Is It Coming From Fear?
There’s lots of rules that contradict each other. Play it real or don’t be coy? Play yourself or take the endowment? Edit now or give the scene more time?
A good way to resolve if you’re doing it right: is your decision coming from fear? If it is coming from fear, then try waiting.
"My character wouldn’t dance so I’m not dancing"
"I have to label this right now or the audience is going to turn on us"
"I have to call out that mistake or else everyone is going to be focusing on it for the rest of the scene"
"I don’t know anything about that movie/doing that accent/miming that thing —- so I have to justify and not do it."
It’s scary doing improv, nonetheless: don’t be scared.
Harold Night Text Adventure Update
Look, we all have our vices. One of mine is working on my text adventure representation of the UCB Theatre in 2003.
You can go here to play it. Click “Play in-browser”
This is a “text adventure” - a style of game first popular in the early 1980s when computers couldn’t support graphics. It is difficult and perhaps incredibly alienating to play! But I used to be a computer programmer and I like noodling with such things.
In this game, you must wander the rooms of the UCB Theatre in NYC, find improv teachers, and also find the items they wish to have. Give them the items in exchange for improv lessons. Once you have all the lessons, you go on stage and do an improv scene. Over the course of the game you meet all UCB4 as well as time-travel to Chicago and meet Del Close. The game has a target audience of about 200 people max.
This update does not fundamentally change that much BUT I DID ADD:
- Neil Casey and Chad Carter working on a modem in the box office
- an improv Superfan sitting on the bench by the stage giving advice
- a few more rooms in the house just to make the world more complete
- a more clear walkthrough if you just want to type in the commands needed to win
- possible exits listed in the title of every room
- an option to leave the theatre and have a normal life
- everyone will do crazy 8s with you
- you can “get people’s backs” throughout
- a few more shows going on on the stage
Other releases which I have done in past months but did not announce:
- boldfaced all important things, so you know what you need to focus on
- better help screens
- more dialogue that hints at what you should do next
I’ve probably introduced errors as well. But there are no mistakes in improv! So that’s good.
The included graphic is the map that is not available to the player. The room “Ar” is the stage (Ar stands for Arena — the word stage was being used elsewhere), the “BO” is the box office, the “GR” is the green room and “Cc” is couches.
oh god, this
This is an essay about the natural defensiveness that rises up in improv and can hold us back. But to get there, I want to talk about a very common way to start a scene, and that’s the “explain this” method.
Anonymous asked: The improv company I'm in has a team of 7-8 who are responsible for festival shows and a big monthly show at one of my city's biggest theatres. Half of them are selfish, ungenerous performers but are consistently given stage time because they're the senior members. It's really demoralizing as a newer performer (5 years) to see terrible, under-rehearsed work rewarded, especially when attendance at our shows has flagged over the last few years, but how do you tell the house team that they suck?
You don’t. Worry about your own work and move on when there’s a chance. It’s not your show, so don’t try to direct it from your head.
Do the people on the team share your opinion? Probably not, so don’t worry about them. Does the audience like the shows? If not, the show won’t survive. But if the audience does — which I suspect they do — then try and figure out what the show is doing right.
You sound like people who complain that SNL is a bad show. It’s easy to find people who wonder out loud “How can that show be rewarded with its long term success when it (pick one: focuses so much on dumb pop culture, caters to a young audience, runs popular characters into the ground with little variation)?” Rather than figuring out why it is that SNL is the most successful sketch show in American (world?) history (ah, it focuses on the pop culture everyone is talking about, it’s one of the few shows with talent catering to a young audience, it repeats its popular characters).
What I’m saying: You’re being too harsh. The judge who lives in your brain is being given too much power. It will turn on you in times of low confidence and you won’t be able to recover and you’ll quit. Practice compassion and empathy. This paragraph is perhaps too new agey to be accepted at face value, but I suggest you take this advice if you want to be happy doing creative things.
POST SCRIPT (added a few hours after posting): Ugh, I jumped on this in too hostile a manner, which is hypocritical. Though I mean what I say above I want to add that I am sympathetic with the frustration this person expresses. It is frustrating to see people take for granted a good show or a good time slot, etc. I do understand that. But the “judge” thing I speak of —- I know this from experience. If you indulge the part of your brain that is scanning someone else’s show and demanding that it be improved or fixed and wanting to punish those who fall short — that part of your brain will get stronger and turn on you in ways you do not realize. This is the same point but I wanted to add that I also have the feelings you express but I’ve learned they are a red flag to be dealt with in my head for my own sake!
Anonymous asked: My improv's too deferential. I'm good at reacting, but bad at being bold or making big moves, and I feel like I'm not carrying my weight. I feel like I should "just have fun" or "do whatever the fuck I want", but I'm not sure where to pull that from. What do I do?
Yeah, that’s a tough one. “Just have fun” as an ORDER is a tough one. First of all, are you sure this is what you should be doing? I find giving notes to oneself to be a very unreliable process. Ask a coach or teacher you trust. Also, ask yourself why you are giving yourself that note. Why is it you want to hear that so much? You’re thinking too much, maybe, and your brain is rebelling and saying ‘I need someone to tell me to do whatever the fuck I want?’ Maybe you need fewer notes right now.
To your point: I think the best way to just have fun is to focus on moments rather than the whole scene or show. Shrink your scope down to just the last line. Hear it, react to it. Make it specific. Repeat the part you liked best. After you have fully digested it, say what you really think, regardless of what it does to the scene. If you are greeted with silence, don’t be scared. Stay still for a moment and let that silence rush over you and turn you into a unbeatable actor made of steel and a moment later, you’ll think of what to do.
Anonymous asked: Hello. For the first time ever I'm going to be directing an improv show. Any wisdom for me?
Someone told me that a good director should focus first and more often on saying what the show already is, not what he/she thinks it should be. Assess what it is, what it feels like and report back. As an enthusiastic, sympathetic, educated, attentive but honest audience.
You Already Know The Real “Why”
In improv, you always need a good “why.”
The trick is realizing that you often already know why, deep down, even when the things you’re doing happened instinctually. Don’t fix it to what you think the why SHOULD be.
Like you’re doing a two person scene and the other person says “I want to run with the bulls in Spain” and you have a gut reaction that makes you shake your head with a little bit of disgust and you say “Ugh, not that.”
You didn’t sit there and plan that out. You’re not in your head, you’re just reacting — which is good — but NOW you need to decide why you just did that.
Some Suggestions for Level One Class Etiquette
Without a good teacher monitoring, most improv exercises favor bold, aggressive students. Whoever either thinks faster or at least acts fastest tends to affect the scenes more and therefore have more chances for feeling validated that they are doing well. While there’s a place for boldness (and certain exercises explicitly focus on being more bold), any good improv team has a mixture of aggressive types with more patient and calm energies.
Believing that, here are five simple rules of conduct which I think help the less aggressive students find their footing in lower level improv classes. These are also just common sense policies for fair play. They’re not meant to leave out aggressive students. And I never state them as being “for the students who are bit more hesitant.” They’re just good etiquette for improv scenes which happen to also help the non-alphas find themselves in the scene.
Merely my opinion: Take ‘em or leave ‘em, fellow teachers!
Best Of This Blog, Revised
I revised the “best of” page for this blog:
Here are some posts in this blog that got more attention than the others and some that I just like, presented in roughly reverse order of publication:
- Improv As Practical Advice
- Irony (and irony exercises)
- Accusations: Three Exercises
- Saying “No” to Offensive Things
- Improv As Religion
- Review of UCB’s book (written while I worked at UCB)
- Lying, Meanness, Stupidity
- Know, Care, Say
- Is improv a road to nowhere?
- Like-Minded People (and how i felt involved at UCB)
- Chris Gethard interview on teaching improv and part 2.
- Empathy, and Empathy Again
- Better Conversations (and the follow-up)
- The Kitchen Rules
- Know Everything
- Maybe When Noting Scenes
- In Defense Of Fast Screamy Sets
- Brothers Hines Thanks
Short posts, generally of the “reassurance” variety:
- let improv be small
- all advice
- the brave choice
- have an opinion at all times
- you will never figure this out
- you must appreciate the good in what you do
- How can I get out of my head?
- What do we do about ‘that guy?’
- How can I get better at game?
- Yeah, but really how can I get better at game?
- How do you make a living?
I wrote three posts on the sketch show Small Men which I wrote and performed with Neil Casey in 2012 and 2013:
Also I made a text adventure that takes place at the UCB Theatre in NYC in 2003. You likely don’t know what a text adventure is, because it’s a style of “video” game that existed primarily in 1982, but if you’re curious, it is here: