Monday, November 8, 2004

You know what you're doing, even when you don't.

If you have the impulse to scream from the back line...

DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!

If you don't, you'll kick yourself later in the piece when you find out why you were supposed to.

Friday, August 20, 2004

DCM Workshop, August 1st, 2004, Matt Besser

As per my usual pattern, notes come way late. Maybe I just need that amount of time to process. Maybe I just procrastinate. I’ve waited long enough now that I will surely confuse the sequence of events, and I’m also trying to capture the experience more than the particular things he said, because, frankly, there wasn’t a huge amount of new information here.

We’ve all read the books and taken the classes. We can repeat the words. Internalizing them and making them our own is the real challenge. Learning and internalizing things is often just a result of experiencing the same facts in different ways, holding them up in different lights so we get all the nuances.

I really enjoyed this workshop. Matt Besser. Holy cow! It’s cool to get second hand Del. I feel a little strange admitting that I disagreed with a number of things Besser said [in my mind, not out loud. Well, out loud the one time. Hey, he asked, I answered].

[The brackets indicate my own thoughts about what Besser was saying].

He started out talking about the fact that there are a number of different approaches to teaching and performing improv, and that we should pick one, because they don’t mix together with each other. [Here is one place where I disagree. I think DSI’s particular style is very successful when it comes to choosing the best elements of the different approaches and blending them into its own unique style.]

He talked about how the most important thing about finding the game is just finding what’s funny and doing it. He said we should make improv as easy for ourselves as possible, and just doing what’s funny is the easiest thing. [Yeah, right. It’s easy. That’s why I paid 50 bucks for the workshop.] We don’t need to go into a Harold to try to tackle the monster; we should just lean back into the improv. Relax into it, and it will be easy.

We do three minutes scenes instead of trying to do a thirty minute story because it’s easier. He said if he knew someone who could improvise thirty minute stories that were funny he would tell them they were really talented and should be writing sitcoms because it’s really hard to do that. Three minute scenes make the improv easier. That being said, you should be able to take some scenes from a piece and write them into sketches. If there is nothing in a whole show that you can write a good sketch from, it wasn’t a very good show [eh, maybe, but I don’t think that’s necessarily so].

We didn’t mess around with a lot of talk. He got people up right away to do a pattern game. The first one kind of shot off into space and didn’t really identify any ideas. Besser doesn’t like the word “theme” when it comes to improv openings. Finding a theme doesn’t really give enough information. He likes to find ideas. He talked about pitching a show to a network. They don’t want to hear themes – they want specific ideas. [I can definitely see where this line of thought would make improv easier. Specificity always makes things easier.]

He talked about the purpose of the opener being to explore the suggestion to get different ideas, and said each loop in a pattern game should go out about eight words before it came back to the original suggestion. [I refrained from teaching him about clover nipples.] The group that was up there tried it again with more success.

We talked about the ideas generated from that game, and then he had others get up and do a scene based on one of the ideas and we talked about ways to heighten and explore the idea. This particular scene was basically about adolescent views on sex and birth control but it was a bit out in left field. Matt asked us to give examples of things we believed about sex and birth control when we were young.

People offered a number of suggestions, and then I finally found my voice and described how my aunt (only 4 years older than me) had told me you could prevent pregnancy and std’s by shaking up a warm bottle of coke and douching with it after sex. That was the first thing that everyone laughed at, and Matt seized on it as an example of looking for what’s funny, and how real things are funny.

Then he asked me why I had waited so long to speak up. I told him I was shy and he looked me in the eye and said, “You’re not shy, or you wouldn’t be here.” [That was cool, and I should remember it whenever I start to tell myself I’m too shy to do something.]

We talked about identifying the game. You should be able to describe it in fewer than five words, but if you only have one word to describe it, you only have an idea, not a game. The game should be specific and interesting and funny.

He had someone do a monologue and then two people do a scene based on it. The monologue was about how the guy went to a baseball game with a friend who was heckling because he just wanted to get a response from one of the players. He didn’t dislike the player; he just wanted to piss him off. The scene was about a guy who was heckling at the opera between bits of conversation with his girlfriend. What he was doing was hilarious, but his scene partner completely ignored the heckling and just focused on the conversation.

Matt talked about denial, and how it isn’t just saying no. Denial can also be an unrealistic reaction to the situation (or in this case, no reaction at all). He stressed the importance of playing real, even in a strange situation.

The girl said she had a particular idea (I’ve forgotten what it was now) but it wasn’t working. Matt said it was because she didn’t let her scene partner know what it was and we can’t expect our scene partners to know what we’re thinking unless we find a way to tell them.

He asked for another monologue and someone did one about cutting himself and debating whether to go get a tetanus shot because he didn’t have insurance. He got scared he’d get tetanus, so he finally went to the emergency room and got the shot, and then he was annoyed with himself for overreacting.

