Saturday, 8 December 2012

Improv Quote: "There are no mistakes, just happy accidents." - Bob Ross

Bob Ross


“There are no mistakes, just happy accidents.”

― Bob Ross, American painter and television host.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Of Dying and Death

When people start to improvise, the scared actor often looks for any excuse to leave the scene. One common one is to die. For this reason (and the fact that the player left behind probably won't have the skills or confidence to carry on alone), improvisers are generally encouraged (or told) not to die. This training sticks and is not helped by the generosity that improv engenders which means we don’t like to kill our fellow players or leave them stranded. Often there is also an understandable attachment to our own characters and a reluctance to have them killed off.

But we should realise that there are times when dying is the best thing we can do. It’s the right choice for that scene, story or situation. Death is a very big part of stories. Of the last 10 films you saw, how many involved people dying? People die in stories all the time. In a murder mystery at least one person HAS to die. Imagine a war film where nobody is killed? You'd probably want your money back. Historical dramas, Westerns, thrillers, science fiction... all of these are highly likely to feature someone dying. Even rom coms will knock off characters more than you’d think. How many times have you seen someone's elderly relative shuffle off her mortal coil after imparting some aged wisdom? See Four Weddings and a Funeral for a prime example of death in a rom com and fairy tales for plenty of examples of it in children’s stories.
Scene from Up!
Scene from Up!

Proponents of the Hero's Journey school of story construction will tell you that death is a big part of it. Death is very important as it shows the importance of this quest. It highlights that it is a life-or-death struggle. So death will be faced by the central character, maybe literally (as it often is in myths where the hero dies and has to be reborn), but often metaphorically (as in death of a way of a way or phase of life) or (as is the most often in modern stories) it is experienced through the death of a loved one or trusted aide.

So for the improviser, this means that if we are telling stories (and we are, even without trying), we should realise death is an important aspect of stories as it is of life. It is one of our greatest fears; it is the ultimate price that we can pay. And it is through facing, experiencing and maybe overcoming death that stories become more vital.

So don’t be afraid of death in improv. Embrace it. Have it in your arsenal of things that can happen so that when the moment is right and the story/scene feels like it needs it, it can happen and then you or the other players can deal with the consequences.

And if you are killed off, it doesn’t have to mean the end of your character or your involvement in the scene or story. This we’ll deal with another time.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Ego and the Naked Improviser

Improv is walking a tightrope. It is sticking your head in the lion’s mouth. It is charging into battle with only a pen knife.

It is all of these things. Metaphorically.

Improv is hard and prone to failure. In fact, it's a common improv expression to say if you aren’t failing, you’re not really trying. Especially in rehearsals where we can really push and find the limits of ourselves as players, of the group and of improv as an art form. (Hint: improv has no limits as everything we do is in the imagination, not only of the performers, but also of the audience.)

The fear of failure is a response of the ego. The ego is that part of us that wants us always to look good. It’s the part of us that objects to anything it can perceive as a criticism. The part that doesn't want us to try anything too risky. It’s the very antithesis of improv. The ego is all like, “screw you guys, I need to feel safe.” Improv is “let’s jump into the danger together.”

Kirk from Dear John
Kirk approves this message as it's all about him.
Even experienced players can get in a rut; finding themselves comfortable within a limited set of characters, moods, genres, etc where they know they can always do well.

Ego-driven players are sensitive to feedback (always seeing it as an attack no matter how it’s presented), play within a set of boundaries, pre-plan, resist change and may well go for the jokes every single time even if the mood of the scene is something other than jocular.

Unfortunately, such performers are often rewarded by audiences. Their safe choices and concentration on immediate reward (such as laughter) means they can be more entertaining than those who are pushing themselves. Certainly in the short term. It’s only on repeated viewing that the audience might weary of seeing the same thing. Although, having said that, audiences like repeating characters. It’s the cornerstone of sketch comedy, Commedia dell'arte and most famous comedians.  But it is the opposite of “theatre from nothing,” of creating scenes from the here and now.  In fact, any form of pre-planning heads to an area where you really are better off writing the damn thing, rehearsing it and making it the best it can be.

Now, of course, a person's personality will come out on stage. It appears in the choices we make, the way we approach and portray our characters, in the types of story we tell and the way we tell them. It gives nuance to what we do. But this should not get in the way of the story the group is trying to tell at that moment. There is a big difference between choices guided by personality and control exerted by a scared ego. The former makes what we do distinct, unique and boundless; the latter makes it staid, formulaic and limited.

I’ll post soon, hopefully, about methods of trying to get rid of your own ego in performances. The biggest and most effective step, I think, is to realise it’s there in the first place and that it’s not helping you.

RELATED EXERCISES AND TIPS:


  • At the beginning of a rehearsal, have a big bucket or hole (real or imaginary) and invite all the participants to throw their ego in it. (Source: Berry van den Bos)
  • Remind the group that any feedback is based on situations as they happened and are about moving the group as a whole forward, not about the actors in the scene specifically. 
  • Notes that are given to you specifically should not be seen as attacks but as suggestions and opportunities to try something different (Source: Patti Stiles)
  • Give notes and feedback respectfully. And be patient, as egos aren’t always easy to exorcise.

