Magnet Theater’s Bianca Casusol says you should “Yes, And” yourself
This Friday at 9:30, WIT will be hosting Magnet Theater’s performance of The Armando Diaz Experience — the longest running improv show ever. Created in 1995 at the iO Theater in Chicago, The Armando Diaz Experience features a guest monologist who takes a suggestion from the audience and shares true stories from their life which then serve as the inspiration for the show.
Magnet player Bianca Casusol will take the stage as part of the performance. She’ll also be teaching a number of workshops while she’s here (as well her co-performer Megan Gray). To get an idea of what is in store for audiences and students this weekend, we talked to Bianca Casusol about her improv experience, why she loves coaching, and a very special miniature schnauzer.
You’re in town to perform with Magnet Theater in The Armando Diaz Experience, the longest running improv show ever. What can audience members expect from Magnet’s evolution of Armando?
I think Magnet’s version really focuses on strong character choices. The story is where we get our inspiration, but we really like to take a detail and spread out as far as we can. It’s exciting to see where those small specifics can take us!
Was improv your first comedy experience? How did you get started in improv? Were you always drawn to comedy?
I always loved watching comedy as a kid, but my first improv experience was as part of an acting class in high school. It was all framed as this very serious thing to explore characters, and while I really enjoyed it, and thought it was a great learning tool, it never really clicked for me as something that could be done on it’s own in a really joyful and comedic way until I watched some short-form and realized that it was really similar to some of the exercises we did. My first real class was actually the Free Intro at the Magnet — after that, I was hooked!
You’re also a writer. Do you find that improv helps or informs your writing? If so, how?
For me improv is invaluable as a writer. There’s something really magical about the fact that improv is all creation with no judgement—that’s a really joyful thing and can really help put pen to paper. That spirit of yes-ing, even when you’re just yes-ing yourself, can really help to eliminate the friction and judgement that can make it hard to get ideas out of your head and onto the page. With writing you get a chance to take those ideas and really whittle them down to a more cohesive or clear narrative, but I think that initial burst of creation is something that’s hard to do without judging yourself along the way and improv has really been the key to unlocking that, for me.
You’re also a director at Magnet and a teacher. In fact, you’ll be teaching a few workshops while you are in town. What draws you to coaching improv?
There’s something really wonderful about being able to see things that you’ve gotten very familiar with from a different angle that makes them feel new and fresh and shows you things you hadn’t been able to see before. You’re able to get a more holistic view of a show when you’re not in the thick of it. I think that coaching is really just about helping players to communicate their ideas as clearly as possible. It’s also just such a gift to watch people being brave and vulnerable — it’s a good reminder of why I fell in love with this.
Is there a piece of advice you wish all improvisers would follow? What is your improv soapbox?
Yes, And yourself! I think that the biggest bummer is seeing players dropping their own thing, because they are trying so hard to be supportive scene partners. It comes from a really lovely place, but ultimately it makes you a moving target for your scene partner, and it’s difficult for you to dig in to your own character, because you’re changing it every other line. Put your oxygen mask on first! One of the kindest things you can do for your scene partner is taking care of yourself.
You have improvised and taught in theaters all over the country. How do you stay inspired? What do you do if you ever feel yourself getting in an improv rut?
Honestly, I know nothing sounds cornier than saying “my students” and “my teammates,” but watching other people who love this thing is so inspiring. That excitement is really infectious.
If I feel myself getting in a rut, I try to outrun my headlights, by doing something that surprises me. Sometimes even the smallest shift from what feels routine, can really shake things up in our brains and make things feel new again. I think that fear of failure is what keeps us in ruts, and trust falling into the unknown can be just the shake-up that we need to refresh us.
In your bio, you are very interested in petting dogs. Do you have a dog? If so, please tell us about this dog. If not, what are your favorite dog names for your future dog?
Look, I know this is very controversial, but I REALLY LIKE DOGS! Right now I get my dog fix from my roommate’s Pomeranian named Gimli and my sister’s English Bulldog named Penelope.
By far the best dog name I’ve ever heard, was a miniature schnauzer I met named Mrs. Ida Mendelbaum — she was perfect.
Catch Bianca’s performance with Magnet Theater this Friday night, along with WIT’s own iMusical. She and her colleague Megan Gray are teaching several workshops this weekend you can register for now.