Matt asked for two people to do a scene and I got up. I was nervous and when I get nervous my tremor can get very obvious, so I had to make it part of the scene. I initiated with “I’m terrified I have brain cancer”. When my scene partner commented that my hands were shaking, I (my character) panicked because I must have Parkinson’s (I had actually calmed down by then and had to exaggerate the tremor to match the level it was at when I first got up). Then I just kept heightening the hypochondria with everything the guy said.

At one point my scene partner asked me why I was telling him all this stuff. We hadn’t identified each other, so I wasn’t really sure, but at that point Matt stopped us because the scene had kind of stalled (remember this, it’s important later).

He talked about why UCB teaches two person scenes – they make improv easier. It makes finding the funny thing easier, because you’re each just building with one person. Then he talked about tag outs and walk ins and how they can be used to heighten and explore. He doesn’t use the word clarify, and seemed to feel like clarification wasn’t enough. A tag out or walk in should explore the idea. [I think maybe that’s just a different way of saying the same thing. To explore something is to learn more about it, therefore clarifying it.]

Also, it’s important not to do a walk on unless you’re sure you know what the game is. If you don’t clearly know the game, in five words, then don’t walk on or tag out. [I totally agree with this. I dislike random scene interruptions, whether I’m playing or watching].

He brought my scene partner and me back up and asked me why my job was easy at that point. I answered that I already had my thing and all I had to do was keep letting my scene partners give me reasons to think I was sick. He had us continue the scene and had someone tag my scene partner out.

The new guy played a funeral director, and I was planning my own funeral. One of the first things he did was tell me not to look in the next room, then we started talking about other stuff and we had fun with me wanting to know what people had died of, but Matt stopped us and pointed out that I had ignored that wonderful other room. That was where the game was. I let the conversation with the guy distract me from what everyone wanted to know – what was in that room and how would it make me panic?

We played group games then. I forget the suggestion, but someone initiated by smoking a crack/hash pipe (it was never clearly identified). I stepped right out and asked for a hit. Picture me, in my soccer mom sweater and rhinestone earrings, hair up, smoking hash (ok, now picture me as if you don't know me). Brian said everyone was startled when I actually knew how to mime taking a hit of hash. There was a collective gasp. I enjoy surprising people.

We played a silly game of how smoking the hash outside a school playground was shocking because we were being unsanitary. It was fun, but Matt had us talk about other ways the game could have gone. I forget a lot of that. A nun was involved. I don’t remember the rest. That’s what smoking hash will do to you. Don’t do drugs, kids.

One thing he did talk about a lot was building and using the environment. We can use our environment to enrich our scene, but also to buy time without just standing there thinking. He used the hash pipe as an example. I took a hit and used the time spent miming to think of what I wanted to say. We can plump pillows on a couch or make a bed. When we give ourselves an environment we give ourselves information.

We sat down and Matt took questions and just talked for a while. He talked about how all the different members of an ensemble have different roles, different ways of playing. This makes the improv easier because you know what you can expect from your scene partner, and what you shouldn’t expect, after you play with them for a while.

He talked about the rules and how they aren’t hard and fast. No conflict? Why not? Conflict can be funny. Most sitcoms are about conflict. If it’s funny, do it.

Know your scene partner? Not necessary. Don’t funny things ever happen between strangers? Of course they do. Relationships are not necessary.

Of course, this view generated some questions, because so many of us are taught that we must have a six month relationship with our scene partner. Matt challenged us to give him an example of when a relationship might help a scene. So, having gotten over my shyness, I gave him one.

I said that in the hypochondriac scene, we would have been able to move it along better if I had known who my scene partner was, and that I knew that when he had asked me why I was telling him all that stuff. Besser asked me who I thought the guy was, and I said I wasn’t sure, then he asked me who the audience thought he was, and neither I nor anyone else knew. In his mind, this was evidence that identifying the relationship was unnecessary. [In my mind, it was the reason the scene stalled]. Matt says we don’t need relationships. “This isn’t fucking therapy.” [The hell it isn’t!]

He talked about character development and how we all only have a certain number of characters we are able to do. The challenge is not in creating thousands of different characters, but in adapting our characters to the scenes instead of having characters with the same bit all the time and shaping the scenes with those bits.

He finished by telling us again to relax into the improv, just do what’s funny, and to remember that if there isn’t at least one scene worth writing down, we didn’t have a very good show. [Way to inspire, dude.]
Hi, honey. I'm home!

Monday, July 5, 2004

Postcard from the edge.

Hey, there! Just checking in. The break is going well. It was much needed and I wish I had done it sooner. A word of advice: Don’t let yourself get to the point where you are so burned out you cease to function, especially if it’s affecting your life outside improv. And if you don’t have a life outside improv, you’re in too deep. Take a step back.

