Category Archives: improv

Photo by Linzi Clark

Reflecting your scene partner

A few weeks ago, I started trying this exercise with the teams I coach: Whoever speaks second in the scene may only repeat words that the first person says. For instance:

A:
I had a terrible day.
B:
Terrible?
A:
Yeah, I got laid off again.
B:
Again?
A:
Exactly! They just hired me back a couple weeks ago.
B:
A couple weeks ago?
A:
Nobody does that. Hires you back, gives you one paycheck and then gives you a pink slip the next day.
B:
Nobody does that.
A:
I think the boss there must be a sadist.

And so on. Notice how easy this is. It’s easy for the player repeating, all they have to do is repeat a few words that the first speaker says. And it’s easy for the speaker too, they just keep elaborating on what they just said.

Are all the questions ok?

Well, there are a lot of questions, and we all know from improv 101 that we don’t ask questions. But the truth is many kinds of questions are useful, not wrong. You probably know that already. In this case, the questions are helping because they focus the players on precisely the part that is most interesting.

Take the following statement, “My only daughter left for college today to study English.” If you were the repeater, your options might be:

  • “Your only daughter?
  • “For college?
  • “Today?”
  • “To study English?”

In each case, you would focus the scene in a particular direction. If you were the speaker, you would naturally elaborate on whatever point that the repeater asks you about. So while it may look like the repeater isn’t doing much, they are actually being extremely useful. They are guiding the speaker to the part of the statement which seems most interesting and could turn into something fun.

How you ask the question is important too. The repeater should be doing more than just repeating the words, they should be repeating them in a way that reveals their point of view. For instance, if they are surprised when they say “Today?”, that might make the speaker realize that the daughter left for school three months early and that she must really want to get away from home. If the repeater says “To study English?” with disdain, the speaker might realize that he had hoped his daughter would study something different.

So just ask questions?

No, the repeater doesn’t always have to ask questions. Sometimes, you should just repeat the part that you agree with. For instance, “Yeah… English” instead of “To study English?” You can also add a word or two like “right”, “yeah”, or “huh?” You don’t need to be super strict about repeating the exact words, as long as you are reflecting back to your scene partner the part that you most want to hear more about.

What should I do if I’m the speaker?

If you are the speaker in this exercise, let the repeater guide you. Respond directly to whatever they repeat back to you. In a way, the repeater is in charge, coaching you to elaborate on the most interesting details. With that in mind, if you are the repeater, and the speaker hasn’t said anything new or interesting in their last statement, just wait. Stay silent for a little bit and let them say another line or two until they say something you really want to hear more about.

Why do this?

Because it’s a lot easier than typical yes-anding. That’s the other improv 101 rule you are breaking by doing this. Technically you are just yesing. You are not adding information. Sometimes the beginning of improv scenes can be so laborious with all the mental gymnastics behind the diligent yes-anding. One person establishes the location, the other yes-ands with a relationship, the first person makes the relationship more specific (and so on). Sometimes that works, sometimes you can see how hard the improvisors are working to agree correctly and it’s just frustrating because each person in turn establishes new details which don’t work very well with what the other person has established.

Another reason to practice repeating, is that it’s a tool you can use anywhere in any scene, even if your scene partner doesn’t know what you are doing. Try it in your next rehearsal, show or class. When you are doing a scene, use this repeating technique for just your first 2 or 3 lines. See what happens. I bet the top of your scene will go very smoothly.

For a variation on this exercise, try this. After a minute or two of one person repeating, the players should flip roles. In the middle of the scene, the repeater should start responding with their own point of view about the topic or situation. When that happens, the speaker flips into repeater mode. A third variation is to have a longer scene and to flip roles several times in the scene. I was amazed how good the scenes were when people flipped back and forth. The players should simply follow these two rules:

  • Repeat something your scene partner said.
  • Or elaborate on whatever your scene partner just reflected back at you.

Finally, this is just an exercise. I’m not saying this is how you should improvise all the time. I’m saying this is a tool that you should add to your tool belt. Sometimes, at the beginning of the scene it’s better to just listen to your scene partner and repeat something. Do it because they said something interesting and you want to hear more about it. Do it because you didn’t quite understand what they just said and you want it clarified. Do it because they just said something a little crazy, and you want to make sure that they own it. But definitely do it.

Photos from July 17 Hump Night

Some photos from last week’s Hump Night. Tonight’s show will be the last Hump Night of the summer. We return in September. More details to come.

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Last Hump Night of the Summer!

