Improv wiki roundup – Upcoming Improv Festivals

Inspired by a question in a Facebook status, I decided to make a page on the IRC Improv Wiki for Upcoming Improv Festivals. I have started working on it and have gotten a few festivals on the list, but I hope to do some more work on it in the coming days. If you don’t want to add your festival directly to the list, you could also leave a comment here on the blog with the name, dates, location and link for your improv festival and someone will add it to the page.

Some improv groups were added to the wiki this week, Great Heights and Twenty Seven and some updates to Whisker Bliss, UCBW and Un-scripted Theater. We also had some updates to some performer pages including Shannon O’Neil, Julie Klausner, Jodi Skeris, and Rachael Mason.

IRC Podcast with Jill Bernard

Episode #2 of the IRC Podcast is up and ready to go. My guest this week is Jill Bernard from HUGE Theater and Comedy Sportz in Minneapolis. She shares some exercises she uses in her classes. She describes a warm up called Loser Ball which teaches students to embrace failures. Next she talks about an exercise where only one player speaks and the other remains silent. We also talk about an exercise, morphed from a Meisner exercise, where she gets her students to actually do something, rather than pretend to do something.

If you are interested in taking classes with her, visit hugetheater.com.

How to excel at scenework and influence improvisors – part 2

My intent with this series of posts was to go through all the principles from Dale Carnegie‘s book and discuss how each one might apply to the improv world. But as I have been thinking about this topic, I have been tempted to wander down a different path. I may still return to the original plan, but I don’t think I’ll be able to until I’ve written about this.

I’ve been thinking of my own interactions with people over the years, where I did well and where I came up short. I feel like there are some situations and stories I’d like to share that might help me in my future interactions in the theatre and comedy worlds. One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is status.

Pay less attention to status

I remember when I was in Chicago, I was intensely aware of status within the improv world. I was a part of many conversations that likened the ImprovOlympic subculture to a second high school. The new students were the freshman. Continue reading “How to excel at scenework and influence improvisors – part 2”

Announcing the Improv Resource Center Podcast

Yesterday I published my first podcast and added it to iTunes. It’s called the Improv Resource Center Podcast and it will live over on my other website (the Improv Resource Center).

I’ve been wanting to create a podcast for some time, but I wasn’t sure what shape it would take until a few weeks ago. I decided to make it very focused and relatively short, in the hope that it becomes a very practical resource for myself and others. Continue reading “Announcing the Improv Resource Center Podcast”

Improv wiki roundup

I thought this might be a semi-regular, fun entry for the blog. About a year and half ago, I started an improv wiki on my other site. It’s grown quite a bit with well over 1000 pages now for groups, performers, shows, concepts and more. If you are an improvisor, please create an account and start adding information that you know. At the moment, there is a lot of good information about the New York scene, but the Chicago and LA improv scenes are not as well documented.

This week I started pages for the New York groups Centralia and Burn Manhattan. I also started a page for Inside Vladimir, a long running Chicago team that featured Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (I added some info to both of their pages also, but they are still a bit sparse). Continue reading “Improv wiki roundup”

Perseverance is greater than talent

Recently, I finished a fascinating book called, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature
by Geoffrey Miller. In it, Miller makes the case that many of the things that make us human are the result of sexual selection, not natural selection. Our capacity for language, music, art, kindness, intelligence and charity are all traits or abilities that made us more attractive to the opposite sex. They did not evolve because they helped us survive better, instead they evolved because they are ways for us to display how fit our genes are. Our minds evolved to be an entertainment center for potential mates. The better we could sing, or tell stories, or make other people laugh, the more attractive we were. This meant we could attract fitter mates and especially in the case of men, have more offspring, ensuring that the next generation would be even better at singing, telling stories and making other people laugh.

It’s an interesting idea. If you are like me and interested in evolution, but haven’t read much about Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, you should take a look. But I’ll leave it Miller to actually lay out the argument. He does a much better job than I could.

Near the end of the book came the following passage. As an artist, this passage jumped off the page.

