Feedback from previous Improvising from the Gut workshops

I’m offering a two day intensive version of my Improvising from the Gut workshop. It’s coming up in two weeks.

I thought people might want to read some feedback from previous versions of this workshop:

“What I got, was an amazingly intense experience that demanded everyone involved to put their guard down and truly emote and share… What took place in the scene work was extraordinary… At first it was interesting how well we were all doing, by the end it was almost surreal as to how well we had worked together and what it would have been if it were a complete show.”

– Patrick McInnis

“I liked everything about the class… the warm ups were perfect… the exercises lead up to the scene work well… and there was a causal but learning atmosphere tended by Kevin… and his notes were specific and personal to each individual yet as an observer to scenes I learned as well. Kevin has an ability to and break down complex organic thoughts and simplify them… therefore making it easier to ‘grab hold’ of and ‘work with’ these ideas. I came out of the workshop with a better understanding of MY improv and I think this would be a great class for 6-8 weeks.”

– Ben Jones

“Your workshop was one of the my top highlights from the Del Close Marathon. I found it immediately useful in my work the next night. I was more patient, more observant, and less anguish about inventing things to say than I’ve been in months. You opened my mind and emotions in a way I’ve not experienced in my improvisation training. I am telling all my friends to take this class! It will not only make you a better improviser. I dare say it will make you a better person.”

– Justin Zell, Co-owner/Instructor, Steel City Improv Theater

“I would definitely recommend this workshop. It’s one of the few that seems to directly improve acting muscles. It strips away everything except the actors affecting each other, and gives you practice using your natural energies to inform a scene. The exercises in this class transformed the way I perform on stage for the better.”

Will Hines, The Stepfathers, UCB Theatre, Co-Host of the UCB Theatre New York Podcast, and the Associate Academic Supervisor for the UCB Training Center

“Yes, I’d totally recommend this workshop. You don’t have to think about what you should be doing or what’s right for the scene, you can just do whatever impulse you have. It’s quite freeing!”

Kirk Damato

“It lets both new and experienced improvisers hone a very particular skill — observing and responding to your scene partner — that is fundamental to all improv, but for whatever reason can get lost in the shuffle of daily improv classes and performance. It feels like a back-to-basics approach without being simplistic or boring for experienced improvisers.”

– Silvija Ozols, The Stepfathers, UCB Theatre

“I’d absolutely recommend this workshop to a friend, and already have.”

– David Siegel

“I took eight workshops during [the Del Close Marathon], and (not to disparage the other wonderful classes I took) yours was by far the most helpful to me. I get recurring notes about staying connected to scenes emotionally, and your exercises were perfect for that. The going from repetition into scenework exercise was particularly useful for me, and it completely got me out of my left brain. I would highly recommend the workshop to friends. It’s unlike anything else I’ve taken. I felt like it broke my brain in a great way.”

– Brynna Campbell

“I whole-heartedly believe that every improviser should take this workshop. I can only speak for New York, but this workshop helped maintain performers’ authenticity in a scene, no matter what the scenario. That’s something everyone can use.”

– Cory Palmer

” Improvisers, in general, need more of this kind of training. You kept us up on our feet most
of the time and your insights on acting, as well as improv, were
always helpful.”

– Mark Grenier, Magnet Theater

“The awareness/reminder of gut emotional reaction as a tool created opportunities in scenes the very next time I walked on stage.”

– William Cybriwsky

“I enjoyed how the workshop built patiently on itself. The Meisner-ish techniques are really great for people like me who is UCB trained and always looking for game. This made me jolt out of that and be organic from start to end.”

– Peter Kim, Executive Director, End Games Improv

Improvising From the Gut – Weekend Intensive

In this two day intensive class, you will learn how to begin scenes by observing and connecting with your scene partners and trusting your gut. By owning your reactions and provoking reactions in your scene partner, you will build exciting, unpredictable and fun scenes with strong emotional games.

In this two day intensive class, you will learn how to begin scenes by observing and connecting with your scene partners and trusting your gut. By owning your reactions and provoking reactions in your scene partner, you will build exciting, unpredictable and fun scenes with strong emotional games.

Kevin Mullaney
Kevin Mullaney

When is the class?

Class meets Saturday January 19th and Sunday January 20th, noon-4pm

Where is the class?

Upstairs Gallery
5219 North Clark Street
Third Floor
Chicago, IL 60640

How much will the class cost?


Applications for this are closed.

Who is Kevin Mullaney?

Kevin Mullaney is the current Artistic Director of the Chicago Improv Festival. He was the original Artistic Director for the UCB Theatre in New York. He was also the first director of their training program. Before that he taught at iO Theatre and directed their touring company, the iO Road Show. He is the host of the Improv Resource Center Podcast and has acted in recent productions by WildClaw Theatre, Caffeine Theatre and Will Act For Food. Find out more about Kevin Mullaney here.

