Improv Things

I normally think I’m pretty good at taking notes when it comes to new students. I’m teaching them how to be present in improv scenes, so I make it my goal to be super present when they’re telling me about themselves on the first day.

I went back to check the notes I took last night in class, and realized the notes I wrote for the last student were not especially helpful. I must have been in a hurry to get things started. The question I asked was: “why did you decide to sign up for an improv class?” and the note I took down for her response was: “improv things” and a squiggle.

Nice one Brie. Pretty sure everyone else signed up for “improv things” too.

 

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Chicago, my beacon

Last weekend, my longtime best bud Dina and I took a road-trip down to Chicago. I’d wanted to see The Second City’s all-women “She The People: Girlfriends’ Guide to Sisters Doing It For Themselves” because:

  • it sounded like a cool show
  • I like the idea of an all-women cast
  • I wanted to go back to Chicago & Dina had never been to this city of wonders
  • Feminism.

The show was fantastic and the experience had everything I could ask for, including an uncomfortable middle-aged white man at my table unsure as to why his wife and daughter took him to see this particular show. (See “feminism.”)

For the record, the scene with the dinosaur suit was hundo p my favourite.

I don’t do this very often on WordPress, but I thought I’d post a few choice photos from my trip to Chi-town with Dina.

Traveling for improv is probably my favourite thing to do right now; and that I got to have this quick little trip into improv mecca (we saw a show at the iO! as well) with my Dina, (who I’ve know basically my entire life and who has recently agreed to start an improv company with me,) well that was just the icing on the cake. Or the cheese on the deep-dish, if you will.

I can’t wait to see where improv-travel will take me next. Or what all-women show I produce as a result of the burning hot lady-fire She the People lit under my ass.

 

 

It takes a village

Last night, my Niagara-based improv ensemble premiered our competitive-style “Improv Fallout” show for a standing-room-only house in downtown St. Catharines. It was, to be brief, incredible.

Mainly, I wanted to point out what else went behind the production, because it was one of the first times in my career as a comedy producer that I had a team of individuals around me, supporting a project so enthusiastically that ALL these things happened:

  • First of all, they actually invited people to come friggin’ see them perform, so we packed the house ’til it was, as mentioned standing-room-only.
  • When given the rehearsal schedule, some performers requested additional rehearsal time to ensure their performance would be up to snuff.
  • They showed up for rehearsal like, AN HOUR before their call to help set up without being asked.
  • They created an art wall for the show JUST FOR FUN.

Screenshot 2018-03-25 23.20.42

  • One of the performer’s partners agreed to work the Box Office.
  • One of the performer’s partners took really great photos during the show.
  • A performer who WASN’T EVEN ON THE SHOW agreed to collect email addresses so we could continue to spread the word about our group and ran back and forth to help make sure the show ran smoothly again, without being asked.
  • One of the performers fearlessly approached people asking for suggestions before the show started.
  • One of the performers hand-crafted voting circles with one colour on one side, and the other on the other side, which was challenging she admitted, but worth it because they looked so good!
  • Some of our performers took to social media before, during and after the show to share the experience with others.
  • Some of our performers learned how to use social media for the show.
  • One of the performers went to Fabricland for the first time in her life to actually buy fabric to be used to discern the different teams on stage.
  • Our tech created a special playlist for the show to get the audience feelin’ funky.
  • One of the performers risked his neck to drape the curtains in such a way as to make the space look a bit more ascetically pleasing.
  • One of the performers drove a long long way to come to the show even though she’d worked all day and had to go right back immediately after the performance.
  • One of the performers refused payment until it was physically forced onto him. (That’s right, the performers were paid.)
  • All of the performers were super supportive of one another on stage as well as off stage and, even after being “voted off” the show stayed intensely engaged with participating in the show with members of the audience and online.
  • I’m probably forgetting a million more things…

 

It’s INCREDIBLE to know that this wonderful collaboration is what it can feel like to create live comedy.

My Creative Metadata

Again, reading along with Ben Noble’s weekly newsletter, he brought up the concept of Creative Metadata. Quick, read that article. Go on. I’ll be here.

OK good, you came back.

I thought it’d be cool from time to time to talk a bit about the creative metadata I produce as a producer of comedy shows (and an improv teacher / writer / podcaster / comedy performer/ etc.)

For example, here’s some metadata for today. Enjoy!

I bought a chalk-board to keep score for next week’s Improv Fallout show at Michael’s. It was not an essential purchase, but I thought it’d be fun / cute.

Updated bujo & trello boards. Doesn’t seem like English, but it helps keep me on my game.

I wrote up the structure for the games and the order of the games we’ll be playing at next weekend’s show. This is first show of Improv Niagara’s 2nd year in existence. In rehearsal, I had most of the cast try out the structure of the games. It’ll work better with an audience. Right now it feels less flowy than our regular rehearsals, but I think it’ll be a really great show. Slight hiccup with a thing I don’t want to go into too much detail about, but hiccup was had and water was consumed (this is a metaphor.) I switched up one of the games last minute because I realized it’d be more fun than the original one I’d written down. Nobody shines in Movie in a Minute. It’s just mass chaos.

Before rehearsal, I began editing a new podcast my brother and I recorded a few weeks ago. It’s a long one, but an interesting one. Tried to make sure to post a new quote from our last guest’s episode and to make the design interesting enough that people will be drawn to it. Update at the end of the day = no tweet likes. Stupid Twitter.

Realizing being home in Niagara is giving me tonnes of stand-up material I should be writing down. Operative note, should. This is why I stopped doing stand-up. Improv requires less pockets for tiny joke books. 

The official *data* of this will be an awesome improv show next Saturday and a great new edition of The Constant Struggle Podcast and MAYBE a new stand-up routine in the near future? <— (and normally that’s all people get to see, none of this nifty behind-the-scenes metadata.)

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention one last important piece of metadata:

ALL TIME on the crapper is spent promoting shows and liking posts on social media.

ALL TIME.

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