The Decoy Has Landed

An Interview by Tom Hannigan

The Decoy is the first new sketch house team to debut at the Philly Improv Theater (PHIT) since Goat Rodeo over three years ago. I was able to reach out to their director, Brian Rumble and their head writer, Molly Scullion on their thoughts on putting this team together and what might be in store for their future.

TH: What was the process like for you two putting this team together?

BR: It was pretty intense. The amount of quality packets we received during the submission process was almost intimidating. We spent a lot of time debating not just the content of the packets but also the “brains” of the writers – what are their specific strengths and what are they saying in their work. Where can we push them to? It was very important to find a mix of compatibility and variety in these brains and I’m really, really proud of the group we got.

For the actors, the goal was much easier to define: cast great performers who we don’t see often on the PHIT stage. Again, we had a staggering amount of incredible auditioners; I could have easily cast three teams and ultimately had to turn away a lot of talented people. But I was so excited by the new and new-ish faces who just killed it in their auditions and am thrilled to help bring them to an audience. I couldn’t be happier with the cast as a whole.

MS: The writers’ team selection was grueling. We had so many packets submitted, and so many awesome packets submitted. It took a lot of deliberation, and as Brian said, thinking about people’s brains. I’ve never thought about how people’s brains work that much in my life. It freaked me out so much that I ran overseas and left Brian all alone to make actor decisions, which he did amazingly. The writers’ and actors’ brains are even better than I ever thought they could be.

Photo of The Decoy by Michael Marotta
Photo of The Decoy by Michael Marotta

TH: There’s a great combination of sketch vets and newcomers to both the acting and writing side of the group. How’s this played into the team’s dynamic.

MS: I was away for most of the summer, so I came into the team at tech rehearsals. I had not met a couple of the actors yet, and I really did not know what to expect. But I walked into a completely gelling mesh, like inside of your snow pants kind of mesh. If the snacks are any indication, this team gets each other already, regardless of the varying comedic backgrounds.

BR: This dynamic melted away really quickly, actually. We had a slightly abbreviated production schedule for this first show so we had to skip a lot of the getting-to-know-you stuff in an effort to get the show out the door. As a director (and one coming from improv), this was an uncomfortable concession but the group just solidified so quickly. This was especially impressive considering the actors weren’t brought in until the very end and they too just somehow fit in immediately. I think it speaks to the great personalities and just good people we have on the team. There’s no hierarchy. Everyone is new.

 

TH: Because you were able to cast actors and writers separately. Is there overlap between the two parts and if so how has that worked out?

BR: We cast writers that we knew would be great on stage in case there was a need for a couple of extras. But it quickly became clear in readings that it would be a shame not to have them involved. So now we essentially have 13 people who can all step up and bring something unique to the stage. And that just pushes us to think bigger – how can we get everyone involved in a way that is rewarding and interesting for the audience? I think we’ll start to see the answer to that evolve as we put on more shows and I’m really excited by the possibilities.

MS: I think as we move forward there will be even more overlap, but you can already see it happening in this first show. Most of our writers are acting, and all of our actors are bringing a very specific style and perspective to the characters they are playing, including some really killer ad libbed lines that we would not have gotten without them. Everybody is so on board to work together. Like people in snow pants on a big sled.



TH: Is there anything that didn’t make the show that you really liked? 

Photo of The Decoy by Mike Marotta.
Photo of The Decoy by Mike Marotta.

MS: There are some things not in the show that will forever remain loved by all of us. But we recognize that occasionally you run into an idea and you think, “This is only going to be hilarious to us.” And as much of a bummer as admitting that can be, it also is a good sign that you’re having the most fun and that you know what is best for your show. This team of writers is outrageous and whip smart. Kind of like people in snow pants who can build igloos. I don’t know how to build an igloo.

BR: Oh yeah. We wound up with 15 sketches in final draft form that we had to cut down to six for the show. That’s a lot of great stuff about the future, Billy Joel, balloon racing, etc. that still lives on in the form of inside jokes. Ultimately, I hope they’ll make appearances as one-off, B-sides types of shows and events because I think that would be fun.



TH: Are there already ideas floating around for your next show?

BR: Yes and no. Like I said, we have a lot of finished material and even more unfinished material. So it’s a great starting place and a nice safety net. But I’m also challenging the team to start by developing a theme and build around that. As we grow from putting on a collection of sketches to producing fully realized pieces, it helps to start from a fresh slate and it will be interesting to see the twists and turns these brains take from show to show.

 

The last two shows of The Decoy’s premiere run are on August 25th & 26th on the Mainstage of the Philly Improv Theater at 2030 Sansom st. You can find tickets at these links,

Thursday Night – https://phillyimprovtheater.ticketleap.com/codename-athenas-premiere-feat-the-prince-aug-25-2016/dates/Aug-25-2016_at_0900PM

Friday Night – https://phillyimprovtheater.ticketleap.com/codename-athenas-premiere-feat-the-prince-aug-26-2016/dates/Aug-26-2016_at_0900PM