Amey Goerlich talks to Kevin Mullaney about improv exercises and concepts. Amey is the host of the Indie Cagematch in at UCB East and an independent improv teacher in New York. We talk about Krompf, pummeling, improvising with your eyes closed, bad rap warmups, half ideas, button lines, teaching film to 5 year olds, e-Improv, and bonsai tree houses.
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.
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.
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)
This past weekend, I was in New York for a visit. It was a fun whirlwind of events. I arrived on Friday in time to rehearse with my 3 on 3 team and play in one of the first round shows on Friday night. On Saturday, I taught a workshop and performed four times, once in a jam in the basement of a bar on seventh avenue, once at the Magnet Theater with Theory of Everything, and two more shows at the UCB–we made it to the finals of the 3 on 3 Tourney. Sunday, was all about my podcast.
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.
“We don’t do short form, we do long form. It’s much more sophisticated and interesting.”
“Improv? I don’t do improv comedy. I do improvisational theater!”
“You know how they are so obsessed with game? Well we just follow our gut and let what’s funny take care of itself.”
Odds are, if you are an improvisor, you have said something like this when describing your work. You might even have some statement like this in the description of your group or show, maybe even your personal bio. And maybe you have heard someone else say something similar, contrasting what they do with what you do and casting your work in a negative light. Chances are you have felt that defensive lurch in your belly, a wave of anger as you think of things to say in response, to put them in their place.