“Improv teaches truth, and the truth can be funny or tragic—it takes on a life on its own. I think that’s the core value of it all. Acting is all about that moment that you commit, accept your reality and just go for it—then you can arguably do no wrong.”—
Without a good teacher monitoring, most improv exercises favor bold, aggressive students. Whoever either thinks faster or at least acts fastest tends to affect the scenes more and therefore have more chances for feeling validated that they are doing well. While there’s a place for boldness (and certain exercises explicitly focus on being more bold), any good improv team has a mixture of aggressive types with more patient and calm energies.
Believing that, here are five simple rules of conduct which I think help the less aggressive students find their footing in lower level improv classes. These are also just common sense policies for fair play. They’re not meant to leave out aggressive students. And I never state them as being “for the students who are bit more hesitant.” They’re just good etiquette for improv scenes which happen to also help the non-alphas find themselves in the scene.
Merely my opinion: Take ‘em or leave ‘em, fellow teachers!
Initiation Etiquette / ”Be Comfortable With Silence”. Students should not interrupt or finish someone else’s initiation: very commonly done by eager alpha bulldogs in lower levels. Teach that whoever moves first gets focus and a generous amount of time to make their move. The person who responds also gets a lot of time before they have to answer. Discourage the very common practice of talking until you are interrupted. “Be comfortable with silence” I will say a lot.
It’s Okay To Not Know Cultural References. After the first scene in class that happens to mention a movie/book/song/TV show — I point out that they’re not expected to know every movie, book or current event that gets brought up. They SHOULD try to fake it based on context or else admit in character that they don’t know it. And if they are the one who is bringing up a reference and their scene partner doesn’t know it, then it’s their job to help. This affects younger students’ confidence far more than I had appreciated — teach them how this works. (The other side of this coin is that after you’ve taught them how to handle references, no one is allowed to bail on a scene because they don’t know something.)
Protect Decisions To Play Against Type. Gently point out when someone misses their scene partner’s attempt to play against type (gender, age, etc). It’s bad listening and invariably happens to people already feeling left out. Correct whoever misheard as a casual note, not a lecture. “He’s being your mother, not your father.” Or “That’s a teenager talking, not a mom.” Be vigilant for this in the first few sessions especially.
Set Boundaries. This is a class, not a team. Students see very physical and intrusive things on stage at shows. They need you to make clear and enforce that that’s not for class, where people don’t know each other well. Though everyone would assume this to be true, it helps to have the teacher explicitly say it.
You Are Allowed To Say No. You are always allowed to “say no” in a scene to ANYTHING that your character wouldn’t want to do. Like if someone starts a scene by asking if you want a lap dance or maybe wants to steal someone’s baby from a hospital nursery, and your character wouldn’t want to, you can say “no” and you’re not being a bad improviser, (best way is to add a simple truthful reason why, and then stay open to discussing it in character). Even if they immediately realize they are saying “no” to something out of nervousness and they wish they had said yes, it’s okay because it’s important to get practice saying “no” properly in a scene. The take-away here is that you need to play your characters to the top of their intelligence, not trapped by what you think you “should” do because of “yes-and.” They forget this a lot so you remind them.
“The biggest obstacle to creativity is attachment to outcome. As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing. And in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities.
I got a call from someone who wanted me to lead a workshop on creativity. He needed to tell his management exactly what tools people would come away with. I told him I didn’t know. I couldn’t give him a promise, because then I’d become attached to an outcome — which would defeat the purpose of any creative workshop.’
It’s hard for corporations to understand that creativity is not just about succeeding. It’s about experimenting and discovering.”—Gordon MacKenzie. (via nedhepburn)
“There are people who prefer to say “Yes,” and there are people who prefer to say “No.” Those who say “Yes” are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say “No” are rewarded by the safety they attain.”—Keith Johnstone (via thecloudscraper)
I did things in my 30s that were ignored by the world, that could have been quickly labeled a failure. Here’s a classic example; in 1974 I did a movie called Phantom of the Paradise. Phantom of the Paradise, which was a huge flop in this country. There were only two cities in the world where it had any real success: Winnipeg, in Canada, and Paris, France. So, okay, let’s write it off as a failure. Maybe you could do that.
