Monday, June 6, 2016

The Carpool Opening

This week was my second week in Nick Kanellis' Short Form uses for Long Form class. Which is pretty awesome and amazing and fun. I definitely recommend it.

If you've got a team who needs an opening, here's an option. Heartbeat may at some point give it a go, but I think this might be a good one especially for newer teams.

Openings, in my opinion, should do a few things.

1) Get EVERYONE involved. And I mean everyone. Everyone gets an idea out. Not everyone wandering.
2) Unleash a lot of different energys.
3) Give out at least 4 ideas.
4) It has to be fucking funny.
5) Has an end.

Every opening does at least one of these things, but when the opening goes well, you want it to do ALL of these things. More importantly, it has to do all of these without a sense of too much work.

The carpool is the idea that you set up chairs and then there is a driver. The driver maybe has a second to explain where they are going and what not, they pick up either hitchhikers or friends (it's better for friends) on the way. Each hitchhiker has a different voice, energy, saying, or anything. The whole car matches the energy as they come in.  They pick up every hitchhiker and they make it to their destination.

Let's check if it works.

1) Everyone does get a specific idea.
2) You'll be making 7-8 different energies so it should produce variation.
3) you get as many ideas as people.
4) It ends up being quite funny.
5) The end is where everyone arrives.

Compounding on my last blog entry. Everyone gets involved. There should be characters or ideas abound. Give it a shot.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Starting with A Group Something

If you've been improvising for a while, you've probably been placed on a team, whether it be an indie team, house team, outside team, or a mix em up team. 

The more I've watched improv, the more I've come to a simple conclusion. The quicker everyone gets in, the quicker the team becomes a team.

The singular problem with harolds and musical narratives is that they don't have a weighted group agreement happening. 

If you're in musical, you have the opening number. Yes. But, if you're opening number just gives a small detail or maybe a single character, that's not affecting the show. I've seen teams and I've been on teams that throw away the opening number and use it as a jumping off point of inspiration and it never affected the audience.

If you're in regular improv, you may be shackled with opening-less Harold. Which means everyone doesn't get onstage until the group game, and even then some people may not get out. 

If you're on a team that has ANY hesitance, try starting with a group game. And not just any group game, a GAME THAT INVOLVES THE GROUP. If a person initiates a group game with such premise that people feel the PRESSURE to be funny, it'll feel like they weren't taking part. Group games that are organic, walk on centric, presentational, or started with half initiations are the best.

Group mind is what causes you're own team to surprise themselves. Sure, you may have a curveballer, I've definitely been one of those. But, they aren't suppose to be the only ones surprising. You want everyone to come to a conclusion at the beginning that we are all having fun, we are all surprising ourselves, and we all had a part in this fun start to the show.

There are older teams on Megawatt (magnet theatre) that have kind of figured out a way around this. They do a group monoscene. They do some sort of active scene painting. They push for walk ons in early scenes. They do 4 scenes then group as opposed to three. They deconstruct a group game from the get go. The Wrath recently did 4 long scenes a group game THEN just straight to third beats. Everyone knew they were going to get in and everyone knew that they was a high pressure at the end to get a LOT out. 

Occasionally, a team will get walk on crazy with those first beats. First off, this isn't a bad thing. A want to play with your team is great. Most walk ons could be done as 2nd beats. But, environmental walk ons that just YES AND what's going on now are GOLD! Sometimes a team will get that note, "No one walks on in the first beats". This is a combination of someone who is eager and possibly not getting good responses and someone who is a little sensitive about their scene and unable to react to walk ons. 

In Conclusion, you have 2 choices with a team. Figure some group start and allow your team to surprise itself and start the show on a ride that everyone made up. Keep that group game late and rely on the power of 2 person group mind in three increments to get something interesting started.

Here's a quick equation. 1 person is one point of view, 2 people is two points of view. We live in 2 people pov in 99 percent of our daily life. For something weird to happen there will be because we caused it. 3-8 points of view, rarely happens and ends up being much simpler simply due to the fact that people are trying to understand each other. Do your team a favor, get everyone out there. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Making the Location a Character

Hey Everyone,

Occasionally, Goats, my musical improv team at the Magnet Theatre,  does regular improv rehearsals rather than musical because of cost combined with a need to rehearse. This week we had Morgan Phillips. My memory of Morgan was in Made Up Musical, one of the first veteran musical improv shows at the Magnet. I specifically remember Morgan doing so little with such efficiency. He didn't talk much but what he did say was amazing. Last week, Morgan introduced Goats to the concept of making the Location a Character. "Playing the Location"

Now, this may seem heady, but for some reason after a couple of reps, even the ADD weirdos on my team ended up doing some very interesting scenework.

One person will initiate a scene in a specific location. Let's say, stocking an aisle of a grocery store. So, the person may start doing physical activity and then talking about something else. "Ugh, I really hate Mondays."

Morgan would give us the exercise of, "The second person, TAKING INTO CONSIDERATION WHAT THE PERSON SAID OR IS DOING, notices something weird about the location."

"When did we get so much oatmeal?"
"I know, yoga pants Monday is so degrading."
"I'm not hugging you, you hug for an uncomfortably long amount of time."

Admittedly, just writing these things TOOK FOREVER. But, if you look at just that response, it takes into consideration either what is happening with the location, what used to happen in a location, and to some extent it's weirdness.

You could easily find a game. The chorus could be the return to, "I really hate mondays." there could be a tangent of small talk, then "I hate Mondays" then either a reference to oatmeal types, explanation of yoga pants monday's absurdity, or an attempt at hugging.

If we want to go barebones with it, look at what the person is looking at. Some people have a tendency to look out and make a grand statement. "The pathogen is spreading", you might say something like, "We need to clean this fish tank."or "When did we get such a big monitor?" "Hey, you're burning the eggs!".

Now, Goats had to do this for quite a while to get it settled in and even now, I have trouble using it. However, there is something to it. When you go into a scene, (probably 2nd person), notice something weird about the scene and use the foundation of what was said.

You may surprise yourself.

Thanks Morgan. Check him out on Harold night at UCB!!

Monday, February 29, 2016


I'm assuming that if you're reading this, that you're a seasoned improviser or at least a seasoned student of improv. 

I am of the belief that you can't truly figure out the potential of your team until you're structure provides at least 80% formlessness.

The typical harold is 3 first beats, 1 group game, 3 second beats, 1 group game, and 3rd beats. Most teams don't do an entire harold not because they don't want to adhere or they don't care. Even coaches don't scold teams when they don't get to third beats or maybe don't hit a second group game.  Think about it, if we REALLY wanted to adhere to the harold form, we all COULD do it. It's just three beats. But, most don't, most get sidetracked, most get praised for deviation. 

What is the reasoning? Do teachers and coaches feel that no one is able to complete a full harold. I don't think so.

I believe that at some point during a harold and at any harold, you start running on pure inspiration and feeling. At that point, you throw away the form for the sake of fun or game or whatever. The form gets tossed out. You may find a coach loving the deviation. You may feel a team loving the deviation.You may find the opposite where people get frustrated with the deviation. 

I'm going to say something that may go against a grand belief in improv. If you deviate from form or pull from the norm and it is INSPIRED by someone else, then any hesitancy from other team members has no basis on the improv itself.  Any hesitancy to build off the inspiration is coming from either confusion of the person itself, fear of the move itself, dislike of the move itself, or an unfortunate need to do something right or from a fear of not being funny.

Rick Andrews, amazing Magnet Instructor, said "I usually see performers not having fun in shows, when they either are trying to hard to improvise the RIGHT way or they are trying to be funny."

It's weird how trying to do something RIGHT can be in such the same core as trying to be funny. 

We all hate it when we're trying to be funny, but do we have the same disdain for ourselves when we try to do something right. 

Here is my challenge to improvisers. STOP TRYING TO DO SOMETHING RIGHT. THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG. If there is no right or wrong, PUSH the limits. A team that falls behind the biggest mistake which is pulling from FORM, is a true team. 

I watched a show with The Wrath, where someone walked out signed something and walked off. Now, the wrath could have been doing a new form that week, but it didn't feel like that. It felt like a move that happened and people MISTAKENLY -didn't come out to support,  and it told the team, "Do Something" and they did. 

If anyone has seen me improvise, occasionally I make weird and crazy moves that can be pushy. My belief isn't to PUSH everyone around but to maybe get someone else to do it too. I NEVER do a move that I wouldn't be 100 percent fine with having it done to myself. 

You ARE right. Always. Stop trying to do something right. If you get a coach that says YOU'RE WRONG, FIRE THEM!!!! Chances are the ONLY reason why people say things are WRONG is because they 1) felt too out of nowhere and maybe were uninspired 2) it just wasn't funny. But, those two things are inconsequential if you think about it. It's up to the team to YES AND a move. And WHO cares if it isn't funny. But, I'll tell you one fucking thing, if it WAS funny, you don't get notes you get praised. 

Be INSPIRED, break the RULES, GET IN THERE. Screw the FORM. If you're in your head, they you aren't out there having FUN!! Have FUN! Play!! PLAY!! Don't think.  NOTHING IS SACRED!

You wonder why teams who deconstruct a group game have a FUN time. You wonder why teams who have a GROUP dynamic built in have a FUN time. You wonder why Monoscenes that start with like 8 people end up being FUN.  BECAUSE THOSE THINGS ARE SCARY AS SHIT!!! You have to play!! You can't think!! You relax and go for the ride. Everyone's already in so you don't have to worry about people not getting their share. Now, it's just FIGURE IT OUT.

HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Leaving Clues

Sometimes in improv, it feels like you're lost in the scene, just exploring and discovering new things. That can feel amazing because it provides organic interactions and discoveries while feeling somewhat grounded.

First off, I would never say not to do that. But, as improvisers grow more seasoned, there is a split in how you view things. The getting lost in a characters fades and people start making moves, whether it be to play a game, move a plot, or get a reaction out of people.

If you have a teams thats been together a while, you'll know what they jump on. You'll know what prompts a walk on, tag out, or just a deviation from the scene itself to explore something else.


Instead of throwing huge curveballs that people HAVE to deal with. Toss out little crumbs of ideas and see what happens. If they don't jump, no biggie, if they do then everything is coming from a sense of curiosity or fun.

Here are some examples:

The Call Out and the Jump On guy. He always calls out the weird thing.

Start out the scene grounded, nothing out of the ordinary. Notice small seemingly insignificant weird things, "My sister called, apparently she's gluten intolerant", "I just can't seem to paint since my surgery" "I picked cashews for breakfast"

The call out guy will yes and and give back story to all those things. The jump on guy with just AND it or emotionally lock on to that.

The Oscar Winner and the Straight man.

Throwing small pieces of information to an Oscar winner is like feeding a shark blood. The more insignificant and detailed the gift, the more fun it will be to lock on to. The Oscar Winner might react with tears to a gluten free sister or insane anger.

The straight man will take everything to grounding. So, you're giving bits and bits of weirdness, they will logically conclude why it is happening and that in itself will grow into something fun. "I gotta tend to the cashew fields before winter comes."

A lot of people have a tendency to pick and choose what they want to play with. If you dish something small and it doesn't get hooked, throw something else. If detail after detail falls on def ears, then you now have a game with yourself. Either way, it's found organically.

Most importantly, you'll have fun and your team will have fun!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Importance of Getting Through The Holidays

Hey Everyone,

This is going to be mostly for people on house teams but it also works for people on indie teams as well.

December to January are the two months out of the year that can kill teams. It's true. Here are the reasons.

1) Less Rehearsals
2) Worse Shows (due to less rehearsals)
3) Stressful times outside of improv
4) Unable to Schedule anything.
5) People are on vacation

Think of any of those 5 things happening at any time of year. I've had teams that have imploded due to ONE of those items. The only reason why it kills teams is because team members assume that the reasons any of these items are happening is because "They aren't committed to the team".

When, in actuality, there are really good reasons. Now, if you have a person on a team that consistently doesn't come to rehearsals or leaves early or get's in late and has a schedule that forces everyone to resent them, then eventually you should probably just get rid of that person. However, in these months, EVERYONE is doing these things.

Here's the key to keeping things together.

1) Realize that it will happen.
2) Don't punish people for their schedules.
3) Have as much fun in shows as possible.
4) NEVER EVER assume something about your team due to a bad show during this time.

Bad shows happen all the time. They may happen multiple times in a row.  If you're doing a perfect show, then you are NOT learning. Learn from bad shows, don't beat yourself up.

Trying things that are new, fun and different during this time is great! You can always blame the oddness on attempts to better yourself.

Celebrate the times you have with these people. Use the time that they're away to miss them. The reunion of a team in the new year should be an exciting time.

Best of luck everyone. Love your team and never judge yourself!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Long Form Improv: The Unsung Hero that will Never Be Mainstream

There are two types of improv, Long Form and Short Form. You could say that Musical is another form, but you could do short form musical and long form musical as well.

Short form consists of informing the audience of the game, taking the suggestion and then playing the game on stage. Who's line it is anyway or Puppet Up are firm examples of short form. If you go on a cruise ship, you're likely to see short form improv.

But, why not long form?

Long form improv is probably the unsung hero of improv. If you're an improviser in New York, LA, or Chicago then Long Form may be your thing. You probably live and breathe it. You love TJ and Dave and you have favorite forms and a specific play style. But, outside of those three delightful cities, there's nothing. Very little long form.

I once took a 3 month break from improv and went back to the Bay Area in California. I knew there was improv there so I figured I'd be able to at least feed the dragon. Boy was I wrong! Very little classes. Maybe once or twice a week there would be an improv show. Short form, however, had a presence. Comedy sports and BATs improv were mainstays and nearby.

First off, I'm not saying long form is better than short form. Wait! I am saying long form is better than short form. However, Short form is more profitable, more suitable for an audience, more likely to get improvisers paid for improvising, and have produced equally amazing improvisers. So, though I love the payoff of a third beat, I've laughed the hardest within long form shows, I've fallen in love with entire shows, and I've been hooked to the heroin of class after class of Long Form, I'm still ridiculously scared to do short form and I say with Bias, I like long form better.

The fact is, long form will never be famous. There may be long form improvisers using their skills to improvise in film. There may be sketch teams that are steeped in long form training. There may be comedian and tv writers using the harold as a form of writing. But, the act of a few people jumping on a stage and improvising slowly and building up an inside joke will never be mainstream.

I'm kind of okay with that. It's the perfect underground band. You may like the slower, indie progressive sound of Magnet. The perfected, honed, studio sound of UCB. The metallic, clunking, primal sound of Annoyance. Or the experimental, raucous yet textured sound of the PIT. These institutions will always be longform at heart. They will never leave us for greener pastures, they will live and die in our arms. 

You can think of it as sad. You can get angry at a world that doesn't get it. Or you can be thankful that this still exists, solely on the basis that the STUDENT, the Classtaker, The Performer, The Teacher hold this art form up. One piece of that puzzle is removed, the whole foundation falls. Why do we do it? Because it's fucking fun. I've never had this much fun in my entire life.