Saturday, 23 March 2019

5 ways to be a better actor or performer

In this blog, I will discuss the uses of five ways to be a better actor or performer. These come from my experiences and desires for and within improv. I warn you, there is a mini blog in this on clown... just so you know, as most other points are brief and concisely given. However, I like clown quite a lot. To be an actor or performer comes with assumptions and the main one is that improv uses them. This is to be pointed out, as a lot of people that get into it are not actors or performers, they are computer software engineers and veterinarians (etc.). Performing comes after and with a lot more value added into one's life too. So, here is how to become a better actor.

1. Take classes, any classes helps but acting classes works for this blog
Through taking further training outside of improv, you can gain skills in physical representation of the character, vocal training to produce increased control, sound quality and accuracy to the needs of them. The training can provide experiences in the differing rhythms, cadences and timing of a character. Whether this is RADA providing you with professional skills that will enrich your creative journey, or LIPA with their psychological and physical processes of acting. There are many well-established and famed school for actors to professionally develop. In this case, all that improvisers may desire is the exploration and not a full three year course. What aspect of acting training will best suit your current needs? Perhaps a bit of Meisner, a bit of Meisner, ...or maybe you wish to listen to Mamet’s acting approach. In any case, it is wise to find your route through the treacherous path.
I will advocate various paths in this blog, and the first (and largest section of the blog) is clown. Do clown. Not circus clown, but theatre clown… Whether it is a Lecoq-based class or a Mario Gonzales class, try it out. There are many styles to all art forms and clown is included. It could be that you wish to do the six masks of yourself with Sue Morrison, which has your personal mythology define your clown. By doing this you adopt the Native American and European style based on Richard Pochinko’s work. However, it could be that you instead wish to try renowned french teacher Phillipe Gaulier and his approach of childish pleasure and play to respectfully avoid the (Mr.) Flop. There are various types of clown teachers too. It is possibly a good idea to find out how the teacher works, if such information is available. The stereotype of a clown teacher is that they are brutal. However, this is not always the case. Dependent on their approach to being the clown (that is you) and how they go about teaching will result in vastly different results in the performer’s take-home discoveries. Whether that is ‘aren’t we all really stupid in the world’ or ‘connecting to one’s naivety helps personal growth’, we can celebrate all impacts that it has for individuals.
I teach clown. I teach it for its own sake and for improvisers. It works well for self-discoveries that support the basis of how people develop within their work. It translates into important stylistic methods in improv. This includes those that focus on Game of the Scene to those that enjoy thriving in short-form games. Clown centres around playfulness through listening, so the value strives from inputting this into your performances. It is good for life too, as we get to acknowledge when we are stupid and connect with others. When I first performed with Denni Dennis’ Company Clowns in Cardiff, it was an experiment - that was the performance - and was entitled, ‘Connections’. Clown is based on making those connections with each other and especially the audience.
A closely linked lesson to get involved in is tumbling. I recall Keith Johnstone stating to go take a tumbling class in 2009 to the whole room. Physicality can bring so much to the production that you improvise. The skill that is attained can bring a professional air to the work that you do. To bring an ability to be so vastly physical can open the windows of prospects to the comedic theatre that you create in your ensemble. Imagine being able to improvise something so beautiful (and funny) like it is directly from Gecko Theatre’s The Wedding. Having only personally taken a little bit of this, I still await the day when I can do a triple backwards somersault in some devastatingly exciting spontaneous car chase, as the vehicle caterpaults over a cliff and into the depths of the deep, clashing sea. One day.
Even non-acting classes help. Deepen your knowledge-breadth and it will bring more insight into the philosophical underpinning of the work: more understanding. I am not overly keen on clever d*cks prancing around spouting all they know; however, specific knowledge at points in a production that seems to have a use to the whole theatre show in-creation can be awe-inspiring. Any adult-ed class will enrich what you do, even if not directly the information gained.

