Hitting branches

On Sunday, my mono-scene class had its last show (at the Magnet, Level 4 and up get four shows, ‘cos you get to be a better performer by performing). It wasn’t great. When our instructor gave us notes afterwards, one of my classmates started apologizing, and the instructor broke to give us a quick pep talk instead:

Mistakes are part of this. We all want to be perfect improvisers, and we will NEVER be perfect improvisers, none of us. No matter how long you do it, you will ALWAYS be messing up. We’re all trying to climb this impossibly tall unclimbable tree, and all we can do is try to hit a few branches on the way down so we don’t land quite so badly. That’s all improv training is, is learning how to hit branches during our inevitable fall.

Dress for success

The Upright Citizens Brigade believes that new, unproven ensembles should dress in a manner comparable to “business casual.” This will lend an air of professionalism to your show.

In a practical sense, it is important that you always dress so that you are ready to perform. If you are wearing a pair of pants that you’re afraid of getting dirty onstage… [or] wearing a miniskirt that is liable to show off more than you want in certain positions, you may be unwilling to make physical choices that would best serve your scenes. Since you are going to want to be free of restraint, dress to be active. Dress to play. [UCB Manual, pp. 380-381]


To me, “business casual” and “dress to be active” are mutually exclusive. That’s why workout clothes don’t in any way resemble work clothes. I always err on the side of “dress to be active” (and as such, I dress like a slob for my office job, too).

Blazers constrict your arms, button-front shirts can gape, fancy shoes deter you from jumping and editing, ladylike blouses are prone to every kind of reveal, long sleeves in general are too hot for the stage. And so I always come back to a men’s t-shirt, loose jeans, and running shoes. I look like a 14-year-old boy. But at least I can move.

July Magnet Mixer (I'm the lady in the t-shirt)

Is there an upscale designer business casual t-shirt out there I should look into, one that doesn’t have a tuxedo printed on it? What do you wear to perform?

Finding passion

High on jet lag after a successful family reunion on the other side of the country, during which time I established myself as “one of the funny cousins” and remembered how good it feels to have people laugh at your jokes, I went to my first Del Close Marathon (#DCM16) on Friday night. After watching 7 groups of high quality improv, I’m starting to remember why I want to do this.

The best groups—in my estimation—look like they’re having fun. They are doing ridiculous exaggerated characters, and doing buttloads of physical silliness, and calling out everything illogical (which I love to do!).

I mean, that’s not all of it, of course. Part of what separates the wheat from the chaff (IMHO) is an extra helping of intelligence, wit, and fearlessness. And I have to face the reality that maybe I will never fully own those traits. But in the words of Rick Andrews’ Magnet podcast interview (~20:52):

“In Level 1, it’s ‘get over the fear,’ but it’s also like, ‘here are some tools,’ and you teach people character, and emotion, things like that. And they’re not tools just because, like, someone said they are. Like, the more I teach the class, the more it’s apparent to me that these are tools because they help us not think. Character and emotion helps you be in the moment and express yourself. They are ways to fight the fear. They are ways to kill that stuff so you can just follow your passion.”


“It’s just so much easier to follow passion than it is to follow…”
“…an obligation.”

My point: I’m finding that briefly distancing myself (both physically and mentally) is providing a helpful viewpoint for seeing that any worthwhile pursuit of comedy comes from love, not from obligation and dread… and I’m making a liiiiitle bit of headway in finding that love, and losing that obligation and dread.

Pre-show rituals (2)

I sometimes do [a Dada Monologue] as I’m walking to the theater to improvise. It brings to light fun and absurd thoughts: different tools to associate with while improvising, as opposed to the limited range of associations we usually have.

-Mick Napier, founder of the Annoyance Theater


(Right now, my own pre-practice/pre-show ritual is: ½ cup coffee + 3-5 min of Mind Games on the train + 3-5 min of Dada Monologue as I walk from the station to the studio. I don’t know if it actually improves my improvisation, but I sure as hell feel better about it.)

Third show’s a charm

My PIT Level 1 show was on Friday, and I don’t need to rehash it, because objectively the show overall didn’t have a lot of great points. But I felt pretty okay about it, like my particular contributions weren’t too bad. There were plllleeeeeenty of opportunities for me to kick myself later (and even during! “Robin, this scene is flagging! They need support! Do a walk-on! Or an edit! Without being a dick! Argh! How?! Where’s the opportunity??! Dammit, that would’ve been a good spot!! Fuck!!!”), but I feel like I’m starting to get a handle on a little bit of that Improv-Brain I’ve always coveted.