I’m glad I didn’t go away completely. I am sure I would never come back. I have felt myself slipping away once or twice as it is, even while I’m watching shows. Especially while I’m watching shows. I get that “I can’t do that, I’m not quick/smart/funny/whatever enough” feeling and want to give up. Or, as Scott puts it, I start “being a flake again”. Then I remind myself that those feelings are why I’m taking a rest. And I look at the people all around me, people I love and who love me back, and I feel better.

Thank God for TLaG. Saturday’s practice and show were so much fun. If I could let myself achieve that level of absolute trust with everyone, I would be fine. I feel bad about that, because I think I owe all of my scene partners absolute trust. That’s a tough one for me, largely because of personal history and also because of some early improv experiences that maybe were not as supportive as they could have been.

That being said, if I can do it with TLaG, if I can do it with Kit and Bryan, I should be able to figure out how to do it with anyone. I just have to relax and give myself time.

Thursday, June 3, 2004

I am taking a break.

I'm including this journal in my break. It is one of the things I've been pressuring myself about, and as evidenced by the pattern of procrastination, I was finding it a chore. I have one rule for this break: If it ain't fun, I ain't doin' it.

I don't plan on taking any classes for a little while, so there won't be notes anyway. I wasn't ever comfortable journalling practice notes. It felt like I was telling private stories, so I just never did.

I may be back in a while. Meanwhile, I do plan to continue updating my IRC journal.* I love that journal and it has done me a world of good. As Scott pointed out, it reads like a roller coaster, but I like it. The link is at the bottom of this post if you're interested.

*Note: That IRC journal morphed into Complete and Utter Nonsense. Read at your own risk.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Level 4 - Harold, Class #4, Ross White

Ok, where am I? A week behind, as usual, that’s where.

More than halfway through this class. I don’t feel like it should be that far. It used to feel like these classes lasted forever. Now they’re over too soon. And it’s made even worse by the fact that I missed the first one.

We worked on beats last Tuesday night. Different ways to play beats are… well, I already typed this last time I took a Harold class. From my entry of Feb 12th:

We worked on beats tonight. On different ways to play second and third beats.
· Same characters at different times in their lives – a time jump.
· Same characters in different situations – ordinary, somewhat extraordinary, way over the top
· Same characters in different environments.
· Different characters in the same situation or with the same dynamic. You could be an animal in the second beat.

All well and good, but there is another: One strong character in completely different situations with different accompanying characters. I’ve seen Scott Jennings do this and it was lots of fun to watch. We did not actually manage to do this one in this class, but I am keeping it in my bag of tricks for later, because it is awesome.

We did first beats followed by several second beats to explore how many different possibilities there are. Then we did the first beat of two scenes, followed by three second beats, in no particular order.

One thing I noticed, well, I noticed two things. One is that I am better at second beats than I gave myself credit for, so yay!

Two, and infinitely more important, I bailed on my idea (my “deal” as Napier would say) when someone else came out with a different idea. Ok, that’s not the important part. I often do that. The important part was that I was aware of it immediately. I had already committed to the new thing and chose to stick with it because it was fun, but the very next beat, I came out with an initiation that walked all over something someone else had started to say, and I just kept right on with my deal. That warrants a very huge YAY!

YAY for me!

Level 4 - Harold, Class #4, Ross White

Ok, where am I? A week behind, as usual, that’s where.

More than halfway through this class. I don’t feel like it should be that far. It used to feel like these classes lasted forever. Now they’re over too soon. And it’s made even worse by the fact that I missed the first one.

We worked on beats last Tuesday night. Different ways to play beats are… well, I already typed this last time I took a Harold class. From my entry of Feb 12th:

We worked on beats tonight. On different ways to play second and third beats.
· Same characters at different times in their lives – a time jump.
· Same characters in different situations – ordinary, somewhat extraordinary, way over the top
· Same characters in different environments.
· Different characters in the same situation or with the same dynamic. You could be an animal in the second beat.

All well and good, but there is another: One strong character in completely different situations with different accompanying characters. I’ve seen Scott Jennings do this and it was lots of fun to watch. We did not actually manage to do this one in this class, but I am keeping it in my bag of tricks for later, because it is awesome.

We did first beats followed by several second beats to explore how many different possibilities there are. Then we did the first beat of two scenes, followed by three second beats, in no particular order.

One thing I noticed, well, I noticed two things. One is that I am better at second beats than I gave myself credit for, so yay!

Two, and infinitely more important, I bailed on my idea (my “deal” as Napier would say) when someone else came out with a different idea. Ok, that’s not the important part. I often do that. The important part was that I was aware of it immediately. I had already committed to the new thing and chose to stick with it because it was fun, but the very next beat, I came out with an initiation that walked all over something someone else had started to say, and I just kept right on with my deal. That warrants a very huge YAY!

YAY for me!

Monday, May 24, 2004

Incubator practice, Week 7, Jon Karpinos coaching

May 24, 2004, 12:16 AM
Lisa P
Cat Lady Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: DSI Commune, NC
Posts: 1,856


This has become a Sunday night ritual, but I guess it won’t be for long. Tomorrow will be the last of the Incubator practices. I’m glad I understand that fun, like happiness, is a decision. I’m glad I made the right decision.

