You Can’t Make This Up With Steven Harowitz

 Hey Everyone,In case you hadn’t heard, Compass Improv Festival is just around the corner. It’s a great opportunity to catch some of STL’s best improv teams as well as check out the amazing out of town guests, including Chicago’s Sand, Ed and Kath, The Second City and more. It’s awesome that our growing improv community can put up such an outstanding fest year after year to bring in out-of-town talent and showcase our own.

Ben’s Compass Improv Picks:

  • The interactive keynote with The Second City (and, of course, free pizza)
  • Two shows Saturday night show featuring teams I’ve heard tons about and now finally will have a chance to see
  • The Ed and Kath workshop on Saturday afternoon about being more detail oriented

And of course, there’s tons of other stuff to see and do! Check out the calendar and buy your tickets here: http://www.compassimprov.org/2015-tickets/

See you there!

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Although I’ve only known Steven Harowitz for a year and a half, he’s one of those people I feel like I’ve been friends with my whole life. He’s incredibly approachable, kind and generous. When you talk, he listens. And when he listens, he listens, because he’s interested in you and your story.

Everything he does (which is a lot), he does 100%. From his side projects like Creative Weekend and Workshop STL to his improv teams, Creepy Basement Players, Wilson Montgomery Gets Arrested (reigning Cagematch champions), and Bill’s Toupee. Although his time is limited, his creative energy is not. He brings a unique perspective and point of view to scenes and supports the hell out of your shit – on stage and in life.

Here’s Steven and I improvising to a suggestion of ASPARAGUS:

Meet Steven Harowitz:

Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?

Improv pulled me in out of need. I was a recent St. Louis transplant from South Carolina with almost 0 connection to the Midwest. I explored a handful of organizations or MeetUps and had no luck. It all felt very forced and awkward. A college co-worker, Eddie Mujica, was training and performing with Second City and all of his Facebook posts look like he was having a ton of fun, so I started Googling Improv classes in the area. I was originally going to sign-up for classes at COCA until Shiloh Venable (previous IS student and now graduate of the Dallas Comedy House) mentioned The Improv Shop, so I swung my class fees Kevin’s way instead.  This was a little under 2 years ago.

How would you describe your style of play? In other words, what sort of scenes/shows do you have the most fun doing?

I hate this question. Mainly because I’ve never been able to answer it. I had to send a group message to the Creepy Basement Players to ask their thoughts because I was struggling. There are three things that I can identify with that came from this exercise:

  • I’m an energy matcher. If you walk on stage dancing around, I will dance around with you. If you walk on stage with your arms crossed and brows furloughed, I will furrow my brows and cross my arms.
  • I follow the fun. I love saying yes to games, characters, off-the-wall scenarios. Sometimes I love saying yes too much because I teeter on the edge of just being a facilitator instead of AND-ing. If you want to go down a rabbit hole then I will absolutely follow you.
  • I’m deeply interested in the character. This is where my thin veil comes in.  As a person, I can sit and ask someone questions all day long and get engrossed in their story. I do the same in shows. I want to know about the character – I get caught asking too many questions sometimes – but I often find it as a necessary evil to get to the core. And I would much rather do that early so we have what we need for the rest of the show

Can you regale us with a tale about the best or worst scene/show you have ever done?

I have to go the positive route and pick the Friday night show of Creepy Basement Players’ run during this past St. Lou Fringe Festival.  I was crazy nervous (and I think the rest of the team was as well), but it was a frenetic, exhilarating nervousness. It was the first time we were carrying a show fully. We were playing in Fubar and ended up having a pretty solid crowd, so it ramped up the expectation even higher.

I wish I could give more details on the show – I only have bits and pieces in my memory bank – but it was a show that we were so invested in, so deep into the play, that I feel like I blacked out during the whole show. Every scene, every beat just hit. Our games were simple and beautiful. Our characters were quirky and real. Our timing was sped up and relaxed. The one game I remember vividly was a scene where I played a dad driving the minivan with my two kids. I was taking them somewhere to soothe their pain regarding a dead pet. It was a silly, wonderful game, nothing totally out of the ordinary. I knew it was special when another player started a 2nd beat scene by pulling the chairs out in that same van formation. The entire team was in sync within the first few seconds. And it killed. That’s all I can ever ask for during a show.

What do you do to find inspiration for improv? In other words, do you have a life? If so, how do you spend it (besides pretending you are someone else on stage in front of large groups of people)?

I’m a chronic starter. I start side projects like my life depends on it. The nice part about solo-ish side projects is you become a jack of all trades. One day I’m doing web design the other I’m pitching at Sloup. It keeps me on my toes because I’m constantly assessing myself, my abilities, and my impact. All of that fuels my improv.

Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?

I have a couple nuggets of wisdom I feel only moderately qualified to give:

  • Join or create side teams. Start practicing on the side. You will make deeper relationships and have more time to apply your lessons from class.
  • Say no to side teams. I will refer you to one of the earlier posts on this site.
  • Get as much stage time as humanly possible. Only way to get comfortable on stage is to get on stage.
  • Discover how you use the thin veil. I’ve only recently figured out how to be myself while not being myself. Characters are wonderful but a character is only as strong as your ability to let who you are be a part of it.

What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?

Davey Mendoza coaches Creepy Basement Players, and lately, we’ve been playing with monoscenes. We had a particularly rough set at one of our practices so Davey helped reframe it for us. I won’t get this exactly verbatim but it’s pretty close:

“The scene is there if you just listen. Everything you need is already there.”

It was the best advice I’ve ever received because we needed to hear it. It was said at the perfect time when we needed it the most and it made so much sense. We were forcing the scene. We kept adding and adding and adding until none of it made sense. Davey dropped that piece of wisdom and our next scene felt slower, not in a hesitation way, but like you hear professional football players describe the game once they’ve played for a while. The game slowed down, everything slowed down, while staying the usual speed. We listened to each other and took each moment as a fundamental piece of our scene instead of throwing pieces away until we got somewhere more interesting. We focused on discovery rather then force.

What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?

How ridiculous is it to shoot an idea down?

I see it in my day-to-day life all the time. I see people shut other people down before anything even starts. Those folks will never know where it could’ve ended up if they’d just explored further. I try to step in when I can and reroute, but it breaks my heart to hear every time.

Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?

Definitely, Creative Weekend and Workshop STL.  Let me do my best, most intense elevator pitch:

Want to find and empower your inner creative? Become a part of Creative Weekend and/or Workshop STL.

Want to change the world? Become a part of Creative Weekend and/or Workshop STL.

Want to become a better, more confident person with a fuller head of hair and clearer skin? Become a part of Creative Weekend and/or Workshop STL.

That last one is only half true.  I could write about both projects for days, I’ll let the website tell the fuller story of both of those projects.

What St. Louis improviser(s) would you like to see answer these questions?

Davey Mendoza definitely. Michael Barrows-Fitzgerald. All of Creepy Basement Players and Wilson Montgomery Gets Arrested.

(Optional…well, more optional than the others). Is there a video, podcast episode, blog post etc about improv that you find particularly inspirational or inspiring? 

The entirety of Truth in Comedy.

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