S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!

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Trying to find a topic’s that new…
S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!
So many choices, what to do…
S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!
Better really think it through…
S-I-M-B Squirrels In My Blog!
Or else bad comments will ensue…

As you may have guessed I’ve decided to write about the use of rhyming within improv.  My little prelude is a paraphrase of a rhyming warm-up called S-I-M-P Squirrels In My Pants.

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The use of rhyming within improv mostly pertains to improv performance games involving rhyming (Holy Tautology, Batman!)  There are, of course, exceptions.  One might choose to play a character for whom rhyming is a character endowment.  And careful use of rhyme can enhance some genres type scenes like Dr. Seuss or Shakespeare.  In that latter case, for example, rhyming couplets are often used to indicate the exit or entrance of a character.  But at the end of the day the vast majority of rhyming within improv will occurs as part of a game that involving rhyming or another skill for which rhyming is an optional component, e.g., singing, rapping, and poetry.  Some relevant example games include:

  • Da Doo Run Run.  In this elimination game players rhyme with a one syllable audience member name within a repeating 1-1-3 pattern based on the titular song name.  Players cannot repeat rhymes; doing so (as well as hesitating or falling off the beat) results in elimination.  The beat increases gradually with each new name until one player wins.

  • New Rhyme! (aka Rhyme It!).  In this variant of the classic game New Choice, the emcee can signal a player to replace his or her last line with a new line that rhymes with the previous offer.  For example:  I just came back from the camp.  {New Rhyme!}  Hey, our tent got a little damp.  {New Rhyme!}  Boy, that hike really gave me a cramp.

  • Word Up From Our Sponsor.  During breaks from interviewing an audience member, players appear from backstage to rap a series of rhyming couplets as advertisements based on audience suggestions.

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I made the decision to become stronger at rhyming early into my ComedySportz career after choking at the Austin based 2000 ComedySportz World Championship (then more often called Tournament or The Tourney in the local dialect).  Early into a game of Da Doo Run Run I failed to rhyme with can.  My friends Patti and Alison, visiting all the way from San Diego to support me, playfully provided me with a list of 100 words that rhyme with can after the show.  I mean, I was already a decent rhymer; the nerves of being a newbie at Championship definitely got the better of me.  Nevertheless, I vowed to improve.

Since that moment I regularly practiced rhyming and paid close attention to any moments when an improv instructor offered learning.  Here are some tips I’ve picked up over the years from those coaches, from observation, or on my own.

One - There are five words that rhyme with miss:

  • The word itself

  • A real word that actually rhymes with miss, e.g., sis, this, Swiss, etc

  • A so-called slant rhyme, i.e. a word that almost rhymes with the word and sounds close, e.g., cyst, hissed, etc.

  • A made-up word that actually rhymes, e.g., chiss, fliss, etc.

  • A word that doesn’t even remotely rhyme with the word, like chimichanga.

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Note that pulling off these two last cases typically requires a great deal of commitment, a generous or flexible audience, and an emcee willing to play along.  For example, the emcee might ask you to define the made-up word.  If the audience enjoys the bit, she might let it slide because most emcees don’t want to invalidate positive audience reactions.  Even with the chimichanga scenario, the audience might laugh enough that the emcee doesn’t interrupt the game play.

Two - You don’t need to rhyme when singing, rapping, or doing poetry as part of a scene or as part of a game.  While rhyming is a frequent component of those other skills, it is an optional one.

Three - When playing a rhyming based game for which the players are working through an exhaustive list of rhymes (meaning players cant’ repeat rhymes, e.g., Da Doo Run Run), consider words that start with consonant blends and multisyllabic words.  Often other players go for the simple or easiest rhymes.  For example, if the base word was Jane consider words like grain, strain, complain, disdain, entertain, etc. vs. a quickly vanishing basket of low hanging fruit like lane, mane, cane, etc.