But all of the sudden, I’m in Mexico, and a 16-year-old boy comes up to me at a concert with an album - a Phantom of the Paradise soundtrack- and asks me to sign it. I sign it. Evidently I was nice to him and we had a nice little conversation. I don’t remember the moment, I remember signing the album (I don’t know if I think I remember or if I actually remember). But this little 14 or 16, whatever old this guy was… Well I know who the guy is now because I’m writing a musical based on Pan’s Labyrinth; it’s Guillermo del Toro.
The work that I’ve done with Daft Punk it’s totally related to them seeing Phantom of the Paradise 20 times and deciding they’re going to reach out to this 70-year-old songwriter to get involved in an album called Random Access Memories.
So, what is the lesson in that? The lesson for me is being very careful about what you label a failure in your life. Be careful about throwing something in the round file as garbage because you may find that it’s the headwaters of a relationship that you can’t even imagine it’s coming in your future.
Emotional intelligence in Improv with Poupak Sepehri This workshop will make you laugh, and cry, and angry, and happy, and sad, and excited… you’ll go through all sorts of emotional states to improve your improv. (Read through for more.)
Not only is today the birthday of one of the most wonderful people I know, but I also found out she’s running this incredible improv workshop in NYC during the Del Close Marathon.
“I saw one really amazing game at GDC that stood out from the rest. It had all the players instantly smiling and laughing. It was fun for kids and adults. It created a feeling of group affinity. Everyone around wanted to join in. It was even beneficial to the body. It was an inflatable ball.”—Charles Bloom, Some GDC Observations (via maxistentialist)
When you say no one should note their team, you mean no one should gather their team up and tell them what they did right and wrong like a coach, right? Every team I've been on has walked off stage with general group notes like "that was fun," or "oof," or "When you played penguin doctor, I couldn't keep it together." It just seems healthy and in good fun. Where's the line between this and noting?
That’s exactly what I mean by noting (saying what other players did right and wrong like a coach).
The general group notes you mentioned are totally cool (even the “oof” one because, c’mon, we’ve all been there). Decompressing and talking about the show is natural and gonna happen, especially when it’s supportive.
I just mean no one should play the role of coach and explain what your teammates need to improve on.
A good rule of thumb would be “Don’t be that guy.” If you’re saying something that’s gonna make your teammate get defensive or feel weird, just don’t.
“I want to keep creating comedy that is, as my old improv teacher would say, at the top of our intelligence or higher. It’s easy to fall into the trap of just cranking out things that are good enough to sell.”—Tina Fey
“At the time, Jacobson and Glazer were already working on a Broad City TV pilot; the plan was to wrap up the series, then head to L.A. to pitch it. But the finale was so well received that they were inspired to hit Poehler up with an audacious request: Would you want to, ah, executive produce our project? “Just being like, ‘We might as well fucking ask,’” Glazer recalls. “I don’t know what the fuck we thought she’d say.” And she said — yes! “So it went really well with Amy. We were all the same height, which helped.””—
“You look up to your heroes and you shouldn’t be intimidated by them; you should be inspired by them. Don’t look up at the poster on your wall and think, ‘Fuck, I can never do that.’ Look at the poster on your wall and think, ‘Fuck, I’m going to do that!’”—Dave Grohl at last night’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony where he perfectly describes the role Nirvana played in my adolescence. Thank you Nirvana. Thank you forever. (via harryandthepotters)
“[Improv] makes you work with people better, just in general. And I don’t mean like work like at a job—just interact with people better. I keep going back to the same word “listening,” but it really is just that.”—Matt Besser (via ucbcomedy)
Which improv format do you feel is the hardest to perform successfully and why? Thank you.
