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A Conversation with Adam Rossander
Adam Rossander is a performer for Quick Wits Clearfield and Off the Wall in Ogden. As some of you know, I think that being fun to play with is a very important asset. Adam is widely thought of as very fun and easy to play with, and heís well respected as a performer by all who play with him. I recently sat down with... err, sat down at my computer in Chicago and conducted an interview "old-school" style... over email (I added little comments to make it seem like this happened face to face).
I asked Adam a lot of questions with the intention of censoring the ones that weren't very interesting. But after looking at all the questions, I decided to leave it uncensored. I mean, it's unfair that I get to know what Adam thinks of improv and you don't, right? Besides, the word "uncensored" is a tool to get people more interested than they normally would be. So prepare to enter the improv brain of Adam Rossander... and get ready for truth, wisdom, and some humor.
"I get the 10 to 16 year old girls to come to virtually every show. 'Nuff said."
When did you start Improvising? How did you get involved with it?
About 3 years ago. 1999, Steve Uribe dragged me to a show, after three months of begging me to go with him. We decided we would like to try to improv, so we went to a Saturday workshop, and two weeks later, Bob Bedore scheduled us for our first show. Thanks Bob.
What do you think is your greatest improv strength?
Knowing the Audience. As a player, I can read the audience very well. We do short form at Quick Wits, so give me one or two games, and I generally know what is going to work with any audience. I am not that bad at the whole accepting thing as well...
What do you think you have to offer improv?
I get the 10 to 16 year old girls to come to virtually every show. 'Nuff said.
What do you think is missing from your improv?
CHARACTERS. I am seriously lacking character development. I have 3 to 6 good characters that I can do well, and people like, but that is it. Grr...
You're not alone there. What's your best cure for improv frustration?
Time Off. If you are frustrated with anything, nothing is better than time away. I usually take a weekend or two off, and I am ready to go again.
What does being "Easy to play with" mean to you?
Having fun on stage. That is what it all comes down to. If you are having fun, you are going to do well, and if you do well, you are branded "Easy to play with." Also, supporting your fellow actors by making a decision and sticking with it is a quality I believe makes you "Easy to play with."
Have you taken things you learned from improv and applied them offstage in any way? Describe.
The first thing you are going to say is usually the best, so just say it. This really helps, in a ton of different situations.
I have asked a few people for dirt on you, and all I can get is that you kissed guys on stage. Is there anything in an improv game or scene that makes you uncomfortable?
I don't get uncomfortable on stage. The stage is my comfort zone. I believe whatever happens on stage, is all in good fun, so to be uncomfortable, would be lame.
Good answer. I really like playing with risk-takers. What do you think of improvisors taking risks?
I love playing with people who tend to "cross the line." Larry Ganz does this a lot, and he gets away with it. He just gives a look like, "Oops, I didn't mean to say that, or, I didn't mean it that way." What I am trying to say is, I love performing with risk takers, not only is it funny, but you never know what they are going to say/do next.
"I couldn't walk away from improv, I would miss the people too much."
Let's say this weekend is your final show and you have complete artistic control... describe that show...
Oh. Fun. I would start off by scheduling. For my last show, I would want to perform with:
I would have Jon Jon Canchola emcee. We would probably do an Off the Wall format. We would do first half short form. Beginning of the second half we would do a long form. Diggler or Armando. Two of my favorites, and then we would end on a two short form games. Since it would be my last show, we wouldn't decide a winner...
Nice! Has there been any advice (or something you heard or read) that has really changed or influenced your improv?
Tons of stuff. Books. Truth in comedy, Comedy Improv, Scenic Improvisation. The biggest influence on my improv would have to be the people I perform with. There was a time I was seriously considering quitting improv, and I was talking to Jer (Jeremy Van Leer) about a totally different subject, and he kept calling me and some troupe members family, and I realized I couldn't walk away from improv, I would miss the people too much...
