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.