I’m sitting in a waiting room waiting to serve on a Jury when I look on Facebook and read from Bill Binder “Please Help. Need Urgent Care. Not a Joke.” I immediately panicked. I texted him right away and he told me what was going on. I desperately tried to find him an urgent care, but I’m in California and he’s in Arizona. Thank god, Bill has a wonderful group of friends in Arizona that took care of him and got him the help he needed. Don’t worry everyone, he’s doing okay and is resting at home. He’ll be collecting sodapdf documents about the trip and going to your festival soon. I promise you that!
But it got me thinking about the man I’ve called a friend for the last 15 years. Someone I share a deep friendship with that sometimes I forget about.
Bill and I met taking classes at iO West years ago. I lived near iO, but Bill would commute from Phoenix every week to take classes. That’s a seven hour drive. Who does that? Immediately I had to be friends with him. I mean, that’s dedication. He didn’t have to even say one word to me to prove he loved this art form. He took the knowledge he learned from such teachers as Craig Cackowski, Miles Stroth and Paul Vaillancourt and went back to Phoenix to help create an improv community there – The Torch Theater and The Phoenix Improv Festival. I attended most every Phoenix Improv Festival since and Bill and I became closer friends sharing a common improv philosophy. But our philosophy ran deeper and past the stage. We both had a huge sense of community. Four years ago we both had the same idea. Really! We literally thought up the same thing. To create a site that would connect the improv world like never before. Can you guess what the site is? WINK.
One of the many things we have in common is our love of Star Trek. We always use it as a metaphor for anything we do. NIN is The Enterprise and I’m Captain Kirk, emotional and leap before I think, where he’s Spock, logical, thinks it through and is just really fucking smart. It works! Just like Capt. Kirk and Spock work. We have a deep unconditional friendship for each other, but also respect each other as business associates.
Lately, Bill and I have been all business. It’s hard running a site that you’re volunteering your time to do. When we have a moment to talk it’s about the site because that’s the time we have to talk and it has to get done. This reminds me I have to do better. That this isn’t just a site but a culmination of a friendship that started 15 years ago. The young guys that were taking class for the first time and stepping into a bigger world. A world that would lead us down a path of a long and awesome friendship filled with love, respect and passion.
Bill is one of the most passionate people I have ever met in my life. He loves improv. He would die for it. He has come close, once he went blind for a day while overworking himself for The Phoenix Improv Festival. I’ve never seen anyone do so much for the community. He spends hours upon hours to make improv and the community better for you and for absolutely nothing. He doesn’t ask for anything back and he doesn’t want anything. He just wants to make the art form, that he fell in love with, better for future generations. Isn’t that the Star Trek philosophy?
As I write this and Bill rests and recovers I say to you this my friend, “I love you, buddy. You teach me everyday that I can do better, that I can reach farther, be a better artist and do even more for the improv community.” I firmly believe that the universe puts people together for a reason. And thank you universe for giving me Bill Binder.
I’m sure this is more attention then Bill ever wanted. But he deserves all of it. Here’s to another 15 years my friend! I have a bottle of mead for us!
As you’ve probably heard by last weeks announcement Rick Andrews from The Magnet Theater in New York will be joining the NIN team. He joins Bill and I to help us develop the site and reach out to even more improvisors. We are extremely happy to have Rick on board. Here is an interview I did with Rick so you can get to know him a little better:
N: Rick, tell us about yourself. What theater do you call home and why?
R: Hey earth people! I’m an instructor and performer at The Magnet Theater in New York City, NY. I started doing improv at Improv Boston, then continued in Saint Louis. I moved to NY about 4 years ago and quickly fell in love with the Magnet. I love the attention and care put into the training program and all of the students. I believe that improv is something that anyone can do and do well, and The Magnet really creates an environment that allows all to succeed and grow. I also believe that good improvisation can take all kinds of shapes, speeds, and sizes, and I love that I get to explore that at Magnet, to see great work of different styles and approaches.