Let's change it up briefly. Why the Buffalo Bills?
Hmm... 4 words... Jim Kelly, Don Beebe.
The very first football game I watched was the super bowl where Norwood missed the game winning field goal, (Heartbreaking) and I have bled blue and red ever since. We are looking pretty good this year...
My family actually lived in Buffalo briefly, so we watched that game pretty closely too... but I wanted the Giants to win, because I liked Lawrence Taylor. I had a poster of him on my bedroom door...
Sorry, I'm interviewing you. Do you have any Improv "Oh my God" experiences? Something that happened on stage that you didn't think was possible?
I am horrible at the game "Accents", and one time, it was me, Steve Uribe, and Erin Anderson on a team. We decided to play "Accents", and Erin said she would come in, she didn't. Me and Steve did the accents, and we nailed [it]. I didn't think that would ever happen. Hmm. Doesn't sound very interesting...
That sounds interesting to me. Have you ever experienced the "hippy" Group Mind? Details?
I haven't really experienced this during an improv scene, but there have been times off stage, where Joe DeGennaro and I say the same thing, at the same time... that is as close as I have been to the all illusive group mind.
Itís a lot like that on-stage too, actually. Give me four adjectives for Short Form?
1 - Exciting
Interesting. Now give me four adjectives for Long Form?
1 - Friendly
If you were a tree, would long form would that tree prefer, and why?
If you mean WHAT long form would that tree prefer, I would have to say a Diggler, or an Armando, which is really weird, 'cause I never used to like Armandos. I like the Diggler just 'cause it is Hella fun to play, and I like Armando, 'cause it challenges me. You see, I am not the best monologist, but I still try.
Oh, haha, yes... sometimes I misspeak when Iím nervous. What's the worst thing you saw somebody get away with without getting a "penalty"?
It was actually me, and I can't believe I didn't get a penalty. We had a group of gay men in the audience, and my team was playing Bad Advice (I was playing an old man named Sherman) when somebody asked a question about being gay, and I replied, "Homosexuality is a disease, and AIDS is the cure." Luckily for me, the gay guys were laughing...
"There are no rules in improv, only guidelines. Things that people have noticed work, so they say, 'Try this, it works.'"
Improv Theory section...
What does "Play to the top of your intelligence" mean to you?
Always play smart. If you make your character look dumb, you might get a few laughs from the audience, but you just hurt yourself for the rest of the show.
What does "Heighten" mean to you?
Raising the stakes of a scene. Adding new twists to relationships. Pretty much anything that makes the show more fun to watch.
What does "Support" mean to you?
Making a strong choice for yourself, and sticking to it. If you do that, it will help your scene partner greatly.
What do "The Rules" mean to you?
Rules?? There are no rules in improv, only guidelines. Things that people have noticed work, so they say, "Try this, it works."
What does "Confidence" mean to you?
Knowing you are good, and being good. There is a thin line between confident, and cocky. Knowing you are good, and being good makes you confident. Telling people you are good makes you cocky.
Okay, let's exit the Improv Theory section: Mary Kate or Ashley?
Hands down... Mary Kate... everybody knows two names are better than one, plus she is a lot hotter than Ashley...
Let's get serious again...
This may be a tough question to answer, but how has your upbringing and family life influenced your improv?
This is a really hard question to answer, but I will do my best. In my family, we have to be pretty accepting of different life styles, cultures, etc. From the time I was 7 till I was 12, we lived in Germany, which was fantastic. Over there, people pretty much take you for what you are, nothing is out of the norm. I guess what I am getting at is, living in Germany for 5 years helped my improv acceptability.
My dad WAS in the military, so life was pretty much do this, stick to the rules, and don't ask questions. This hurt my "prov" early on. I was rule oriented. Once I got over the fact that there is no such thing as a rule in improv, I have been putting out pretty solid shows.
