Month: September 2014

No likes

Like

An amateur observation:

As soon as improvisers use the word “like” in their expositions, I mentally check out.

I empathize with the behavior. I do it myself. We’re making stuff up on the spot, and we say “like” in normal offstage conversations, and it’s a perfectly reasonable word to use. But in improv, “like” is this big neon sign that screams “I need to pump more information into this scene,” “I can’t discover right now so I’m inventing,” “I need to use a filler word until my brain catches up to my mouth.”

It shocks me out of the scene. Suddenly the charming improv I was enjoying seems like overworked sketch, where the players are trying too hard to be clever.

It’s such a small thing. I’m weirded out that my reaction is this visceral. Fuckin’ like.

(Edit for specificity: “Like” can be effective when used sparingly, as a conscious character choice.)

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Support

I went to a show last week where there were 6 people in the audience, including the director (who was taking notes).

In cases like this, I feel it is my duty to laugh as much as possible, because I am sympathetic to how nerve-wracking it is to perform for a tiny unresponsive crowd.

And as I sat there, giggling as much as I could honestly muster, I realized: part of what I love about watching improv is feeling like I’m a part of it, like I’m supporting the players, like my joy (and expression of it) is the fuel that lets them do their awesome thing.

It satisfies that craving to make the world a better place.

 

…..

 

I’ve realized that I usually play better/more fearlessly with less experienced players— partly because less experienced players often go to crazytown, thus providing me with easy opportunities for honest reactions & calling out their contradictions— but largely because I can see that they’re more scared than I am.

SOMEONE’S got to drive the scene somewhere. And if it’s just the two of us on stage, and if it seems unlikely to be them, then I guess it’s gotta be me.

And so I actually pull my weight and support my scene partner.

When I play with equally/more experienced players, though, I’m the scared one, and I almost always make them lead. I hardly ever initiate, walk on, tag out. I “yes” whatever ideas they throw at me, but I struggle to “yes AND” to build the scene.

In my head, I’m supporting them by not fucking up whatever brilliant ideas they’re trying to accomplish. In reality, I’m only supporting by being another warm body on stage, which is maybe comforting but not particularly helpful.

 

(For this reason, I dream of doing a practice session [or two] where we agree that *I* have to initiate every scene I’m in. Even on days when I decide that I will force myself to do lots of initiations, my scene partner is quicker on the draw and always starts a scene before I’ve quite pieced together a coherent idea. Because this happens pretty much every time, I’ve given up trying. “Go on, partner,” I say, “what have you got? I got an emotion, and I’ll mirror you, but I got nothin’ to say. Initiate for me, I’ll wait.”

Ick. Talk about leaving someone out there.)

 

…..

 

I was asked to do a small show last week with one of the Magnet veteran house teams. One of them had seen me do jams, apparently, and liked the cut of my jibe. I immediately agreed to it, because DUH. But I knew it wasn’t going to go great— I hadn’t done any long form in months, I hadn’t done this specific form EVER, the show was late at night and my brain was foggy… but most of all, I knew I’d be playing with veteran improvisers I admire, and I knew I’d play scared because of that.

Which is pretty much how it went down.

I’m not devastated, but I am annoyed at myself.

…..

 

So. Points:

  1. I am good at supporting from the audience. This makes me feel good.
  2. I am pretty okay at supporting less experienced players onstage. This makes me feel pretty good.
  3. I am not good at supporting more experienced players onstage. This makes me feel bad.

 

Conclusions:

The more experience I have, the more situations will statistically fall into categories #1 and #2, and fewer into #3, and I will therefore feel good a higher percentage of the time. Keep on truckin’.

Notes from Magnet Level 4 Monoscene Class #1

After over a month of sadly clicking “refresh” on the Magnet class list webpage, hoping another Monday or Wednesday Level 3 or 4 would be announced, an open slot magically appeared for a closed-out Wednesday Level 4 I’d been pining for. What. After a brief assessment of my financial situation and double-checking that I could commit for the next 3 months, I jumped on that open slot. This all happened yesterday, and the first class was today.

Yay I’m taking a class again!!!

(And then I remembered I’m terrible at monoscenes! But that’s why you take classes, right? If I were already awesome, I wouldn’t need someone to teach me how to do this!)

So I’m jotting down whatever notes I can remember from class, to help me rock the monoscene as much as I can.

These are not comprehensive, and are mostly for my own use.

