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?”
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).
A group of improvisers gather pre-show. They take off excess clothes. They empty their pockets. They ask about each other’s day.
One guy tells a story about an out-of-the-blue run-in with an old friend that happened that day.
Another improviser tells her own story about an even more random out-of-the-blue run-in with an even older friend. And an organic warm-up is off running.
An improviser notices two of his compatriots are bent down tying their shoes so he mirrors them. A fourth follows. A fifth. And an organic warm-up is off running.
An awkward group of improvisers gravitates into a pre-show circle, wanting to find something organic, not wanting to force anything. One guy starts mirroring another’s nervous hand wringing. A girl coughs so someone else does. Someone laughs. They all laugh. And an organic warm-up is off running.Continue reading →
They were taught the contents of this website. They learned the mechanics of spontaneous collaboration. But the desire has never been for them to conform to one style of improv as dictated by their lessons. Rather the goal is always providing tools unique improvisers can utilize to enhance their personal approach.
In just over a minute 10 players flood the scene. They evolve by following and reacting. Even though a central player emerges, there is no leader.
Listen to the audience’s reaction. Yes, it comes at a great place in the pacing of a pattern-heavy show. Yes, the final line is a reference to an emergent theme.
But what the audience loves is the confident collaborative creation of something out of nothing. It almost doesn’t matter what Hannah says, the audience is going to love that she made a strong emotional choice to define the swell around her. They’ve been rapt the entire time – never doubting that the group was building toward something because the group never appeared in doubt. The audience is having fun because the players are clearly having fun.
And then of course after Hannah drops her line the group has the good sense to edit the scene, rendering it a Blackout, which plays beautifully into the pacing of the larger show.
I adore this scene.
Players are: Gerard Antoine, Sarah Berday-Sacks, Kevin Clatterbuck, Michael Farmer, Patrick Gaskill, Zachary Mann, Hannah Rumsey, Geoff Stone, Vince Sunga, Carter Tait and Elliot Wegman Continue reading →
I get excited every time Alan Volmer and Jonathan Nelson start a scene together. They’re able to create rich character with rich worlds expressed through rich reactions on a dime.
This scene begins beautifully, with Alan establishing some physical business and Jonathan establishing a Personal Game for himself.
When Alan references his prediliction for spider furniture (you’re just going to have to watch the clip), the resultant game threatens to take over all that’s been established. But the strength of Alan and Jonathan’s characters prevails and Townsend and John’s heightening and support of thetertiary game makes this an enjoyable scene to watch from start to finish.
The Johnsons are: John Hilowitz, Jonathan Nelson, Townsend Hart and Alan Volmer.
“Do we have to stick the sequence in Hey Everybody games?” students ask. No. Of course not. Play organically. Follow the game where it goes. Don’t ever feel constrained by the pattern.
But. There’s power in the pattern.
Watch the following Hey Everybody game from aJohnsons’ show. It ain’t pretty, but it’s illustrative. Watch as the gang falls away from the sequence of contributions. See what happens. Hang in there until the end where you can see that one Player’s faith in the pattern is all that’s needed to secure a satisfying edit with the audience.