To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Magnet, Sulaiman Beg and Kelly Donahue have developed an Oral History of the Magnet Theater.
The full story will be released in early April, but over the coming weeks we will be releasing some interesting stories that didnt make the final cut.
The first in this series is a profile on how the teachers & founders first discovered improv in their own lives.
DISCOVERING IMPROV – PART 1
Armando Diaz: I grew up in Illinois, south suburbs Chicago, a place called Country Club hills. It was a regular old suburb. There werent really country clubs. I had this friend in high school, Kevin Dorff, who kind of woke up comedy in me. He was voted class clown. Really funny guy. Wed write little sketches back and forth during class. I didnt realize they were sketches back then.
Ed Herbstman: I lived in the suburbs of Chicago and about fifteen to twenty minutes away from my house by car was Second City. We would go to the improv sets on weekends. The weekend sets were 10:30 – 11:00 on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. We went to every single one.
Diaz: I was in film school at Columbia College, in the program they had suggested if youre interested in being a director, one thing you want to do is take an acting class from the acting department. I took a class and the teacher had graduated from the Second City training. He was a traditional actor but he would have us do a lot of improv in the class. That was fun. I had never done that before.
Alex Marino: My counselor at church camp in high school was a guy named Michael Lewis, he introduced me to improv. He was really involved with a short form troupe called Comedy Sportz, which had a franchise, weirdly, in Bakersfield, California, where I grew up. I got on my high school Comedy Sportz team, and if you got on, every Saturday you would meet for a couple hours next to a comic book store, in an abandoned tanning salon, and do improv.
Rick Andrews: My dad found some listing for ImprovBoston, when I was 11 or 12. They used to have Sunday afternoon shows, which was a terrible idea. We went down and saw a show, and no one was there but my family. They werent even supposed to do the show, they were supposed to cancel if it was less than ten people. But they did the show. It was great. In my mind, it was great.
Louis Kornfeld: My senior prom, myself, Charlie Whitcroft and Corey Grimes decided not to go to prom. Instead, we pooled our money and got a hotel room together. We got like a bottle of whiskey, and that was our night. Megan came too. The next day, we had some time before we had to check out, so we walked around the neighborhood a bit. This was like on 22nd Street. We were walking and we just happened to bump into the UCB 4 who were all outside smoking outside of their old theater. Theyd just opened it.
Megan Gray: We would go in to see UCB shows in high school. We had heard they have teen classes and we were like ahh, I dont know. We were always too scared, or we didnt have time. We were making videos and stuff.
Peter McNerney: I had done a little short form in theater class in middle school and high school. My first week at Northwestern, I saw The Meow Show, which was this historic short form and sketch show thats been around since the 70s. Ed was in it, and Melanie Hoopes and Rachel Hamilton and Julia Louis Dreyfus. It was this big deal show and I saw that and I was like I want to do that!
Gray: I was a dramatic writing/screenwriting major, and I had read somewhere that Conan OBrien had said improv is a good way for writers to get over writers block so I thought that would be really cool.
Kornfeld: Megans dad signed us up for UCB Level 1 in October 2003. Me and Megan, and Corey and Charlie. And in that class we met Kelly Buttermore and Jon Bander. We also met Damon Ketron in Level 2.
Herbstman: When I got a car at 16, I would just go by myself and be one of the weirdos that was in line for every show and would see every show. At that time it was Dave Razowsky, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris. I had just missed Colbert. It was just awesome. I mean imagine seeing Steve Carell four nights a week do improv. And Dave Razowsky who’s just awesome. And them doing it together. It was just really funny.
Diaz: I ran into Kevin Dorff one day and he had just gone to see a show at Improv Olympic that his sister recommended. He mentioned it to me and said, Hey you gotta take this class. It was with Charna. We went to this German bar, and its empty. Its Wednesday night at 7:00. Theres no internet, everything is done by phone. We sat there for 20 minutes, and nobody showed up. It was just me and Kevin and the German bartender. Finally, […] Charna called the bar and was like, oh were pushing back the class a week. I dont know why we did, but we came back the next week and people showed up and we had our first class and it was just like.. By the end both of us were just like, totally excited, totally pumped. It was great.
Herbstman: I was seeing so many shows at Second City, eventually they were like you could take classes here, and I was like, are you kidding me? I got a job tearing tickets, being a house manager, seating people. Suddenly, I was working there on the weekend and that meant free classes for me. So I would seat people and watch every single show, because I had to sit there and watch the show while the show was going on which was great.
Andrews: I kept seeing a bunch of of shows at ImprovBoston, and the AD was just like, take our class. He popped my friend Mike and I into their adult classes. So it was two 12-year old boys and a bunch of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. We were annoying. We were mature for 12, but the would put us at, like, 15.
Marino: When I got a car, and was able to drive myself there, I went and started taking classes in LA at iO West. I lived in my car for awhile in Los Angeles, just taking classes at IO, until some people in one of my classes learned that and was like, dont do that, you shouldnt do that, you should come live with me. And they put me up on couches.
Herbstman: My teacher for Level 1 and Level 2 was Dave Razowsky. Level 3 was Steve Carell. I had Level 4 and 5 with Dave Razowsky again. It was great. And I was 16-17, didnt know what I wanted to do with my life or where to go to school or wherever but I knew improv was the one core fundamental thing that I wanted it all to revolve around.
- alex marino
- armando diaz
- ed herbstman
- io west
- Kelly Donahue
- kill your darlings
- Los Angeles
- Louis Kornfeld
- magnet theater
- Magnet Theater Oral History
- Megan Gray
- new york
- new york city
- oral history
- peter mcnerney
- rick andrews
- Second City
- Sulaiman Beg
- The Meow Show
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