Ooh, good question!
Without practice they’re all pretty difficult, but I’d say even with practice the trickiest is probably any sort of Narrative (like the Movie form).
Why? Narrative lends itself to plot, which can lend itself to writing on stage, which can be antithetical to improv.
You want to tell a compelling story that makes sense, but you still have to build it up moment by moment. Also, it can get bogged down by the plot, which isn’t fun for anyone, audience or improviser.
It’s tricky! But it can be done.
As for a non-Narrative form, I’d say the Evente, for similar reasons.
You want to return to the ending (which was the beginning of the show), and you want to return in a way that’s not plotty or connect-the-dots. There needs to be a surprise in there somewhere, either in the how or the why or whatever.
Also, it needs to make sense, not come out of nowhere, and you actually have to remember that first scene.
It’s a fun challenge, though!
I’m sure people have other opinions — if so, please share ‘em!
This class will force you out of your t-shirt and jeans comfort zone, and urge you to put on character skins. Using the Eventé as a structure, this class will work to heighten your theatricality, your [time] period play as well as balancing plot and game. You’ll come out of this class with an arsenal of new character types and acting styles, as well as an understanding of The Eventé improv form.
The Eventé is a form revolving around a single event/scene. The first scene establishes the event. That scene informs, and is followed by several background scenes which explore the world leading up to, or resulting from the event. One character from the event scene usually serves as a plot thread. Then the event scene is performed again, taking into account new information discovered by the background scenes. The Event scene can be returned to any number of times, provided the event scene evolves and heightens with each replay.
The Evente is one of my favorite improv forms, and this’ll be a great class.
Have you ever found it frustrating having to do something you don't want to (as in, doesn't tickle your fancy) but it helps pay the bills?
So, let me tell you a quick story:
My grandpa on my dad’s side came over from China when he was pretty young— grew up in Chicago. He was in high school when World War 2 broke out; he joined up, and was put in the 407th Air Service Squadron. It was part of the famed Flying Tigers fighter group, and one of the first all Chinese-American units in the military. He fixed planes. He also shot at them when they strafed the airfield. With a pistol.
He was there when the Japanese officially signed the surrender, and was honorably discharged soon after. The very first thing that he bought with his stashed up pay was a sterling silver bracelet with his serial number on it.
I keep it within sight of my desk at all times.
After the war, he went back to Chicago, but his father was already housing too many Chinese immigrant workers (up to this point, most Chinese immigrants were single men because of strict immigration laws and quotas), so he had to move to Detroit to live with an uncle and finish high school.
One of his high school teachers noted his artistic abilities, and recommended that he use his GI Bill to go to art school. Of course, his dad wouldn’t have it. So, he worked in laundromats, owned his own grocery, and later worked as an insurance salesman instead.
70 years later, I’m the graduate of an art school, and I’m taking a break from drawing to write this out.
I guess my point is this: the time that you use to pursue art has to come from somewhere. At some point, a sacrifice was made by you, or others, to allow you to have that time. Illustrators try to make a living in that intersection of art and commerce in an effort to lessen that sacrifice. There are some that are doing quite well at that. There are many, many more that are not.
Even those artists who we view as extremely successful have to sacrifice time. It just comes from other places: relationships, health, or family, etc. The real struggle then, is to find that balance on how you are spending your time.
If you know that a life spent making art is your ultimate goal, then doing things you don’t like aren’t really frustrations. They are necessities that must be done to give yourself time.
I think this is why I cringe every time I hear someone say that self-righteous creed of the “creative class”: “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” That statement discounts all the hard work and sacrifices that you or others have made to be in that situation—what on Earth would entitle us to only work jobs that we love?
I don’t do this because I love it. I do it because I must.
This is one of the single most important statements made about how to direct a comedy. I am not exaggerating. Shittier comedy directors focus on closeups, so you can see actors make silly faces. Great directors use more wide shots, so you can feel how everyone reacts.