IRC Podcast with Lillian Frances

I uploaded episode #9 of the IRC Podcast yesterday. My guest this week is Lillian Frances who owns and runs the Laugh Out Loud Theater in Schaumburg, IL. She talks about auditions, teaching kids, using your warmups well, and yes-anding life. She performed at iO Theater and with many improv groups in Chicago. She was also a perfomer and assistant director for Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. She directed for Second City National Touring Company, the all women’ improv groups Jane and Sirens, and sketch shows with GayCo and Stir Friday Night.

This interview was a little different than the others, because we ended up talking a lot about what it’s like to run the business of a small improv theater. I really like how Lillie talks about her performers. It’s obvious that she has a lot of respect for her performers and trusts them in ways that not all improv directors do. It’s not surprising that several years after she first held auditions, seventeen of her first hires still work for her.

Agreement in improv

When working with a script, an actor knows a lot about the scene they are about to perform. They know where the scene takes place and who their character is. They know the relationship between themselves and the other characters in the scene. They know what they are going to say. And if they are properly prepared, they know what their character wants and what actions they will do to try to get it.

When an improviser begins a scene, they know none of these things. They face a stage that could become any setting they can imagine. They can play any character they choose and so can their scene partner. Their choices are infinite. So at the beginning of an improvised scene, the most important thing they must accomplish is to decide on the circumstances of the scene. And the most important tool for deciding those circumstances is agreement.

Simply put, an improviser must agree to all facts and circumstances that their scene partner establishes via dialogue, behavior or action. If I say that I’m a plumber, you must agree that I’m a plumber. If you act like you are in car, I must accept that. If I say that we are in an airport bar, set down your luggage and grab a drink.

Continue reading “Agreement in improv”

IRC Podcast with Susan Messing

Episode #8 of the IRC Podcast has just been uploaded. This week’s guest is Susan Messing. She performs regularly at the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago, where she teaches level four classes. She created the curriculum for level 2 at iO Theatre and teaches there as well. Among the episodes we discuss are Caligula, Busby Berkeley, and Doublemint Twins.

She can be seen performing every Thursday at 10:30 in Messing with a Friend at the Annoyance.

Improv Training Simulator

If you were studying to be an airline pilot, you would have to log many hours in flying simulators. It’s my understanding that these simulators are often programmed to put the pilot into crisis situations: the cabin loses pressure, an engine catches fire, one of the many mechanical systems fail. The trainee goes through the simulation and tries various strategies to get out of the crisis and land the plane. Sometimes they fail, sometimes they figure out a solution. After the simulation is done, a trainer reviews what the trainee did and gives them feedback. They then try again to see if they can do better the next time.

Imagine if you had a similar machine for improv training. Maybe it works a bit like the Holodeck from Star Trek. You program it so that a student can go in and practice certain nightmare scenarios, like a belligerent scene partner or one that fails to add anything to the scene, stands there blankly and occasionally asks questions like, “Where are we?” The student could run the simulation over and over again, trying one strategy after another to see if they can survive the scene.

What might be some improv crisis situations that you would like programmed into the machine so that you could practice?

Cross posted at the Improv Resource Center

It’s not too late

Recently I was talking to a guy who I have been coaching. He is probably 19 or 20. We were walking into a music room for rehearsal and he said something along the lines of, “I wish I had taken more music classes,” as if it were too late for him. I’m sure I’m taking his words a bit out of context, but it made me laugh, because I couldn’t help thinking of John Ward.

John “Dr. Wimpy” Ward, was a very dedicated and passionate member of the New York improv scene over the last eight years. He took classes, performed and was a huge supporter of others. He often appeared as an agent with Improv Everywhere. He was a funny man and by all accounts a joy to play with. He started doing improv in his mid 50s. This last Sunday he passed away very unexpectedly.

