Thursday, 22 June 2017

Dramaturgy Off The Top: Jason Kravits @ Edfringe 2017

NYC’s Award-Winning Improvised Solo Musical Cabaret “Off the Top!” Plays Special Engagement at Edinburgh Festival Fringe
In Off the Top!, TV and Broadway veteran Jason Kravits (Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Drowsy Chaperone) pulls off his most fearless act yet…a completely improvised, completely fictional, completely ridiculous one-man musical cabaret, based on audience suggestions. 

This limited engagement plays The Boards, Edinburgh Playhouse at 16.30 on 9 - 11 August, 14 - 16 August, and 19 August. 

What was the inspiration for this performance?
I wanted to do something that terrified me. I'm at a point in my life and career where doing the same thing over and over again is less interesting to me. I wondered what would happen if I stepped on to a stage with nothing but a band and a microphone and asked the
audience to inform the rest. The audience is my main collaborator in the show, I rely on them for everything: To tell me what my name is, where I'm from, what happens to me and (most dauntingly) the names of the songs I make up.
There has never been a performance where I don't say to myself, the moment before I walk on stage, "The is dumbest thing you've ever done. Who came up with this idea?!" Then I close my eyes, walk on stage and see what happens.
Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?
Oh, absolutely. Even though my show is completely improvised, the suggestions come from whatever the audience brings in with them that day. And you can tell by what's suggested exactly what's going on in their collective psyche. It's my job to reflect that back to them in an entertaining way. I think people come to the theater craving that reflection, even if they don't know it.
How did you become interested in making performance?
I've never been content with the schedule of the typical "actor's life," though that's where I've made my living. Even the busiest actors have a ton of down time. I get bored and I get the itch to do something creative, preferably collaborative. I spend my down time doing web series, sketch shows, play readings, sing alongs, writing short stories and plays, learning instruments, recording music. If I had any proficiency in drawing or painting I'd probably be doing that as well.
Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
The real challenge for me was in finding the balance of improv, comedy, theater, parody and cabaret. It's taken a lot of small adjustments, a lot of trial and error to create something that is so unplanned and up in the air, and yet remains grounded and consistent.
I've spent a lot of time listening to, and dissecting, different musical styles, from Sinatra to Sondheim, Bob Dylan to Bobby Darin. Musical cabaret has been around a long time. and I got rather obsessed with understanding what elements make this form, a "life story in song," so satisfying to an audience. The details, however, are completely unknown until I step on the stage.
Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Well, given that almost everything else I do is scripted, you can say it's a real departure.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
In a way, the audience and I are experiencing the same thing from the moment I get on stage: Both of us are wondering, "Can he really pull this off?!" So from the start there is an "edge of your seat" element for everyone involved. Like a magic act. Except in this magic act there are no illusions. I don't see any suggestion beforehand, none if it is planned out.
And I've tried to make that as transparent as possible: I really am making this stuff up in real time. Any improv, at its best, should exist in some ethereal space between audience and performer... a heightened event that wouldn't have been possible without both of us. It's as exciting for me as it is the audience, and it's the collaboration between us is what makes every show so unique.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
It's important to me that this show is as improvised as possible, and obviously so. I threw out a lot of ideas that could even appear to be cheating, even if they weren't. Once the audience thinks you planned something based on previous knowledge, they lose their trust in the integrity of the improv. And then they relax. I don't want them to relax, ever. The should never see the show as anything less than a tightrope walk. It's so much more satisfying for all of us if it's as transparently improvised as possible.
That being said, there are certain elements, certain story-telling tentpoles, that have to be in place in order to make it a satisfying show. But I think I was able to add those without sacrificing the feeling of danger or excitement. Ultimately, the audience experience will be based on their suggestions. There's very little I can do to influence those. And, in a way, that's the point!
In his musical high-wire act, 2017 Bistro Award winner Jason Kravits spontaneously creates a character, a life story and an entire evening of original songs, all based on audience suggestions. Showstoppers and character songs, trifles and segues, sob stories and back stories, humblebrags and overshares - Jason makes it all up in real time, off the top of his nimble and slightly demented mind, to the amazement of his audience. A man. A band. Totally unplanned. Off the Top! delivers an entirely new show every time.    Tickling the ivories is John Thorn - one of the world’s foremost improv accompanists, and award-winning composer/pianist/musical director - best known for his work with Meow Meow, Bob Downe and Spontaneous Broadway.  
At the Edinburgh Fringe, Off the Top! will be performing at The Boards, Edinburgh Playhouse — located at 18-22 Greenside Ln. Limited engagement performances on 9 - 11, 14 – 16, and 19 August. All performances at 16:30. Tickets are £12.00/£10.00/£8.50.  

  Jason Kravits (Performer/Creator) has been appearing on stage and screens large and small for over 30 years. Perhaps best known for his long-running role as Richard Bay on ABC’s The Practice, he has had recurring roles on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Madam Secretary, Smash, The Michael J. Fox Show, Royal Pains and Dallas. Other TV credits include Blindspot, The Blacklist, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Hot in Cleveland, Married, Masters of Sex, Raising Hope, 30 Rock, The Good Wife, Gilmore Girls and Everybody Loves Raymond. Film credits include Chinese Puzzle (Casse-tête Chinois), The Stepford Wives, Sweet November, Morning Glory, and What Just Happened. On Broadway, Kravits made a splash with his work in the hit musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone. Other stage credits include Sly Fox and most recently, Relatively Speaking, three original one-acts by Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen. Kravits is a founding member of The Rumble in the Red Room writing collective, as well as the improv troupe Erasable, Inc. and he is a member of the Actors Center Workshop Company.
  John Thorn (Accompanist) is an award winning composer/pianist/musical director and one of the world’s foremost improv accompanists. Based in Melbourne he has worked with major Australian and International cabaret artists including Meow Meow, Bob Downe, Barb Jungr, Caroline Nin and Bridget Everett as well as producing the ground breaking Australian version of Spontaneous Broadway and the children’s format Random Musical. He has written 5 musicals and scored countless cabaret and theatre shows. Recently he has begun accompanying himself, performing his original one-man show Background Boy to acclaim at The Butterfly Club (Melbourne) and the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. He was awarded the 2015 Melbourne Green Room Award for “Outstanding Contribution To Cabaret.”   PM2 Entertainment/Peter Michael Marino (Producer) – Produced the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe debut of David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet at Underbelly, in association with Richard Jordan Productions and Project Y.  This acclaimed solo comedy also played Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Kitchen Dog Theater and The PIT NYC. Other producing credits include the NYC debut of Joe’s NYC BarDavid Mills: Shame!, Charles’ Moby Alpha, and NYC's annual SOLOCOM festival - which has launched over 400 world-premiere solo comedies.  

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