San Diego Improv Festival starts tomorrow!! One of the first teams to perform, in the 7 PM block, is Shades of Grey from San Francisco. Jill Eickmann and Marcus Sams have performed their unique brand of humor for audiences across the country and in over a dozen improv festivals. We hear their shows are “often plagued by hilarity and pathos as they explore the relationship of two individuals across three pivotal moments in time.” Jill is the artistic director and a teacher at the Leela improv training center, a board member/producer of the San Francisco Improv Festival and executive producer of Femprov Fest. Marcus teaches and coaches improv, is a professionally working actor, and produces the improv jam for the San Francisco Improv Festival. Whew! We can’t wait to see this talented duo perform. Also performing in the same block is San Diego’s fierce ladies of Swim Team, the uncontrolled Controlled Panic (San Diego) and the high energy Zombie Gourmet (Phoenix). Get your tickets today! #SDImprovFest
From Justin to Kelly are our early festival guests; they are capping off their performance at the SD Improv Fest on Friday with a tour of the west coast, with shows in O.C., L.A., San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix. Since they were here for an early preview show, I caught up with them in the bar to ask them 10(ish) questions. Their show is a classic monoscene, exceedingly patient, delightfully intriguing, and exceedingly intimate. They are also two of the nicest people. They are both married (to other partners), but their chemistry is like a married couple, with lots of back and forth and finishing each others thoughts and sentences.
CG: Where are you from?
J: We’re from New York.
K: We are from New York.
CG: How would you decide the improv you do in 10 words or less?
J: Painfully real.
K: I would say emotionally present.
J: Desperately positive.
K: Desperately positive. That’s a great way to describe it.
CG: How would you describe the other one in your duo if they weren’t around? If you were say, describing them to a stranger.
K: Wow, we’ve never gotten this question before.
J: Kelly, you go first.
J: I would describe Kelly as…huh.
K: First of all, you’re very tall. I think you are one of the most wonderful and weirdest people that I have ever met in my life. Fair?
J: Kelly is the shortest person I know, but she makes every inch count.
CG: If there was a Justin to Kelly movie being made, but not that one, who would you cast as yourselves?
J: Hamish Linklater.
K: He gets mistaken for Hamish Linklater all the time.
CG: I don’t know who that is.
K: He’s on some show.
CG: You could cast anyone. Like if you wanted Brad Pitt to play you, you could have Brad Pitt.
J: He couldn’t pull me off.
K: He’s too short.
J: I think I would choose Billy Bob Thornton as Slingblade.
K: Oh my god, you are obsessed with Slingblade!
CG: All right, and Kelly?
K: Who should I be?
J: I don’t know, just close your eyes and pick. Phyllis Dyller. Oh no wait, she’s dead.
K: Is that allowed? You can’t pick someone who’s dead. Betty White.
J: She’s dead!
K: Betty White is not dead.
J: No seriously, who would you pick?
K: Betty White.
J: This is going to be a great movie.
CG: What movie or TV show best exemplifies how you guys improvise?
J: I would say the Graduate.
K: Why would you pick that?
J: Have you ever seen the Graduate?
K: I have.
J: I think the Graduate best captures the ennui that our work sort of does. A series of unforgiving situations.
K: I was going to say a joke answer. What if I said “Silence of the Lambs”? We have a real will-they-or-won’t-they thing going on. Like Buffalo Bill and those women.
CG: What’s one word of advice, phrase, or lesson that you guys really like or give to teams that you coach?
K: You know what it is?
J: Be in it.
K: Be in it, and love the pain.
J: J: All that matters is whats happening between you and your scene partner in the moment. No one cares about what happened in the past or who’s coming on in the future.
K: People tend to shy away from big emotional things in their scene work because its scary, but we really try to run towards it as much as we can, because there are great discoveries in that. We also say discover, don’t invent.
CG: What brought you two together as an improv duo?
K: It took a while. We met when we were placed on the same house team at the Magnet where we both perform like 5 years ago. It was a side project for like three years. You tell the rest.
J: We realized that we were the only ones who took it seriously. Everyone else on the team were just happy only meeting on Wednesday nights and we were the only ones who really wanted to get better. How we got to the point we play at now, we realized that we were doing a lot of conflict-laden scenes.
K: And a lot of “go-to’s”. I think when you’re on a house team, you go to what works. And about a year ago we thought, what would happen if we took all that away? If we took away the characters that we know and just play being in the moment.
CG: What is your drink of choice?
J: Frenet Branca.
K: I’m a Gin & Tonic person.
CG: Where are you guys from originally?
J: I’m from Chicago.
K: Mystic, Connecticut. As in “Mystic Pizza”. My hometown is still riding that wave that started in 1988.
CG: What is your spirit animal?
J: I think mine’s a bear. Because they sleep for 9 months and then they’re really cranky when they get up. I maybe don’t understand how bears work.
K: That’s a cartoon bear. That’s Winnie the Pooh.
J: Okay, let’s say I’m Winnie the Pooh.
K: I’m going to pick something small because I’m small. I’m going to say a chipmunk. I store a lot of stuff away, right?
J: That’s a squirrel.
K: No, chipmunks do too.
CG: You guys ask for a location that would fit on the stage. What is the strangest one that you have gotten?
K: We were just thinking about this the other day.
J: We were doing a show in New York, and this 9 year old girl yells out “a gun store”! And this was an adult show.
K: One of my favorite ones that I ever got, we were in Minneapolis and someone said “Antartica”. And I said that didn’t fit on the stage and we got igloo. And that ended up being one of my favorite ones.
J: Someone once said “beaver’s tail”.
K: I think we made it, like, a mountain or a rock.
CG: Do you guys have a process that you use to get mentally ready to do a show? Either as individuals or a duo.
J: We tell ourselves what we’re going to work on. That we’re going to have fun, and be positive, and make the moment count.
K: And really care about each other.
CG: Do you have any superstitions or anxieties about performance, audiences, or theaters?
J: I won’t eat or drink before a show. I have a terrible fear that I’ll get really sick, like happened last week when I ate some bad Wahoo’s Fish Tacos.
K: We both did. We got horrible stomach cramps. But it was weird, I felt better knowing that you were sick too.
From Justin To Kelly is Kelly Buttermore and Justin Peters. They are from New York City and are doing an improv workshop on Friday, Feb. 20 at 3:00pm, and then playing the 2nd Annual San Diego Improv festival Feb. 20 at 7:00pm. Tickets for both are still available on the festival website: www.sdimprovfestival.com