But while I believe in “my way,” it’s my way. In learning improv it’s important to have direction and goals and I believe my approach is useful to improvisers looking to learn. At the end of the day, though, to be worth a damn, an improviser needs to figure out their way of improvising.
The brilliantly funny, Rachel Marsh, told me post-show, “You all did all the things we’re told not to do – negating, transactions, teaching scenes – but damned if you didn’t make it all work.” Again, in learning improv it’s extremely useful to receive guidance that leads us toward choices that are fun for us and the audience and, conversely, away from choices that often lead to real slogs of scenes.
But of course, to really know what you’re doing you need to understand whycertain choices are labeled improv “no-nos.” Then one plays within a world of possibilities, not limitations.
What follows is a dissection of the five scenes that made up Pack’s 6/23/21 Show to answer the question: “Was this a ‘good’ show?”
“Hey, Everybody,” we say as our initiation in some form. Maybe it’s “Team, take a knee,” “Soldiers. Attention!,” or the Zhubin Parang special, “People, people, [important person] is ready for your questions.”
The potential for trouble in a “Hey Everybody, get out here” initiation is high. Players may rush out on stage to support the initiation with disparate reactions that then battle for dominance; chaos ensues and awkwardness follows. Or, though players may rush out on stage to support the initiation, they await to take their cues from the initiator who becomes the facilitator in a stiff and slow series of interactions that typically revolves more around thinking and problem solving than feeling. Hey Everybody game mechanics allow a group to quickly build a focused direction out of disparate parts.
The Keys to success following a “Hey Everybody” initiation are:
Students were taught the 4 Key Lessons for building collaborative improv games on Day One. In subsequent weeks focused one of 4 rubric group games designed to explore the power of each of those key lessons.
At the end of the day – which really is the class showcase – the audience isn’t looking to see a perfectly executed To The Ether game. They don’t know what the hell that is. The rubrics are tools for teaching the players’ tools. All the audience cares about is watching players collaborate in-the-moment to build something together. Players need to follow the ensemble’s moves wherever they go; this is about an ensemble playing their games, not mine.
So now it’s time to put all that’s been learned together in service of Organic Group Games.
I taught my first Patterns & Games class through Zoom.
I had been nervous going into it assuming I’d have to tweak my teaching materials significantly to work within this new world. But as I learned when approaching Silent Games, the mechanics of collaborative pattern play are applicable however Group Games are attempted.
It’s always a mess to start, and then I begin laying in the lessons and with each iteration the group gels that much more. It never fails; by the end the group has built something cohesive out-of-nothing together as an ensemble – and have enjoyed themselves along the way.
The Zoom environment is not conducive to Kick The Duck, Red Rover, but I felt it critical to still have this first class expose students to the 4 Key Lessons that form the backbone of group game work as improv does best.
Remember this Simpsons bit with Krusty about hemorrhoids and riding bikes?
That “I can ride a bike again!” idea jumps into my head a lot (more often than a person should really think about hemorrhoids…probably). I think about it in conjunction with that “It’s just like riding a bike” expression used to refer to an activity that, once learned, becomes so second nature that it can be engaged again without effort even if it’s been a long time since the last time you engaged the activity.
I’ve been improvising on stage since I was 12. Over the subsequent years I’ve learned a lot and logged a lot of hours on stage. You might think at this point – even if I were to step away from improv for a while – I could get on stage with anyone anywhere and it’d be “just like riding a bike.”
But then there are those damn hemorrhoids. Once you get decent at something you can get in your head about not wanting to fall back below that level of competence you’ve reached, and that fear actually undermines the effort. God forbid you start teaching so that every time you get on stage in front of students your mind goes to “putting your money where your mouth is” instead of putting your mind in the moment. And, heavens to Betsy, one day you’ll be on the old side of this young person’s hobby and you’ll feel that while you’re taking stage time those whippersnappers are thinking you should be put out to pasture. Hemorrhoids!
On top of that, you might be committing the worst sins of the old improviser: You and your team aren’t practicing and don’t have a coach. So you are feeling all the pressure in the world to succeed on stage and eschewing the thing that your ensemble needs to succeed.
Yes, “you” is “me.” These are my hemorrhoids, my sins. Riding a bike was hard.
But guess what? “I can ride a bike again!” And the fix? Preparation (H).