Improv Resource Center Podcast with Karen Graci

Karen Graci is a coach and performer at iO West. She is also a writer for Girlboss, a new Netflix show in production. We talk about about coaching Harold teams, openings, group games, short form, and Vertical Harolds.

Karen Graci is a coach and performer at iO West. We talk about about coaching Harold teams, openings, group games, short form, and Vertical Harolds. She can be seen performing with King Ten at iO West. Special thanks to Camp Improv Utopia East where this podcast was recorded.

Check out this episode!

Do we really need a straight man to make comedy work?

I love the concept, it’s extremely useful, but I hate the term. Every time I hear it, it sounds more and more tone deaf.

I’d like to propose a simple change in terminology for analyzing comedy and improv scenes. Often two person comedy scenes will have one character who is inappropriate, absurd, irrational, illogical or weird, and another character who’s role is to react to this strange character as we think an average person might. This other character is usually more reasonable, skeptical, logical, or rational than the strange one.

The term that most people use for this is “straight man.” I love the concept, it’s extremely useful, but I hate the term. Every time I hear it, it sounds more and more tone deaf. Instead, I think we should use the term “voice of reason” instead:

the voice of reason (definition): Often when one character in a scene is odd, weird or strange, we need another character who is the voice of reason. This character’s job is to react as an ordinary person might to the absurd character. They might be skeptical of the other character’s point of view. They might react by being annoyed, or amazed, or shocked, or nonplussed.

The voice of reason does not have to act straight, or like a man, they have to react as a person, a person usually very similar to the real life performer behind the character.

If you don’t like this idea, feel free to keep using the tone deaf term. But if you are open to it, start using “voice of reason” instead. I think you will see it’s much more accurate and leaves out all the cultural baggage that normal and ordinary equals straight and male.

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Improv Bootcamp is different. Instead learning a plethora of different concepts, we focus on a few specific ones and use a variety of exercises to practice each skill.

Updated Monday, June 19, 2017:

For the past three years, I have offered Improv Bootcamps in Chicago. It’s a type of intensive improv training focused on developing specific skills, through concentrated practice. It’s targeted toward students who have at least a year of improv experience, and are looking for a program that will challenge them and improve the way they play right away.

In a typical improv intensive you are introduced to many different concepts and exercises, often in classes of 20 people or more. It’s not uncommon to get only one try at a particular exercise before the class moves on.

Improv Bootcamp is different. Instead learning a plethora of different concepts, we focus on a few specific ones and use a variety of exercises to practice each skill. Typically students are given multiple opportunities to practice a skill over several days.

I’ll be having a 5 day Improv Boot Camp in NYC in August and I’m hoping to add more in other places soon. If you would like to hire me to come to your town for a 2 day or 5 day boot camp, please contact me at kevin@improvresourcecenter.com.

A White Guy Responds to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Performance

I had a strong response to Beyoncé’s half time Super Bowl performance. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on my television set.

As a middle aged white male, I had a strong response to Beyoncé’s half time Super Bowl performance. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on my television set, a black woman on my TV singing those lyrics and with all those dancers backing her up. More than a few words came to mind.
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Sexual Harassment Policies Are Not Enough

The kinds of stories that have been swirling around the improv community these days can inspire outrage at the people who are victimizing others, and it should. But when seeking better outcomes, we must address more than just the bad apples in our community. We must do more than put in place policies that address harassment.

Let’s say that you were put in charge of a large comedy theater that has recently had significant issues with sexual harassment. What might you do? Well you might take a look at your policies. You probably would open up channels so that people could have a way to confidentially share their experiences. You might arrange some training for your staff. And you might have to fire some people–get rid of the “bad apples” as they say. But if you don’t address the power structure of your organization, it will never really get fixed.

Even before the recent public accusations of rape, unwanted sexual advances, and hostile environments, it should have been obvious that there was a problem. The gender imbalance at certain theaters is obvious and persistent. In a way, harassment is the ugly symptom of a disease that goes much deeper.

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Status Exercises in Improv

Someone on reddit asked about status exercises. Here is my response.

It’s important to stress that status is much more useful in improv if you look at status as behavior, as opposed to social rank. Status is how you carry yourself, or how you treat the other characters in the scene. You can be a low status president or a high status janitor. And in fact, flipping status from what you might expect because of social rank is a lot of fun.

