Brad's Corner Archives | Monkey Business Institute

Monkey Business Institute Wants Your Vote

Choose MBI As Your 2018 Mad Fave

Voting has begun for the 2018 edition of The Isthmus’ Mad Faves. Winning this would mean a lot to us, so y’know… click this link and enter Monkey Business Institute in the Favorite Performance Group category. And when you’re done doing that, consider telling a friend to do the same. That would be pretty swell.

Please note that this year’s voting method is different from previous ones in that there is only one round of voting. That means we really need everyone to spread the word to friends, family, historic enemies, strategic allies, random strangers, specific strangers, interlopers, hanger-ons, ne’er-do-wells, ne’er-do-bads, or anyone else you may have contact with. Thanks in advance! You’re the best. (No, you are.)

Heart,

The Collective Consciousness of Monkey Business Institute

P.S. Go Vote! (Please)

Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah: Reflecting On the 5th Annual Improv Retreat

My five takeaways from camp

For the 5th year in a row, a swarm of MBI members and local improv enthusiasts drove to Camp Beber near Mukwonago, Wisconsin to attend The Improv Retreat. For those unfamiliar with The Improv Retreat, it’s a yearly, weekend-long meet up where hundreds of improvisers from all around the world gather to immerse themselves in improv. There are shows, workshops, discussion sessions about sensitive topics – such as racial and gender equality in improv – and lots of time spent playing like kids in the woods.

Having been to every Improv Retreat, I can confidently declare this year’s weather to have been the best yet. The warm temps and breezy winds made for good moods and a joyful time spent in the outdoors.

Here are my biggest takeaways from this year’s event:

  1. Being aware of your own biases – and correspondingly changing your language and behavior while improvising – does not mean you’re limiting your improv possibilities on stage. Instead, doing so means you’re creating the safest space possible for free, creative expression.
  2. You can’t become a stronger improviser without sucking on stage. In other words, if you don’t try the things that you’re bad at, you’ll never get better.
  3. It’s very difficult to be fully present with another person if you’re just waiting for them to finish so you can say or do the thing you’ve been holding in your head. The best thing you can do to make a deep connection with them is look them in the eye and listen just to listen, without a thought in your mind about what you’ll do when they’re done.
  4. It’s okay to play, drink milk, and take naps.
  5. Peter makes a killer rum punch.

Thanks to the organizers for – er – organizing another great event; I can’t wait for next year’s!

One Happy Camper,

Brad

The Low Down On MBI’s Experimental Improv Comedy Shows

A long time ago in a neighborhood far, far away (14 years, the far West side of Madison to be exact), Monkey Business Institute started performing improv shows. Based on our formative experiences as younger improvisers, we had two goals for these shows:

  1. They should be high-quality professional improv
  2. They had to be fun and accessible to a wide variety of people

For us that meant a style of improv that we in the biz call short form. In contrast to long form improv, short form shows are characterized by quick games and scene changes. For example, one moment you might see a scene where performers keep swapping characters and five minutes later you’re listening to improvised jokes. Short form shows are fun, energetic and guaranteed audience pleasers. We got very good at these shows and began to make a name for ourselves in the Madison comedy scene.

As our short form shows grew in popularity, internally we were exploring the idea of bringing other styles of improv into our performance repertoire. We knew our short form improv shows would be our bread and butter, but in order to put our troupe’s full potential on display we needed a show dedicated to doing just that. We needed an improv show for improv performers.

On May 12th, 2012, when Monkey Business Institute was approximately 7 1/2 years old, we introduced a show called Impromp2: Stripped. We thought the name was very clever. See, the show was improvised – impromptu, if you will – with a pair (2) of performers tasked with putting an entire 60-minute, stripped-down, barebones improv show minus any short form games. Get it? (We later decided to drop the “Stripped” part so that audiences would stop trying to slip dollar bills under our waistbands.)

Soon after rolling out Impromp2, The Merge made its debut on November 3rd, 2012. This show combined stand-up comedy with improv comedy. Local comics started the show with stand-up comedy sets. Then our performers – who hadn’t heard the comics’ sets beforehand – improvised scenes based on of that material. To wrap up the show, the stand-up comics joined us on stage to perform improv games.

The success of these two shows made it clear that there was an audience receptive to long form improv. Encouraged by this, we developed more shows that explored a single concept. Some of these shows were wildly exciting and successful, like our improvised disaster movie show, Possibly A Disaster.  Others were bizarre and esoteric experiments that stretched the accepted definition of successful, such as our made up in the moment variety show The Egregiously Late Show with _________. Overall, we felt that these shows were good for our troupe: they presented our cast with new challenges and gave them room to stretch their improv skills, and, as it turns out, crowds loved seeing these fresh, exciting improv show formats. This experiment in long form improv was, to our delight, proving to be a success. That’s why we decided to group them all together under the name Improv Labs.