Last Monday we began throwing the balls as usual, but it got really crazy and we just lost control of them. They were flying everywhere and hitting us in the face and head and back and boobs (that was me). As we stopped for a break, someone said it was like spherical suicide.

After all the discussion about trying to find a name (I tried to tell them it would come to us when it was time) I just turned around and said “You know that’s it, right?” And so it was. We are Spherical Suicide.

Jon had invited some friends to come watch us, and Ethan and Jeff came, too, and we rocked out with a couple of montages. It was so much fun, and I felt really good about it.

Afterwards we went to Armadillo Grill and Jon bought us each our beverage of choice and we just hung out and had a really good time. Bryan and Kit started dubbing for the muted news commentators and were hilarious. A good time was had by all.

And, yes, I kissed him back.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Level 4 - Harold, Class #3, Ross White

Tuesday night we talked about group mind and all compared notes on how we had experienced it and how it affects our play. Pretty much everyone agreed that it has a lot to do with trust. We feel the group mind with people we have spent a lot of time with and really trust. A few of us described having felt connections with individuals we play with, group mind with a group of two, I guess.

Then we worked on group games. We worked on a bunch of different types of games. So many that I tried to write them all down but I know I missed some.

We did an invocation, which I had read about in Truth in Comedy, but if I had ever seen it I wasn’t aware of what it was. I really enjoyed it, though it felt strange at first. Kevlar used it for their opening on Friday night, and it was cool watching it in action after having done it in class.

We worked on hosted group games, which I enjoy participating in but am afraid to host, which is funny because in the last Harold class I hosted one and had a really good time doing it.

We played Slacker, which reminded me of the LaRonde. A two person scene starts and then someone leaves (either one of the original two or a walk on). Then the game follows the person who leaves into the next quick scene, someone leaves, we follow that person, and on and on. It was really fun, but we kept forgetting that our scenes were ending when someone left. It was like, “Ok, bye. Now, as I was saying…” I’d like to work on that one some more, because so much fun stuff can happen there.

We did supported two person scenes. I started one washing dishes with Laura and gossiping about the people in the other room, several of whom began to appear in the kitchen. That was fun, and after we talked about it more, I saw how much more fun it could be to see what was happening and really play the shit out of it.

We talked about monologues, but we didn’t do any. That’s just as well, since I remain convinced that my supply of stories is severely limited and I don’t want to use them all in class.

We finished up by invoking “Circus” (we misheard the suggestion of “Circuits”) and then doing three scenes and a game. It was really fun, and I felt so much better when we were done than I did after the last class. Good thing I didn’t decide to quit. I’d have missed out on the good stuff.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Incubator practice, Week 6, Jon Karpinos coaching

I’m tired, but I did improv tonight, so you’re stuck with me till I unwind.

We threw the balls again – I think we’ve done that almost every practice, and if I had my way, it would always be the start of every practice ever. It is so awesome when all the balls are in the air and everyone is just moving without thinking. This is the most perfect improv warmup ever.

Once we started playing, we all seemed to be just doing ourselves in different scenes. Jon had us get in a circle and play something like Hot Spot, only with characters instead of songs. It was fun. I was a Southern housewife and a dinosaur (not at the same time, but wouldn’t that be awesome?).

It must have worked, because after that we had some stronger characters. In one montage, I think almost all of us had accents. I was still feeling somewhat stymied by the in my head thing. It bugged me all weekend, including the TLAG show. I hope I get over it by tomorrow night, because I don’t want to waste any more time in the Level 4.

But this is not about the Level 4. It’s about Incubators. We perform in a couple of weeks. I am looking forward to this. I know a couple of us are stage virgins, but they’re ready, and we’ll rock out and have fun.

Oh, and I managed to make out with both Bryan and Kit, so all in all, it was a good practice.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Level 4 - Harold, Class #2, Ross White

Next up. I started the Level 4 Harold class Tuesday night (everyone else started last week while I was at the Buffett concert people watching and drinking beer and singing about sharks and volcanoes and cheeseburgers).

This was a hard night. I got in my head right at the start and just never did find my way out. I was ready to cry by the end of the second hour. We did a lot of exercises, and exercises always make me start thinking too hard about what I’m supposed to be doing. Improv death, but how else can you learn?

The class ate my brain and I don’t really remember a lot of it. I remember starting to have fun a couple times but then thinking “Game? Is that the game?” and then losing both the fun and the game. I just did crappy scenework all night long, but I know I can do better. I know I have done better. So I’m not quitting this week.

Maybe next week.

But probably not.

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Incubator practice, Week 5, Jon Karpinos coaching

Ok, I’m down two and will have another due tomorrow. Better get down to it.

