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Rewiring Your Improv Brain

Ben Rodgers said something really interesting when he was coaching Soulmates the other day. We were working on tags and in doing so, we of course had a few wonky tags here and there. And Anais was worried, as many of us are, about tagging too early in a scene. Ben said, “I don’t want to tell you not to tag early, because sometimes you can help out. But I will say when you tag early in a scene, you want to add clarification.”

Now, besides being a good specific note, what really struck me was the simple idea, “I don’t want to tell you NOT to do something.”

I think in improv, we learn a lot of rules and oftentimes, we believe these rules to be helpful. “Don’t do a transaction scenes.” “Don’t deny your scene partner.” “Don’t do stranger scenes.” “Don’t argue.” I’m not sure they’re so helpful. Mick Napier talks about this in his book “Improvise.” These rules seem fine enough, but they put us in our heads and they don’t answer the important question, “But what do I do?”

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Oct 4

Annoyance Fall Intensive: Day 5

nicclee:

By day 5, we were all nursing bruises and sore bodies. Rich Sohn didn’t make it any better by having us do more physical work in the morning. Select notes from his session:

- Heightening is exaggerating the thing that’s there.

- Because we often play so fast, we play stereotypes of characters. But you can take the energy of a character into a different context and allow for fun and surprise. Experiment with your second or third choice for playing a character with a contrasting, unexpected energy.

I must say that Rich is really great at thinking outside of the box when it comes to contextualizing scenes. I did a scene where it felt like my scene partner was a frenetic child that was giving me, the babysitter, a hard time. Rich asked me if I had had that idea going into the scene, which I did not. And then he said that to him, it felt like the scene was the moment I was about to do something without my imaginary friend for the first time. Brilliant. It wasn’t a stretch, but it also wasn’t the obvious choice. I want to train my brain to be more open and creative like Rich.

The afternoon session with Mick was a great wrap-up to the week. He spent most of the session having us try initiations with different focuses.

On the topic of initiations, many of us are told to establish the who/what/where at the top of scenes. However, my Annoyance teachers all said that forcing out that information in a wonky, formulaic way is not how you should approach initiations. Mick said that a scene is not successful just because you got out the who/what/where. In fact, thinking about exposition is merely exhibitive. Rebecca showed us how to put us in a direct relationship with our scene partner at the top of scenes through physicality. Mick gave us more verbal tools:

1. Starting with “You…”

- This puts you directly in a relationship with your scene partner. It satisfies the aesthetic establishment of a relationship at the top, if you are harped up on doing so in the first line.

2. Starting with “And…”

- Think about it as starting in the middle of a sentence or a thought or a moment. It takes you to the center of a scene and puts you past the bullshit “best ever” initiations or introducing yourself to your partner (“Hey, how’s it going?”). It also assumes a past history between you and your partner. You can eliminate the actual word “And” and just initiate with the mentality of starting in the middle.

3. Starting with a subject you know a lot about and conversely responding with a degree of confidence to a subject you know nothing or little about

- This is effective if you match your scene partner’s energy. It also works that muscle of speaking with confidence.

4. Starting with the opposite of a belief you have with confidence in your competency as an expert.

- This is usually fun for people to do because they can draw details as easily as if they truly believed in the thing they’re talking about. And it automatically gives you a character that is not yourself to play, so you can have more fun with it.

5. Vary stage position, height, volume and emotional tone

- Mick stressed the importance of this when doing long-form so you can avoid a succession of scenes that all have two people standing center stage and talking. If you vary just one or even many of the variables (stage position, volume, etc.), you will find more creative ways to initiate scenes.

6. Starting with a different rhythm

- This is open to your interpretation, since rhythm can pertain to any number of things: voice, physicality, dialogue, emotion, etc. It’s meant to get you out of your head and start you off with your own deal. (More on the idea of getting out of your head later.)

Mick stressed the important of treating longform improv as first and foremost a performance. He said that the way in which we approach a longform set often devotes way more importance and solemnity than it should have. It puts people into the mindset that what they’re about to do better be good rather than encouraging the players to just play. The name itself, longform improvisation, carries a psychological importance and structure to it. This is more difficult to explain in words and might come off as me shitting on longform. But I want to just convey the attitude that Mick has when doing improv - and that is to treat it as play. He told us to remember that improvisation is the least important thing we’ll ever do in our lives. And for that reason, we should just play and fuck around. That’s probably why he signed all of our books with the message, “Fuck it.”

Jun 1

Tips for success - From Mick Napier in the latest Annoyance Newsletter

upstairsgallery:

Normally Mick Napier writes about whatever thing is on his mind in his missive to the annoyance community (past examples: toys, vulgar language, racism.) But this time he decided to drop some serious knowledge on folks:

In these newsletters, I rarely write about improvisation, because it’s little fun to “measure the magic”, but here goes:

Next week is Second City’s general auditions. Over 500 people will be auditioning in 4 days. I will run a great many of these auditions, along with my friend Matthew Hovde. It’s one of the scariest auditions in the world, and it got me thinking about people I’ve known, and what it really takes to make it in comedy in the United States through this particular journey… improvisation. I think I know a couple of things. I thought I’d share some thoughts about what to DO in this often confusing world… This is real, not joke…

 
  1. It doesn’t matter which school of improvisation you go into first or at the same time or whatever. There are sound reasons for any order or any degree of simultaneity.        
  2. Don’t be seduced by being on a team. It seems like it’s enough and you are going along just fine. It’s not really enough, and it’s not a mark of evolution, it just seems like it is.  
  3. Character work isn’t bad, particularly if you want to do sketch comedy. Don’t listen to false affirmation that character work or broader acting has a lack of integrity, it is just different. And that’s just true. Character range is a skill set that is not attained by continuously denouncing character range. It’s not something you can magically turn on at, say, a Second City audition. Believe you me.       
  4. Write. For absolutely no fucking reason, write.       
  5. Make it o.k. with yourself that you admit that you would want to be on the mainstage or on a house team or in an Annoyance show or on television or SNL. It really is o.k. Just don’t be an asshole about it. You won’t be, anyway. It really is o.k.       
  6. Do solo work. Find a way to feature yourself.      
  7. One person shows are fucking boring. Find a reason they’re not. Do that.      
  8. Don’t wait for stuff. It not only drains your power, but actually has you be perceived as less powerful. You will have plenty of time to wait with great stakes for absolutely nothing when you move to Los Angeles. DO things here. Get a group. Create videos, write even more.      
  9. Here’s two boring things: Headshots. Resumes. And don’t lie. This has happened: “We put this guy (someone holds up headshot) in the ‘yes’ pile. Anybody remember him? No? O.K.” (headshot goes in ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ pile) Because his headshot didn’t look like him, and his photo ironically worked against him. Look like your headshot, that is what they are for. Look like your headshot. Don’t lie on your resume. Man, you will get caught and you will look like an asshole. And even if you don’t get caught, you are that kind of person.     
  10. Talent is everything. Just kidding. How you are to work with is as important. Your character shows up everywhere. Whether you are at S.C. or Playground or Ale House or a class or Corcoran’s or I.O. or Skybox or Annoyance or in the middle of the ocean:

       a. everything counts.
       b. everyone hears about everything.
       c. everyone talks about everyone all the time.

    Your behavior could affect whether you work here or there for the bad or the good.       
  11. Take a break occasionally. From it all. For perspective, sanity, life. You and what you bring to the stage will benefit from your actual life experience. My own life has been a series of wonderful hobbies.    
  12. Study acting. You won’t, but you ought to. You won’t because you think you are SO fucking funny, and don’t need it. But you do. You really do. I tell people that, and they say “yeah, yeah, but what do I need to DO to get an edge?” I say it. No one does it. It’s such an easy edge.

Twelve, just like the 12 points of the Scout Law.

Oh well, all of this is true. So there. And that, is as simple, as that.

-Mick Napier, Founder and Artistic Director

Fantastic stuff. Please Tumblr, show me that you post quotes from people who aren’t involved in UCB? This dude is the best.

Brilliant stuff. I love this guy.