Come on Baby, Light my Fire

Second chances help light that fire under your ass necessary to create something magical.

But you can’t always depend on getting ’em. We should try as much as possible to always keep that fire lit; perpetually burning a hole in our pants.

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Putting it Off

OK. I’m celebrating a small personal victory today. I did a thing I’ve been putting off for months; literally I intended to do this thing as soon as I began my leave from my day job. But I did it today. Many months later. Finally! I’m not going to say what it is because it I don’t want to jinx myself,  so sadly this is going to be a bit of vaguepress post today.

But, what I will say is the reason I was holding off was because of a fear of judgement.

I teach improv, and I tell people to behave silly all the time, in a way that normally they would fear due to our innate self-preservation. But here I am, the improv teacher, holding back because I’m afraid of what people will think of me. Or how they might classify me. Or that I’ll be completely rejected due to a lack of experience or because I look the way I look. For all these reasons I didn’t do the thing I wanted to do. Until now.

Today I did the thing. The vague thing. I put myself out there and what I’ll get in return I have NO idea, but at least I took the step that needed to be taken. Otherwise there would be a guaranteed negative return. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” and whatnot.

I’m taking a second to bask in the fact that I finally did that thing. The immediate response is a satisfaction for having done it.

Now to see if it yields anything.

2 Quick Improv Tips for Performers & Producers

In my experience as an improviser, improv instructor and improv producer, there are two things that have just come to my mind; little tidbits of experience I would like to impart onto anyone who might stumble upon this blog seeking profound insight:

  1. It’s probably not a good idea to try to sell drugs at an improv audition. (Like actually, not just in a scene.)
  2. If want a clean show, you should probably let the cast know before they start playing “Sex with Me.” Definitely before they engage in a slo-mo sex scene.

Yours truly.

What is happening rn?

A Lesson in Patience

3 minutes and 30 seconds.

That’s how long Eric took before he spoke a single word in his scene with Aimee at the last Popaganda I produced.

Many improvisers feel the need to fill every single silent second with words.  We forget it’s important to let some things breathe. You know? Like wine!

In this scene, for example, Eric stood downstage waiting for a bus. Aimee stood upstage, off in the corner whispering to him (but not to him, because they weren’t looking at each other) about how if he still loved her, he would catch her. She gave the impression she was going to run over to him a la Dirty Dancing and expected him to catch her over his head. (We’ve all seen the scene. We knew what to expect.) What we didn’t expect was that Eric would ignore her for 3 minutes and 30 seconds!

She kept whispering, as if it were an intention she was setting. As though she could will him to still love her, and catching her would be the ultimate sign of his devotion to her.

We, the audience, waited in eager anticipation for Eric to respond. You could feel the tension in the room when finally, after 3 and a half minutes, he revealed to the audience, and to Aimee that she was a ghost, that she’d  been dead for I don’t remember, months, years? Anyway, she was dead.

As the realization set in with the audience, an uproar of laughter began, and lasted a REALLY REALLY long time.

I know it doesn’t do much justice to explain an improv scene after it’s happened. I know it’s ephemeral. But for those of us in attendance, it was not only a delightful moment, but we also got totally schooled in the lesson of how patience begets payoff. 

It spoke to the amount of trust there was between these two players. The non-verbal communication between them. The quiet confidence of knowing, or maybe not knowing or discovering the precise and perfect moment when to drop the information that Aimee was a ghost. The excellent acting between the two which permitted for believability because as the audience, we were completely satisfied.

I found this list over at Jesterz Improv and thought it would be helpful to bring home the point:

Here are a couple of things that you create by being patient:

  1. Trust – Showing patience in a scene shows trust to your scene partner, your fellow performers and in improv as a process.
  2. Emotion – Patience allows you to discover what your characters true emotion is and it gives your scene partner time to discover what their characters true emotion is
  3. Anticipation – Anticipation can grow as improvisors are patient with the scene and explore what is already there, rather then inventing.
  4. Clarity – More often then not, when an improvisor isn’t sure what is happening in a scene, they panic and start to bend the rules if improv. Panic turns into denial and denial turns into a bad scene. (https://www.jesterzimprov.com/patience-proceeds-payoff/)

With that in mind, after the big reveal, the players seemed to have such a good time playing in the world where Aimee was a ghost and Eric was kinda fed up with her hanging around. But remember, not only was there the anticipation of when Eric would speak, but we were all still waiting to find out if he would catch her too. The stakes were raised, Aimee seceded that her ghost would leave Eric alone if he performed this one last action together; the catch. The lights blacked out on this beautiful moment that I’m so happy my iPhone was able to capture:

The bus arrived and Eric sat right down in the front row with the audience. A huge let-down for poor Aimee’s ghost.

ALL THIS TO SAY THE FOLLOWING. Take a breather out there. Look around. Take the time to discover.  STOP AND EXPLORE – that was the biggest note I got in Leslie Seiler’s Conservatory 1 & 2 classes. (That, and to shut up when the teacher is talking. Oh how I am being served some tasty irony on that front now that I’ve begun teaching.)

In true crassness, don’t blow your load within the first few moments of the scene. You’ve got some time up there. Especially in a duo scene. Why not discover things with your partner? Learn to trust your partner. And, in the words of one of my favourite Depeche Mode songs; learn to Enjoy the Silence. You might have to react to your partners’ for over three minutes if the scene calls for it.

 

 

Share that Spotlight

Improv tics.

We all have ’em. The little things about this craft we love that just rub us the wrong way. Let me tell you a little about mine, if I may.

*Brie steps forward, a spotlight shines down on her as she addresses the audience, as though the rest of the people on stage disappeared and therefore, no longer matter.*

THAT’S IT! RIGHT THERE! Stop it! Cut it out!

Let me remind you, improvisers:

  1. You’re not the star;
  2. Your job is to make your partner look good; and
  3. This isn’t friggin’ Glee. Calm down and collaborate.

It’s not often we get a super-long time on stage to play. Unless you’re one of the more experienced teams or duos, you have limited time up there, and you’re on the clock. It’s better to spend that time connecting with your partner(s), not tooting your own horn centre stage, ignoring everything and everybody else around you!

If I wanted to watch one person talk at me, I’d turn on CNN.

This is improv, I want to see you make discoveries with your partners. I want to see you create something together. The audience wants to see you build worlds together.

Sure, there are a couple exceptions. It’s pretty much mandatory that you step out and give a ‘lil monologue when playing any “film noir” or Oscar Moment scene. And obviously the storyteller of an Armando has to take centre stage and speak to the audience to tell their monologue. Or maybe you’re doing solo improv, lawd have mercy, why would you? But maybe you are.

What I see when an improviser goes rogue and sacrifices the scene for their moment in the spotlight is someone who doesn’t trust either themselves or their partner. Which is fine. We’re all along this journey and there’s no mistakes in improv. Got it. Save it. Move on. Now stop that.

Look at your freaking partner, in their freaking eyes. In their freaking face. That’s where you’re going to find the information you need. The answers to your terrified mind-questions. You’re not going to find it in the audience staring back at you impatiently. You’re not going to find it at the back of the room in the booth. You’re certainly not going to find it in the blinding lights above.

You’re gong to discover it in your partner. Please please PLEASE don’t leave them behind.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. —Helen Keller

The Other Side of the Table

Another first for ol’ Brie here. This week marks the first time I’ve ever stood behind a table and held auditions of OTHER people for one of my* projects.

(I helped a friend audit once, a little while back, but it doesn’t count because I had nothing else to do with the project. Shout-out to Mishi here!)

Though it wasn’t a ginormous audition for some big-time movie, or some grand Broadway production, it still felt really freakin’ cool! It’s me, scouting for people I don’t know, who may or may not help me build this brand new-project here in Niagara. It’s so fun and exciting! We even had a write-up in the paper about it and everything:Screenshot 2018-01-28 22.46.44.png

We’re going to hold another one in February because we’re still a little short on numbers, so I get to do it all over again next month. Hopefully with a whole bunch of people who are super-interested and excited to entertain the Niagara Region by making fun shit up on the spot.

Gimme a Yay! This is so exciting!

*When I say “my” of course, I mean “our”. “Our” being Dina and I and anyone invested in the existence and success of Improv Niagara.

But, Out

A woman in my class this week told me that since our first class, where we learned what it means to “yes and,” she noticed the amount of times over the week that she had the tendency to write “but” in her text messages. She attempted to take the advice learned in class in order to make her text communications more positive.

In improv, “but” is basically the same as “no.” It’s telling your partner you’ve heard what they said (maybe); you don’t like their idea, you think you have a better idea, or more likely, their idea scares you and you’re worried about how to pull it off,  so you’re going to try to squeeze in your safer idea in the scene instead.

For example:

“Alright Mom! It’s time to go to the moon!” 

“Ok honey, but the moon’s too far away, so why don’t we just go to the grocery store instead?”

It might as well have been:

“Alright Mom! It’s time to go to the moon!”

“No. We’re going to the grocery store.”

It’s sometimes remarkable that people think they’re listening and responding positively, when they’re really steering the scene (or the conversation, or the making of plans, in a non-improv setting) to discount their partner’s ideas or wishes.

Maybe we could all benefit from my student’s exercise. For one week, notice how often you text “but”, use “but” in an email or say “but.” Reflect on it. Is that “but” necessary? Or are you using “but” to turn down someone’s idea or invitation because you think you have a better idea or because you’re afraid to know where theirs might take you.

All this to be taken as a reminder that it doesn’t take a hard no to refuse someone’s offers and ideas, onstage or off.

yes-but.png

If this blog post has opened up some bubble in your brain and you want to read more about “but,” in a context other than improv, check out this Fast Company article:

The One Word That’s Undermining Everything Else You Say

From the article:

“If you never used ‘but’ again, you’d be just fine,” she says. “It’s a conjunction used to marry two completely separate ideas. Why do that?” – Karin Hurt

(PS. they totally mention improv in the article)