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Four - When playing a game involving sequential rhymes, it’s a nice bonus to continue a theme or tell a little story via the rhymes.  For example with Da Doo Run Run:

Player A:  I met him on a Sunday and his name was Pat…{da doo run run run, da doo run run}

Player B:  He drank lots of milk by the vat…{da doo run run run, da doo run run}

Player C:  {da doo da doo} So did his cat… {da doo da doo} It got really fat… {da doo da doo} Broke a chair when it sat {da doo run run run, da doo run run}

Four - It is also very important to pay attention to meter. Try to keep the same number of beats in consecutive lines that rhyme. In some cases keeping consistent meter might require eliminating or adding filler words. In other cases, for example, you might need to equate a four syllable word in one line with two, two syllable lines in the next line. And as with all “rules” there are exceptions. Purposely breaking the meter can be an artistic choice used to punctuate a particular offer.

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“S0…
Play!” calls the Blogger.
He writes something down.
It’s an Improv Seed.
One of many around.
You’re in charge of your own Improv Seeds.
And Improv Scenes are what everyone needs.
So create a new scene.  Treat it with care.
Make a few offers.  Say “yes, and” in a pair.
Grow a whole show, protect it from denials that hack.
The audience
and all your friends
may come back.

I Promise It's Not A Shameful Plug: Choosing An Improv Class

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Wait, don’t run!  I promise this entry is not an advertisement about why our improv classes are better than the alternatives.  In fact, I will agree that in some cases certain students might be better off with improv classes offered elsewhere.  Instead, this article describes some of the key factors a student should consider when choosing an improv class.  The unfortunate fact is that anyone, regardless of experience and qualifications (both improv and teaching) can call herself or himself an improv instructor, rent a room, and offer so-called improv classes.  But as the Romans were fond of saying: caveat emptor (buyer beware).  So here are some of the key factors a student should consider.

Improv Experience.  How long has the instructor been performing improv?  What types and styles?  Is she active now?  When was the last time he performed?  And if an instructor lists experience with a particular theater, you might want to double check how long that person actual performed at the theater.  Some people will pad their resume by joining a group for just a few months before moving onto another project. 

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Teaching Experience.  Is this the instructor’s first time teaching, or has he been teaching for 10 years?  Doe the instructor have any other teaching experience such as leading Applied Improvisation workshops or working in schools?  There are differences between doing improv and teaching improv.

Focus.  Does the class focus on a specific style or does it cover fundamentals applicable to any form of improv?  Don’t assume that the class is geared towards the main show offered at the theater.  For example, CSz Sacramento’s main show, ComedySportz, is so-called short form or games based improv.  But our Beginner Class covers improv fundamentals and introduces several types of improv, not just short form or games.  Another consideration:  Is the class focused on a specific segment, e.g., actors, improvisers, or everyday people interested in adding a fun, useful life skill?  Some one off classes also focus on specific skills, styles, or forms.  These specialized events can be especially useful to students seeking to fill out his or her improv education.

Class Size.  Bigger classes offer the advantages of meeting more friend and playing with a diverse set of people.  Smaller classes offer the advantage of more individual attention and coaching.

Price.  Most improv classes costs between $10-$20 per hour.  Classes are typically 2 hours long and organized into 6-8 week sessions.  Ask if you’re allowed to make up missed classes during future session in case you get sick or have work conflicts.  If you’re financially challenged, ask if the theater offers any work study or scholarships for members of underserved and underrepresented communities (CSz Sacramento does, for example).  If you are really broke, consider drop-in classes or jams often offered by theaters in any given city.

Collaboration Beyond The Norm

One of the four core CSz and ComedySportz values is Collaboration.  It’s relative easy to think of collaboration in terms of working with fellow CSz performers, with our audiences, and with our clients for Applied Improvisation.  It’s a little more challenging to think about collaboration with performers from rival theaters.  On the one hand, all of the improv theaters in a given area share a common goal to enjoy and foster improv as and art form and life skill.  On another more practical hand, there are the realities of competitions, particularly for what is often a limited pool of improvisers.

Because improvisers often favor one home theater, often the one where they first took classes or performed, developing an improv group with players from different theaters can be very challenging.  It even worse when some theaters, via methods ranging from subtle to overt, pressure their performers not to play elsewhere (for the record, CSz Sacramento has always had an open play policy, i.e., performers can play any where as long as they are also contributing to our theater).

