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:
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.