- 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.
Wednesday 28 November 2018
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.
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:
Friday 26 October 2018
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: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.
1. Here is the exercise: Click
1. Here is the exercise: Click
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Sunday 7 October 2018
There is improv comedy and theatre in many towns and cities across the United Kingdom. The few that shall be included in this discussion are ones that have a personal connection. We can question how much the culture of the city affects the art, the theatre and how we improvise. The ever-growing community in these local areas bring themselves, there background and their surroundings. There shall be four towns or cities that shall be investigated.
In Canterbury, Kent, improv comedy began many years ago. It has had a lot of comedy and improv, specifically, historically. Noise Next Door, who tour the UK stand-up comedy venues performing hilarious improv, started their careers in Canterbury. There has been improv in schools in Kent due to the work of such people as Lucy Fennell. Similarly, there has been some in the universities too.
Students still have improv comedy. Nowadays, it is solely focused on doing improv. The growth in the group has developed splendidly. Not only do they perform, or have done, long-form (30 minute non-linear, thematic productions or improvised plays), but they have been a member of Theatresports (iTi; short-form competitive full-scale evening of a myriad of emotional theatre that is very funny).
What is the impact on the theatre created from the culture of Canterbury? It would be thought that what people must want from their art is improvised Chaucer or other literary-based creation. However, with a student population in the improv community, there are younger politics involved, as well as their sensibilities. Nonetheless, that relatability and human nature is still at the core of the comedy in Canterbury. From the funny of love to the hysterics behind rivalry in the office, Kent seems to offer a wide variety of laughter.
The local community can once more engage in improv comedy with the Canterbury Improv classes. There are weekly drop-in classes and weekend intensive courses.
In Basingstoke, Hampshire, the arts world is quite small, and yet the improv comedy community is growing. There are two theatres that are now one organisation, and one company that have their own arts venue near the top of town. Nonetheless, this does not affect the desire for comedy in Basingstoke.
Hampshire, in general, has had some fantastic improv. In Havant, near Portsmouth, there was a theatre company that ran improv productions and classes. Unfortunately, they have stopped now. The wonderful and aforementioned lady, now working in Southampton, has been teaching improv in a school that has performed recently. Also in Southampton, the students there run comedy events that include improv. So Hampshire seems fertile for more improv.
Basingstoke is a commuter town, so it can be believed. There is a lot of business and computer-related occupations, and holistic therapy too. The impact of this on the comedy and theatre created seems to be fairly minimal. It could be the teaching that has been provided, but there is silliness, with physical comedy, and once more a human connectedness to what drives people to laugh.
The local community in Hampshire can take advantage of the Basingstoke Improv weekend intensive classes that occur. Likewise, the improv comedy nights that happen may continue, so you can see performances and chuckle thoroughly.
In Cardiff, Wales, the history of improv has a fair amount of lineage. Rob Brydon, for example, although he should be mentioned in the next city - due to it being group in Bath. There have been a number of groups in the past, anyway. Cardiff loves its comedy. There is a strong focus on stand-up comedy, with some sketch.
There is not a lot of improv comedy in Wales, overall, but the reoccurrence of it says a lot. Wales lusts for more. It is a great principality for wonderful theatre. Amazing circus, clown and musical productions. Specifically in Cardiff, this description still works, as it has NoFit State circus and Hijinx Theatre - and many more.
Cardiff loves its weekends and rugby. The impact on improv is more likely, however, to come from the theatre practices. The prospective faster-pace of stand-up seems to drive those that dabble to short-form games - not that long-form cannot be fast (it can be faster, more often).
The wider community, and the local, can benefit from the Cardiff Impro weekend classes that are run in the capital city of Wales: Cardiff. The potential for monthly improv comedy nights with a variety of productions is available. Hopefully, Chapter Arts centre shall host these when all the puzzle pieces are aligned.
Lastly, Bristol has a vast amount of improv comedy and theatre now. This is many thanks to the graduates of the university there. Specifically, it is thanks to one man: Andy Yeoh. He is a remarkable guy and has formed the foundations of the community there so that the growth can be exponential. Every few years, the boom happens and there are more possibilities. There has been improv there for many years, not just from the university, as there are theatre companies that do improvise and nearby, in Bath, there was the group with Rob Brydon and Ruth Jones. That was lead by Paul Z Jackson (from the Applied Improvisation Network, these days).
Bristol has a lot of arts. The glorious dancers, circus, clown, fools, magicians, musicians... The weekly events that no one can keep up with is why Bristol is an amazing city to live in. The impact on the improv there must be true. Nonetheless, the funny does come from the human qualities; whether they are presented through a more clown perspective or emotional theatricality, they are accessible.
The local community have the weekend intensive classes to support their development and drive the improv comedy and theatre scene into a wider range of production styles. We seek to connect, we wish to play.
Let’s find the funny together!