Published on August 24th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson0
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The crowds at this year’s DCM seemed larger than ever before, and it was never so obvious as when I arrived at the UCBT on Sunday afternoon. 3 years ago, I arrived at 2pm and easily got a seat in the front row. This year? I arrived at 2pm and it was already standing-room only.
The second thing that hit me was the smell of… fermentation? It had only been 12 hours since I’d last experienced it, but how quickly we forget. I took a stroll through the backstage, which was free of all the insanity I’d fought my way through for a free beer the night (er… morning?) before. The theme of the day: standing water! There was lots of it back there, even though the concrete maze had been well-cleaned by the volunteers.
Unfortunately, the stage hadn’t been cleaned quite as well from the previous night’s Match Game watermelon fiasco, which is where I ended up having to sit for over. five. hours. with. no. back. support. in order to get good photos. I could stretch during that precious moment of blackout time between shows, and peel myself off the watermellon-y floor for a few seconds, but holy hell, I’m OLD. I felt this for a solid 48 hours afterwards.
Sticky buttcheeks aside, Sunday afternoon always presents my favourite shows of Marathon.
Scheer-McBrayer was genius as always. I can’t get enough of Paul and Jack, and could have watched this for another hour easily. Those who got to see the extended show at FIT were very fortunate.
Let’s Have a Ball is, in my opinion, the best regular show at UCBT. I was glad to see Becky Drysdale in this edition, but Laura Krafft and Christina Gausas were very missed.Jason Mantzoukas filled in for Rob Riggle alongside Rob Huebel in Delta Force 2: Operation Stranglehold. Which makes perfect sense, since Huebel filled in for Riggle alongside Mantzoukas in Friday night’s Mantziggle (you follow?). The two ended up spitting some water at each other, which the improv-savvy audience heightened by instantly providing dozens more bottles’ worth. I obviously lack photos of this, as camera gear and several litres of flying water do not mix. But what DOES mix is water and stage filth. While Huebel ran in place for about 3 minutes post-waterfight, he worked up what I can only describe as a “murky froth” on the surface of the stage. Yum!
Although a note to future volunteers: mopping the puddles of stage filth away from the middle of the stage doesn’t mean mopping it towards those of us sitting on the floor. Thanks.
Mantzoukas did apologize for the “wet t-shirt contest” when he returned for First Date, sans Jessica St. Clair. He had an audience volunteer be his “date”, and Pam Victor did a fantastic job of keeping things just awkward enough, while being open to whatever direction Manzoukas nudged her in. She blogged about the experience here.
Can anyone get enough Baby Wants Candy? Featuring two of my all-time favourite improvisors, Peter Gwinn and Becky Drysdale (the rest are no slouches either — Jack McBrayer, Thomas Middleditch, etc) BWC continually stands up as the best musical improv show I’ve ever seen. Try as I might to catch their semi-regular performances at the Barrow Street Theatre while I’m in town, I failed through the previous 52 weeks, so this was a very welcome fix. This particular story took place on a submarine, and almost immediately one of Gwinn’s castmates bestowed the profession of “ballet dancer” upon him. He replied pointedly that there would be no dancing, because “the floors of this submarine are very wet!” Loved it all. Was it as memorable as last year’s adventure at the Kit Kat Kaboodle? Not quite, but I don’t think anything could be!
Mmmmm… fooood! Walsh & Roberts actually cooked something appetizing this year! Matt and Ian put together what was essentially an elaborate quesadilla, complete with chicken and roasted veggies, and had no trouble finding audience volunteers to sample it. Maybe the biggest selling point was their admission that they couldn’t find soap backstage, and instead washed their hands with Comet. Owen Burke stole the show, as always, by playing the perfect lowbrow idiot stage manager while Matt and Ian berated him from the Moe/Larry perspectives.
Last year, I skipped the Sunday night Asssscat to catch a flight that never got off the ground (the first of three, thanks Air Canada). I did attend this year, but frankly I was burned out and not engaged by improv happening 50 feet away from me in a giant space at FIT. I can’t remember much other than the audience interactions, including a monologue from one girl who got fired from her temp job for opening a secret file and painting a unicorn and falling asleep (I’m not sure we ever got to the bottom of what that meant, to be honest). I do wish I’d taken advantage of a “free” evening in NYC to do something a little more productive (like nap, before my friend convinced me to go for Korean food after midnight when I had a 5:30am wake-up call) and will likely skip Asssscat next year.
