ scene which is one of my favorites because it has some really touching moments and goofy things too. One of those is an old-fashioned spit take that Larry really wanted to get in there. It worked very well when we rehearsed it. Some of us were a little hesitant, but it works fantastic.

But also with transitions, Larry does our set list. He considers how to balance the group members throughout the show, thinks about costume changes -- needing to have one scene to allow the others to get ready for the next scene. He’s also stepped up and does tech for most of our shows.




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