A while ago, Will Hines wrote about something he calls sympathetic disagreement on his blog ImprovNonsense. When I teach this idea, I usually explained it like this: “First, repeat what your scene partner just said that you agree with, and then politely object to one specific part of it.”
I love dogs so much. I’d rather live with the meanest dog than with the kindest person.
I like dogs too, they’re awesome. But I’ve met some pretty mean dogs, who wanted to rip out my throat.
But I want to satirize racism and prejudice on my stage, not punish it or ignore it. If you believe that something in society is wrong or ugly, it’s your job to call attention to it as an artist, to expose it as irrational or illogical. I want people to laugh at it in a way that delegitimizes it and highlights how unfair and grotesque it is.
Got a really great email today from my old company (!) on the topic of “problematic” material in scenes. There’s a lot to digest, and it isn’t really my place to share it all here, but something that stuck out for me is that if a character in your scene is racist or sexist or homophobic or just gross, then there are two possible outcomes for that character: either they change and repent, or they stick to their ugly guns and suffer real consequences (a literal or metaphorical death). This is a choice that character must make, but those are the only two options that can leave your scene in a good place.
Really simple concept, but super useful. I’ll definitely hang onto it for later.
I would like to highlight the ‘if’ here. ’If a character in your scene is racist’. You really, honestly, don’t need these characters in your show. But if they come up, this is a good start to practicing dealing with them, for the sake of the audience and of your fellow players.
It’s hard to weigh in on something, when I don’t know fully what the original argument in the email was, but I’d like to respond to this.
As an improv teacher and the artistic director of a theater, I understand the desire to deal with racist, sexist or homophobic characters in these ways: make them repent, make them suffer consequences or simply erase them from your stage. But I want to satirize racism and prejudice on my stage, not punish it or ignore it. If you believe that something in society is wrong or ugly, it’s your job to call attention to it as an artist, to expose it as irrational or illogical. I want people to laugh at it in a way that delegitimizes it and highlights how unfair and grotesque it is.
Mick Napier, the Artistic Director of the Annoyance Theatre is our guest for the IRC Podcast. We talk about nudging students to get better, breaking out of your habits, playing without making sense, presenting long form, improv auditions and Martin de Maat.
I’ve started a new podcast with fellow Under The Gun ensemble member Will Meinen. We are doing a weekly recap of HBO’s show True Detective. It’s not available yet via iTunes and may not be for a few days, but you can download and listen to the podcast on our website at listen.undertheguntheater.com or use this link for podcast players that use RSS feeds.
There is a new episode of the IRC Podcast up today. It’s an interview with Kevin Reome, teacher at the Second City Training Center in Chicago. We talk about how to treat students new to improv, using you statements and being the guy that everyone wants to improvise with.
Last year when we were about to open our theater, we needed performers, a lot of performers. We had a slate of shows that we wanted to produce for the opening, but the company was just Angie McMahon and me. We decided to have auditions, but what were going to ask people to audition for? A show? A team? Or an ensemble?
In the past, I’ve been involved in theaters that have been team centric, most notably iO and the UCB Theater in New York. Team centric systems have their pros, but the more I’ve thought about them over the years, the more I’ve become dissatisfied with them. The main problem I have with them is that they are brittle. Teams break easily. People move away or get better gigs. People get on each other’s nerves and feel trapped where they are. Or they get so annoyed with one another that they begin to lobby the powers that be to cut people. If a team fails, then you need to figure out what to do with the performers. Often good ones are lost in the shuffle.
Sometime last year, I thought of a crazy idea. What if I tried to squeeze the plot of all 40 episodes of Game of Thrones into 1 hour of absurd comedy theater. I had seen something like it years ago when I saw the Reduced Shakespeare Company do the entire works of William Shakespeare in one act. It was a bawdy, raucous, fun show that felt like something you might see buskers do at a street festival.
I realized that Game of Thrones might deserve the same treatment. I could distill the show down to its important plot points and its most heightened moments and then retell them in an absurd way that would entertain both fans of the show and their friends who have been dragged along with them.
So last December I recruited a team of writers from our ensemble and we started re-watching the episodes, season by season. We outlined the plot, took notes on the characters and kept track of our favorite WTF moments (there are a lot of them in GoT). We started writing whatever came to mind, whatever was funny, almost like writing a sketch show inspired by the TV series.
Eventually our show started to take shape, we had drafted a couple hours of material. But I knew much of it didn’t fit the original idea. And there was so much story to cover. Still, the outline was laid out, we had a plan, it was going to work. And then we did auditions and our plan got thrown for a loop.
Auditioners brought in their favorite 2nd or 3rd tier characters and we realized we had to cast these actors and include the characters they wanted to play. Their takes on them were just too fun. If you had told me that Tommen or Pycelle were characters that would make the final cut, I wouldn’t have believed you. But once we saw them on stage, we knew we had to include them.
In the end we cast 17 actors to play 47 speaking parts, which is a little insane for a show that is supposed to be an hour long. But we wrote and rewrote and trimmed and cut and rearranged until we have the show that opens tonight. It’s probably the funniest thing I’ve ever directed and all the credit should go to the wonderful writers and the very funny cast.
It’s an improv form–a structure for an improvised performance like the Harold or La Ronde.
Often in a play, a series of scenes are set in one location, all in a row with no break in time. For instance, the structure of Chekhov’s most famous plays are all pretty similar. They consist of four acts, and each act happens in a different setting. Characters enter and exit many times during the act and each time the combination of characters on stage changes, a new scene is formed. These are called French scenes.
French scenes are the building blocks of monoscenes. You start with 1-3 characters on stage doing a scene. Eventually one (or more) characters exits or enters and a new French scene occurs with the new combination of characters. There are no sweep edits or tag outs. Entering or exiting is the only way to “edit” within a monoscene. A monoscene can be 10 minutes or an hour. It’s up to you.
Think of it as a series of beats
Each beat is probably around the length of a scene, between 30 seconds and 3 minutes. The lengths should vary, but most beats should be at least a minute long. If you are getting a lot of 30 second beats, you need to focus on making beats longer and holding off longer before you enter or exit.