Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Q & A with Andy Eninger

 Photo: Sybilization.com

Andy Eninger is a funny individual. I meet him years ago when I directed his brilliant one-man script The Last Castrato for the New York Fringe Festival. He has worked in traditional theatre as well as a bunch of improv. Here's his semi-official bio:

Andy Eninger studied film direction at the Hungarian Academy of Film and Drama, and earned his MA in Playwriting from Miami University (of Ohio.) Currently, he performs and teaches improvisation around the country with the Chicago Comedy Company. Andy is a founding member of GayCo Productions, a two-time winner of the After Dark Award for Outstanding Ensemble Performance. He also performs at The Playground Theater, where he created the RECESS improv outreach program for Chicago area schools and performs a one-man improvised show called Sybil.

Andy performing a Sybil Solo Improv

Q: Please give us a brief bio, where you are from and how you started in

A: At Miami University (in Ohio, not Florida), I fell in love with Improv
Comedy, and flirted with theater. I loved it so much that I stayed to get
my Masters in Playwriting, and then took off for a year of film school in
Budapest, Hungary. Back in the States, I found myself drawn to Chicago, the
improv Mecca, where I studied at The Second City, started my own improv
comedy company, and helped found GayCo, a GLBT sketch group. In the
experimental late 90's, I created "Sybil," a solo improv format that I have
toured to festivals all over. Currently, I am the Head of the Writing
Program at Second City, where I have taught Sketch and improv for nearly 10

Q: What event or desire brought you specifically into the world of solo
A: When I first got to Chicago, I had to wait for a few months before I could
start classes at Second City, so I studied with a solo performer named Donna
Blue Lachman who had a tiny theater on the South Side. I was immediately
hooked: She was an incredible performer and an inspiring teacher. I
developed a piece called "The Last Castrato" in her class.

Q: Could you tell us about some of your work?
A: Sybil is a loose collection of gimmicks that the improviser strings together
into a cohesive improvised whole: monologues, multi-character scenes (where
they play every character), and audience interactive bits. In my own
exploration of the form, I have created several variations on the form - a
musical version, and even a narrative format called "One Man Scene," wherein
I 'improvise' a set and then create the show that fits on that set. That
one was terrifying!

Q: How would you describe your particular kind of solo performance?
A: Because it's completely improvised, it is a huge challenge; The highs are
exhilarating and the lows are torturous. I have discovered that the key is
to always surprise yourself. Recently, I switched up the format and started
shirtless and asked the audience to draw & write on my body, then used those
scribbles to inspire the scenes in the show. As soon as it feels
comfortable, I have to switch things up again.

Q: What is your favorite thing about doing this work?
A: I love the moments when it all comes together, when a scene magically works.
The best feeling is to return to a character you introduced early in the
show, in a moment of inspiration, and connect them thematically to what has
happened since. The audience loves those connections - and so do I.

Q: What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?
A: Honestly, I have been performing the Sybil more infrequently each year. I
get restless, and there are so many things to do and try. Recently I've
gotten into music and trying my hand at writing for television. When I do
return to Sybil, it's like sitting down with an old friend.

Q: What is your approach to the development process when putting together a
new project? Do you create a lot on stage, improvising? More on paper? Tape
or video record? Hold readings? Go to a mountain top?
A: Whenever I prepare for a run of shows or a festival performance, I work with
a coach. I have to have somebody in the room to give notes, otherwise I
won't do the work. I run short scenes for them, then move to multi-scene
pieces, improvising my way through. I have worked with many different
coaches over the years, each one bringing a different eye to the work. When
I prepared for a longer run a couple years ago, I worked with a sketch
director, a musical coach, and a movement specialist! I have been recording
my shows over the years, and will someday gather some of my favorite scenes
into a written show. Late last year, I assembled a series of monologues
drawn from elderly GLBT men in the Chicago area - it was my first written
solo piece in a long time. I am looking forward to doing more writing.

Q: Who are some of your influences or people that inspire/embolden you?
A: I have always loved solo performers with strong characters that they treat
with great compassion like Lily Tomlin. I also have been inspired by Tim
Miller (author of 'Body Blows') and had the great honor to study with him
last year. His level of confessional and political work blows me away.

Q: How do you bridge the gap of the business side of theatre?
A: Any more, I only take on a show when I know I have the bandwidth to do the
work to get an audience in the door. I love the marketing side of things -
drawing out the personality of a show and turning that into advertising
materials. I hate the tedious footwork of calling reviewers and flyering,
postering - all the stuff you need to do in Chicago to stand out from the

Q: Any advice for some aspiring artist just starting out in solo
A: Discover what you are really good at, and create a piece that showcases
that. If you do great characters, make that your centerpiece. If you are
hilarious telling stories, then lean on that skill. I recently saw a solo
show of a very talented and quirky friend Abby McEnany, and it was amazing
to see somebody present a work that so perfectly fit their personality and
skills. She even did a scene that made fun of her inability to do accents. I
think half of the work is knowing what you do well.

Q: Share with us something funny that has happened to you recently.
A: Remember how I said I did a show where the audience scribbled on me? It
took two weeks for the markers to wash off completely. Somebody used a
think sharpie all up and down my back.

Q: What do you see for the future of solo performance and for you personally
as an artist?

A: There will always be a market for great solo performers - and a bigger and
bigger challenge to stand out in the crowd as new performers crowd the
market. In Chicago, personal stories are very popular right now - evenings
where several individuals present true-life tales; this is also a format
that bleeds seamlessly into the internet (as in blogging.) I think that
performers are getting smarter about combining elements from different
styles of solo performance - performance art, solo sketch, storytelling -
and creating exciting new hybrids. I have a solo piece that's been rolling
around in my head - a sci-fi solo storytelling vehicle (with songs) - it's
almost formulated enough to start coming out on paper. ~ Andy E.

Andy's audition demo for Piranha 3D Pt. 2

Check out more info on Andy at his website... HERE.

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