We recently moved Improv Labs to Friday nights at 8pm (at our homebase, Glass Nickel Pizza – East on Atwood Avenue). The current show rotation looks a little something like this (but make sure to check our super radtastic shows calendar for the most accurate info):

  • 1st Friday: Yes Ma’am – our fantastic all-women improv show
  • 2nd Friday 2: Impromp2
  • 3rd Friday 3: The Merge
  • 4th Friday: The Music Department – a 60-minute improvised musical
  • 5th Friday (When they happen) – a completely experimental night where we try out new ideas for the first time.

As we move forward we plan to add more shows to the rotation. Or, perhaps we’ll swap out a show for another one if the mood for a change hits us. There are currently six mothballed Improv Lab shows packed away in boxes sitting in an undisclosed location that we can dust off and bring back into circulation or added to our rotation. As we speak, many new show ideas are in development and set to premier as an Improv Lab show. In other words, we’ve got lots of options for what we can do with Improv Labs, which is exactly why they exist in the first place.

Monkey Business Institute will always, always love our short form shows: They’re what put us on the map. But we are so super excited about our Improv Labs and where they may go in the future. Come see these shows and share in our excitement!

Experimentally yours,

Brad

a.k.a. The BEST Summer Camp Ever

Registration starts soon for our wildly popular Summer Kids’ Improv Camp. Our highly-trained instructors will teach campers the fundamentals of improv through interactive games and engaging exercises in a fun, supportive, environment. For camp details and registration info, head to the Kids Classes section of our website.

Besides indoctrinating a new generation into the exhilarating world of improv comedy, you may be wondering why we hold improv camps for kids. That’s easy. We believe that improv comedy can help kids in many ways:

  • Strengthens social skills
  • Promotes creative problem solving
  • Helps them work through difficult emotions and situations
  • Improves self-esteem and boosts their confidence

Creating a space where kids can enjoy comedy has been part of MBI’s mission for quite some time. You may have attended one of our All-Ages shows or seen us perform at Kids In the Rotunda or Lakeside Kids at Monona Terrace. We also regularly perform shows and host playshops for kids at their schools. As long as kids enjoy laughing, we’ll continue to bring live comedy experiences to them.

Please be sure to check out our Summer Kids’ Improv Camp offerings. Our camp counselors are very excited to make the camp a safe and joyous place for your child to play and grow. Sign them up now while there’s still room! We currently have three different camps for three different age ranges, and will consider adding more sessions if any of them fill up.

Thanks,

Brad

Recently Monkey Business Institute got an opportunity to use improv in an exciting new way. We have been hired by Emelar Consulting Group to come to their headquarters and teach a 10-week class to their employees. While we teach classes for the general public and also offer single session training playshops for corporations and groups, this is the first time that we have taught an entire class session onsite to a group of coworkers.

One of the main goals of this new endeavor (and with everything else we do, for that matter), is to help people learn what the improv mindset is and then help them incorporate that into their professional and personal lives.

You may be wondering what the heck an “improv mindset” is. Well, lucky for you I’m here to explain.

The improv mindset is an intentional mental and emotional approach to use in interactions with other people.

This mindset, when practiced consistently, develops into an improv culture within a group or environment. The improv mindset has several important elements:

  1. Clear Goals
    • In order to sustain an improv culture, there needs to be clear goals in place which encourage people to grab opportunities in the moment that may help attain those goals.
  2. High Focus and Engagement
    • Participants have a heightened sense of consciousness and awareness. This requires full buy in and a high sense of motivated engagement.
  3. Innovation
    • New methods of doing things and radical ideas are encouraged in all levels of the organization. There is no pressure for an idea to be practical or useful initially. Rather there is an openness to exploring the idea. Evaluation of its practicality can come later, but even ideas that ultimately aren’t used are seen as positive contributions.
  4. Group Flow
    • Working in teams is not seen as contentious or draining. Instead, it’s energizing and unpredictable. It feels like jamming.
  5. Yes, And
    • Perhaps most central to the improv mindset is a culture of Yes, And. Ideas and contributions are not criticized. They are accepted and built upon. Everyone has a mental contract to not shut down ideas as soon as they’re conceived. There is no negative blaming of others. Group members are excited to dive into the things they enjoy doing and can be confident that other team members will be there with positive support and positive questions to help guide the idea towards the overall goal.