I’ve done this class/practice group thing enough times to know that it’s all a little uncertain at first – everyone is trying to figure out where they fit and how everyone else plays. You wonder if it’s going to work at all. Then suddenly you gel. You realize you’re playing as a team, taking care of each other and anticipating each other. That’s when the real fun starts.

The fifth Incubator practice was the best night yet. We actually got down to business with montages and really worked together as a team. We had so much fun. I wish I could elaborate, but I’ve let too much time elapse and now I don’t remember all the wonderful stuff we did.

I do remember all of us working hard on the negativity problem. We didn’t argue nearly as much as we have been in past practices. I was really glad about that. It gets discouraging when all the scenes are about people not liking each other or insulting each other and never finding a way to agree about anything.

The most fun I had was in the montage we did where Kit and I started out as a couple in the crawlspace under a creepy house and then wound up in a later scene as that same couple, now bickering ghosts haunting the house.

What was cool was that as soon as Bryan established that he and Lauren were in that house, I think Kit and I both had the same idea at the same time. I started making ghost noises and Kit was suddenly at my elbow doing it too.

Me: [spooky voice]“This is my house.”[/spooky voice]
Kit: [spooky voice]“This is our house.”[/spooky voice]

Man, that was fun! I can’t wait till tomorrow night.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Incubator practice, Week 4, Jon Karpinos coaching

HA! No procrastinating for me tonight.

We played with the balls again to start. I really do love that warm-up. I was telling Jon how I was thinking it really is about more than just energy or focus. When we get to the point where nine of us are throwing six or seven balls at once, it’s about trust. At that point we are just reaching out to catch the ball without even looking and then throwing it to the next person right away.

We trust that we won’t get hit in the face (unless the ball hits a basketball) and we trust that the next person will be ready to catch. Sometimes we drop a ball, but it’s cool because whoever can pick it up first just throws it to the next person and we keep on playing. Scenes like that are good.

We had kind of a short practice tonight because Jon wanted to talk with each of us about what we feel we need to work on and how the team is going for us. I thought it was great. Jon and I talked about the main thing I want to work on. Same as always – confidence and making stronger choices. And I told him how impressed I am with everyone’s commitment. Everyone in this group wants to learn and do well.

I also liked waiting for our turns at Wendy’s and in the hallway. That was some good bonding time. We haven’t really had the chance to do that yet. We just all hung out and joked and shared stories and picked on Bryan. We took bets on when Todd would say something inappropriate. He was on a time delay tonight, which threw us off a little. This was not wasted time, even if it may have seemed like it was. And I think Katie even got a little homework done (amazing, given all the noise and tomfoolery).

In addition to the talking, we did a bunch of fun, quick two person scenes. And then Mike, Lauren and I got to do a three person scene at the end. This is the halfway point, and I have to say, I think we’re doing pretty great. I like us.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Incubator practice, Week 3, Jon Karpinos coaching

I let this slide again. I am finding that I am getting more out of classes and practices when I record my notes, but sometimes it’s hard to sit down and put everything into words.

We threw the balls around again and it was so cool when we had six different balls all flying through the air at once. Then we learned that when a softball hits a basketball in midair it can bounce off in an unexpected direction. And we learned that softball is a misnomer. They are actually quite hard. Then we learned that you can toss a wallet around, but that when it hits a basketball in midair the wallet will explode and shower its contents all over the room. (I’ll bring a tennis ball tomorrow night, Jon).

We worked on group scenes and did several of the exercises Jeff Griggs had us doing in the DSIF workshops on ensemble scenework. We first had a brainstorming session where we came up with the worst ever ad campaigns for various products. We all threw out crazy ideas and agreed that they were BRILLIANT! We wound up with some really wild, somewhat disturbing stuff and it was huge fun.

Then we did some three and four person scenes. It’s challenging to try to establish different relationships with several different people in a scene, but I think we all did pretty well. I especially had fun being the teacher who completely loses it with the kids at the zoo (all except the one with ADHD, because he couldn’t help being a pain in the ass).

Then we played seven person scenes. The first one we did was really good. We had great relationships and a really awesome environment. We were in a baseball stadium and we had about four chairs. Kit sat on the back of one and I sat on the seat and with that we all agreed that these were the bleachers. I could really imagine us in the cheap seats of a stadium. That was a really fun and easy scene.

The next scenes we did were not as clear and not as much fun. We were kind of muddled, and we often wound up arguing with each other. That is something I have noticed about our scenes sometimes, and it makes them feel unsatisfying. I hope we can work toward agreement more often.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Level 1, Ross White, Class #5

Game. What is it, where is it and how do I play it? This was a tough class. I had fun, but I was tired by the end of it. We warmed up and started playing pun games. Actually, Ross put on his English teacher hat and started us with word webs first; throwing out words and having us think of related words in different categories (that I should have written down because I knew I wouldn’t remember them). I have a tendency toward linear thinking that really limits me sometimes. It would probably do me a lot of good to practice this exercise by myself, trying to blow out the words as much as possible.