Among competent professionals in any field, there appears to be a fairly constant probability of success in any given endeavor. (Psychologist Dean Keith) Simonton’s data show that excellent composers do not produce a higher proportion of excellent music than good composers—they simply produce a higher total number of works. People who achieve extreme success in any creative field are almost always extremely prolific. Hans Eysenck became a famous psychologist not because all of his papers were excellent, but because he wrote over a hundred books and a thousand papers, and some of them happened to be excellent. Those who write only ten papers are much less likely to strike gold with any of them. Likewise with Picasso: if you paint 14,000 paintings in your lifetime, some of them are likely to be pretty good, even if most are mediocre. Simonton’s results are surprising. The constant probability of success idea sounds counterintuitive and of course there are exceptions to this generalization. Yet Simonton’s data on creative achievement are the most comprehensive ever collected and in every domain that he studied, creative achievement was a good indicator of the energy, time, and motivation invested in creative activity.

Let that sink in a little bit. No really. Let that sink in. Ponder it for a little bit before you read on.

Continue reading “Perseverance is greater than talent”

How to excel at scenework and influence improvisors – part 1

I recently read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie for the first time. It’s the kind of book that I’ve avoided most of my life. Self help books, especially ones with a strong slant towards the business world, usually don’t excite me. However, it had been recommended to me by a couple of people, and I realized that it might be of some use for me.

As I read the book, I wondered about how it might apply to the life of improvisation. On one level, it’s pretty straight forward. The way you build relationships in the worlds of theater and comedy are not that different from the business world. The advice translates pretty directly to how you should treat your fellow improvisors off stage. The advice seems especially well suited for sales, and while many of us in the theatre world loath selling ourselves, it is something that definitely helps us be successful.

Continue reading “How to excel at scenework and influence improvisors – part 1”

What is first unusual thing?

The best stories and songs and memories all have something unusual about them. Sometimes it’s slightly out of the ordinary, sometimes it’s absurd.

A common concept in improvised scene work is that at the top of the scene, we should be trying to discover the first unusual thing about the situation or relationship and then use that to create a game for the scene. A few questions were recently posed on my message board about the first unusual thing and here was my response:

The first unusual thing has a lot to do with how our brain works. We remember and are delighted by novelty in general. Lets say you shook hands with 20 people today, and 19 of them shook your hand in a way you expect. If the 20th person shook your hand and then pulled you in close and whispered into your ear, “You are the one, the only one who can save us.” You would remember that handshake long after you forgot the other 19 people.

The best stories and songs and memories all have something unique and unusual about them. Some of these unusual things are just slightly out of the ordinary, some are absurd or ridiculous. I would go so far to say that all great theatre is about unusual things. Plays are not about the days where everything mirrors ordinary life exactly and everything happens just as we would expect. It’s about the days when things go wrong or unravel in unexpected ways or about characters whose ordinary days seem strange to us.

Continue reading “What is first unusual thing?”

Where I used to live

When I was in college, I spent a year abroad in London. It was an amazing experience. It was there that I first fell in love with the theatre. In part, it was because I had access to some of the finest productions in the world. There were always great shows to go see somewhere in London. And the student discounts made it relatively cheap to see them too. My love affair was also stoked by some of the classes I had, one class specialized in Shakespeare and to this day I still remember some of the lectures, at least in broad strokes. But the main reason I fell in love was it was the first chance I got to do some theatre.

In that year, I acted in several plays, I directed one (a Pinter play no less), built sets, did lighting design and produced a play that went to the Edinburgh Fringe. It was such a great experience that, after I graduated from college, I returned for another six months, hooked up with many of the same people I had worked with before and helped produce a few more shows. When I left London, I wasn’t ready to go. I was sad, but I didn’t know at the time how to go about becoming a permanent resident there. I returned home and headed to Chicago, determined to make it in the theatre there.

About five years later, I had the opportunity to return to London. I was once again producing a show for the Edinburgh Fringe. This time it was an improv show. I arranged to stay in London a few days after the festival. I anticipated it being a great experience, but it was somehow hollow. It was great seeing some of my friends again, but walking the streets where I had once lived put me in a distinctly melancholy mood. It was like visiting a memory. It was a place I used to live and when I returned to the places I used to hang out, they were devoid of the people that made it special to me.

Continue reading “Where I used to live”