Just like improv performers do for their shows, the onsite classe is made up of warm-ups, exercises, games, and discussions to help us quickly and frequently achieve the improv mindset. Over time in the class we experience many different aspects of this mindset as well as how to get there. Once we understand it and have experienced it, we can incorporate it into the full behavioral culture of our group.

I am truly excited by this new endeavor. We’ve been running it for only a couple weeks and I can already see significant positive results. I’d really like to see this approach take off and would love to be running multiple onsite classes in multiple locations by the end of the year.

If you can see the value of this service for your organization, please get in touch with me!

Improvisationally yours,

Brad

Brad’s Corner 

Improv has historically struggled to be diverse. When I started doing improv 25 years ago, the art form was predominantly practiced by white cisgender males, mostly in their 20s and 30s.  

Over the last decade, and especially in the last five years or so, the improv world has become more diverse, both through conscious effort and simply due to the fact that it has reached mainstream awareness. Many improv organizations have been working hard to reach out to demographics who did not previously have access or awareness of improv. Improv has also recently been introduced to other continents, making progress towards becoming a worldwide phenomenon.

Like the rest of the improv world, Monkey Business Institute can only benefit from more diversity. While we have a long way to go as far as racial, cultural and lifestyle diversity, we have made significant progress in a couple areas. It took several years after we formed to bring in our first female performer. Today, 46% of our onstage performers are women! We also are more age-diverse, having performers in their 20s all the way up to a couple 50-somethings.

Off the stage, we’re noticing changes as well. Our classes are more diverse than they used to be, which is good news in a city like Madison that is predominantly Caucasian. We have done improv work with disadvantaged, mixed-race youth through Goodman Center and area alternative high schools. We’ve done shows at Nuestro Mundo Community School, where many of the students are bilingual spanish/english speakers. We have run workshops for people with physical and mental disabilities.

But there can be no denying that we have a long way to go. We need to do more if we are to make significant strides in diversity. One thing we’ve started to do is offer scholarships for our improv classes. We understand that one reason our classes aren’t as diverse as they could be is due to economic reasons. We hope that financial aid might help someone who otherwise could not afford our classes.

I am also in the preliminary stages of exploring the viability of starting up a non-profit version of MBI. Many organizations cannot afford the fees for our shows, classes and playshops. While we are glad to offer discounts when we can, we have to limit how many we offer if we are to stay afloat as a business. The hope for a non-profit branch is that we’d be able to apply for grants and endowments so that we can spread the joy of improv to more diverse populations in our region.

Have a great 2018 everyone!

Yours,

Brad Knight

MBI will be performing at a benefit for one of our superfans, Julie Sheldon, on December 2nd at Doubledays in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. It was brought to our attention that Julie – aka Wonder Woman – was recently diagnosed with cancer. If you are interested in attending this event or wish to make a donation to help offset her medical expenses, please visit the Facebook page set up by Julie’s family. We are honored to be a part of this event and hope that you can do what you can to help support Julie in her fight against cancer.

For more details, click here.

One of the great joys of my improv career has been designing new improv games and shows. I’d say I’ve easily been a part of creating more than a hundred of them — many of them as part of Monkey Business Institute.

If you’ve been a fan of MBI for a while, you’ve probably come to see some of our original shows such as The Merge, Impromp2, Puppettown, The Music Department, The Egregiously Late Show with ______, and Possibly a Disaster. All of these have showcased our unique style and talents in slightly different ways.

Our latest creation, BIFF! BANG! KA-POW!! The Super Power Hour, is a celebration of superhero movies and comic books. As with many of our shows, audience participation is part of the fun. During BIFF! BANG! KA-POW!! The Super Power Hour, select audience members get to draw comic book panels that become the tableau for improv scenes. The comic book motif continues as you’ll see heroes and villains displaying their powers with stop motion action – just as if you were flipping through a comic book.

Sounds fun, right? Lucky for you, there will be several opportunities to catch this show in the coming weeks. Come on down and have a super time with us.

KA-POW!!!

Super-Brad

Brad’s Corner

 

I may be biased, but I think everyone should take an improv class.

Yes, I know, it’s becoming a trendy thing to do, but for good reason. For one, an improv class can help you to achieve goals you’ve set for yourself. I’ve seen classes help people come out of their shells, become better public speakers, gain self-confidence, open up creatively, and become comfortable with not being able to control everything that comes their way.