I did surprise myself when we did ‘post-modernism’. I don’t know anything about it, and instead of standing around I just made shit up. Tee hee. Correct me if I’m wrong, Eric, but I bet we won’t find the works of Franklinton in the art museum anywhere. Good for me. I hope I can do that more often, because it was fun.

I have trouble with ass genius because I always worry that it will sound stupid, and I always feel like it has to make perfect sense.

Hmmm. I just deleted most of the above paragraph talking about why I worry about sounding stupid, because something much more important (and less self indulgent) revealed itself.

This is not just a confidence issue for me. It is a trust issue, really. I need to learn to relax and trust that my teammates will make sense of it. All I need to do is provide the information, real or made up, logical or ridiculous. They’ll justify me and I’ll justify them.

Oh, there definitely is a confidence issue here, too. It’s not that I don’t have the confidence to be able to play the scene, but that I don’t have the confidence that I can adequately support my teammates. I am afraid of letting them down. How can I trust my teammates if I don’t trust myself? How can they trust me? Personal history plays a huge role in this, I guess. No, I don’t guess, I know it does, both in trusting others and in trusting myself. Gotta love the improv as therapy.

So, something to focus on: trusting my teammates to completely support my stupid stuff and trusting myself to support theirs.

Aaaaanywayyy. After we did the word webs we played pun games, which I usually love and do well at. I was feeling pretty lame, but I still had fun anyway. I love me some stupid word jokes.

Then we worked on identifying and playing the game. We did this by doing a two person scene in a car. Ross did this exercise for the first time in my first 101 class and it really does help to peel away all the extra stuff so we can concentrate just on the game. I enjoyed the first scene with Pete and was pleased to find that I saw the game immediately.

The second time I was with Mike. This was another little breakthrough for me, because I muscled Ethan out by refusing to accept that I was the third person in our odd game of music-less musical chairs and sitting in Mike’s lap instead of backing down. I usually politely back down and let the other person go instead of me, both in classes and in shows (hell, in life, too). It’s not because I’m all that courteous. I’m just chickenshit. I have to work on that more if I don’t want to keep missing out on the happy.

The scene with Mike was really tough for both of us. We talked about it later. We were just so in our heads trying to figure out how to heighten the game. We saw the game; we just couldn’t find the way to play it like we wanted to. I am sure the scene was just as grueling to watch as it was to play. But it was a learning experience as all scenes are.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Incubator practice, Week 2, Jon Karpinos coaching

Don't bother scrolling up to look for week 1. It's not there. It's in my head and in my heart, though.

I had so much fun at Incubator practice that I meant to come right home and document it. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, they say. Let’s see how much of it I can get down on virtual paper now.

We started out throwing balls around, and I actually didn’t hit anybody in the face or destroy any light fixtures. I usually do throw like a girl, for real. It’s been a family joke for years.

We threw balls to a person in the center who threw them to someone else as we walked around, then we threw them to each other in a pattern, kind of like “Where the F**k’s the Celery?” (I’ve no idea why I’m suddenly being polite here – just in the mood, I guess). This was a great focus exercise and I hope we do it again, because it was a lot of fun.

We worked on environment, which was cool after last week’s Level 1 class. Good reinforcement for me to remember to take advantage of environment and object work to help me with my confidence issues.

We created environments and did scenes in them. We created a shoe store and Kit and Bryan did a funny scene about old people stealing the shoes while the owner was away, and they played with all the stuff we had put into the environment.

When Todd and I took our turn, I assumed we’d just be doing another scene, but he initiated what was essentially a second beat, making us the owners returning to our ransacked store. That turned into something really fun, as we managed to touch on and heighten each of the elements Bryan and Kit had introduced.

I can’t stress to myself enough how much more comfortable I feel while miming something. I did some cooking, which is something I don’t have to think too hard about (I may not cook much now, but I used to be a fiend in the kitchen). I had fun in that scene with Kit. We found a pretty neat relationship and game there, with both of us continuing our chosen activities without comment, and I was never at a loss for words.

Later in the practice, Kit and I had what may be my favorite scene ever. It wasn’t really funny at all, but was real and sweet and I felt very grounded in it. It was just a short scene about a widow and widower talking on the front stoop of their apartment building. I felt like I knew these people, and I would love to have continued the conversation so I could find out what happened to them. Nice. Very nice

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Level 1, Ross White, Class #4

Wow, class number four already. It's going by too fast.

The focus was on environment. I love playing in my environment, but strangely enough, I don’t often remember to do it. That’s a shame, too, because I have a much easier time getting out of my head when I am fiddling with the things in the environment we create. I have to remember to give myself things to hold and use more often.

We warmed up and started doing scenes pretty quickly. I started with Pete in a barbershop and played with the clippers, etc. I also got to do a scene with Paul where I was sitting in a car and playing with all the stuff inside it. That was fun. It was so easy to just say what came naturally when I was doing something.

