Figuring Out Their Equation
Manhattan Comedy Collective (MC2) adds a dash of character
and writing to its improv performances and sums its ideas in sketch
From left, Napier,
Wedo, Casa, Ragsdale, Doucette, Mayer, Capella, Murphy & Harrison
director of the Manhattan Comedy Collective (known as MC2),
Stacy Mayer -- wearing a blonde bob wig -- delivers what seem like
flighty introductions to their Thursday night “Big Bang” shows that put
together improv, sketch and solo performances.
But as an artistic
director of the group, she has figured out a way to systematically bring
out the best in the performers. To do this, Mayer set out the goals of
performing improv in a fashion that is more theatrical, presenting solo
character shows that have been ‘broken in’ but have not yet run
extensively, and giving audiences a comedy education by presenting shows
that are a succession of different comedy genres.
“It captures the
chaotic nature of comedy,” says Mayer of the group’s shows at Juvie Hall
in the Gene Frankel Theater in New York, which typically begin at 7 p.m.
Thursdays with “Character Dog Run,” an improv show with six performers
from a 40-member rotating or alternating cast performing all their
improv in character and in costume. That is typically followed at 8 p.m.
with a sketch performance and 9 p.m. with a solo stand-up or character
oriented show, although the 8 and 9 slots sometimes are given to comedic
plays or other formats rather than sketch or stand-up.
“Plenty of people
stay the whole night,” adds Mayer. “If we ask them what their favorite
part is, most of the time it comes down to what genre they like the
most. But hopefully the standard is the same for all that the group
The company members
are: Dave Adams, Andrea Alton, Susan Atwood, A.B. Carney, Robert Connor
(who also directs for the group and contributes carpentry skills to sets
and props), Dewey Banks, Robin Gelfenbien, Amey Goerlich, Joe Guercio,
Todd Isaac, Tim Kavanagh, Nicole Maffei, Mayer, Haseena Napier, Nicola
Piggott, Devon Ragsdale, Chris Sullivan, Phil Wedo and Lauren Zinn. Also
performing with the company and pictured above: Christina Casa, Samara
Doucette, Pete Capella, Jeremiah Murphy and Alana Harrison.
Not all shows are
limited exclusively to MC2 group members, but most of the
time have at least some members as performers, or at least as director
or writer of the performance. Character Dog Run puts a spin on its
improv by giving the performers a chance to write and deliver a
one-minute introduction to their character, which provides some material
to begin with as they then react to each other and the suggestions
solicited from the audience. Character Dog Run is also performed with
sound and light technicians highlighting what the performers are doing
as they go.
improv is an art form in and of itself, not just a means to produce
sketches. However, she developed the Character Dog Run format to make it
more accessible to general or theatrically oriented audiences. With a
Chicago background, Mayer found that Chicago improv groups tend to focus
just on entertaining and meeting that city’s rich improv comedy standard
-- but by comparison, New York performances and the demands of a theatre
audience require a much more commercial approach.
“When people do a
montage in improv, it can be like the audience is forced to watch a
class exercise,” she says. “With us, all the dialogue can be improvised,
but we’re building a show. The improvisation is done with a purpose.”
began producing the “Big Bang” shows in May, and Mayer and several other
company members have been part of the Saturday Night Rewritten shows
also performed at Juvie Hall -- since those shows began in 2003. The
Character Dog Run portions of the shows began so company members and
others could have a showcase for their work to be scouted by “Mad TV,”
Fox’s sketch comedy show.
“If you go into an
audition with three characters and three impersonations but you’ve never
workshopped them in front of an audience -- you’re going to be nervous
anyway in an audition -- and this helps,” says Mayer. Since the showcase
turned into MC2 and its Big Bang productions as a “happy
accident,” other such “happy accidents” have come along, she adds.
“The best things
come when you’re not looking for them,” says Mayer. “So much of the
stuff we create happens by accident. It’s being able to capitalize on
accidents or making yourself available to accidents that takes us to the
The group put some
those “accidents” to good use in its sketch hour “MC2 and the
Proper Tease of Love” performed during the “Big Bang” nights in
September (and reviewed on Jester). Its next production of sketches to
feature company members is just beginning to be written and will be
staged in March.
“We didn’t know
[Proper Tease of Love] would be about love,” adds Mayer. “But we noticed
that was there in most of the sketches, and cut the ones that didn’t fit
Playing off MC2
and “Big Bang” as themes, the company also uses an image of Einstein as
part of its identity. “The science theme is helpful,” says Mayer. “We’re
exploring a new world of comedy.”
left, Napier, Wedo, Casa, Ragsdale, Doucette, Mayer, Capella, Murphy &