2. Western vs. Eastern acting
A valid point about acting is that there are many approaches, and, furthermore, these are entrenched in the culture that surrounds it. Therefore, the western style of acting, albeit developing over the years, still has more of a psychological system than the eastern. Admittedly, this is a generalisation and it does not fit every practitioner and teacher. A good example is Tadeusz Kantor who treated theatre like visual art (to an extent). The meaning behind the theatre was tremendous and dealt with psychology of humans: our memory is forever dying. We only remember the last time we remembered that memory. Gloriously true from my experience. In any case, we can opt to discover what the opposing ‘broadly-speaking’ system can offer. If we were to act and perform from embodying a physical form first, then the results could present the inner workings of the character from an external-inwards approach. This is in comparison to the inner-outwards approach that configures how the character functions and brings about their physical form of being thereafter.
Eastern acting tradition comes from the combined duality of mind/body. This tradition stems from the thought that all performance comes from spirituality. It is about non-attachment and being ego-less (Forsythe, 1996). This approach has more focus on acting through movements, such as the Noh kata (movement patterns; Thorpe, 2014). Therefore, the system that an actor can work within is vastly different to the one’s that (perhaps) we are used to already.
By all means, this does link to the first suggestion of taking an acting class, but, more than that, explore where you come from as an actor. In the next few years, it is plausible to explore the eastern philosophy in your acting life (in which, I do mean your improv).

3. Study people; be interested in how people are
I have found that most actors have a common fascination: people. Actors like to watch others. On the tube, these types of people will be observing how people are within their bubble of existence, or even those doing the same thing and they briefly lock eyes with you (it has happened). So, study people. Personally, it is more of a natural tendency than a skill that I chose to engage in, as I probably could not act out how family and friends behave. However, I have brought observed behaviours and subconsciously embodied traits of many people I have met onstage. I do accidentally use other’s characteristics in my daily life, anyway. Through increasing your interest in other people, you can engage in these qualities in many ways for the spontaneous creation in the productions you improvise.
It could be suggested that more importantly you should study yourself. Be interested in how you are. This skill is very useful in improv. All the reasons to explore how other people present themselves are reasons that you should notice how you are too. What do you do? How are you in certain and various situations. By paying attention to whatever aspect that you so desire, you will conclude (to a level of accuracy) performable aspects of yourself. Furthermore, by being able to do so in the moment, you can begin using the skill onstage. The latter is probably more greatly useful than the first.

4. Be entrenched in the character
You are an actor. You are onstage. You (hopefully) have an audience, unless you chose not to for that huge artistic reason. This means that they see what you are doing, saying, being and, as a theatre production, it holds meaning to the overall piece you perform. What you bring to a scene, firstly, is a character. For that character to exist, you must be within it completely. There is no longer the actor acting, but the character being. This implies an acting approach, to some extent. However, even if those not willing wished to explore this, it translates: commit one hundred percent, be fully invested in the character.
I explored trance-based improv a couple of times over the last few years and this links to that practice. This is without masks, just performers being in trance. This sounds the same as being entrenched in the character. I will write a blog about this topic, separately. It is more to do with flow and trance, with a little potential for NLP and hypnotic states (areas for me to look into for practice-as-research sometime).
Nonetheless, the idea of a character without the actor present means that the audience can be with the character too. You can think of films that had famous actors in and you only noticed at the end or part way through; this is because they were swept away and you went with them. Be encompassed by what the character is - go on the journey with them and see where they take you.

5. Explore mentalities and physicalities
Fundamentally, these prior four suggestions are all about exploration of mentalities and physicalities. You can achieve a lot by leaning into the discoveries and letting go of what the usual practice is. What more can you do? Try a distinctly new mentality of your practice and within your practice of improv. The characters can come from a novel mental state. Explore who they are and what that means for the scene. Likewise, by adopting some of the previous advice, you will be performing from a mentality that could bring about something cataclysmically different. Similarly, the exploration of physicality can lead to stylistic choices that could be of great intrigue. Who improvises Beckett? What is that physicality to your scene? How about Berkoff? I taught improvised Berkoff once. It asks so much more of your improvisers - even more in a rehearsal room, as to teach a short class requires reducing it to more usual improv gimmicks and games.  