 

—–

Exercises:

  • Warm-ups: Name + gesture (Superheroes), What are you doing, basic warm-up scenes
  • Warm-up scenework: Initiation + strong emotional reaction, Character matching
  • Monoscene specific:
    • Build out an environment with 3 “stations” (things to touch); then a second person comes in and initiates the speaking part of the scene while interacting with the 3 stations the first person set up.
    • Two people start a scene (in an environment); then we pause and discuss, as a class, some options for who an appropriate walk-on might be.

 

—–

Building an environment

When your scene partner does an action (interacting with the environment), and you have no idea what it is, just go over there and approximate what you saw your scene partner do.

Possible outcomes:

  1. You’ll understand what they were going for once you go through the motions.
  2. You’ll still have no idea what it is, but you’ll be able to name the thing.
  3. You’ll still have no idea what it is, but you don’t HAVE to know what it is, because the scene isn’t ABOUT your environment, because you don’t need to TALK about your environment ANYWAY.

—–

Two-person scenes + walk-ons

Walk-ons are still scary! Aaaaaaaagh I am a huge scaredy cat.

The first two people in a monoscene: match! Maybe not as much as you would for a regular two-person scene, but matching accents, jobs, and/or relationships (etc.) are great tools.

The third person (first walk-on) can be whomever, but:

  1. If the entire scene is largely about some offscreen person (“I want to sleep with Jessica!” “After what she did to me?” “She’s my spirit animal!” “I’ll never forgive either of you!”), save that person’s walk-on until closer to the end. Build and heighten this Jessica character, so when she finally walks on, she’s the big satisfactory “ah” we’ve all been waiting for.
  2. Another parallel match can work well— like, again, matching accents, jobs (preferably a coworker— if you’re a boss, don’t just talk about your employees doing the job better), and/or relationships— to help flesh out the world the first two people have started building.
  3. Someone else in the world that the first two characters have set up. Keep your ears open. Where are the characters? Who else might exist in this location? Does one of the characters have a brother? A child? A teacher he/she is avoiding?

 

—–

Personal notes

  • Stop being scared (but you knew that)— if the scene needs a thing, go out there and do that thing, even if you have no idea what or how to do it. (Maybe ask about how fully formed the premises/walk-ons need to be— or maybe you’ll find out)
  • Respond to the last thing that was said— even if you think you’re mostly doing that, you and your scene partner(s) may not be on quite the same page. If he/she uses a colorful word, grab on to that word and repurpose/repeat it. (Remember Sebastian’s trick of just repeating the thing the other person said!)
  • Listen! Drink coffee! My brain fogged over after 8:30, and zoning out is terrible for improv.

 

 

…I keep skimming the above section and misreading it as “fully formed penises.” Heh heh heh.

 

…Aight, it’s after 1am and I need to get up in less than 5 hours.

Coming out

Woooooooo!!!

 

A few weeks ago, as I was leaving a social gathering, my good friend since middle school (high school besties!) took me aside and shyly/excitedly mentioned that she was taking group music lessons, and she somehow ended up being the singer, and the group was performing in a bar in our hometown in a couple weeks, and, y’know, if I had time, maybe I could swing by?

“YES!” I screamed, surprising both of us. “YES holy fuck that’s AWESOME!!!!!!!”

This past week, I drove an hour to come see her, and it was amazing. All the student musicians had only first touched their instruments three months ago, and I was super impressed. But the part that made my heart explode— my introverted friend strutted onto that stage and fucking OWNED it, on pitch, rocking the fuck out. Were there a couple notes that weren’t quite what I remembered from the radio cuts, maybe. I didn’t care. I was grinning with glee the whole freaking time.

And I thought: I bet this is what it’s like for outsiders to come watch their friends do a Level 1 improv class show.

If I’d known, back when I was taking Level 1, that my beginner-level skills had the power to spark such joy for other people, I’d’ve told everyone.

 

……….

 

I just hit my one-year-since-starting-Level-1 Improv-ersary last week.

 

And my brain said:

Hey.

It’s been a year, and I’m still doing this.

Why am I still doing it?

I’m sort of convinced that everyone secretly hates me, and I’m working through some petty angry drama on my end right now, so the social thing isn’t a strong motivator these days, so… not that.

I didn’t suddenly get good at improv, so not that.

It still scares the bejeezus out of me, so not that.

Right now, I’m not taking classes, I’m not on a team, and I’m not organizing a practice group. I have zero obligation to commit time to improv, but I’m still carving out time for it.

Why?

Am I in this for real?

Have I proven that I’m not going to drop this the moment it gets hard to handle?

