Fallout Triumph

How epic was this Friday’s Improv Fallout?! The house was absolutely packed. There was a line-up to get in. A line-up! People came from out of town (read: another country) to see the show, to laugh with us and to celebrate.

The support from the community in Niagara has been absolutely incredible, and I mean that. Because I know what it’s like to put on a show, and to have it fall flat with low support from community. I know what that feels like when you put on a show that you think people will really enjoy, you assemble a great cast, and the concept for the show is really interesting, then for months, nobody shows.

Because I know what that’s like, and because I know how much the cast of Improv Fallout actually cares about getting up there and doing their best, supporting one another, and putting in the effort, judgement-free and enthusiastic, that’s why I feel a whole year of Improv Fallout is nothing short of a triumph.

That’s why I feel honoured when new audience members come to check us out. That’s why I feel proud when audiences return time and again.

This cast is an ensemble. They have grown together. They lift one another up.

No pretence. No competition. They prioritize learning, growing, friendship and in-so-doing, they make funny, funny magic.

I feel lucky to be a part of it.

Photos by Erica Sherwood. Except the one OF her. Who took that one?

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Shame!

First Time?

I felt instant improv shame earlier this week…

I’ve been reading Mick Napier’s “Improvise. Scenes from the Inside Out” (a book I feel I should have read a long time ago, and feel even more shame about having waited so long to pick it up.) In a Harold show, playing with people with whom I don’t regularly play, I pulled a rookie “This is my first time…” move to initiate a scene.

According to Napier, first day/time scenes are justifications allowing the improviser to be incompetent or uninformed in the scene. Basically, by admitting to not knowing anything, you put the onus on your partner to do all the heavy lifting.

Reading the book, I honestly didn’t think I had a problem with “first days” or too much justification. But as I entered the scene on Tuesday and those words came out of my mouth, I wanted to hit the Rewind button and swallow them back in.

I imagined Napier walking into the theatre, hearing me utter those words, roll his eyes and walk right back out.

Luckily, I had a good partner. And heavy-lifting, he did.

A nice thing about a long form set is that there’s often chances to redeem yourself.

Hit it Harder

Later in the set, I rolled around on the floor for what felt like hours (it was maybe max 15 seconds.) This is a pretty big physical offer, even for someone who doesn’t mind the occasionally large physical offer. In these moments, I felt a strong sense of “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING? YOU LOOK LIKE A FOOL” — not only in my own head, but I imagined it coming from the other characters in the scene and every other improviser in the audience.

It had also been a while since I’ve felt those feelings on stage. It’s often my job to be foolish. By now, I’m pretty used to it. But it is interesting to notice that sense of the anxiety to conform still exists in my trained-to-be-silly brain.

Conversely, I also felt a sense of ridiculous joy rolling around on the floor, in the act itself, and the reaction it was garnering from my scene partners. This helped me double down on my commitment to it.

“If you feel like bailing in an improv scene hit it even harder, instead” – Mick Napier

That I did. And I even brought the rolling around back in a later beat.

All this to say that the shame I felt at the beginning of the scene did not stop me from committing. The inner judgement didn’t close me off and make me comment on the scene instead of fully engage in it. It may have even helped me play harder.

So don’t let shame, embarrassment or self-judgement shut you down. Improv needs you to be open, and it’s hard to do that if you’re worried about pleasing everybody, including a director from Chicago you’ve never even met.

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.

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.