In conclusion, try stuff. Not the normal tenets of improv. That has existed for quite some time and we can explore further. Comedy happens in Beckett, in Berkoff, but theatre practitioners (more generally) create different theatre to one and another. We can do so in improv too. Skill-up, explore and you can bring about improv that is definitely performed better than most.

Those names in parentheses:

Forsythe, J. (1996). Spirituality in Actor Training. Theatre Research in Canada, 17(1). Available at: https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/TRIC/article/view/7160/8219.

Thorpe, A. (2014). How can Westerners study Japanese Noh? An interview with Richard Emmert, Director of the Noh Training Project and Theatre Nohgaku. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 5(3), 321-333. doi:10.1080/19443927.2014.940113.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Guest blog: Why Improv?


Having discovered improv comedy a year ago and having fallen under its spell, I find myself trying to explain what compels me to return again and again to what feels like its magic.

Having dived deep into another weekend course this one called “Efficiency in Scenework” with Nathan Keates. I find myself already missing its end, even though I’m only half way through.

So the word magic seems apt.  This is the best way I can explain what occurs in improv. But don’t get me wrong it’s not that all that happens is magic, it’s just that sometimes magic happens.

And what is this magic I hear you ask? Well I don’t know what it is, but except it brings a feeling of joy. A place where you are in a world of imagination, on the cusp of discovery and where you sometimes find gold.

Perhaps we should call it fools gold, because once you discover it, it has gone again and that can never be repeated in the same way, but it then it does return in another, later place, often in one you are least expecting. And at that moment its like you’ve been kissed with delight and often a response of laughter. One more note about improv is that the magic it can be found in watching others find their own gold and also it is often found in collaboration with others.

One area I have had a similar experience is working with clay, in which out of something formless something emerges and often almost without intention and impersonally. It's as if we are responding to the clay in some symbiotic dance between creator and potential where on some occasions there is some magical conclusion, and also sometimes not.

So there is something more generally to be said about being in touch with this creative edge and being in the moment and it being impersonal.

Improv is one place I can find this, but creativity in any form can be the edge we need. To be present, playful and enquiring allows us to drop the fa├žade that we are in charge of this manifesting present, we are a part of the play but not in charge of the script, as it is continually unfolding before us. At this edge perhaps we feel most in touch with the creative spirit within us and creativity around us, and it feels right and we feel good and we want more.

So why improv?  
I think it’s about the creative magic, of how you lose yourself in the present, and sometimes out of it comes a real present. For which I say thank you please come again. And I do.

By Chris 

Friday, 4 January 2019

5 awesome tips for being bold onstage

Every improviser seeks to be better at improv. One way is to just be bolder onstage. Nonetheless, is that easy to achieve? What does that really mean? If we ignore the constant invention, re-invention of categorising people (which is fun and interesting to a point - it is just not practical), we can look at what skills and attitudes gain results. Here are my five tips to being bold onstage, and they are not about being big, broad-stroke characters (you can do all sorts of improv using these).

1. See everything (that you have currently managed, and see what else you wish to push to notice next)

If you notice it, then you'll use it. This gives an appearance of making choices, when the reality is that you've increased the amount of what you get point out. You can use everything; this will be either internally or explicitly. You get to directly reference what you have observed, heard or felt in response in the scene, or you can internalise these. It depends what it is, but you will seem bold as a performer.

No one is ever aware of everything. It's fundamentally why improv is endless. There's no end to what you could be aware of and you'll never be always aware of the same stuff. Do what you do, seek to notice more.

Bold by using it. This defeats the problem mentioned in the introduction, boldness is not being brutal in performance approach. A gentle improviser may be more open; a careful improviser will access more that is around them and inside themselves. These make you bolder, as you have more to use.