They can help you adapt to change. They can act as therapy or your sacred space. They can expand your social network. They even help some people start a career in improv.

I took my first improv class in my early 20’s. At the time, I was terribly depressed. For me, attending improv classes allowed me to work out some stuff and have a good laugh along the way. At the same time, improv classes gave me a sense of community and served as a creative outlet. Some of my best improv memories came from those classes; they are magical to me.

MBI’s improv classes start this week. Think about enrolling for a class; I’m glad I did. Does that make me biased? Sure, but I’m comfortable with that. Until next time…

Yours,

Brad

P.S. We lost Kay Heggesrad last week. Kay was a huge friend and supporter of Monkey Business Institute. She took many classes, came to countless shows, and hired us to entertain at her parties. She was an amazing woman, a pioneer in medicine and social causes, and probably the bravest person I have ever known. She will be greatly missed.

Here is a link to Kay’s obituary.

Last Friday, the cast and crew of MBI had a “90s Celebrities” themed party. It was a blast. Everyone showed up, from headline grabbers (Monica Lewinsky) to only-90s-kids-will-remember types (Lisa Loeb). Whoever lobbied for throwing a 90s-celebrity costume party is a genius.

Before you ask, no, it wasn’t me.

The original plan was to have a holiday party, but I was told that January 27th is too late for a “holiday” party. Really? Who knew? It was just the prior Sunday that I finally got rid of my Christmas tree (and that was only because it was so dry, I was worried that my Wi-Fi would set it on fire. Otherwise that tree would totally still be up in my living room. Alas, my love for indoor shrubbery is balanced with a fondness for not sending my house up in flames.). So, if we couldn’t have a “holiday” party, what we had that night was the next best thing. Label schmabels. I’m just glad that we were able to spend a little time together.

Merry Christmas,
Brad

P.S. Let us entertain your guests at your next party or event. Shoot us a line and we’ll start planning. And as far as I’m concerned, hire us and you can have a holiday party whenever you darn well please.

My name is Brad Knight. I am co-founder and owner of Monkey Business Institute. I bear a striking resemblance to the guy in the image to the right.

This is our first installment of a brand new blog section called Brad’s Corner. In each post I’ll be waxing poetic about happenings with MBI, the improv world at large, or just something that’s rattling around in my head. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

For Brad’s Corner #1, I thought I’d toss out some Monkey Business Institute statistics for your reading pleasure.  These numbers are straight out of my memory banks and have not been cross-referenced by any reputable sources. If you feel any are inaccurate, please send all complaints to:

Brad’s Brain
1218 Brad’s Brain Blvd
Brad’s Brain, WI 53713

  • YEARS MBI HAS EXISTED: About 13 Human Years

  • NUMBER OF TROUPE MEMBERS IN 2004: 2 (Me and Jason Stephens)

  • NUMBER OF TROUPE MEMBERS IN 2016: 29 (Plus 1 full-time and 4 part-time employees.)

  • VENUES MBI PERFORMED AT REGULARLY BEFORE SETTLING DOWN AT GLASS NICKEL: 5 (West Side Club, Babe’s, JT Whitney’s, Coliseum Bar, Bunky’s)

  • VENUES WHERE MBI HAS HAD RECURRING SATELLITE SHOWS: 6 (Kalahari Resort and Monk’s in WI Dells, Watertown Country Club and Watertown Player’s Theater in Watertown, Headquarters in Oregon, WI)

  • NUMBER OF SHOWS PER WEEK IN 2004:  1 (if we were lucky)

  • NUMBER OF SHOWS PER WEEK IN 2016: 4-5

  • NUMBER OF CLASSES WE RAN THE FIRST YEAR OF CLASSES: 1

  • NUMBER OF CLASSES WE RAN IN 2016: 28

  • PRIVATE BOOKINGS IN 2004: MAYBE 2 OR 3 (Our first show was a benefit show in a barn. We played some games and sang a song about presidents.)

  • PRIVATE BOOKINGS IN 2016: 51

  • STUDENTS MBI HAS TAUGHT: MORE THAN 1,000

  • PEOPLE MBI HAS PROFESSIONALLY TRAINED: MORE THAN 10,000

  • PEOPLE MBI HAS PERFORMED FOR: MORE THAN 50,000

In a little over a decade, we’ve grown from a ‘mom & pop’ organization (well…’pop & pop’, technically) to a full-service improv company (S-corp, technically).

Leading MBI, and watching it grow from into what it is today, has been a joy and a privilege. And the best is yet to come. Thanks to everyone who’s helped make it a reality.

With love,
Brad