N: You’re a teacher of improv. What is it you like about teaching improv?
R: Teaching Improv is the my favorite thing to do in the entire world. Improv gives people genuine confidence; it puts them in situations where they follow their gut and the ensemble supports that choice and they see their choices born into wonderful scenes. People learn to really trust themselves and others and the change I’ve seen in students who dove into improv in just the short time I’ve been in New York is very staggering and humbling. People very rarely get to play, and improv lets us play while also fostering excellent listening, teamwork, etc. It makes people better people, which sounds culty and insane, but it’s true.
On a personal level, Improv is the thing I love most, and getting to share that love with others and see them fall in love with it is very fulfilling.
N: Who are your improv heroes?
R: Oh man! Armando, Tj and Dave, Cackowski, Jill Bernard, Will Luera, Joe Bill and Mark Sutton, …these days the people who inspire me are the people I’m insanely lucky to work with on a daily basis at Magnet. Too many to name…
N: Do you have an improv philosophy? If so, what is it?
R: There are a lot of ways to do an excellent improv scene. A compelling relationship will feel different than an odd or interesting character, which will feel different than a well heightened game, etc. I view these styles as techniques to achieve different but compatible goals. I’d never coach a group to play an Armando, for example, without talking and thinking about game. But I’d also never coach a group to do Monoscene without thinking about character. Improv is improv, but different styles and methods allow us to play shows and scenes that manipulate reality and comedy to varying affects.
Uniting all of these, though, is what I call the dynamic in the scene. It is the sub-atomic level of all improvisation. The core of any improv scene, regardless of style, is the two people being affected, most often by each other. Everything else in the improv scene is super invisible and make believe, except for how the people are being affected. The people will always feel more palpable and real, the audience will always inherently invest in their active behavior above all else, and it is where the moment-to-moment truth in comedy comes from in a scene. Every reaction is another chance for an honest response.
A relationship is not compelling if the people are not actually affecting each other; a character is no fun if he/she doesn’t affect anyone. A game and pattern is meaningless without anyone being affected by it, etc. Good improvisation in any style follows these ideas and usually leads you back to being affected; The audience doesn’t want a sketch you wrote in your head 2 seconds ago. They are compelled and moved to laughter and other emotions by the shared journey and the truths and humor discovered on the way.
N: You’re joining the National Improv Network as a team member. What are you most excited about joining the team?
R: The growth of improv over the last decade or two has been amazing, and the capabilities of the National Improv Network to help further connect the community are really fascinating to me. Our art form is a transient one. If someone in New York makes some interested musical innovation, someone in LA can hear it on a record, online, etc. They can experience those ideas. But for improvisation, we need to connect to each other, we need to travel and see what else is going on to get that outside inspiration. The freer the exchange of ideas, the better, and I think NIN is a wonderful tool for that.
N: What drew you to join the team at NIN?<
R: I'm a user of the site and a big fan of the goals and aims. I have faith in improv not only as a useful tool to develop comedy but also as a wonderful artform and pursuit itself, and I also believe in collaboration over competition as a way to achieve those means. I think NIN embodies all of that, and so it's a no brainer to help be a part of it!
N: You travel to a bunch of festivals, where do you see improv in five years from now?
R: The change and growth I’ve seen in New York and beyond in the last few years has been amazing. You still get the same commitment and love in improv by folks who are pursuing and interested in comedy as an art and career. But I’ve been seeing so many more “regular people” who want to try improv for other reasons, to work on public speaking, feel more confident, meet people, or simply to be playful and have fun. Improv is becoming a thing that adults just do as a part of being an adult. In my head, I liken it maybe to where yoga has gone? From a more niche thing to something that a large part of the population participates in. I think improv is immensely rewarding to do and enhances people’s lives in so many ways; I see that continuing to spread.
Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West. He has also taught workshops around the country. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com