This is the last Hump Night of the summer. We won’t be back until September so be sure to come down and check us out. Thanks!

humpnightposterHump Night returns this week with another great lineup of standup, improv, music, and storytelling.
7:30 – The Improv Hour
The improv hour features teams of players coached by Kevin Mullaney

  • Pancakes Tonight! with Will Meinen, Oopey Mason, David Prouty, Danielle Bluford, Shana Weinstein and Alex Frenkel
  • Richard and the Kids with Richard Scruggs, Jude Tedmori, Kyle Reinhard, Alex Hanpeter, Bethanie John, Matt Pina
  • Delicately Seasoned with Grant Grieshaber, Sara Cardon, Caitlin Wilson, Alex Romero, Jeff Jackel, Phil Caron, Dan de Dios
8:30 – The Variety Hour
Standup, storytelling, music, sketch and occasionally some improv.

  • Stand Up by Collin Bullock
  • Storytelling by Don Hall
  • Solo Performance by Amrita Dhaliwal
  • Musical Guest Sad Banana
  • Solo Performance by Lindsay Williams
9:45 – Mullaney Chain
Kevin invites a great improvisor to play, who invites a third, who invites a fourth who invites one more. This week’s guests:

  • Colleen Doyle
  • Alison Gates

Please RSVP on Facebook!

Hump Night, July 17th

humpnightposterHump Night returns this week with another great lineup of standup, improv, music, and storytelling.
7:30 – The Improv Hour
The improv hour features teams of players coached by Kevin Mullaney

  • Pancakes Tonght! with Will Meinen, Oopey Mason, David Prouty, Danielle Bluford, Shana Weinstein and Alex Frenkel
  • Richard and the Kids with Richard Scruggs, Jude Tedmori, Kyle Reinhard, Alex Hanpeter, Bethanie John, Matt Pina
  • Delicately Seasoned with Grant Grieshaber, Sara Cardon, Caitlin Wilson, Alex Romero, Jeff Jackel, Phil Caron, Dan de Dios
8:30 – The Variety Hour
Standup, storytelling, music, sketch and occasionally some improv.

  • Stand Up by Marz Timms
  • Solo Performance by Claire Friedman
  • Storytelling by Angie McMahon
  • Storytelling by Shannon Cason
  • Music by Plucky Rosenthal
9:45 – Mullaney Chain
Kevin invites a great improvisor to play, who invites a third, who invites a fourth who invites one more.

  • Chris Witaske
  • Tim Stoltenberg
  • Beth Melewski
  • Tim Mason

Please RSVP on Facebook!

mullaney-chain-dcm

Mullaney Chain at the Del Close Marathon

I’ll be performing in Mullaney Chain at the Del Close Marathon this weekend. I am super excited about the lineup. These are some of the best improvisors and funniest guys I know. I invited Andy Secunda. He invited Gavin Speiller. Gavin invited John Gemberling, and John invited Andy Rocco. The show is at 5:45pm at the Hudson. Skip the line at UCB Chelsea and start your DCM15 with us. Bassprov is directly after!

I’ll also be in the 7pm show at UCB Chelsea with most (if not all) of the former and current UCBT Artistic Directors in ADeez Nutz.

Can’t wait!

third-wheel

Improv scene templates: Third Wheel

We tried this template at the end of a rehearsal this week a couple of times. It was a pretty fun one, although I think there is such an inherent game to it, it’s almost short form. It’s a variation on the non sequitur scenes I described a few weeks ago, but this one is for three people:

Three people start a scene
You can have them choose their own activity, but I had them just having lunch or dinner, sitting at a table.
Two people have a conversation
The first two people who talk respond to each other directly and talk about the same topic. The third person just listens to their conversation.
Third person responds with a non sequitur
Eventually, the third person chimes in, but talks about something completely different from the other two.
The first two people continue their conversation
Whenever the first two people talk, they are talking about their original conversation and whenever the third person talks they are talking about their own topic. Everyone should listen to each other and should react honestly to how it feels to have this kind of conversation.

From here, the scene could go in lots of different ways. Perhaps the conversations could merge, or the third wheel could keep trying to merge the conversations and failing. Since we only did it a couple of times, I’m not sure what all the variations could look like.

I’m realizing that a major theme in my improv thinking these days is how important surprises are. The dialog of improv scenes is often way to linear and gets stuck on whatever topic the players start with. Non sequitur is one tool to fight this tendency.

Please let me know in the comments if you try this and what your thoughts are.

Also, please take a look at my other posts on scene templates.

humpnightposterinfo

Hump Night lineup for June 12th

humpnightposterHump Night returns this week with another great lineup of standup, improv, music, and storytelling.
7:30 – The Improv Hour
The improv hour features teams of players coached by Kevin Mullaney

  • Pancakes Tonght! with Will Meinen, Oopey Mason, David Prouty, Danielle Bluford, Shana Weinstein and Alex Frenkel
  • Richard and the Kids with Richard Scruggs, Jude Tedmori, Kyle Reinhard, Alex Hanpeter, Bethanie John, Matt Pina
  • Delicately Seasoned with Grant Grieshaber, Sara Cardon, Caitlin Wilson, Alex Romero, Jeff Jackel, Phil Caron
8:30 – The Variety Hour
Standup, storytelling, music, sketch and occasionally some improv.