Am I an improviser yet?

 

……….

 

I have told probably ~4 people outside of the improv community that I do improv. Word spreads anyway— “Wait, whoa, WHO said I was doing an improv thing last Friday? I never told HER I do this…!”— and photos/posts/links/event tags leak through Facebook, even if you hide stuff from your Timeline.

I’ve always been afraid that non-improvisers:

  1. Will judge me offstage, because I’m not the most hilarious person offstage.
  2. Will judge me onstage, because they’re expecting Whose Line and I’m Amateur Hour.
  3. Will constantly ask me “so how’s improv going?!”, and I’ll go through a rough patch where I don’t want to talk about it, or I’ll quit improv and everyone will keep asking “so how’s improv going?!”, and I’ll have to face a bunch of really awkward uncomfortable conversations.

Those are all still concerns. I’m not going to start broadcasting my improv life to the world anytime soon.

But with hitting the one-year mark, something in me was like: You can come out now. Maybe this IS just a phase for you. But it’s shaping up to be a long phase. And it’s been a part of your life for long enough. You shouldn’t have to hide it.

So. This little light of mine? Maybe it’s time to start creeping out from under this bushel.

 

……….

 

My friend and I chatted after she sang her heart out in the bar.

“Some woman came up to me and said, ‘You looked like you were having fun!'” she said. “In other words, we sounded awful!”

“No no no no no no no!” I said. “Looking like you’re having fun onstage is half of it!”

She seemed skeptical.

“No, so, look, I’ve been doing improv— comedy— in New York for a year—” I blurted.

“Wait, WHAT?!” she said. “That’s awesome! How did I not know this?!”

“You didn’t know because I don’t tell anyone. I think you’re the fifth person I’ve told. I’m coming out, haha!”

She chuckled. I prattled on.

“In the improv that I’ve been watching, the best groups are the ones having the most fun, see. Skill is part of it, sure, but if YOU ain’t having fun, ain’t NOBODY having fun.”

 

That’s where I am right now. Stop hiding. Come out, have fun, shine bright. Only asshole snobs give a fuck whether your brightness comes from a $2 LED flashlight or a $4000 track lighting system. Bright is bright, and your brightness has the power to rock the world of everyone around you.

Character Alphabet

CharacterAlphabet.png

I have a new solitary pre-game ritual/warmup that I’ve been enjoying while commuting to improv practices/ shows, and thought I’d share. I’m calling it Character Alphabet.

Cliff’s Notes version: make sentences where all words start with the same letter of the alphabet, and do each sentence as a different character.

…..

With the Dada Monologue, you’re trying to come up with random words on the fly; you start forming your mouth into a letter, and you just trust that the rest of the word will follow (like grabbing something out of the air). Which is fine. But I kept falling into the same default emergency starting consonants. “Fffffutile dinosaurs c… c… cracked generic pastries, and c… classic ffffffrankfurters p-p-partied with five piranhas.”

Plus I realized I was using a lot of the same words from day to day. “Potato” kept popping up a lot.

So to force myself to get more words and letters into my brain, I started doing short four (or more)-word sentences that cycle through the alphabet. Words can ONLY begin with the letter you are on. Start with a different letter every session so you don’t overwork the same section of the alphabet. I try to make the words as visual and specific as possible (avoid abstract vocabulary like “freedom,” “incidentally,” “existentialism,” etc.).

“Narcissistic newts nipped nine Norwegian nails.”

“Orange octopuses orated occasionally.”

“Pentagonal pterodactyls pined peacefully.”

Etc.

 

Fun, right?

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE

 

Whenever I’ve tried Napier’s “Solo Character Switches” exercise, I blank out of words to say, and I never get through more than about 2 minutes of the exercise (covering probably about 3 characters instead of the 12 I should be covering with 10-second switches).

So I’m combining Character Switches with Alphabet Soup. Do a different character for each 4-word sentence. (I base the character off the first word of the sentence.)

While I’m not brave enough to break into full-out characters on a New York City subway, I have no problem mouthing words in public, silently positioning my throat and lips exactly how they’d need to go to create the voice of this character. I can visualize what sound would come out of me if I were to activate my vocal cords. It’s as close as I can get to full-out characters without becoming a public nuisance.

 

To me, characters are one of the most fun parts of improv (which I always forget), and coming up with words on the spot is one of the hardest parts of improv. This exercise isn’t the most challenging warm-up in the world, but it’s a pleasant wake-up for the bits of my brain that need to get woken up.