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:
Anonymous asked: Small men question. I'm wondering how you found the game for your opening introduction, the beer commercial guys and how you figured that would be a good lead in?
I love Small Men questions. (Small Men being the sketch show Neil Casey and I wrote/performed 2012-2013).
"Beer Commercial" is the opening sketch and it features two guys who were in tons of beer commercials in the 1980s and are no longer getting booked. They complain to the audience that this is because beer commercials these days are whiny emo passive aggressive ads that make their heroes look like self-effacing dopes, and it’s time to make the ads a celebration of machismo and partying.
We didn’t write it for Small Men. We wrote it for a UCB Industry Showcase in December 2011. The first line of the scene is the cowboys coming out and saying “Hello, industry!” They talk about their experience at a series of real NY casting offices (they characters are careful to say nice things, since people from those offices were in the crowd and they are hoping to get cast).
justcraig asked: DCM related improv question: What's better improv, eating so much edible marijuana that you wander on stage during a show and do nothing OR showing your dick at a late night bit show?
Anonymous asked: I am confused about how to use the notes "react honestly" and "how would you really feel if this happened to you"? They sound simple, but I've gotten those notes when I was reacting honestly and how I would in real life. It really sucks to get that note about how I play traumatic experiences I've really been through. It feels like a judgement on how I handled that in real life. I'm quiet, big and loud is not my honest or realistic reaction. How should I take that note in cases like that?
Take the note as if it were “don’t be coy.” You don’t have to be big and loud, but you have to be forthcoming.
In improv, we act like real life with one BIG BIG exception: we speak our mind honestly.
We want the scene where the waiter speaks his or her mind honestly to the pushy customer. In real life, a waiter would never do that. In an improv scene, we want to see it. “You shouldn’t treat people like that. It’s mean and unnecessary.” And then the customer speaks his or her honest opinion back. “You’re my waiter. It’s your job to take my crap no matter what.”
It takes practice. You have to get good at catching your real reaction in your head —- the one you rarely say — and then expressing it. How you express it is up to you in terms of volume or emotion — but it has to be honest and direct. That is your job as an actor. To speak the truth we rarely get to hear.
maxsitt asked: Do you ever see a grey area between offers and denials? For example, someone initiates organically by saying, "Edwin, I didn't think I'd ever see you again." And they did this in a heightened Medieval tone while miming a sword. Then the other person replies, "Ok Ron, just put the copy toner down I don't want to fight right now." That denies the implicit reality, but also gifts the initiator with a playable absurdity. I've also seen it button a scene, or re-contextualize the base reality.
It’s a denial! The initiator has to take it as an offer, but it is a denial and should be punished by the universe.
Kid Grift show Tuesday night!
Improv nerds in LA: Check out the Kid Grift improv show Tuesday night June 24, 9pm at Spirit Studio Silverlake. Details at the Facebook event here.
These guys were a UCB Harold Team for a few hundred years and they make me laugh. And I have the nerdiest endorsement for them: a transcription of a small part of one of their scenes! I went through a phase of taping the improv practices I was coaching because I wanted real examples of improv scenes.
So here’s an except from a Kid Gift monoscene that made me laugh:
(A crime family is coming out of retirement, some years after their leader/father died trying to rob a bank with a hot air balloon.)
CAPTAIN (Mike Carlson): Fifth street bank, okay? It’s the tallest bank in the city. We’re gonna take it down.
COACH (Matt Newell): Yeah, we’ll use its height to our advantage!
CAPTAIN: For some reason the vault is on the top floor. The fiftieth floor of the bank, okay? We obviously… at sun down, that’s when the bank closes.
COACH: Sun down? It closes at a different time every…?
MOTHER (Marissa Strickland): Of course it’s at sundown.
JASON (Jason Sheridan): It was built when zeppelins were very popular! And it was very difficult to pilot those at night!
The Future Vanishes!
This post is about how improv trains you to see the present moment and not worry, as much, about the future.
In a level 1 class, two students were doing a scene and one looked stuck. A bit more than I usually see.
"What are you thinking about?" I asked.
The student said, “I’m trying to think of what’s going to happen.”
"You don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen," I said.
"But then, how do I know what to do?"
It was such a reasonable answer that I was stunned. I haven’t thought about what is going to happen in an improv scene in years.