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KEEP CHANGING: A Sea Tea Improv Oral History Pt. 2

In 2010, Sea Tea had established itself in the small Hartford, CT improv scene. Due to the rising number of gigs and the fact that two members were moving away, three new members—Stephanie Rice, Graham Snow and Laura Manasewich—were added to Sea Tea as Generation 2. In the two years that followed, Sea Tea found itself teaching improv, learning long form improv and creating its own form called Sex and The Sea Tea, an R-rated, fully improvised show based on Sex and the City.

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SUMMAR ELGUINDY: Auditions came primarily at a time when Kate and myself were leaving Hartford. So there was a decision made that we needed new members.

DAN RUSSELL: We were losing two of our Hartford members. Back then, Vlad was in Wallingford, Joe was in Andover, I was still in Vernon. Our core were people who lived in Hartford and that was going away so that was a big deal.

JOE LEONARDO: We basically had to fill their roles in regard to performance and we didn’t really know what was going to happen, we didn’t know if them going to Boston and New York meant that they’d go away and we would never hear from them again.

KATE SIDLEY: We were growing anyways, we were getting a lot more gigs; so just the sheer number of gigs started to be a draw on everybody.

VLADIMIR JOHN PEREZ: There was an issue originally of bringing on anybody. Even though we were losing two people.

GREG LUDOVICI: To this day they don’t want to be thought of as being lost because they’re still around. You can’t say we’re losing two people; we grew.

KATE: We never doubted that it needed to happen and it would be good ultimately but I think we all were nervous about how it would function for us and also for whomever we brought in. How would they fit in with this really, really, perhaps too tight, family?

JOE: When we did auditions we had no qualifications, you didn’t have to do improv before, we just said come and audition. We had no pre-requisites. We were willing to train and teach everybody.

JULIA PISTELL: Auditions were great. I remember Steph’s entire audition; she was amazing. She got a suggestion for chain murder mystery that was morgue, like pet morgue, something like that and she opened all the drawers and each was a different pet . So it was really fast, “Woof! Meow! Caw! Hiss!” And it was amazing. She was just really on point and great.

VLAD: She had just come back from China where she had been doing short form and we were a 98% short form group at the time and it was apparent right off the bat that, here’s someone who’s 100% comfortable doing this.

STEPHANIE RICE: The timing of me getting into Sea Tea actually worked out incredibly well. I’d just gotten back from China and I was interested in staying involved with improv, because I was in two improv troupes in Shanghai. I found out about Sea Tea and thought I would check out one of their shows. So at the first and only Sea Tea show I saw before I auditioned, they mentioned auditions and I was like “Yes!”

GREG: She did the wise thing of scouting us out; she came to a show before auditioning and introduced herself, explained her experience and then said she was going to audition.

VLAD: I remember seeing Graham at a mixer; he had come to a couple mixers and we were like, “Oh wow, this guy is good. He’s got some chops.”

DAN: He used to improvise with a Western Connecticut State University group. He didn’t go there, he just knew people there. He would go and hang out with them and improvise. I’m not sure what other experience he had but he got it. He knew what he was doing.

SUMMAR: Graham is one of the best teammates. Graham knows how to roll with the punches so well. You could throw rocks tumbling down a mountain while he has to juggle three puppies and hunt a unicorn, and he’s like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll do that.”

JULIA: We knew Laura before so when I think of my first impression of her at auditions, it was my first impression of her as an improviser. What I loved about Laura then and what I love about Laura now is that she uses the English language in a way that’s slightly different than everyone else in the world. She says things just slightly strangely and that often results in awesome, unusual things for improv scenes.

LAURA MANASEWICH:  I first saw Sea Tea at their class show. It was a Christmas-themed show. I was really jealous that I didn’t know that this was something that Hartford had and that these guys were doing it, and I was like, “I need to be doing that.”

SUMMAR: I think her answer to one of our audition questions was very memorable because she said, “I have come to so many shows, I’ve watched you guys, I feel like I’ve known you since the beginning and all I want is to be part of this,” and I think we all really dug that.

JULIA: It was tough figuring out stuff with the new guys, but they were overall really great about it, and bringing them in made us define ourselves in a way that many other groups don’t do. I would say one of our top priorities is to always be looking forward, always be growing—that means we’re always having to figure out some new dimension of the company and how to interact and what our ideas are. It does feel like we’re constantly creating things from scratch and then when we take new people in, that means we have to do this big scramble to figure out what we are now and who we are now.

SUMMAR: We didn’t think it entirely through. There was a lot of miscommunications in the beginning. I mean, we were a young company, we didn’t know what we were doing entirely, so there were some mistakes and communication errors.

LAURA: It felt strange having known them ahead of time and trying not to be an asshole to my new teammates who I didn’t really know. Finding the relationship dynamic among the ten of us was probably the biggest growing pain, and I’m sure everyone felt that.
STEPHANIE:  It was a little intimidating entering a group that was already established. I remember having a lot of mixed feelings about it because I like being an organizer and a helper and it’s very hard for me to take a back seat, and that’s what Sea Tea wanted in the beginning. They wanted us to just focus on our improv. Being impatient was one of my growing pains. Being impatient; to want to constantly be doing more.

JOE: Of course it changed the group; it changed the voice of the group.  It wasn’t just the original seven of us that were super tight. We now had these added members but you need to keep changing, otherwise you become stale. If we were the original seven members doing the same short form games, not doing long form, what would be the fun in that, that would be boring, nobody would want to see that anymore.

Sea Tea Generation Two: Photographed by Laura Dee
Sea Tea Generation Two: Photographed by Laura Dee

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