Assorted additional thoughts from DCMXI:
-I had the privilege of attending special DCM workshops with Joe Wengert, Anthony King, and Chris Gethard. All I can say is that these guys confirmed to me why UCB’s training program is so highly regarded (in case I was in danger of forgetting?). I was initially intimidated to be in classes alongside a bunch of 501 grads (I only have my 201 from UCB) but it’s amazing how comfortable you can get in a class led by someone really passionate about what they’re teaching. Simply awesome.
-The crowds in past years were getting out of control, but now just are out of control. I read one report that someone waited 3 hours to get into the theatre in time for Lazy Man on Saturday evening, and didn’t make it in. My opinion: they should consider moving the theatre cleanings to prime times (seriously, like 11pm on Saturday). It may not be popular, but it would be fair to people waiting in line all evening.
-In a related issue, I mentioned this elsewhere, but I think it’s poor form for the lineup changes to not be reflected on the website. Riggle dropped out, Ed Helms missed the Friday show, Jessica St. Clair wasn’t in First Date… yet all their names still appeared on the schedule. And it wasn’t because of an inability to change it, because Mailer-Daemon was added just a few days before DCM. When audiences are forced to make difficult scheduling choices, doesn’t it seem fair to give them accurate information?
And since I’m on a complaining streak, this would be a good time for you to bring up photography.
“Hey Shar, where can I find all these photos you keep yakking about?”
Why thanks for asking. Here’s the situation:
In 2007, I noticed nobody was shooting the DCM, and I was the only person to walk away with decent shots of the Daily Show / Colbert Report Improv Jam. I thought that was a shame, but understandable that they wouldn’t have a budget for photographers. So in 2008 I offered my services on a volunteer basis, as I’ve done for a few other festivals/organizations that are close to my heart. Last year I shot 26 shows. I offered to do the same this year, and learned that there were actually 3 or 4 of us officially shooting for the UCBT this year. Great!
Unfortunately, I then learned midway through the weekend that those other shooters were getting paid. I, of course, was not.
Despite my best attempts to resolve the situation, it’s still the position of UCBT management that I do not warrant inclusion in the photography budget.
Obviously, had I known ahead of time I was going to be treated differently, I would have just gotten a press pass, and spent my time generating additional content for this site. I was so focused on shooting (so to speak) that I couldn’t take notes, spend time backstage, or do interviews. I even missed out on seeing NYC-based friends who I never see. I was happy to make those concessions when I believed that my efforts were respected and valued. But after being directly told the exact opposite (that my photos are “extras” and that I wasn’t really needed in the first place), I obviously made the wrong choice in allocating 20+ hours of my time towards that work.
I want to be clear that this doesn’t impact my affection for the UCBT, or my opinion of others associated with the theatre with whom I have good relationships. This is simply an unfortunate situation which could not be resolved. It happened, it is what it is, que sera sera, and so on.
So as for the full sets of photos, I think you can see where this is going: from a fairness standpoint, the only recourse I have is to withhold them. I don’t want to withhold pictures from the performers I shot, though, because that would only worsen an already bad situation. So if you appeared in/with/near any of the following groups at UCBT or Urban Stages, please don’t hesitate to email me (sharilyn.johnson [at] gmail.com) and I will make sure you get to see your photos:
Marathon Press Conference, Facebook, BASSPROV, Great Adventure, Henrietta Pussycat, Code Duello: Hamilton & Burr, I Eat Pandas, Satellites, The Stepfathers, Last Day of School, Apples and Oranges , Death By Roo Roo, The Mighty Stumps, Virgin Daiquiri, Opening Night: The Improvised Musical, Improvised Shakespeare, Lazy Man, Reuben Williams Attacks!, The Smokes, Seth and Ed’s Puppet Talk Show, Rondo, The Benson Interruption, The Smartest Panel of Experts in the Universe Ever, Cracked Out, Psychic Improv, Match Game ’76, Iron Ruckus, Scatterbomb, The Rubber Chickens, The Whistling Shrimp, iMusical: The Improvised Musical, Mailer Daemon: Our Nuts are Fuller, Scheer-McBrayer, Let’s Have A Ball, Delta Force 2: Operation Stranglehold, Omelette Vision, First Date, Baby Wants Candy, Walsh and Roberts.
One representative shot (in a few cases two) from each show listed above are publicly available on Flickr. I commented under each of the released shots indicating how many are included in that batch. My sample Sunday shots, plus 4 from Saturday that didn’t make it into the last post, are below.
(For shows at the FIT, and sets of a couple of the same UCBT shows I shot, definitely check out Ari Scott’s fantastic sets of DCMXI photos, which thankfully roam free on her Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ariscott/sets/72157621922318171/ )