THE TRAVELING WILBURYS

THE TRAVELING WILBURYS

Despite these challenges I am very happy that over the last two years I was able to develop an improv group with the specific goal of combining performers from different theaters.  My inspiration was The Traveling Wilburys, the late 80s, early 90s rock super group that included legendary talents Bob Dylan, George Garrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty.  All of these artists had already developed successful careers with other bands or as solo artist.

When I set about forming this group, which came to be named Shower Thoughts, I specifically recruited performers based primary at rival theaters.  And as the group has lost performers, I’ve strived to keep at least 50% of the group non-CSz performers.  It hasn’t been easy; as mentioned about there are miscellaneous forces that often pull performers back towards their home theaters. It has also been an interesting experience because Shower Thoughts is the first improv group I’ve directed without also performing in as part of the group (more of that difference in a future entry).

Tonight is show #25.  Given the monthly performance schedule, that means my little experiment in inter-theater collaboration has now been running for just over two years.  I’m delighted with the collaboration within Shower Thoughts, and grateful for all the fun, laughter, learning and camaraderie has provided me the theater. 

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De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum

My high school had a robust foreign languages program, and I was lucky enough to study Spanish, German, and Latin.  Unfortunately, I’ve mostly lost the German and Latin.  I only took one year of German.  Also, despite three years of Latin under the robust learning processes of the yardstick wielding Mrs. Murphy, I just haven’t found many Romans to practice with over the years.  Still, I really enjoyed Latin class, especially the history and watching the conservative Mrs. Murphy trying to make sense of the growing curiosity between two of my female classmates.  On a more practical basis, Latin helped me in many other subject during high school and college.  And I still admittedly derive some intellectual self pleasure from using a Latin phrase from time to time.

NOUN DECLENSION IS AN ESPECIALLY CHALLENGING ELEMENT OF LEARNING LATIN

NOUN DECLENSION IS AN ESPECIALLY CHALLENGING ELEMENT OF LEARNING LATIN

One of my favorite phrases is de gustibus non est disputandum.  Literally, it means “about tastes, it should not be disputed.”  In modern usage it means “there’s no accounting for taste.”  State another way, subjective opinions cannot be right or wrong, and people probably shouldn’t waste a lot of time and energy arguing for their opinions.

I’ve seen two examples of such opinions this week.  First I’ve observed some very strong feelings about the new Star Wars movie The Last Jedi.  But more close to home, I had the displeasure of reading this ridiculous attack on improv comedy from a stand-up comedian:

Why improv is neither funny nor entertaining

I used to hear and read more attacks on improv from the stand-up community many years ago when I was still early into my improv experience.  But those attacks seemed to die out as improv became more popular, as more performers spanned both worlds, and as more hybrid and crossover formats emerged.

I’m not going to waste my time address the many flaws with Mr. piece, which also does touch upon some important truths.  Instead, you can look in the comments and find a very good reply here:

Not So Fast...A Response To Peter-john Byrnes

The fact is I accepted a long time ago that some people just don’t like improv.  De gustibus non est disputandum!

Feast Or Famine

Attendance can sometimes slow at the theater during the Holidays.  And it probably doesn’t help when some plucky film makers decide to release the latest offering in a beloved franchise.  Therefore it’s quite possible during the time of the year that we find ourselves entertaining a rather modest crowd some nights.

The largest show in which I’ve ever performed was for over 1,400 (and included two large HD screens to show the stage action) while the smallest show I ever did was for 4.  But having now by conservative count been lucky enough to perform in over 2,000 improv shows, I have observed that having a large audience is no guarantee of success, whether you opt to measure in laughter or artistic satisfaction.  Many of the best or most shows were for smaller audiences.

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One private show (in the very early days of CSz Sacramento) that is particularly memorable was for a small wedding reception of 10 people.  The bride hired us but kept it a secret from everyone else, including the groom.  Pretending to be a wandering improv group, we showed up at the B&B to offer a show in exchange for food.  The bride had provided inside information that we slowly worked into the scenes to the astonishment of the crowd.  It was a lot of fun to watch people catch-on at various points.  And afterwards we were also invited to share a very lavish array of catered gourmet food (still the only time I've eaten lobster on a private show...)

Anyway, I sometimes wonder if the players worry less about the audiences and perform more freely when there is less audience to worry about.  Perhaps there is some threshold below which the performers are doing it more for themselves and each other.  Some people would argue that’s how art should always be, i.e., do it for yourself, not for the audience, payment, etc.

A Little About Your Blogger (Especially Pre-CSz)

A savvy blogger writes a few entries in advance in case one day he doesn't have time or inspiration to create a fresh entry.  Today is one of those days.  Instead of any insights of debatable value, you get to learn a little about me, also information of debatable value...

How long have you been performing improv?  Where did you perform before CSz and ComedySportz?

EXTEMPORARY INSANITY SANS ALISON LEINBACH THE PHOTOGRAPHER

EXTEMPORARY INSANITY SANS ALISON LEINBACH THE PHOTOGRAPHER

I’ve been performing improv since 1995.  I started taking improv classes on a whim while living in San Diego.  My co-worker Cheryl suggested I might enjoy an improv class.  She reasoned that since I was similar in personality to her then husband Billy, and Billy had enjoyed the class, I would as well.  She was right (though perhaps Billy might have enjoyed it more.  He and Cheryl eventually divorced mutually, and Billy ended up happily married to my fellow student Cindy).  My instructor was the wonderful Jacquie Lowell, and my first group was called Extemporary Insanity.  We did exactly one show.  I still have the t-shirt somewhere in the mad labyrinth of old possessions known as the garage.  

A little over a year into improv I joined San Diego TheatreSports.  While there were a few decent folks there, and I had the opportunity to learn a lot, the group was horribly mismanaged.  After one especially egregious (yes, that bad I’m skirting with verbal redundancy) misstep, I and some other members left to form our own group, the Subatomic Jenkins Clan.  We had a lot of fun performing shows with special themes, e.g., physics, a television schedule, interpretations of the word flat, and more.

In 1999 I joined the original team for what was then ComedySportz San Diego, now the National Comedy Theater.  It was an awesome experience but I’m sad that NCT left the CSz/ComedySportz family for good in 2000 (a story for another day).  In January 2001 I moved to the Bay Area and joined CSz San Jose, where I performed for over seven years.  NCT and CSz San Jose are actually run by brothers, Gary and Jeff Kramer, respectively.  Both brothers treated me exceptionally well, taught me a lot, and provided  friendship (in a weird coincidence we had actually all grown up about 20 minute apart in the northeast); I will always be in gratitude.

What types of improv do you perform?  What are some of your favorite improv types or games?  What are some of your least favorite?

I enjoy performing all types of improv.  I’ve probably performed an 90-10 mix of short form to long form, but that’s been more out of opportunity than design.  Over the years I’ve come to really enjoy playing certain audience volunteer games, especially Four Square.  I definitely miss musical improv a lot; we haven’t had a regular keyboard player in some time.  I especially like creating new exercises, short form games, and long form formats.  And I am very interested in Applied Improv, i.e., using improv for training, team building, skills development, design thinking, etc.  I’ll be posting more about Applied Improv soon.

On the flip side, close friends and team members know I personally have no particularly fondness for the Harold (ironically I watched three yesterday).  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it per se.  I just think there are so many more interesting and entertaining formats.  I actually enjoy both playing and watching pattern based improv.  But I prefer it through other long form formats.

Some Takeaways From The ARC Improv Final

WHAT SOVIET ERA HORRORS LIE BEHIND THE MODERN FACADE OF THE PRAGUE AIRPORT?

WHAT SOVIET ERA HORRORS LIE BEHIND THE MODERN FACADE OF THE PRAGUE AIRPORT?

I don’t have a lot of time today to blog for two reasons.  First, I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to navigate the health care system in search of a doctor who takes my new insurance.  It is one of two times I felt I had a glimpse into what life might have been like under the old Soviet bureaucracy (the other was when I went to the Prague airport to recover a suitcase that had arrived late after being lost at the Amsterdam airport.  After leaving the snazzy, modern area used by actual passengers and going through an employee only door, I found myself in large cavernous, dusty room where a 100 year old man keeps a handwritten log of every bag in what was clearly 1,000 page giant book that predated human flight by as many year.  I wrote keeps because I bet he’s still there…)

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The second reason is that I spent a couple of hours watching the Improv Class final at ARC (American River College), a popular community college here in Sacramento.  Quite a number of wonderful CSz Sacramento players started at ARC, and the improv instructor often asks me to help judge the final.  So I thought I’d list some quick takeaways based on today’s final, which consisted of some each team playing two short form games before performing a Harold. 

But first, good job to all the students and supporting alumni who played.  There were many wonderful moments, and I liked that everyone seemed to be having a good time.  It was also nice to see that improv is accessible to everyone regardless to gender, age, culture, and physical ability.  And now, some takeways.

  • Delight In The Absurd.  At one point the emcee (CSz Sacramento player extraordinaire and ARC alum Kameron Schmid) asked for an unusual activity to go with the location of freeway.  I offered Easter Egg hunt.  The crowd reacted with a mixture of shock and concern, as if the players would struggle with such an absurd combination.  Later when I offered hydroelectric dam as an object for Dating Game, a concerned audience member tried to over ride my suggestion by yelling How about a wig instead?  Now, keep in mind that I was not trying to give these performers tough suggestions.  I was trying to give them fun suggestions (and also keep in mind that I waited for otherwise dead audience times to yell out my choices).  And in both cases, the scenes and games turned out to be a lot of fun.  As some one once suggested: You can do improv about whatever you want.  But it’s probably going to be more fun for you and the audience when you do improv about things that happen seldom or never in a lifetime.
     
  • Obvious Can Be Funny.  Creating a fun character or delivering a line a certain way can transform an otherwise simple or confirming offer into gold.  Yes, the ski lift does go to the top…
     
  • Watch The So’sSo is an overused, infectious, and often unneeded word that can become annoying repetitive when over injected into story based monologues.  Explore different ways to starts and advance stories.
     
  • Inspiration vs. Reenactment.  Again, performers are free to choose their Art, e.g., what a scene is about.  But I believe that monologue based long form is more fun for everyone when the performers utilize monologues for inspiration rather than merely reenacting the stories told by the monologists.  For one, the audience has already heard the story; seeing it acted out doesn’t add much.  But applying elements of the stories to new and different situations often delights the audience and challenges the performers.

Anyway, thanks to Pam Downs, ARC, and today’s performers for a fun time.

What's The Difference Between Short Form And Long Form Improv?

You might have heard the terms short form and long form improv at some point.  Some people think these terms refer to the relative scene lengths, i.e., short form features relatively shorter scenes (3-5 minutes) while long form features relatively longer scenes (10-30+ minutes).  These definitions don’t make sense to me because many so-called long form shows consist of a series of short, 1-3 minute scenes.  Instead, the key difference to me is whether or not the improv include performance games (note: not the game of a scene; more on that concept below).  My working definitions: if improv includes performance games, it’s short form.  If improv doesn’t include performance games, it’s long form.

What are performance games?  They are restrictions and challenges places on the players intended to make improv more fun for the audience and the players.  You see performance games in shows like ComedySportz and Whose Line Is It, Anyway?  Examples:

  • Advice Panel – Players give advice as object, animals, famous people, etc. suggested by the audience.
  • Replay – Players show the same scene in different genres, time periods, emotions, etc. suggested by the audience.
  • Five Things – Using mime and gibberish only, clue givers try to get a guesser to do and guess different activities with substitutions, e.g., vacuuming, the vacuum is powered by a cactus, and the dust is a whale.
FIVE THINGS EXAMPLE ACTIVITY WITH SUBSTITUTIONS; DO NOT TRY AT HOME!

FIVE THINGS EXAMPLE ACTIVITY WITH SUBSTITUTIONS; DO NOT TRY AT HOME!

So how did I arrive at these definitions?  Let’s take a step back. Over the years I’ve encountered some people who I will call, for lack of a better word, long form snobs.  They think that short form is just about playing performance games.  What they don’t understand is that most short form performers are just as, or even more concerned, with doing good scene work as they are in playing the game well.  The extension of that reality is that scene work is at the heart of all performance improv regardless of format.