I have used cards when teaching status for a long time. I don’t have people put them on their foreheads. Instead, I have people pick a card and then instruct them that the card rank corresponds to how they carry themselves and expect to be treated. Or I tell them that the card corresponds to how they should treat the other person. In some cases I give people two cards, one for how they see themselves and one for how they see the other person. This combination can be enlightening. Someone who sees themselves as a 3 and their scene partner as a Jack, is very different than someone who sees themself as a King or Queen and someone else as a Jack.

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IRC Podcast with Jack Newell

Jack C Newell is director of the films Close Quarters, How to Build a School in Haiti and Open Tables. He is head of TV, Film & Digital at the Second City Training Center and a graduate of Columbia College Chicago in film/video. We talk about using improv to make movies, the job of the director and his latest feature which seamlessly weaves improv into the fabric of the film.

Read more at http://ircpodcast.com/irc-podcast-2015-09-016-jack-newell#1LeEQIEk0v6KhFkT.99

Diversity Works Best From The Top Down

Last week I wrote a post urging improv theaters to rethink their casting. In a nutshell, I think most people take a bottom up approach to diversity. If they care about diversity at all, they concentrate on getting more diversity in their classes, and think that over time things will even out. Outreach programs are great. I fully endorse diversity scholarships and other attempts to attract a diverse student base and a diverse audience. But I think there is something really special about having a diverse cast on stage for your shows.

For prospective students, it lets them know that they are welcome and that when they are ready, they will have a fair shot at becoming an ensemble member. Sure you can make them feel welcome by being nice and being encouraging, but actually seeing people like themselves on stage speaks volumes.

Last year, when we held our first auditions for our ensemble, I remember wanting to have a diverse cast. I hoped we would get people from a lot of different backgrounds. I especially hoped that we would have lots of great women in the ensemble. I think it’s common for ensembles to be 20-30% female. And I wanted to do better. And I figured it would be the easiest part of the problem to fix.

I hope that if I had been doing the casting on my own, I would have cast an ensemble that was about half women and half men. But if I’m honest, I probably wouldn’t have. Maybe I would have fallen short and cast 2/3rd male like most theaters seem to do. The reason I didn’t? Because I wasn’t doing it alone. My business partner ran the auditions with me. I think this had four effects:

  1. I think people who auditioned for us knew that the company was co-owned by a woman. And I think that may have nudged many women (consciously or unconsciously) to audition.
  2. I think she probably reached out to some women to audition, particularly women she had taught or directed at Second City or whom she had known from other projects.
  3. When we were making decisions, I think her sensibilities may have nudged me to value the talent of some people more than I would have if I were judging them on my own.
  4. And most importantly, she walked into that audition assuming we would cast an equal number of men and women. And when she pointed that out to me, I knew she was right.

It wouldn’t be enough to do better than most. I wanted a cast that was just as likely to have more women on stage as more men. And the best way to do that would be to just cast an equal number of men and women. So that’s what we did. We’ve had two auditions and at the end of each audition, we’ve had an equal number of men and women in our ensemble.

Despite my desire to see more women in comedy and improv, it just would not have happened if it was only me making the decision, or if my business partner were another man. So yeah, get more diversity on your stage, but first, get more diversity in your casting room.

One other thing, these posts are not just meant to nudge people in other theaters to do better, but also to nudge my future self to do better as well. I can already see areas in our own business where we need to better. And if I keep talking about this in public, it will be that much harder to overlook this at our own theater.

I’ve heard of so many good ideas from the conversations spawned by my first post, and I’m eager to try them. So I’d love to hear your stories about this. What are your theaters doing to address this? What is your experience in improv been like? Has your journey been harder because of your gender, your culture, your age, your sexual identity? What kept you going?

Why Isn’t Your Improv Theater Diverse?

Recently I was a part of a panel of teachers and theater administrators at an improv camp. One of the questions was about how we can make our improv shows and teams more diverse. Many of the responses were about how to get people interested and involved, how to reach out to communities that are underrepresented and try to recruit people for classes or even just to get them to shows.

These weren’t bad ideas, but honestly there is a really simple answer. When you are making casting decisions, just decide that diversity is a priority and cast the most diverse ensemble that you can. Cast LGBT folks, cast black people and latinos, cast women. Just cast them. Do it. Stop making excuses about talent or quotas. Just cast them already.

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