A few days ago, Louis put out an email that said, "All Megawatt performers if you want to speak with me about anything, I will have office hours open". I thought about this. I'm starting to take a more proactive form with improv. Too long have I skated by, just doing what I wanted. It's time to figure out how to get really better.
Louis Kornfeld is the artistic director of the Magnet Theatre. But, here's a few things about Louis.
1) He's on Boss. Which is one of the best improv teams I have ever seen. If you want to see improv look easy and feel real with a fearlessness to not have to be funny, they are one of the only games in town. I am biased but they are my favorite. Louis is a HUGE part of why that team is amazing.
2) He teaches. His class "Let it Be" is constantly sold out because people want to train with him over and over.
3) He used to coach 2-prov for 2 hours for $25. His reasoning, "I think people shouldn't be penalized for wanting to do 2-prov". He doesn't do that price anymore because he's too busy.
4) The day before Thanksgiving, I had a level 4 class. Our regular teacher was off for the holiday along with half the class, Louis subbed. He said, "You're the reason why I do this. You could be anywhere tonight but you wanted to be here. I don't care about holidays, this is where I want to be. Thank you for being here. "
5) He WATCHES every MEGAWATT show and probably most Level 6 shows.
The first 2 shows who he is. The last three are moment where I personally found his commitment to improv and his love of it UNWAVERING. Artist director is hard enough! He has a hands on approach and you can tell he LOVES it. That is FUCKING BEAUTIFUL!!
Anyways, I came into the meeting with a few things in mind.
1) Having a style that's all you.
2) Experienced vs Unexperienced Improvisers
3)That moment pre-scene where maybe the stage is empty and you walk out with little or nothing.
4) That moment where two people scurry out with nothing and the fear overtakes.
1) Regarding style, he spoke about knowing what you like to do and what you think you're good at. He claimed to be not that great at premise based scenes and he liked to start the scene with a seed and have it grown by both players so it feels like improv. He does use it with Kiss Punch Poem but there is a poem to inspire from and the audience almost expects specific scenes. But, with a one word suggestion, he likes to find the scene. Regarding who YOU are as an improviser, he never makes "Louis" moves because to do so would feel like an imitation. Instead, he makes moves that feel comfortable and fun to him.
2) I asked about playing with experienced and unexperienced improvisers. With unexperienced, I feel good and fun and with some experienced, I feel hesitant and weak. Louis said that he feels a sense of graciousness and supportiveness when working with perceived newer improvisers as well. But, with the experienced deal, he said it was a combination of a need to be accepted or respected or even earn your right to be on stage. Sometimes it comes with time, some times some people will always improv a certain way and you'll never feel like you're strong. It just depends.
3 and 4) Here was the big thing that I took from him. The pre-scene madness when nobody comes out or two people with nothing come out. Louis says get out there and plant yourself with something. The act of moving with meaning and focus will automatically make it an initiation and a strong one. I thought to myself and added, "There are certain spots on stage that just are unexplored country. So going there would be an initiation in itself on top of it.".
Louis gave an example of just walking and listening and playing with a radio with a focused "looking for something" look on his face.
"If nobody comes out, just yes and yourself."
Louis walked away from the radio and turn a light switch on or off with the same look.
*** The key thing he said was that. The first person who comes out, if they have nothing or nothing strong and they look back at the person who came out to support, the supporter hesitates as well almost thinking that they are burdened with a scene to fix. However, if a person walks to a place, looks or touches something in a specific way, the second person will feel like the scene is there, nothing to fix, just need to add to it a little. "They will call out what it is and you'll have a scene that was created by two people."**
I'd never thought of an initiation as a way of telling that person coming out second. "Don't worry" we're all good. Just call it out if you want, we're fine. Nothing you say will be wrong. You could do something else, I'll do this. We are GOLDEN. Initiating has always been for me, "Okay, here's what we are doing, get it?!", with Louis it's more like, "Here's a little of me.. Welcome. Let's play". So much more fun!
Also, when you SPEAK during that moment, it's so much less strong. Speaking is more for premise based initiation. How many of those scenes start with, "Well? or "Sorry!". If you're a little freaked out or have nothing, if you find a point in the space and play with something with meaning then it's much stronger and it pulls the audience in.
I took it to heart because I had Megawatt that night. I wanted to TRY IT!
2nd scene. I feel that millisecond of hesitancy. I walk out and go straight to a part of the stage I've never been to before. I start looking at my shelf at my house, I'm looking at my cereal bag. I'm looking a little confused, I'm thinking, "Did a mouse get in here" or "Who ate my cereal", but I don't Say anything. I just mull through it. Christina comes from behind me. I can feel her almost thinking, "Is he gonna say something?", I say nothing. That millisecond is just respect on her part, just in case, but I know she'll call it, she's smart and snappy and good.
She says, "I got you chocolates for Valentines Day!!" or something close to it.
I think, how have I been doing this. Confused, "Has a mouse been eating my cereal, has a roommate been eating my cereal", so in that reflection I say, "I'm allergic to chocolate." it gets a bit of a chuckle.
Oddly enough at that moment, I think I got it. It's Valentine's day and she doesn't know anything about me. I say, "I guess, I should give you your present. Close your eyes." though maybe Christina said close your eyes. I get out a ring with the thought, "This girl doesn't even know me." I get down on one knee. Huge LAUGH! I get back up and try and test her a bit about what she knows about me. Christina is freaking smart she intentionally gets every question terribly wrong.
Game. Set. Match. The second beat could have been better but I knew I did right by myself.
In my improviser life, I have thought of initations and deals before coming on stage. Sometimes they pay off, sometimes not. With those aspects, there is this small fear and almost an idiotproofing of information hoping that the scene goes your way, which is even scarier. With this little strategy, you're smooth and comfortable and ready to roll. Inside it's calm, outside could be insane but INSIDE RELAXED. That is an awesome feeling. Louis is a jedi master.