Have you seen Side Pickle? If you live in Sacramento, you're likely to say, "no." You should say that with a sign and sadness, too, because they're fantastic. It's a sad thing not to see a Side Pickle.
But, cheer up!
Side Pickle of Minnepolis arrives in Sacramento this Saturday! We had the opportunity to ask Joe McGowan and Phil Schramm of Side Pickle some questions...
Q: When and where did you begin improvising?
A: Phil - I started performing improv my freshman year of college at St. Olaf College in 2009, the group was mainly short-form that started to dabble in long-form as the years went on. After I graduated in 2013, I started taking formal classes in long-form improvisation at Huge Theater.
A: Joe - I first got the buzz when I was living in New York. I was doing Americorps and we had a current SNL cast member Sasheer Zamata come in and teach us some basic games and such we could use with clients. I feel in love improve that day! Sadly, I could not afford classes at that time and put my improv ambitions on hold. 4 years later I started classes at HUGE Theater in Minneapolis and have never looked back.
Q: What troupes and individuals were your early passions and influences?
A: Phil - I could list some of my favorites groups and influences for days, because everything I watch I have absorbed in some way, so I will limit them to a few. There was an improv trio called Splendid Things in Minneapolis that was one of the most engaging and hilarious groups I have ever seen. I have aspired to be like every improviser in that group, they were quick, emotional, and had some out there but grounded scenes. Also, Jill Bernard always amazes me with her one woman musical Drum Machine, and I am glad I can call her a friend. And finally, I am heavily influenced from a scripted theater background too, specifically the Theater of the Absurd (favorite playwrights include Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco). I connect to that style of scripted theater so much that my work typically bleeds it.
A: Joe - I am a show and workshop fiend! When I first started out I took in every class/workshop/show I could get my hands on. If I had to pick a most influential person it would be without a doubt my 101/201 teacher Molly Chase. She gave me the perfect mix of confidence and regulation. Her ability to take all the scary “rules” of improv and put them into small packets of fun but pertinent information that can be easily accessed on stage. As for troupes it would have to be The Mess based out of Minneapolis. The point of this group is to have as many people on stage at once with high energy and never slowing down. They made it look so easy I had to seat and study how they could achieve doing this week after week with ease.
Q: How did your troupe come together?
A: Phil - I box office at Huge Theater in Minneapolis, and Joe had just taken one of the weekly drop-in classes at Huge (this was approximately a year ago). He had just started taking classes and I had completed the track a few months prior. Joe was eating a sandwich from a nearby eatery, and we started riffing and joking about sandwiches as we started to look up some facts about sandwiches online. Joe invited me to a practice jam he started and the rest was history. Our group name is inspired from our love of sandwiches, as it is not a real sandwich unless it comes with a side pickle.
A: Joe - Phil put it in such perfect words! I would just add that I realized then and there how our energy and dynamic would play out on stage.
Q: What do you love about your troupe?
A: Phil - I personally love the freedom amongst the two of us that allows us to completely trust the actions of the other. No matter the scene, we will always find a mesh that is entertaining, either comically or theatrically. I can always trust Joe in scenes to provide for me the greatest choices at the top of his intelligence.
A: Joe - I love the moment when we catch eyes and both of us are on the same page, that spark ignites into a beautiful yet crazy scene! We absolutely love pimping each other out in scenes and then upping it over and over for both our and the audiences entertainment. Lastly no one listens to me like Phil does. He is ready to pounce on anything and everything I throw at him.
Q: Improv can be exhilarating. What do you personally consider to be the most exciting moments in your work?
A: Phil - The most exciting moments I can think of in Side Pickle are the ways Joe and I surprise each other each performance. We always find new ways to do scenes, to approach characters, incorporate unique spaces, that each show is usually a mini adventure in discovery.
A: Joe - Phil has a knack for tying everything together in the last few minutes of our set. That takes our work to a whole new level every time. Also we are not afraid to break the 4th wall and talk to each other as improvisers or straight to the audience. When done right it creates a unforgettable experience for all.
Q: How would you define what differentiates a successful live performance from a poor one?
A: Phil - For improv, the difference in a successful performance boils down to respect. Are you respecting the venue? Are you respecting the audience? Are you respecting the improv? Are you respecting each other on stage? Are you respecting yourself? I am all about professionalism when it comes to doing shows, and when I see performers disregarding basic rules of humanity, it turns me off of their performances. And when I say respect, I don’t always mean “being polite”, I mean in also in the sense of respecting the intelligence of the audience, and your own intelligence at the same time. When you show care in your craft, people will be engaged.
A: Joe - It all ties to one main thing. Show me you care you are up there. Don’t lean on the backline, dress like you knew you were going to perform, use the whole stage it is there for a reason! Every moment you are on stage is apart of the show. Don’t waste a second of it!
Q: What's the most important lesson you have learned as an improviser?
A: Phil - "You are always enough." No matter what you do, who you are, where you come from, whatever, you never need to be more than what you bring. Every choice you make in a scene is exactly what that scene needed. I used to always be jealous of improvisers who were very knowledgeable and could spit out history facts or popular culture references like the back of their hand, which latched me into thinking every choice I made would never be as good as it could be. Improv auditions terrified me as I would play with performers who I perceived as drastically better than me. I thought to myself “I would never be as good as them”, and I believed I was letting my scene partners down by my lack of goodness. When I took a step back and started just focusing on me and self-improving (at some point in my reflection I heard this quote), I began to realize that I am “enough” to my scene partners. My choices and experiences provide the exact amount of weight needed in any scene. Everyone brings something unique with them to improv, which is perfect, and nothing more is needed. You already have all the tools you need to make great improv. And while it is completely fine to gain knowledge from things (art, movies, history etc.), is not a necessity to be a great improviser.
A: Joe - Take the good and bad out of your improv analysis and translate it into easy and difficult. Taking a step to remove negative emotion from your thoughts will allow you to clearly see what is happening on stage and thus allow you to truly learn. I got this principle from the book “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey.