I’ve posted a new episode of the IRC Podcast. The guest is Paul Grondy who has been teaching at iO in Chicago since 1997. He teaches students how to do the Harold and so we talk about Harold structure, the principles of group work, being tender and heartfelt, knowing what you know, and group things.
I’m back on my Unprocessed Food Diet (UFD). I had been maintaining my weight under 190 for a while, but over the past year, my eating habits deteriorated. My once a week cheat days on the slow carb diet became cheat weekends. Then I started eating badly all the time. It finally got to the point where I was eating fast food again daily, and my weight was going up every week. Add the holidays to the equation and well, I had to change things.
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.
I’ve never really liked clowns. I’ve never really thought they were funny or interesting. As a young improvisor, I sneered at them the same way I sneered at short-form improv and bad sitcoms. I thought I was above it and didn’t even think that there might be something to learn from clowning.
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)
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:
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.