Auditions for improv teams were held the weekend before he died at the UCB Theatre. It’s a collective freakout the community goes through every year as hundreds of UCB students compete for a handful of coveted spots on Harold teams. Continue reading “It’s not too late”

IRC Podcast with Billy Merritt

Episode #7 of the IRC Podcast has just been uploaded.

This week my guest is Billy Merritt who performs and teaches at the UCB Theatre in LA. We talk about premise based Harolds (Pirate Harolds, Robot Harolds and Ninja Harolds) and his character based performance classes where he has his students to create a single character over eight weeks. We also discuss character wheels, the cube edit and the hawk edit.

Checklists, podcasting, blogging and an app

I have recently began using checklists for things like podcasting, blogging, working out and rehearsing. I think checklists really begin to shine when you use them to walk you through a process you do over and over again. A checklist helps me eliminate mistakes, keeps me focused on only the task I’m currently doing, and raises the quality of my work overall. It also provides me with a method to review my work and improve every time I do a podcast, by translating what I learn into new steps.

I’ve never been the most organized person. I can be passionate, dedicated and sometimes obsessive about the things I love doing, but organization doesn’t come naturally to me. One thing I’ve tried before is little “To Do” lists, but it’s not something I’ve done often or methodically. Recently that has changed.

I first started thinking about this because of Checklist Manifesto, a book by Atul Gawande. I have not read the book yet, but I’ve heard several interviews of him. The book is about how checklists for complicated procedures help minimize mistakes and save lives. He is a surgeon and he has seen how a simple checklist for a surgical procedure can dramatically reduce the number of complications. I don’t do anything as grave as surgery, but there are a lot of things I want to accomplish each day. I thought checklists might help and started using them.

My first checklist was a weekly one. Continue reading “Checklists, podcasting, blogging and an app”

IRC Podcast with Caitlin Tegart

Episode #6 of the IRC Podcast has just been uploaded to the site. This week, I talk to Caitlin Tegart, a sketch writer and director who teaches for the UCB Theatre in NYC. We discuss how sketch writers can help themselves by not worrying about how good an idea is, that instead they need to simply get their ideas onto the page. We also discuss the process of taking a bunch sketches and turning them into a show.

Continue reading “IRC Podcast with Caitlin Tegart”

10 things improvisors should do besides improvise

Improvisors often go through a stage where they do nothing but improvise. Every night of the week they are going to classes or rehearsals, they are seeing improv shows or performing in ones themselves. This focus on improvisation can lead to great strides in their skill and knowledge of improvisational theater, but it can also insulate them. If our job as artists is to bring the truth of our lives on stage and all we know is the truth we see in other improv shows, we do not have much to offer an audience. To be great we must be seeking out experiences so we have something interesting to share.

Here is a list of things I think improvisors should spend their time doing besides improvising:

  1. Learn to act – some people are actors before they come to improv. Many are not. These days many improvisors start by going to see an improv show and signing up for a class with no prior experience performing. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you don’t have training as an actor and you want to be great, get some. And take opportunities to act, especially in plays, but also in video projects, sketch shows, etc.
  2. Go to the theater – don’t just watch improv shows, get out to the regular theater and watch some plays. You might not think of yourself as a fan of theater. Get out there and see a variety of plays, contemporary plays, classic plays, Shakespeare, original plays and one person shows. You will get some great ideas for characters, situations and techniques to use in your shows. Continue reading “10 things improvisors should do besides improvise”

IRC Podcast with Tara Defrancisco

Episode #5 of the IRC Podcast has just been uploaded. Tara Defrancisco is a former member of the Second City Touring Company. She performs and teaches for iO Theater and ComedySportz in Chicago. She discusses several exercises she uses in her classes and workshops. We start by talking about "What’s in the Box?" a short form exercise to help people make quick decisions and to yes and those decisions. Next we talk about an exercise where students initiate scenes as if they are expressing an important idea to a real person in their life. Last we discuss a couple of exercises designed to get students to make new and different character choices in their scenes.

Continue reading “IRC Podcast with Tara Defrancisco”