Poppin’ the UCB cherry

I saw my first UCB show!

I recognized the headliner (Mike Birbiglia), but I’d never seen him perform, so for $5, what the hell.

I did NOT recognize any of his fellow improvisers, and my later research revealed that I probably should’ve. Most of them have their own Wikipedia articles and enough fans that Twitter rounds their followers up to Ks.

What I loved about the show— aside from the consistent hilarity you can get from professional comedians— was that Birbiglia wasn’t jokey. He’d tell a story or play a scene or banter with an audience member, and it would be funny because of (a) his delivery + (b) Truth In Comedy.

I love one-liners, but I couldn’t come up with one to save my life.

I dunno. Watching people be this funny without relying on wittiness gives me some hope.

Ladies been improvisin’: A totally unnecessary postgame rehash

Overall: that went pretty well!

We Might Just Kiss: A Female Improv Event

(1) Criticisms first.

I wish I’d gotten out there more, and when I did get out there, I wish I’d said smarter things.

I think those are confidence-borne things that I’ll be struggling with for a long time.

So. I dunno. I’m aware of the problem, 90% of the posts on this blog whine about my lack of confidence, this is a known entity, we’re on it, roger that.

When I talk about lacking confidence, I should specify— I am physically pretty hammy. But when I get up there, my brain deflates like a dead mushroom. I struggle to follow what’s going on. I haven’t developed laser focus yet, and every initiation (after an opening) sets me into a panic of “oh my god, did I zone out during the opening, is she referencing the opening, should I know what to do with this, the audience will know if I missed it, ahhhh I’m just going to sit this one out and let everyone else carry the scene.”

The few times I’ve tried to discuss the “no ideas” issue with my colleagues… it seems like I’m the only one who struggles with it.

Me: I have no ideas. I just go blank when I’m up there.

Them: Wow, really? That must suck.

Ehhhh. I’m still hoping some of this will come with time and practice and experience.

(2) The good.

My warmup scene was very well-received.

Check out all those likes, that's right, I'm fucking awesome

Names and faces blurred to make it marginally harder for creeps to track us down

I’m not terrible at everything, yayyy!!!

It’s my second show ever, and it went better than my first, and maybe my third will go better (maybe not, but I can hope), and it was an experience, and it was kind of fun, and I CAN DO THIS.

On going to friends’ shows

I was a college music major. My mother sings. I have sat through my fair share of concerts. Because that’s what grown-ups do, right? We sigh and suck it up and fidget through boring-ass concerts for our friends and family, because we are obligated to try to make these people happy.

Improv is a totally different experience. When I go to friends’ shows, they shower me with gratitude afterwards (“Thanks for coming!! No, really!”). Which feels weird. I just had a great time laughing my head off. I’m the one who came out ahead in this deal; why are they thanking me?

I genuinely enjoy watching improv— good, bad, everything in between. When I know the people who’re improvising, I dunno, it’s even better. My heart swells with pride when they deliver a good beat; my heart breaks when they get flustered; the laugh lines are somehow twice as funny as they would be from someone I’d never met.

When I watch your show, you’ll get no sighing and sucking it up and fidgeting from me. The anticipation and excitement I feel leading up to your little show is the same I’d feel if you were an honest-to-god celebrity. This shit is addictive.

Ladies be improvisin’

We Might Just Kiss: A Female Improv Event

This past week, I discovered an email from Megan Gray, artistic director at the Magnet. I’m on Magnet and PIT mailing lists by choice, so, y’know, whatever, I opened it.

It was NOT, as I had assumed, a mass-mailing; it was a semi-personal request for me to participate in next week’s monthly “female improv event.”


(I said yes.)

(…after stumbling around my office in disbelief for half an hour.)

Megan often leads those Thursday night jams I do to help conquer my stage fright; she must have tracked me down from that. (Props to her detective skills, ‘cos I never use my last name to sign up.)

I’m terrified.

Trying to morph that terror into “nervous/excited.”

But I’m prepared for this. I’ve spent months focusing on improv and stage fright. The only way to get over my fear is to JUST KEEP FACING IT until I’m not afraid anymore.

This performance will just be one line in my soon-to-be-long list of terrifying performances. It won’t be amazing, and that’s okay.

Maybe I will fall flat on my face again, but the important thing is I AM GOING TO TRY.

Bold character choices. Character, emotion, start in the middle of the scene. Let it evolve. Commit. First unusual thing.

…Get out of your damn head.

Before the show, I have two practice groups and half a class— plenty of chances to work things out, get my head in a good place.

I can do this.

I know what I’m doing.

Deep breaths.

This’ll be fun.