  • Music by Andy Eninger
  • Standup by Mia McCullough
  • Standup by Jeff Hansen
  • Sketch by Sex Puppet
  • Music by Cover Stories
9:45 – Mullaney Chain
Kevin invites a great improvisor to play, who invites a third, who invites a fourth who invites one more. This weeks guests include:

  • Zach Zimmerman
  • Willie Myers
  • Blythe Roberson
  • Molly Todd

Please RSVP on Facebook!

Photo by Lisa Padilla

Improv scene templates: We Need to Talk

Last night I was working with one of the groups that perform at Hump Night. We crafted a template together that was producing some wonderful scenes. The template is a little more complicated than scene templates I’ve written about before. It took us a few steps to get there during the rehearsal. So rather than jumping to the end, I’ll walk through the steps we took.

Step 1: One Person Silent

I’ve been working a lot lately with one person silent scenes. This was first explained to me by Jill Bernard from Huge Theater in Minneapolis (IRC Podcast 2010-02-15 Jill Bernard). The exercise is very simple. You do a two person scene where one person doesn’t speak. All they do is listen, and all they have to do is listen.

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I could use a little help

Hey there,

Five months ago, I started a variety show called Hump Night. If you follow me, you’ve probably heard about it. You may have come to see it once or twice. Maybe you have even performed at Hump Night. Well, if you like Hump Night, if you have been getting something out of it, I could use a little help.

The deal I have with Strawdog is pretty good. They don’t charge me upfront for the space. Instead, they have a bar in the back of the room. They have a certain minimum that they’d like the bar to make and if they don’t reach that, then I have to make up the difference. Many times, that hasn’t been a problem. Between the donations and the bar, I haven’t had to pay a lot each week. And in the beginning, the students who were performing were essentially subsidizing the rest of the night. I was using part of the money from their tuition to pay for the space.

However, some nights it has cost a lot to run the show. Sometimes we don’t sell much at the bar and we don’t take enough in donations and I end up spending more to keep Hump Night going, then I earn for coaching the teams that perform there.

So there are a few things I could do.

  • I could search for another venue, one that would be less expensive. There are not a lot of venues out there that are as nice as Strawdog and less expensive though. Plus I do really like the location.
  • I could try to charge for the show. But I really prefer the donation model for this show.
  • I could do better at promoting the show. This is true and I’m working on it. It’s a challenge to get people there and I’m constantly trying to figure out the most time-effective ways to get the word out.
  • I could close the show. This is an option. I currently have extended the show through July, and if I can’t figure out a way to support the show, this is the likely outcome.

So what can you do? Maybe you perform at Hump Night, maybe you have come to see some shows. If you get something out of the show and you want to see it continue past July, there are some things you can do.

  • When you come see the show, have a beer or two. Every dollar you spend at the bar is as good as throwing a dollar into the bucket.
  • If you don’t drink, please put a few dollars in the bucket.
  • If you perform, try to recruit one or two people to come each week.

The thing is with the number of people participating in Hump Night in some fashion it shouldn’t be hard to make enough to keep it going. And I don’t mind pitching in a few bucks myself.

I think though, if I’m asking for money so directly, I’m going to take a leap here myself. It’s a small one, but I’m going to change how the donations work. I think people aren’t really sure what happens to the donations and so they are a little reluctant to give. So every show, I’m going to give half the donations to the performers in the Variety Hour. It probably won’t be a huge amount, but I have a hunch that if I give away half, the audience will be more apt to throw some money in the bucket. And this new policy starts tonight.

See you at Hump Night!

-Kevin

humpnightposterinfo

Hump Night: May 29th, 2013

humpnightposterHump Night returns this week with another great lineup of standup, improv, music, and storytelling.
7:30 – The Improv Hour

The improv hour features teams of players coached by Kevin Mullaney

  • Team TBA: Will Meinen, Oopey Mason, David Prouty, Danielle Bluford, Shana Weinstein (and more to come)
  • Richard and the Kids: Richard Scruggs, Jude Tedmori, Kyle Reinhard, Alex Hanpeter, Bethanie John, Matt Pina, Matt Visconage
  • Delicately Seasoned: Lisa Akroush Grant Grieshaber, Sara Cardon, Caitlin Wilson, Matthew Fenton, Alex Romero, Jeff Jackel, Phil Caron
8:30 – The Variety Hour
Standup, storytelling, music, sketch and occasionally some improv.
  • Sketch by Katherine and Joe
  • Standup by Kris Simmons
  • Standup by Alexandra Tsarpalas
  • A story by Greg Collozo
  • A special appearance by Lady Love
9:45 – Mullaney Chain

Kevin invites a great improvisor to play, who invites a third, who invites a fourth who invites one more. This week’s guests:

  • Kevin Reome
  • Chris Day
  • Jacqueline Stone
  • Abby McEnany

PAY WHAT YOU WANT – Donations appreciated.