My parents always taught me family comes first. I consider everyone in my troupe family, (especially Jer Bear) therefore I am really close to all of them, and being close to the people you "prov" with, is key (at least I think so...)
It seems improv is irrevocably married to the idea of telling jokes. How do you feel when people say things like "Say something funny," or they say, "So, I hear you're a comedian"?
When people say they hear I am a comedian, I say, sorta, "I actually do improv." It doesn't have to be funny, but comedy sells, so that is what we do.
You Play with Off the Wall and with Quick Wits. How do you handle the politics of playing with two different troupes in close proximity?
Politics?? I didn't know there were politics in improv. I just play to have fun, and whoever asks me first, is where I play. Now, when I am out, and telling people about what I do, I tell them I perform with two troupes, and that I have been with Quick Wits longer...
Trust me, there are plenty of politics in improv, and it's good that you stay out of them. Seriously, what was your first thought when a single scene long form was proposed for O.A.T.S. to perform at Septemberprov?
Camp Fire wasn't really our first choice, but we did a few to work on relationships. I think it was actually Lisa Anderson who first brought up the idea of ACTUALLY PERFORMING a Camp Fire, and everybody agreed. My first thought was, "Good idea, we will be performing something that will be completely different from what everybody else is doing."
"Always try new things. New things are fun, and challenging."
What do you think of Austin Nava? I won't tell anyone.
Not only is he one heck of an improvisor, he is also a really really really good friend, and I LOVE HIM.....like a brother, of course. Oh, and I hope he has fun in North Carolina.
Ditto. In your opinion, what is lacking from the Utah Improv scene?
Simply put. LONG FORM. However, we are starting to plant a long form tree in Utah. We currently have two locations performing long form on a semi-regular basis, and it is so much fun.
Haha, "long form tree" - good callback. And, surprisingly, I agree with you. How do you use your improv performances to improve your improv?
Learn from your mistakes. Best thing to do, is video tape a "Good show" and a "Bad show," that way you can see the difference in the way you act, and believe me, there IS a difference. Oh, and to answer the question, always try new things. New things are fun, and challenging.
Do you agree with me when I say "Improvisors should practice just as hard as they play?" Explain.
This could go either way. Some people, like Steve U. do not really need to practice as hard as they play. He is just SO talented, that it doesn't matter. Then you have people like me, who need all the practice I can get. It is the only way I can stay "on top of my game."
Give me three adjectives describing what an improv audience means to you...
1 - Rowdy
Some people love it, some people don't... Honestly, how does it make you feel when the audience recognizes that you're using a character that they have seen before?
I love the fact that people like to see characters I have created. After every show, someone always says, "Man, I wanted to see Sherman, Spencer, etc..." It makes my "feel goods" tingle.
What do you think kills scenes the fastest?
When improvisors take themselves out of a scene. It hurts the scene, because you have one less mind to help discover the scene.
What, if anything, frustrates you when playing with newer improvisors? More importantly, what do you learn from it?
I don't get frustrated playing with new improvisors. I love it. I love the fact that they don't know any of the "rules," and they just play and have fun.
If you could give a new improvisor one word (or sentence) of advice, what would it be?
This is a really cool question seeing as I just played shows yesterday with an improv cat who is new to the scene (plug Barry Anderson). I would say, "Relax, have fun, and don't worry about the audience. If you are having fun, they will have [fun, too]. Oh, and Steve is only picking on you 'cause you're new, and he likes you." By the way, Barry did awesome, once he settled in, and started having fun.
Last one, why are you so girl crazy?
What on earth are you talking about?? Girl crazy??
"It makes my 'feel goods' tingle."
Many thanks to Jon Barney / Simply Photography for the use of the color photographs. They were both taken in November 2001. The black and white photos were taken by Heather Franck. Thanks to all who helped on this article. And thanks, Adam, for answering all my questions!
Ryan Locante is a co-editor of UtahImprov.com.
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