Billy Schultz is an actor and director working in physical comedy for stage and screen. He has performed in your friend's garage, at the Guggenheim museum and at loads of variety shows. His focus is on creating comedy from character and movement. Major sources of inspiration: Amy Schumer as Leslie Knope and ridiculous Vine dance compilations.
As someone who performs physical comedy, I want to master the art of making people laugh with movement. With the studio as my laboratory, I started a project called Dance Move Daily. I would make a comedic dance move every day. Forever. I worked at it for months, making 20-second videos that amused me and a handful of friends. It was perhaps much more "mimey-movement-theater" than dance, but the term "dance" is so open to interpretation (at least in the art world) that I went with it. Here's an example.
I was having fun but realized I wanted a collaborative project. I began experimenting with different themes I could include my friends in. One theme I call "Tribute to the Masters." In this, non-dancers were given 3 minutes to re-create serious and challenging dance:
I still love this idea and will get back to it once the project is more established. But in addition to realizing that I wanted something collaborative, I also realized I was toeing the line of making fun of dance. My respect for dance is profound, and this immediately gave me pause. One of my goals is to have fun with dance and find the comedy in it. Not make fun of it. How to do that? This is what I've come up with so far:
1. Begin with the right (fun or funny) video source material. This might seem obvious, but as a comedic actor, my goal is usually to turn any source material into comedy. Working with dancers —artists who spend their lives honing a technical craft that is often aimed at erasing the personality of the individual— is very different. So the source material is key. If dancers watch a video of a panda playing in the snow, they are going to have more fun than dancers who watch a Trials of Life video. Some dancers can also make anything funny, but dancers do not volunteer to make these videos because they want to be comedians. Largely they do it because I show the process of creation. We both love this part.
2. Familiarity Above All. We have to understand something to be able to laugh at it. I'm no comedy scholar, but the way I see it, we have an expectation of the familiar. If that expectation is betrayed there is a chance we'll laugh. Another way that honors this idea or rule of familiarity is through the time-constraint the dancers work under. Much contemporary dance is very heady. The movement comes out of a concept, or perhaps a formal architectural or rhythmic dynamic. They might build movement sequences based on geometry, or a concept like "freedom" or "power." As an audience, it will likely take us some time to understand this concept. I give the dancers something very concrete to build off of. They then have three minutes to create based on what they observed. There is very little time to get beyond the surface, into a concept or an abstraction —so the movement stays more closely related to the observed video. The movement is still recognizably from the video. This is one of the ways that I'm finding comedy in the fun of this project.
3. Editing. I speed things up, I slow them down, I zoom in. By no means am I an expert. This is better than anything I could say on the matter.
It works like this: I rent and hour of studio time and meet a couple of dancers there. I show them a viral video and then give them 5 minutes to turn it into dance choreography. I take video of our time in the studio and edit it together. It ends up looking like this:
On March 4th, I’ll be presenting my first live event with this project. Together we'll watch viral videos. Dancers will then make choreography based on the videos. There will be some stand-up comedy. Some live music. There will also be wigs and tutus. A panel of nearly famous judges will decide which dynamic dance duo will reign supreme as the Dance-ify That! 2016 champions. If you are in the NYC area, the details are below. Whether you are in NYC or not, I'd love it if you could take a second to "Like" the project on FB, and more importantly subscribe on YouTube, as this puts me in a better situation to form partnerships with dance studios and companies (you'll get an email in your junk account every Tuesday morning when I post a new video.) Thanks!
Click here for YouTube channel.
Click here for Dance Movie Daily web site.
See the live performance March 4, 2016 at 8pm at Triskelion Arts in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for tickets.