Once improvisers can build scenes, there are several things they can do with those scenes:

  • Tell a story.  I call this narrative improv.
  • Play a performance game.  I call this elemental improv.  I chose the term elemental because the games focus on different elements of the scene  Forward – Reverse focuses on the element of time.  Blind Line focuses on the element of justification (incorporating random information added to a scene).  And so on.
  • Explore a pattern.  I call this thematic improv.  I chose the term thematic because the scenes focus on a theme or pattern instead of a story per se.  These type of exploration is also known as playing with the game of a scene.
IMPROV ECOSYSTEM

IMPROV ECOSYSTEM

Combining these three types of improv yields what is generally considered short form and long form:

  • Telling stories + playing performance games = short form improv (ComedySportz, Whose Line)
  • Telling stories + exploring patterns = long form improv (CSz’s Shower Thoughts, IO, UCB).  Some long form leans more toward story telling while other long form leans more toward patterns.

You might be wondering about the third possible combination:

  • Playing performance games + exploring patterns = ?

I’ve rarely seen this combination though on a handful of occasions I’ve seen a few brilliant performers weave pattern play into a short form scene.  I think there are two reasons.  First, this combination is extremely challenging to a performer.  Second, I think the story component is a near essential foundation that holds together the other components.

Anyway, that’s my view of what I call the Improv Ecosystem.

Costumes In Improv: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

COMEDYSPORTZ PLAYER GARY WESTON AS A DRAGON DURING DATING GAME

COMEDYSPORTZ PLAYER GARY WESTON AS A DRAGON DURING DATING GAME

Since weekends tend to be very busy for me with shows and workshops, I often try to make Monday a day off.  With that in mind I’m going to be a bit lazy for today’s entry.  Instead of writing something wholly original, I’m going to dust off an old piece I wrote about the use of costumes in improv.  My inspiration to post this piece was not actually laziness, it was player Gary Weston’s awesome portrayal of a dragon during Saturday’s ComedySportz match.  And now...off to the past!
                             .           .           .
During a recent show I saw a very inventive use of costumes during Dance Party.  In this game players make up dances based on random words suggested by the audience.  Two players showed a ketchup dance.  One player used a trench coat and other items to portray a bottle while the other player used a large red scarf under a coat to show spreading ketchup.  The resulting effect was clever and fun.

So I thought I'd talk a little about costume use within improv.  It's a subject that sometimes evokes strong opinions.  Some performers decry any use of costumes while others believe that costumes are near essential for certain games.

My feeling is that costumes, while not needed per se for improv, can at times add nice accents.  That being said, I think it's also very important that performers never rely on costumes.  Any given improv scene or game should be able to stand on its own with or without costumes.  For example, during that same Dance Party, a third also dazzled the crowd with a costume-less owl dance. 

Over the years I've seen two main problems resulting from performers relying on costumes.  First, they sometimes put less effort into the other key components of character creation, e.g., voice, emotion, posture, etc.  Second, I've seen players delay entry into a scene because they wanted to put on a costume.  Such delays have caused awkward pauses or worse, bare stage moments.

But with careful use, costumes can be a fun, extra component though which the performers can express their ideas and delight the audience.  Character centric games like Advice Panel and Dating Game are particularly costume friendly.  I've been amazed at clever uses of simple costumes to simulate historical outfits, animals, objects, cartoon characters, and more.  Costumes can also be helpful for scenes featuring a specific genre or historical period.  And certainly some genres and/or games like Shakespeare or Gibberish Opera are natural fits for costumes.

Costumes also seem to make many audience volunteers less nervous in games like Foreign Movie and Gibberish Opera.  I don't know the psychological explanation.  But for some reason most audience members relax more when outfitted with a fun costume if they have to perform in an actual scene.

Finally, a few thoughts onchoosing costumes.  I've found that generic pieces are often more useful than specific items.   For example, I've seen our very large silver poncho become armor, a cape, the outside of an anthropomorphic appliance, and much more.  Likewise, a tan trench coat has doubled as a book, camel, bottle, dirt road, etc.  By contrast, a loud plaid jacket would have relatively limited use.  Generic pieces are also good because available space for costumes is often limited.

How Do You Practice Improv?