2. Trust yourself 

The only difference between experienced and beginner is trust and confidence in themselves and others. This means that you must find a place in yourself where you know you can do all what you want to do now. To use a Razowski-ism, if you know you want something, you have already found it. 

You are enough. You can do all you want to do currently, the way that you know it. I have left people to do what they do, and it turns out interesting. I would not say that it suits me, but I am clogged up with experiences in improv and theatre - it seems illogical in design what they wanted to do. However, if people want to be self-taught, it is important to stay out their way (to some extent). This exclaims that you will do what you do, but the best effect from it comes from trusting that you will deliver what you want to. You are all you need to be to perform your improv.

3. Use sustainable physicality 

The connotation about being bold brings up physical presence onstage. If you are comfortable in yourself, then you will hold stage presence anyway. However, in characters, you get to use a physicality that distinguishes one person you find from another.

When finding these characters, being open to exactly what you do will enable the character to be defined. Each character needs to be sustainable. You must be able to keep this going. I remember an early performance of my own back in 2008 where I explored the essence of Decon opening in a highly-structured and silly longform format, ‘The Flurry of Florence’. It was theatre with set, props and two actors. In the premiere of the production, I did not find a sustainable voice; I think the character I was going to be started Australian (I don’t promote using accents). The accent disappeared. Lets not let your characters drop; if you physicalise something, stick with it. A person is who they are through how they are.

4. Have a specific (and personally memorable) voice

This is alike the last, but on vocally finding your character. Obviously, as the anecdote in the last one determines, it must be sustainable. However, more importantly, it must hold details within it. Notice the specific elements of what you are doing. If you are not a voice person, don’t try to be. Maybe one day you will be, but the voice a character has needs to be personally memorable. Be in the right show for this to work for you, too.

The show you choose to be in will ask certain stuff from you. A person with a bad back, should not be in a physical theatre piece, and a person with less voice capabilities should not do a set that asks them to create through a wide vocal change.

5. Try out performing like someone else would - get away from your own defaults and nail down how someone else would adopt a persona

On the contrary, we do not want improvisers staying safe, as that makes your improv pointless. It was McDermott that said (in person, no reference to when) that improv requires risk, otherwise the purpose of using improvisation is lost. Just devise or write, in which case. We all have defaults we go to in improv, either consciously (I hope not) and subconsciously. Don’t be safe, take the risks that makes the theatre feel alive and present with this audience.

You can perform like someone else. Not for a set, but for a character, improvise like someone else would. Adopt a persona of them performing this character you are finding. It will break the boundaries of how you perform; it would also ensure that, through total embodiment, you will achieve something vastly different that usual.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Top 5 Improv Moments of 2018

It is the end of 2018, so what has been a delight of the year? Here are 5 of the great moments of my year in improv.

1. North coast residual energy

I like musical improv, but something has been missing for a number of years. I was seeking something and wished to explore. However, I had not the time or the people. Thus, I was left in the same zone, but definitely missed it. This year saw me give into wanting musical improv in my life again and I grabbed the given opportunity by Piotr to engage in North Coast. I have written this before, but I shall repeat; I wanted to take all their classes a few years ago: freestyle rap, looping and beatboxing. Therefore, this opportunity was something I had to jump at, regardless of my own qualms with musical improv. 

Freestyle rapping is fun, but I tripped a lot in the weekend with North Coast. Failing led me to thinking about my limitations, the results of which can be read on this blog (link). I spent a weekend with wonderful, lovely people and engaged in something I had wanted to for a number of years. 

Since the class, I have made housemates do freestyle on three social media platforms in one drink-fuelled night (for me). It was meant to be frivolous and fun, even if just for me. It was. We shared both the success and failure of freestyling for an audience. There will be more freestyle, but perhaps designed with less of the ‘failure’ and more stupidity in flow - we shall see. 

2. Clown session in Greece

It was immense, the pleasure that comes from clown. I taught three workshops in the Mount Olymprov festival this year, which, in its own right, was a great experience. It is a fantastic festival. So many wonderful humans in the festival that I could connect with and through the happenstance of improv. The clowns developed through my touring class: ‘Clown for your Improv’. 

There were plenty of beautiful, hilarious moments in the day. However, something that highlights the clear connection of clown is the times when a ridiculous thing creates consistent laughs: A simple, yet somehow silly, leg move gained so much laughter! 

Overall, the session was splendid, as with teaching clown, I got to see people getting into who they are, playing and working through their personal blocks. During this year, I have had the opportunity to explore different capabilities and skills with students of mine. They all point out what is fundamental in using clown in your improv: give in to it all. 

In the session in Greece, we explored pathetic clown too. It was a great insight into theatre. By removing the laughs and not the clown, we get a deeper emotional connection to the scene being created in the moment. Clowns can offer us connection, emotionally intense realities, and those simple clown laughs. 

3. London chat with improv loves 

I went to a improv networking event. It was the summer picnic, but it rained. I arrived at Hyde Park, then walked about getting more wet per step. I was a little early, so basically played the game of guess what pub we were going to. I was wrong a number of times. However, the location was put online and I dashed over as quick as I could.

The bar was spotted with only improvisers. As the event went on, there were so many people of the improv scene in London that I adore. We began with some board games that I had not heard of before. The crazy simple card game that is 1-20 with cards and added, extra complications. Awesome game. Eventually, as we would, we added in someone being blind to their own cards. Then I played it with a small collection blind by myself. I got 4 out of the 5 cards correct! I think. 

Seeing people on such sparse occasions makes you think about the past and into nostalgia; however, this whole blog post is nostalgic. In summary, I loved to chat to the new people, those with similar mindsets, and those that have podcasts. 

A lot of improv love goes to all those I chatted to on that night. 

4. ‘Triptych’ in Basingstoke improv weekend class was a phenomenal output 

If you want to know what can come from improv, then seeing these two sets would have opened your mind. In a weekend class I ran in Basingstoke this year, I got the participants to perform two sets of what retrospectively has been called ‘Triptych’. I first used the structure of this format in Helsinki, Finland. I wished for the performers to explore their own capacity. It was great then, as they loved doing dramatic improv. However, in my local classes, it is useful to use it (if it seems advisable) in my level two course, ‘Efficiency in Scenework’. 

The outcome of the sets in Basingstoke was theatre that had depth and purpose. As any ‘correct’ theatre-maker can tell you, we create with meaning and purpose. Why are you asking someone to watch this? Why is it important to put on? Whether or not you are putting up Theatresports or this Triptych form, we still use the time and space to offer something of value to our audiences. Whatever we make, we seek theatre, comedic or not (the disclaimer must be that it may not always be hugely poignant). 

In the class, in ‘Triptych’, the proposal of structure is so little when you have actors present such magic before your eyes. They truly explored the greater possibilities of creating live theatre before an audience using themselves fully. 

5. Improvised Shakespeare Company at Soho Theatre 

I'm glad to have gone to see this company. The likelihood of seeing them is less so when living in the UK. I trained in the late-improv venue in Hollywood, so did not see them when in the States. Prior to that, I was in Chicago in 2007, so with limited time and know-how back then, I missed the opportunity. I couldn’t tell you who I saw when there then, anyway. I believe the set I almost recall in iO ended very meta - but I loved that. I think I must have seen Mike O’Brien in Second City foyer with a miserable expression, ignoring me; I was aimlessly excited and smiling at him. I went to the University of Chicago - Compass link - and looked up where I should go on their computers. Anyway, I saw Improvised Shakespeare Company many many years later: this year. 

Soho theatre is a wonderful venue, especially for seeing great names in improv. If you are an American improv company with decades to your name and a level of improv fame, then Soho Theatre is your venue. You get to charge four times as much as usual (dependent on who you compare the cost to) and a good run in a lovely space. 