Monday, 3 September 2012

King Lear in the style of Edward Lear


There was an old king called Lear,
Who gave up his land to be freer.
His daughters despised,
That way madness lies,
That crazy old king called Lear.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Short stories

A little off topic, although not so much as improv has taught me as much about writing as reading has. I've just published a kindle ebook of short stories. It's free for the next couple of days. Please check it out, and if you like it, I'd love a review.

See the page on my website.

Many thanks,
Peter

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Improv Quote: "Take care of yourself, and each other."


"Take care of yourself, and each other." - Jerry Springer, politician and social commentator.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: The more energy you spend on judging offers, the less energy you spend on accepting them.

Judgement metaphorically represented
by finger.  Picture John De
The more energy you spend on judging offers, the less energy you spend on accepting them.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

How to spot an improviser

Great video highlighting common, comical improv physical inaccuracies.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

"I don't think about what I do. I do it." - Ray Bradbury


"I don't think about what I do. I do it. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down." - Ray Bradbury.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: Magic happens when you allow improv to do its thing...

Ashley Moore and Jochem Meijer by John De


Magic happens when you allow improv to do its thing and stop fighting it trying to be funny / clever / safe / the star.

Monday, 28 May 2012

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" - Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" - Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919)
Theodore was a member of the great long-running improv troupe, The Presidents. And this quote really gets to one of the biggest lesson beginners have to learn... you don't need more stuff. Most scenes already have so much information you can use that whatever is wrong with the scene isn't a lack of emotion or that you are in the wrong place, it's usually that there isn't enough emotion or relationship.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: "Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play"

"Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play." -Heraclitus, philosopher (500 BCE)


Via A Word A Day

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Improv Quote: "We need body rockin' not perfection" - Beastie Boys

"We need body rockin' not perfection." - Beastie Boys (Body Movin')

Friday, 13 April 2012

"Can I have a colour and an unusual location where we could all live?" - Paul McCartney, Mersey Beatlesports.

"Can I have a colour and an unusual location where we could all live?" - Paul McCartney, Mersey Beatlesports.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: "It is not so much our friends' help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us."

It is not so much our friends' help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us. - Epicurus, philosopher (c. 341-270 BCE)
via awad http://wordsmith.org/

Friday, 30 March 2012

The Long and the Short of It

One of the places improvisers seem to differ on the most is the difference between shortform and longform. What makes it quite difficult is these are fluid words, and there are variances in definition between different groups. Plus there are people who maintain there is no difference.

The difference between them for you is often dependant on your approach to impro. Obviously, at the core, is the simple principle of "Yes, and." But on top of this, there are differences in approach that players and groups have to using the "yes, and." And some of these approaches best suit one or the other of the forms.

One key element to explaining this is that shortform is very forgiving. Any scene you are in will only last a couple of minutes and then you can get a whole new suggestion and start a completely new scene. So any stinkers can be moved on from and soon forgotten. Even without stinkers, shortform is very tolerant of scenes that are not about anything, have no clear characters or relationships, or have characters and relationships we really don't care about. We can enjoy the reality being destroyed through gagging, commenting or simply playing with a lack of conviction for those three minutes. In short, we can happily watch an undefined bunch of funny stuff for 3 minutes, as long as after that three minutes there is something new.

If you want to stretch it out, however, and make the scenes longer, the characters return, the audience to care, then some of the very things that shortform tolerates, and usually the very things that can get the biggest laugh, will destroy all your efforts. Comedy, after all, is very often about setting up an expectation and destroying it.

People can be phenomenally strong shortform players and struggle with longform because their approach, the way they harness the "beast" (as I've heard it called), is actually detrimental to creating something that can sustain itself longer than 3 minutes.

Things that get laughs and keep shortform safe, that are detrimental to longform:

  • Gagging.
  • Commenting / mugging to the audience.
  • Blocking.
  • Playing like it's all a joke.
  • Superficial characters who aren't affected.
  • Undefined relationship.

All of which can be summarised in the single statement: "Lack of commitment."

More on this later.

Impro Thought of the Day: "When it is hot, you should be hot Buddha."

"When it is hot, you should be hot Buddha. When it is cold, you should be cold Buddha." – Zen Saying
I love this saying. It encapsulates a lot of improv wisdom in a straight-forward language. It means don't try and be clever or contrary; or try to set up things that are already there, just BE what is set up. "Hot" is more than enough information to start something and see what comes organically and logically from this.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: "Failure presents opportunities to create subsequent victories."

"Failure presents opportunities to create subsequent victories." - Stewart Lee, How I Escaped My Certain Fate.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: "The body is always in the present..."

"The body is always in the present, whereas the mind floats around in the past and the future."
– Kirk Livingston, BATS Improv

Friday, 2 March 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: "As soon as you see something, you already start to intellectualize it. As soon as you intellectualize something, it is no longer what you saw." - Shunryu Suzuki

"As soon as you see something, you already start to intellectualize it. As soon as you intellectualize something, it is no longer what you saw." - Shunryu Suzuki
Only in the moment is something real. After that it is an intellectual construct.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: The best idea is the one being played out right now.


The best idea is the one being played out right now.


The worst idea is the one in your head whilst the best one is being played out.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: Saying "oh, that's weird" in neutral is not a reaction by the character...


Saying "oh, that's weird" in neutral is not a reaction by the character, it's a comment by the actor.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Impro Thought of the Day: There are two ways to live...

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”
- Albert Einstein (via Alan Marriott)