solitary warmups

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.

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Pre-game rituals

get over yourself and just get goofy, idiot

For my pre-practice rituals (and I guess pre-show rituals, tho’ I haven’t had a show in a while), in addition to ½ cup coffee, 3-5 min of Mind Games on the train, and 3-5 min of Dada Monologue as I walk from the station to the studio, I’ve added “be funny for a few hours beforehand” to the list of things to help put my mind in a peak improv mood.

…Which sounds a little weird when I type it out, not gonna lie. I believe that trying to be funny is a recipe for automatically not being funny. More accurately, I am trying to let myself be funny. Permission granted, go ahead, do it.

Here’s the thing: one of the reasons I started getting into improv in the first place was to learn how to be funny without alcohol.

The reason I think it’s easier to be funny with alcohol is because alcohol allows my carefully constructed wall of social propriety to fall to the ground. More succinctly: lowered inhibitions.

And one of the things I’ve learned from doing improv is that it’s hard to be funny if you’re inhibited. Inhibitions = fear = not taking risks, avoiding bold moves, doing cautious improv = bad comedy.

And the inhibitions that stop me from being a goof in everyday conversations are pretty much the same inhibitions that make me freeze up when I improvise.

So: I’m trying to practice being a goof in everyday conversations. I do characters and voices, I break into small silly dances, I crack jokes without second-guessing how funny they are. (A lot of it is in the delivery, I’ve found. And shrugging off the failures. And having an appreciative audience. My coworkers, thankfully, chuckle politely anytime they identify a joke as a joke, which is enough for me.)

My point: in my estimation, as an anxious performer, learning to be loose and goofy in front of one person… is a precursor to learning to be loose and goofy in front of seven people… is a precursor for learning to be loose and goofy in front of a thousand people.

Can I maintain this playful persona all the time? Fuck no. I can’t force playfulness if I’m not feeling it, but— I guess in the school of CBT— I can focus on little concrete goals, like finding reasons to insert silly voices into my conversations. And over time, “silly voices” can lead to “silly” can lead to “less inhibited improv.”

My own probably-ignorant two-cent ramblings, as ever.

 

P.S. Text images are dumb! Don’t care, using them anyway, fuck you.

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.)