Their production was fun and Shakespearean. There isn’t much to say about it, except I just liked the experience; I like going to that theatre, I like being able to see these acts, and I liked what they did. It made me laugh, which doesn’t happen so much with improv nowadays. 

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The ‘Improv And’ Series: Anxiety

In this series of ‘Improv And’ blogs, I shall be quickly discussing the use of improv for certain diagnoses and other uses. For this posting, the topic is anxiety. This is close to my research and an important topic in modern society.


Picture from uofmhealth

Anxiety can be diagnosed in various ways, this includes Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. These all have differing criteria for being labelled with, which you can look at on the NHS website. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), as well all of them, impact life in a major way. SAD makes social situations become an overwhelming fearful circumstance. As it affects everyday activities, relationships and people’s self-confidence, there is need to find a solution. What is also the case is that many people feel anxious and may not be diagnosable, but still require help. There are many remedies that are offered. Some people found improv comedy to be beneficial. 

The research suggests that using improv comedy could be an effective intervention. When we improvise, the basic requirement of the participants are that they support one and another. This equates to a room full of people that are being non-judgmental and accepting. A social situation, which includes everyone knowing that others are in the same position, means that no one will be forming negative perceptions on anyone - not that this would occur in any other group, anyway. Also, improv forms communities. These communities and new friendships build trust in the participants and create long-lasting relationships that help sustain positivity and a supportive group. Furthermore, the fact that we do comedy, create funny moments, means that we gain laughter from watching and participating. This laughter leads to catharsis and can notably be healing. A group of people laughing together forms stronger bonds and builds trust once more. 

It is important to state that improv comedy is not therapy and should not be used like it is. The advice organisations suggest is to attend these classes as well as the therapy that professionals advise. There are programmes that are run that use improv and therapy in one intervention; these are usually run by therapists that are keen to bring the value of improv to anxious people. In some cases, improv has out-performed therapy. For example, an intervention that mixed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and improv, gained the same results in a shorter time. This was found to be better through the use of externalisation (an outward focus) as it gives a positive affect. 

Overall, the benefits of improv could be: 

  • Being with supportive and non-judgmental people; 
  • Forming positive feelings through community-building and new friendships; 
  • And laughter as having catharsis and can be healing.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Reflection: North Coast Freestyle Rapping (Hip Hop) weekend

I used to freestyle rap for improv. However, at one point many years ago, I said to a casting director in a random audition that I could freestyle rap and I realised that I probably shouldn’t promote that - I do improv, not actual comparable rapping. It was a fun moment to have been in. I backtracked so hard after hearing me say that. In any case, since that moment, I do not think that I have done much rapping or musical improv. This is odd, as I love musical improv; I love doing it, I enjoy seeing it, and I am thrilled when getting others into it. In 2011, a fairly new pal played Beastie Boys rap with me and others in a class or rehearsal for a production that I was creating, and fell head over heels in love. It was a glorious moment. One aspect that I should mention in passing, as it would most likely become a question, is why stop what you love? The simple answer is I have hang-ups on musical improv in general. I need to address what can be seen in the global realm of it by how I present what I would prefer to see onstage. We all, and our audiences, have preferences; I shall address mine over time by doing everything that I can. The reason to state this more so, is due to what that does when you do perform or practice some musical improv, or freestyle rapping. E.g. like a pole up the b-hind. I saw North Coast’s advert for three amazing sounding courses years ago - apparently that could have been three years ago. These were freestyle rapping, beatboxing and looping. In Bristol, I played with beatboxers, sometimes they were looping, and we could rap or sing with the music being created. My interest in these, and sound production, is certainly in existence. I love improv: the live nature of the art creation. It does not matter whether it is Beardyman and him creating music in the moment, or Reggie Watts and his quirky musical mischief, to your short-form type of freestyle rap with Abandoman or MC Hammersmith. To add further clarity, I don’t listen to rap, it literally is the freestyle aspect that I enjoy. So, I wrangled my way into the hip hop weekend with North Coast this year. I was lucky that the person that dropped out had not taken a course before, as I think a gentle route through a weekend of freestyling was enough. What I realised from that course is there are three types of ways to get to a rhyme. As I have said, I teach musical improv and have taught rhyming, so the revelation here was the extra way to it. I have always preferred one over the other too. The revelation was not in the course or from the class, but the day after as I keep doing exercises from the two-day lesson. On numerous occasions I did not succeed. I felt good when I just did what I do, but there is no point in being content with that. I thought that maybe I should step up with personal challenges of stuff I used to be able do, but it was not necessary. I had failed before this thought many times too, but it was an idea of seeing what was in me or not. The reason I didn’t is why the revelation was possible. There was one exercise that I struggled to get into, for reasons I assume that I know and knew (the assumption is that I am correct). The wonderful teacher fixed that, but I still landed in judgement and nonsense - the latter word being a judgement, so it has not gone… my proposition for this blog is presenting practices of three (or so) exercises from the weekend (and as I recall them). Some of them that I shall post of me will be me failing, which shall come with the context of this blog. The three types of ways to get to a rhyme are:

1. Here is the exercise: Click
The Quick Get The quick get is what I teach, but never really used or realised what I meant or how to use it. This is the revelatory one, but it really should not have been. The use of this in the North Coast exercise Pull Up is a good idea. The blank slate that I enjoy being is less useful when the rhymes come fairly swiftly in a set rhythmic flow. Therefore, I messed up a lot and ended in judgement, whether I completed the segment or not. The quick get is simply choosing the rhyming word straight after you hit the end of the line / word you will rhyme with. Some people may perceive this as the main way to free-flow, but it is not.

2. Set up, lilypadding or rollerdexing

The way that frustrates me is ‘rollerdexing’ being taught too soon. North Coast call it ‘lillypadding’. It is not something I enjoy doing a lot, which should be obvious from an above comment. This is about literally setting up the rhyme, so you need to plan out the rhyming word that comes first and then use that spectacular topic word to amaze your au

It is possible to do this in the previous game, but I shall use North Coast’s game ‘I Like Butts’: Click

3. Let it drop in

What I really enjoy and promote is allowing yourself to let the words drop in and playing with the flow. Less planning, but you have moments of quick gets that are natural and the even better moments of surprisingly wonderful rhymes that you would have never thought of. 

I demonstrate this with North Coast’s exercise on finding your flow with a topic of love or hate: Click

Monday, 22 October 2018

5 ways to instantly have an engaging improv show without performing ‘better’

How many times have you read that you are not good enough as an improviser? There are countless top tips that will make you the best of the best at performing improv comedy. However, do they work and make you better? It is unlikely that a few words will change why you perform. It is not how you perform that needs addressing (most of the time), as you've sat through all those workshops; you've probably gone to tons of international teachers too.
Their value comes when teaching that other way that you haven't done yet… or digging deeper into that field of improv, which you currently desire greatly. Subsequently, this post is not about those still developing into their interest in a specific realm of improv comedy. Although, you are enough too: This is true even when developing, as you're enough to do what form you know (in the way you know it). In any case, there is more to your improv than you.
The top tips of today are about what can be done without addressing your acumen at acting funnily, or performing in general.

  1. Use theatrical lighting

The comedic theatre, or dramatic for some, that you present is a kind of theatre that people watch. Therefore, to make it engaging and the best tip of these, use lighting effectively. A simple white wash state across the stage is not a dynamic and interesting image to look at. The technician of the theatre is talented and can be spontaneous. If you let them play with you and create the atmosphere of the scene through striking visuals, then your production will immediately become brilliant.
If you wish to work out why this is true, find that reoccurring blog bit that asks you to state whether the group photo is a ska band promotional photo or an improv group. Nonetheless, the real topic is not on promotional photos (even though the use of them are advocated too). Have a look at what photos are thrilling to see of general scripted theatre and compare then to captured improvised theatre. The expectation is that improvised theatre misses what those glorious lamps create for the audience. It is a generalisation that does not fit every improv comedy production that has ever been made, but the point being made is what is being endorsed.   

