Magnet Theater’s Megan Gray wants you to take some risks
This weekend, WIT audiences have a chance to see the legendary Armando Diaz Experience performed by players from New York’s Magnet Theater. On Saturday and Sunday, Magnet players Bianca Casusol and Megan Gray will also be teaching workshops. (Spaces are going quick so register soon!) We talked to Megan Gray to learn a little bit more about The Armando Diaz Experience, her background in coaching and comedy, and her advice to shake up your improv.
You’re coming to DC to perform with Magnet Theater’s Armando Diaz Experience, the longest running improv show ever. What spurred Magnet to revive the show? What’s it like carrying on an improv legacy?
Yes! This Friday, July 26, 9:30 pm! Great question…Magnet decided to revive the Armando Diaz Experience because Magnet is co-owned by Armando Diaz himself. It seemed weird not to. And, although it’s an improv legacy, we try not to think about that every week. Most of our audience doesn’t know that it’s an improv legacy, so if we put that weight on the show, it might take some of the fun away. We aim to do the best show we can (with the help of our great director Louis Kornfeld).
Let’s back up. How did you get started doing improv? Were you always drawn to comedy?
I have always been drawn to comedy. In my family, being funny was a positive and got you attention. I’ve also been lucky to have supportive parents who let me stay up late to watch David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, and showed me the 1981 Pee Wee Herman HBO special when I was probably too young. As I got older, I didn’t know what kind of comedy jobs were out there, so I majored in Screenwriting at NYU Tisch. While there I read an interview with Conan O’Brien (who I adored), and he mentioned that improv is a great tool for writing. Since I’m from NYC, I knew about UCB and had been going to see shows there for several years. So I got two of my best friends and we signed up for Level 1 together. We were immediately addicted and have been doing it every week since then. How are my screenplays going? Get off my back, Mom!
Do you have any interests/hobbies/obsessions outside of improv that tend to fuel your work onstage?
I think it’s important for all improvisers to have interests outside of improv and comedy to give fresh perspectives to your characters and scenework. That being said, I love true crime, marathon running, and yoga.
You’re also teaching a few workshops while you are in town. What draws you to coaching improv?
Yes! Saturday, July 27, 12 – 3 pm, 4 – 7 pm [which are sold out, sorry! – Ed.] and Sunday, July 28, 12 – 3 pm! Great question… when I coach improv, I try to provide the most practical advice to my students based on my years of experience. I want them to grow, make new discoveries in the moment, and gain confidence by taking risks — this is what draws me to coaching. You can also ask me in person at one of my workshops this weekend!
If there is one piece of advice you could give new improvisers, what would it be?
When I first started improvising, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it “right” and I was really hard on myself when I was getting it “wrong.” I was always comparing myself to others and their journeys. So, don’t be me! As long as you keep positive, remind yourself that you pay to do this because it’s fun, and don’t hold yourself to the standards of others, you’ll grow as an improviser.
After you’ve been performing and coaching as long as you have, what keeps you inspired? Any tips to keep improv fresh for players who have been in the game a long time?
(cough, cough, wipes cobwebs out of her eyes) …When you’ve been performing and coaching as long as I have, you can easily get burned out. I stay inspired by balancing improv with other interests, activities, and social interactions. Read a book, get coffee with a friend, go for a walk, cook a complicated meal, clean up your apartment, see a piece of live theater that isn’t improv. Or go see a Level 1 improv show. If you’ve been in the game a long time, you can be pleasantly surprised by moves and dialogue from people who have only been doing it for eight weeks.
Catch Magnet Theater’s performance of the Armando Diaz Experience on Friday night at 9:30 at Source with iMusical. Megan’s Saturday workshops are sold out, but her workshop on Sunday at noon still has space, so register today!