We get this question a lot.  Usually in the form If it’s made up each time, how can you practice? Since it’s Sunday, and our ComedySportz teams (both Main Stage and Minor League) practice on Sunday, I thought it would be appropriate for today’s entry. 

The reality is that you can practice, or even rehearse (Google dictionary claims they’re synonyms) without wanting the outcome to be the same each time.  Perhaps because people often associate the word rehearsal with scripted theater (where you typically want the outcome consistent), they don’t get how an improv comedy group could rehearse or practice.  But many jazz bands rehearse even though they might improvise some of the music differently each time.  And plenty of sports teams practice without the outcome being the same each time.

I think it can also help to consider an artistic endeavor in terms of two main components, Art and Craft.  I first heard this concept when many years ago I went to see the popular author Barry Eisler read from his latest John Rain novel (a very enjoyable series for readers who enjoy somewhat more realistic, but still exciting espionage fiction.  It was also, memorably, the first time he was allowed to publicly confirm his experience as an actual CIA field agent).  Eisler explained that Art is inherent to the creator – one’s imagination, one’s view of the world, how one wants to represent the world, and so on.  For example, famous painters Monet, Picasso, and Mondrian, all considered great and groundbreaking artist, chose to represent the world in very different ways.  Art cannot and should not be taught.  Craft, however, refers to teachable skills and knowledge.  For painters, it might involve how to mix paints, how to represent three dimensions on a flat surface, and so on.

Monet

Monet

Picasso

Picasso

Mondrian

Mondrian

Art within improv is basically what the performer wants to create or express.  Craft refers to skills and techniques she uses to express her Art.  Craft might include how to use one’s body or voice to develop unique characters.  Or how to incorporate random information injected into an existing scene, i.e., justification.  It might be how to play a specific improv game like Forward – Reverse or how to use heightening in a pattern based long form scene.

So when we meet to practice ComedySportz, for example, we practice specific skills, games, techniques.  But the content or output still changes every time.  Sometime we use special exercises to hone our craft.  Sometime we just do what we do in a show, just not in front of an audience.  We practice because we want to be good at our craft so we can express our art.

Oh, and another reason we practice?  It’s fun.  We get to laugh.  A lot.

Dr. Goofy Will See You Now

Yesterday I began the arduous process of trying to find a new doctor who accepts my new insurance.  As most of us know too well, trying to navigate the health care system can be an aggravating process often culminating in the Catch-22 of the insurance companies instructing “ask the medical provider” and the doctor’s office instructing “ask the insurance provider.”

The experience made me think of a sketch I wrote for The Set well over a year ago called a Mouse of Prevention (a riff on the saying an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure).  The premise was that under President Trump Disney has taken over health care (keep in mind I wrote this sketch just after he began to run for office.  Sorry for being so prescient.  BTW, I also wrote a Game of Scones sketch with the Hodor character holding open the door way before that reveal.  Weird…)

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Disney AlADdin Pharmaceutical Rep

Disney AlADdin Pharmaceutical Rep

So why am I talking about this stuff in a blog about improv?  Well, because that sketch was a good example of one of my favorite improv concepts: if this is true, what else might be true?  It’s a great way to build new, absurd situations, settings, and worlds.  If Disney did run health care, what else might be true?  In my sketch Lumiere sings Be Out Patient to people in the waiting room, pharmaceutical reps sing You Ain’t Never Had A Drug Like Me, and operating rooms play It’s A Small World repetitively in lieu of anesthesia. Note that this concept of what else might be true is often combined with the improv concept of heightening, i.e., moving an idea towards increasing levels of extremeness and absurdity.  Heightening is especially important in pattern based long form improv in which performers play with “the game” of the scene (meaning a key pattern or theme, not a performance game like you find in short form improv).

You can learn more about core improv concepts in our Level 1 Beginner Improv class.  We’ve got new sessions starting in January.  Our class is great for anyone who wants to learn an amazing life skill, start the journey towards performing improv, make great new friends, or just have a comfortable place to laugh each week.  Our class are very popular after New Year’s, so you can reserve your place with a $50 deposit.

Anyway, thanks for reading.  Doctor Goofy will see you now.