We painted environments and did scenes in them. I inadvertently challenged myself by referencing D&D when I know absolutely nothing about it. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me afraid of and, but when I started to play with the little figurines it didn’t matter. I started having fun with it.

We shaped things with invisible clay and killed each other with different objects. Then we played Last Action Joke. My Arnold is terrible, but I guess everyone’s is, so that’s cool.

I was feeling kind of weak Thursday night, and it was particularly healthy for me to be working with tangibles, even though they were imaginary. It was helpful to be able to concentrate on how something is shaped, what it weighs, how it is held and used. It got me out of my head on a couple of different levels. I needed that. I had kind of locked myself in there last week, and there are still some dark, scary corners in there, though the lighting is a lot better than it used to be.

Friday, April 2, 2004

Level 1, Ross White, Class #3

I am continually impressed at the fact that no matter what group I find myself with in DSI, it is always fun. These people are talented and funny and just plain fun to be with. It’s no wonder we all love each other so much here. We’re pretty damn amazing.

We played Zip, Zap, Zop and changed it up, first with the beginning sounds, then phrases and then reactions to the phrases passed to us. We determined that Steve has a sweet ass and I was high. One of those things was not true. I don’t get high.

Oh, I forgot to mention that we were joined by our fearless leader, Zach. It’s always a treat to hang out with Zach, and it will be wonderful to have him home finally. He seemed impressed by the way Ross had conditioned us to be walking advertisements for Inside Improv. To achieve this, Ross and Zach used sophisticated brainwashing techniques, like giving us all a sense of ownership in the community so that we feel invested in its success. Very devious.

We warmed up some more with Bippity, Bippity, Bop. I had mad fun with this. It’s funny, I really hated this game whenever I played it at ComedyWorx. I don’t know why. But it was just so silly and fun last night, and I don’t think I will ever fail to enjoy it again. Yay! A new favorite warm-up.

We mirrored each other being big brother/little sister, anal retentive boss/slacker employee (Ross and Mike seemed somewhat familiar with that dynamic, though I guess their version would be slacker boss/slacker employee) and clean roommate/dirty roommate. Crazy fun. I love mirroring.

The focus of the evening was want and relationship. We circled up and took turns going around initiating and then naming each other in our responses. It is a wonder how a simple detail like a name can help characters know each other. Cultures all over the world believe that names have power. Maybe we endow each other with power by naming each other. It makes us think about our partner, who they are, and who we are to have the right to give them a name, and therefore an identity.

Maybe I spend way too much time thinking about this shit.

We played scenes where we had wants we needed to strive for. The three new guys played a scene where Paul was a woman and Steve and Joe were both alpha males trying to get her attention. They, after only two Level 1 classes, found the game of that scene and played it for all it was worth. They will be great players if they stick with us. I hope they do.

I got to play a fun “women in prison” scene with Lauren. I wound up being a lesbian again. I have been lesbians and blue-collar Northeastern guys an awful lot lately. Is it possible I am having an orientation conflict I am unaware of? If so, I guess it belongs in the other journal, huh?

We played Oscar Winning Moment and Love, Hate, Funny. I had never played that one before. I really felt good about the work I did and I enjoyed the games. It’s been a long time since I enjoyed short form games, and that’s too bad, because they’re fun when you let them be. Again, seeing things through fresh eyes changes one’s outlook.

I worked hard last night and managed to make some headway with anding. It is an uphill battle for me. I know what I want in scenes, but am afraid to ask. I do that in my offstage life, too, so I guess I’m playing real.

That makes me wonder. I recently made a decision to start asking for what I want in life. Is it possible that achieving that goal in my life is what I need to do to be able to achieve it on the stage? Maybe I am onto something here.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Level 1, Ross White, Class #2

Again, I am making no promises as to the sequence of the games and exercises we did. I will have to try to remember to bring a pencil and paper. We did an amazing amount of work last night. This class really gets it, and it’s fun to be with them.

We warmed up a little with Bunny and Zip, Zap, Zop. We did some sound and movement. I remember the first time I did that I was really uncomfortable. These people didn’t seem uncomfortable at all, for the most part. We’ll have to play it a couple more times for them to really enjoy it, but they’ll get there, I can tell.

We talked about improv and what we saw last weekend. Only Ethan and I had seen any. We described what we had seen that was learned in the first class. That was awkward for me, I don’t know about Ethan, because we both described shows that we were in, not shows we had seen. Funny thing was, neither one of us actually revealed that we were in the shows. We described them as if we had watched them. We’re odd birds, we improvisers.

We played games with walking – doing different walks, adding some talk, giving each other our walk and talk, taking the walk and talk. It was really fun. I hadn’t played that before.

