1. North coast residual energy
Thursday 3 January 2019
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
2. Clown session in Greece
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.
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.
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.