A few weeks ago, I started a fitness boot camp at my gym. As has sometimes happened in the past, over the first couple of weeks, my eating habits actually got worse and this Monday, I peaked at 198.8, at least 25 pounds over where I’d like to be. So I decided to put myself back on the UFD and continue working out. Continue reading
If you are interested in improv and you do not already follow Will Hines blog about improv, Improv Nonsense, you are missing some great info. The most recent two posts are an interview with Chris Gethard, and it’s full of good advice for people who teach or coach improv.
Failure is a skill everyone has to learn. Get good at it. Encourage your students to get good at it by making your classroom a place where they know failure is ok. That being said, make sure they understand that integrity comes with failing for the right reasons. Don’t fail because you’re being lazy or unfocused. Don’t fail because you’re bailing on your scene to go for the cheap joke. Fail because you are pushing yourself to take chances you haven’t taken before.
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I also remember being confused about Keith Johnstone including so much material about masks in his book on Impro. What could possibly be the value in spending so much time working in masks?
Things started to change a few years ago when one of my friends in New York, a woman whose creative impulses I greatly respected started talking about how the improvisors she knew needed to learn how to use their bodies more. I don’t know what kind of classes she was taking, but she ended up involved in the clown community out there. I was open to the idea that improvisors needed to do more than stand on stage and say clever things, but I didn’t investigate it much at the time.
As, I tweeted a while back, almost every teacher and coach (including me) talks too much. We should all talk a lot less and let our students get more reps in class. If possible, we should give them a chance to try it again immediately after getting a negative note. If your students can keep track of how many scenes they have improvised in your class, you have failed as a teacher.
Research on the effects of cardio vascular health on neurobiology seems pretty clear. The fitter you are > the fitter your brain will be > the better you will be at learning and the better you will be at the kind of executive functions that make good improvisors. So get your ass out there and exercise every day.
Exercise also has immediate short term benefits in learning environments, which means I’ll be starting rehearsals that I coach with active warmups that get people moving and their heart rates up. Be ready for it.
Keep things simple and focused. Work one muscle at a time in rehearsal. Repeat exercises from rehearsal to rehearsal or class to class. A student must practice a given skill many times for it to become second nature and useful on stage.
Also, you can’t really practice two things at once and certainly not three. Let students practice something over and over and until it becomes at least partially unconscious, before you add other layers on top of it.
Let students practice things slowly. Too often we are pushing people to do things fast before they have succeeded in doing them slow. In fact, force them to go far slower than they are used to sometimes. Then speed them up. Then slow them back down again.
For the first time in my life, I’m doing movement/physical theater classes. It’s silly and ridiculous and queer, but it’s also fun and playful and ultimately quite useful. I recommend it.
Last Saturday, I sat in with the Barstool Philosophers, an improv group featuring some old friends from my early years at Improv Olympic. It was fun to perform with them, and I wanted to share what happened in one particular scene.
It was the middle of the show, and we had long since picked the low hanging fruit from the opening. Joe, an improvisor with whom I go back nearly 20 years, walked on stage and started making an action like he was feeding bread to ducks. I walked out and matched his activity. At this point, neither of us had much of an idea of where we were, or who we were to each other or how we felt about each other. He edited because it was time to edit, and I joined him because somebody had to.
Here was the part I loved. When we checked in with each other the beginning of the scene, we both knew that we had nothing. But I didn’t see any panic in Joe’s eyes. He was perfectly happy to be in a scene where we had nothing to start.
And so in the next few lines we calmly figured out what was going on and what we felt about it and each other and scene turned out pretty well. And it was because neither of us panicked. We were both completely comfortable starting a scene from almost nothing.
Joy Joy Tragedy is back with a new show, Sunday Punch, a variety show with sketch, standup, music, clown and other solo performances and of course an improv set with Joy Joy Tragedy (Amrita Dhaliwal and Kevin Mullaney).
Every week a new spiked fruit punch to sample!
WHERE: Upstairs Gallery, 5219 North Clark Street, Chicago
WHEN: Sunday nights at 7:30pm, October 18th through December 18th
HOW: FREE and BYOB (suggested $5 donation)
The first week will feature Ever Mainard:
And then some music by Daniel Byshenk:
And sketch comedy by RAM Chicago: Matt Mages, Kate Cohen, Mike Girts and Robert Reid.
My two person show with Amrita Dhaliwal, Joy Joy Tragedy, will be on for one night in September. This is your only chance to see us this month! We will be opening for Improvised Jane Austen at Stage 773.
When: Thursday, September 22nd, 9:30pm
Where: Stage 773, 1225 West Belmont, Chicago IL
Tickets are $10 at the door. Be sure to tell them at the box office that you were invited by Joy Joy Tragedy.
Lists are very similar to free writing, but a little more focused. You give yourself a question or category and then as quickly as possible you write a list of answers. Here is a list of categories you could use to generate lists:
- Everyday locations
- Things that people do that seem strange to you
- Examples of everyday hypocrisy
- Characters that you are well suited to play
- Characters that you are not well suited to play
- Characters from fiction, film or history that you would love to play
You can use lists to flesh out a sketch idea before you set down to write it. For instance, first come up with a list of ordinary situations, ones with which you have a lot of experience or ones where you have seen lots of examples in plays, films or TV. Next pick one, and make a list of all the ordinary things that you might expect to happen in that situation. Then, make a list of extraordinary, unusual, strange or weird things that rarely happen in that situation. Finally, pick the one unusual thing that you find most funny and brainstorm a list of examples and variations of this out of place element in an ordinary situation. You now have a premise for a game and lots of ideas to heighten that premise. The actual writing of the sketch should flow fast.
National Sketch Writing Month (NaSkeWriMo) begins tomorrow. In past years, I’ve not done too well. I’ve signed up at least twice before and I’ve written a few sketches, but I haven’t come close to writing 30 sketches in 30 days. I think this year will be different.
I’ve had two problems in the past. On the one hand, I often wait for inspiration before I start writing. Unfortunately, inspiration doesn’t come very often if you just wait for it. I’ve heard it over and over again that you just have to force yourself to write. Inspiration comes to those who sweat. So in the past, when I’ve tried to follow that advice, I’ve sat down with a blank piece of paper and just started writing dialog. Basically, I improvise with myself. It rarely goes well. The dialog I end up with is small talk peppered with conflicts over trivial matters, precisely the kind of improv scene that I would try to steer my students away from.
Still I think the best sketches I have written have come from an idea, a game I’ve thought of before I put pen to paper. So how do I get to that idea besides writing aimless dialog? This series of posts will outline a few ideas that I’ve learned or that I’ve thought of recently which have helped me. The first one I learned on the first day of my first writing class at Second City. It’s called Free Writing.
Get a pad of paper, a pen and a timer. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Start the timer, put your pen on the paper and start writing. Write anything. Don’t worry about having a plan or writing anything specific. Just spew out whatever is in your brain and keep writing until the timer runs out. The only rule is keep your pen on the pad until the time is up. This is free writing.
When your done, your hope is that you will have an idea, a little sliver of inspiration and now you can write your sketch. One method I’ve heard is simply this. Set a timer for 30 minutes, start free writing. Stop when you have an idea for a sketch and switch to writing that. If the timer runs out before you have an idea for a sketch you like. Set the pad aside and come back later or the next day and start again.
Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.