January Improv Performance Class Sold Out

I’ve got enough qualified applicants for the January improv class, so I’m going to list that one as sold out now and figure out the class roster.

If you’d like to be on the waiting list for that class, you can still fill out the application form.

Performance Class Filling Up Fast

The Improv Performance Class that I’m going to start teaching in January has already gotten a lot of applications. I’ve decided to close applications early so that students have plenty of time to plan for their January and February. I’m not sure what day I will cut off applications, but it will be soon. So if you wanted to apply, fill out the application as soon as possible.

I hope to announce other classes soon. Sign up for my newsletter, if you’d like information on future classes.

Kevin Mullaney

[SOLD OUT] Tuesday Night Improv Performance Class with Kevin Mullaney

This class is full. You can still get on the waiting list if you fill out the application form. I’ve also opened up a second class on Monday nights which starts in February.

This is an eight week class for intermediate and advanced improv students with some long form improv experience. You will learn how to create fun, interesting, two-person scenes; explore different ways to create second beats from those scenes; and try connecting different threads at the end of your piece. There will be a special focus on game of the scene and developing characters with interesting points of view.

Kevin Mullaney

Kevin Mullaney

Best of all, the class includes four performances at Strawdog Theatre (in Hugen Hall). Each show will be hosted by your teacher and you will receive notes after the show. The following week, in class, will feature exercises to work on the specific areas of potential improvement identified from the last show.

And it only costs $199!

Click to Apply

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New Class: Improv for Black Boxers

Please help me spread the word. I’ll be teaching a special class for Black Box Acting Studio:

This is for students who have completed three levels over at Black Box. We will be using versions of exercises from the acting program and applying them to improvised scenes, as well as pulling in exercises from my years of experience teaching Improvising from the Gut workshops.

This should be a fun playful experience which should make you a better improvisor and perhaps a better actor too: Perfect for the black box actor who wants to try improv or the improvisor who wants to apply their black box skills to improv.

The class will be held on Tuesday nights Nov 6 – Dec 11, 6-9pm at the Den Theater at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. No class week of Thanksgiving.

NaSkeWriMo Chicago

If you are in Chicago and you are participating in National Sketch Writing Month, you are invited to come to an open mic/sketch reading party on October 7th. Bring copies of your favorite sketches you wrote for this year’s NaSkeWriMo and we will read it together. 

NaSkeWriMo Chicago Afterword
@Upstairs Gallery
Sunday, October 7th, 7:30pm
FREE (suggested donation $5)
BYOB & BYO(S)ketches 

Follow NaSkeWriMo on Tumblr

Emotional Yo-yo

Emotional Yo-yo**

Last week I wrote about reacting strongly to innocuous lines from your scene partner to immediately create interesting moments. It’s quite easy. Just listen to your scene partner, take what they say personally, and respond in way that is specific, strong and believable. That’s a great way to create a single moment, but to make a great scene you need to learn how to play with it.

Here is an exercise called Emotional Yo-yo:

  • Start a simple scene: like two people involved in an everyday activity. Don’t prethink it too much. Just start talking.*
  • One player should choose to react strongly to something from the other player. Once someone reacts in this way, they are the yo-yo and the other player is the hand.
  • If you are the hand, you should play with the yo-yo. Your job is to do and say things that either provoke the yo-yo or placate the yo-yo.
  • If you are the yo-yo, your job is to be affected. Every reaction doesn’t have to be super strong, but often it is. Sometimes the hand will push you away, sometimes the hand will pull you back, sometimes the hand will spin you around. You should be flexible and let yourself be played with.

Some hints and notes

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IRC Podcast with Rachael Mason

I’ve posted a new episode of the IRC Podcast. Rachael Mason, Second City teacher, talks about giving gifts, emotional responses vs. clever lines, 10 minute scenes, playing against type, deconstructions, invocations, bad habits and stage combat.

Specific, strong and believable

About a year ago, Ric Walker introduced me to an exercise. I liked it and tweaked it and started using it myself. It has become one of my favorites.

  1. Player A starts a scene doing something. The activity should be simple and the actor should do it in a neutral way without making a choice for their mood or emotional state.
  2. Player B enters and says the first line of dialog. This first line should be simple and innocuous and should be delivered in a neutral way.
  3. Player A then should react impulsively and emotionally to that line of dialog. They shouldn’t think about it, the reaction should be quick and decisive.
  4. They should then play out the scene.

This exercise can lead to some surprising and very fun opening moments to scenes. When someone reacts in a specific emotional way to a neutral initiation the results are almost always funny. Often, we get an immediate sense of who these characters are and what’s going on. And most importantly, we have a game ready to play: what player B does and says can provoke player A, over and over again.

The key to this working well is in the reaction. It needs to be specific, strong and believable. Sometimes the reaction is so overacted that it’s no longer believable. Sometimes the reaction is too weak and muted and doesn’t feel fun. Sometimes it’s not specific enough and has nothing to do with Player B’s initiation. It feels random and unearned. If Player A treats whatever Player B says as important and lets it affect them personally, their reaction will often be just right.

Some notes

If a player is having trouble making strong reactions, encourage them to react with their whole body, not just their words. Tell them to move first and speak once they are in motion. Have them relax their jaw and breath in and out through their mouth while they are doing their activity, waiting for the first line. Or maybe, just give them permission to overact. By overacting for a while, they may feel more comfortable making choices that aren’t so amped, but stronger than what they’re used to.

What are examples of innocuous first lines? Anything simple like, “The mail is here,” “I turned down the AC,” “I’m all packed,” or “I have that book you wanted.” They should be neutral so that Player A has the freedom to react in a variety of ways. “I killed your dog,” is not neutral. Nor is, “You got the promotion!” Reacting in a predictable way to a loaded first line does not produce the same fun and surprising results. At least that’s what I suspect.

One nice variation on this is to restart the scene several times using the same activity and first line and instructing Player A to react in different ways each time.

Surprise Yourself

Every once in a while when you are improvising, you should do something on stage that surprises you. Start telling a story in the middle of a scene without knowing why. Just start speaking. Make it about something that hasn’t come up yet. The first few sentences should feel like a non-sequitur. You should have no idea how it connects to the scene so far. Before you finish the story, you will figure out why you are telling it. And if you don’t, your scene partner most likely will make a connection for you.

The key is to make your subconscious brain do some work. Your mind is terrific at making up little stories to justify your actions in the real world. For every conscious decision you make, your subconscious mind is probably making dozens of choices, maybe hundreds. Harness that power in your scenes and you will find it almost always improves them.

There is a place for carefully considering your scene partner’s moves and providing thoughtful responses. There is also a place for impulsive moves, gut reactions and non-sequiturs. Real life conversations are filled with surprising twists and turns when viewed from the outside. Your scenes should have them too.