  1. Have musicians

It is obvious that if adding great imagery to your work is useful, then putting in sound too would be wise. Using multiple musicians for a strong, textured, sound adds quality to the production by bringing about an atmosphere. The American history or modern improv comedy used pianists to add to their sets, which worked well. In the modern world, some use electronic music. Either way, the additional sound supports the improvised scenes. For example, a horror film without the music and sounds behind the action would not be scary at all. Onstage, a strong silence is stronger when there has been sound. The musician can set so much about the scene, including scenic details as well as the ambiance.
The contradiction to this is that it must fit the production being offered. This only means using the right musicians. The other issue is that musicians aren't always available and costly. There was one production that used a odd instrument as the sole music to the production and the guy ran off with most of the profit of the run… and didn't really do a lot. Unfortunate, but the point to take is to use the right instruments and reputable musicians. In that production, it was a random find that was gambled on. Create the work, don't let it create you: as the fools’ world suggests.

  1. Use appropriate staging and sets

When you enter a theatre, what do you see? The auditorium might be gorgeous and stimulating the brain. However, if you're not in an old or fancily designed space, then you will need to alter what else your audience sees. They look at the stage. What does that tell them that is relevant to your production? You could have a full-scale set, if that's the design of the show, or something more simple… and the word keeps appearing… an atmosphere. There is no reason to not add something for your audience to get intrigued by to start with. They came to see your production, you might as well congratulate them on doing so by giving them a night to remember.

  1. Have an audience that came for what you are presenting (less ambiguity)

Do you know what production you're performing? Will the audience, which may love that production, be aware what it is? It seems simple to say, but how frequently do improv comedy companies set the audience in the right frame for their events? The answer, even for someone who is well aware of such, is not often and rarely. This is also on the thought to create your work, the ‘why perform’.
Many people rely on that marketable gimmick that alludes to what they are performing to sell their tickets. It works, obviously. A sustainable production on the back of a well understood genre, famed cultural classic or person will enable the new spectator to improv to instantly feel acquainted. However, there are a lot of them that exist, and they are not all the same. How do production companies frame their version of Hamlet? Audiences mostly know what the play is, but if you are setting it in 1930s with WW2 - I am certain (not only due to recently hearing about something similar) that they want to know. The purist Shakespeare fans will not want to come to be disappointed. This is the same for improv purists with what you may be doing with your productions.
Therefore, sell your production and not just the gimmick. Furthermore, do this so as to get your audience that you deserve and who would love to see your production. Know what you are selling and tell people what it is and not a vague overview of what a Harold is. Of course, everyone has done it and probably will slip into doing so still; however, let’s try to be clear.

  1. Stop clenching the buttocks about achieving the form

Once you have sold the production, you must perform it… however, there is little to nothing worse that a bunch improvisers trying to do their production. The form is just the ‘house you shit in’ (as per Messing; the year I first heard her say this is forgotten, otherwise I would state it here). Hence, the need to not be overly concerned with it. Leave the process of building and guiding your production to your director, or coach (the person in the audience, hopefully) watching you. On numerous occasions, there have been shows that did not meet the performer’s desires - this gets in your way: it is a greater problem when you are performing and the director and/or producer and have so much hope and aspiration for the production.
So, remember that you are onstage to improvise: improvise first and let the form exist based on rehearsal and not mental capacity to recall what you ‘should’ be doing. No one wants to see you ‘should on yourself’ (Razowsky; I am sure I first heard this from him before meeting in person).

The obvious problem with all of these tips is that you may not have the facilities or resources to do them. On the other hand, you can manage something. A small stage can still be lit well. A empty room above a pub can have an audience knowing what they have come to see. Fundamentally, it has to fit your event. If these don't work due to your audience type, your production, then the reality is that all the above are being used the way your production requires. Engage in your art and theatre with your audience, in the way you design it. Lastly, remember that not all of your improv can be improvised.