New Class: Improv for Black Boxers

Please help me spread the word. I’ll be teaching a special class for Black Box Acting Studio:

This is for students who have completed three levels over at Black Box. We will be using versions of exercises from the acting program and applying them to improvised scenes, as well as pulling in exercises from my years of experience teaching Improvising from the Gut workshops.

This should be a fun playful experience which should make you a better improvisor and perhaps a better actor too: Perfect for the black box actor who wants to try improv or the improvisor who wants to apply their black box skills to improv.

The class will be held on Tuesday nights Nov 6 – Dec 11, 6-9pm at the Den Theater at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. No class week of Thanksgiving.

Emotional Yo-yo

Emotional Yo-Yo is an approach to creating dynamic, interesting improv scenes with games that are playable, surprising and funny.

Last week I wrote about reacting strongly to innocuous lines from your scene partner to immediately create interesting moments. It’s quite easy. Just listen to your scene partner, take what they say personally, and respond in way that is specific, strong and believable. That’s a great way to create a single moment, but to make a great scene you need to learn how to play with it.

Here is an exercise called Emotional Yo-yo:

  • Start a simple scene: like two people involved in an everyday activity. Don’t prethink it too much. Just start talking.*
  • One player should choose to react strongly to something from the other player. Once someone reacts in this way, they are the yo-yo and the other player is the hand.
  • If you are the hand, you should play with the yo-yo. Your job is to do and say things that either provoke the yo-yo or placate the yo-yo.
  • If you are the yo-yo, your job is to be affected. Every reaction doesn’t have to be absurdly strong, but often it is. Sometimes the hand will push you away, sometimes the hand will pull you back, sometimes the hand will spin you around. You should be flexible and let yourself be moved.

Some hints and notes

Continue reading “Emotional Yo-yo”

Specific, strong and believable

About a year ago, Ric Walker introduced me to an exercise. I liked it and tweaked it and started using it myself. It has become one of my favorites.

  1. Player A starts a scene doing something. The activity should be simple and the actor should do it in a neutral way without making a choice for their mood or emotional state.
  2. Player B enters and says the first line of dialog. This first line should be simple and innocuous and should be delivered in a neutral way.
  3. Player A then should react impulsively and emotionally to that line of dialog. They shouldn’t think about it, the reaction should be quick and decisive.
  4. They should then play out the scene.

This exercise can lead to some surprising and very fun opening moments to scenes. When someone reacts in a specific emotional way to a neutral initiation the results are almost always funny. Often, we get an immediate sense of who these characters are and what’s going on. And most importantly, we have a game ready to play: what player B does and says can provoke player A, over and over again.

The key to this working well is in the reaction. It needs to be specific, strong and believable. Sometimes the reaction is so overacted that it’s no longer believable. Sometimes the reaction is too weak and muted and doesn’t feel fun. Sometimes it’s not specific enough and has nothing to do with Player B’s initiation. It feels random and unearned. If Player A treats whatever Player B says as important and lets it affect them personally, their reaction will often be just right.

Some notes

If a player is having trouble making strong reactions, encourage them to react with their whole body, not just their words. Tell them to move first and speak once they are in motion. Have them relax their jaw and breath in and out through their mouth while they are doing their activity, waiting for the first line. Or maybe, just give them permission to overact. By overacting for a while, they may feel more comfortable making choices that aren’t so amped, but stronger than what they’re used to.

What are examples of innocuous first lines? Anything simple like, “The mail is here,” “I turned down the AC,” “I’m all packed,” or “I have that book you wanted.” They should be neutral so that Player A has the freedom to react in a variety of ways. “I killed your dog,” is not neutral. Nor is, “You got the promotion!” Reacting in a predictable way to a loaded first line does not produce the same fun and surprising results. At least that’s what I suspect.

One nice variation on this is to restart the scene several times using the same activity and first line and instructing Player A to react in different ways each time.

Behavior is a game

We work too hard at the top of the scene. We think we need to figure out everything in the first few lines. Are you my mother? Are you my boss? Are we on a bank heist? Are we on the playground? Is that a cane in your hand or a magical staff? Do we need to know everything?

We work too hard at the top of the scene. We think we need to figure out everything in the first few lines. Are you my mother? Are you my boss? Are we on a bank heist? Are we on the playground? Is that a cane in your hand or a magical staff? Do we need to know everything? No. We don’t. And the audience doesn’t care if we come up with some amazing back story.

The audience wants to see our behavior. They want to know how we relate to each other. That’s what a relationship is.
Continue reading “Behavior is a game”