We did something else I had heard of but had never done before. We lifted each other to the ceiling chanting “I am” “Lisa” (or Ethan or whatever, you get the point). When Joanna had told me about it I thought it sounded crazy. I was glad I never had to do it because I am heavier than most people realize.

Ross wondered why I said I was scared to do it. As many of his classes as I have taken, I have never done that exercise. Dumb luck, I guess. Actually it was really cool. I was terrified and thrilled to see the ceiling tiles coming toward my face, and in fact I never did feel like my classmates would drop me. Which is, of course, the point of the exercise.

We drew a “web page” on the chalkboard and then on the wall. I still struggle with the and. :roll: ( I have to remind myself that I gave me permission to use the smilies in this journal.)

We played Story, Story Die. We told that great old story, “The Pigs Who Knew Too Much”. Loads of fun. Everybody had fun dying.

Ross asked me to pick a game and I picked Match Game, where one person says a word and the next person says the first word that comes to them, then we all repeat both words and say “Doot, doo. Doot.”

We did two person scenes. I love doing scenes, poor "and" skills notwithstanding. In the first one, one of us left the room and the other was given a want. One wanted his scene partner to kiss him; another wanted her partner’s shoes. They were surprisingly successful at conveying their wants.

I wanted my partner to build me a hobby horse. I managed to get him to know I wanted a pony. Almost had success, but in the process I ignored an amazing offer in order to play the game that had been imposed on the scene, thus sacrificing good scenework in favor of a gimmick. Yuk.

We did some scenes where we were doing a mundane activity and carrying on a conversation. Ethan and I were polishing our bikes at a bike rally. This was a fun scene, but I really feel like I could have gotten to the point a little quicker.

We went out after class to hang out and play some pool and have some beers and bond. New guys, Paul and Steve, hung with us. We had a lot of fun and I look forward to spending time with this class.

edit: Rereading this post this morning, I feel like it is more a list of what we did than any kind of documentation of my growth. I need to pay more attention to what I am trying to learn. Otherwise, I am wasting my time, Ross's time and my classmates' time.

That is especially true in this class. There is so much to learn in Level 1 and they are working hard to learn it. I owe it to them and to myself to work just as hard. I need to stop approaching the exercises as just games and scenes and really look hard at what I should be learning.

So, the one of the things we worked on in this class was the idea that we are only responsible for our share of the work in the scene. If there are five of us telling a story, we are only responsible for one fifth of the story. As individuals each doing one fifth of the scene, we can't control the other four fifths, and shouldn't be worrying about where the story is going. We need to trust our scenemates to get it there.

That being said, I personally have to remember that I am responsible for my share of the work. If there are five of us, I need to do one fifth of the scene. As an individual doing one fifth of the scene, I need to contribute my one fifth and trust that if I say the stupidest thing in the world, my scenemates will make it brilliant.

That's what we do - we support each other. That's why I love improv.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Level 1, Ross White, Class #1

A coworker was telling me about his weekend plans to jack up part of the foundation of his house. Seems it was beginning to settle. They realized that there were cracks forming in the walls around the doorways. You don’t really notice those things when you live there and see them every day. But you can be sure that visitors notice them.

It’s important to check the foundation every once in a while. The bad habits may be small and you aren’t aware of them. But other people see them. And they will surely get worse if you don’t do anything about them.

Feeling the need to reinforce my foundation, I decided to retake the Level 1. I first took it about a year ago. In fact, Wednesday will be exactly a year from the first day of that class. I had no idea where I was going at the time. Still don’t, but I continue to be surprised and delighted by the journey.

Do I really need the Level 1? Maybe not. I know the basic concepts. Yes, and. If that, then what? Look for the nipples on the clovers (ok, that’s a Level 3 concept, but it’s just too much fun to leave out). As Scott pointed out in Level Elevendy Billion, at a certain point we internalize these things and no longer have to think about them. I don’t think that means we should completely stop paying attention to them.

I have weaknesses that I have been depending on my scene partners to cover for. This is not fair to them, to the audience and most importantly to myself. Specifically, I suffer from a persistent lack of confidence. This thing has been dogging me for years in all areas of my life and I plan to defeat it. Improv as Therapy, The sequel.

I believe this will be a fun class. The group is wonderfully diverse and everyone has lots of good energy to share. There are a couple of others repeating the class – Ethan and Mike. I haven’t been in a class with either of them yet, so yay! Mike’s girlfriend, Lauren is with us, too. She is very sweet, and I am glad he has convinced her to join us. We are not a cult.

We also have Paul, the very cool rock and roll guy who teaches swing dancing. Steve, the HR trainer – lots of energy, and it’s nice to have someone closer to my age around for a change. Joe, another cool guy, who works at the Y (Sorry, channeling Dr. Seuss). And Pete and Jeff, the freakishly intelligent high schoolers.

Laine, visiting from Utah, joined us for this one class, too. Sadly, she had to go back to Utah. Something about a job and a life and all. We’ll get her yet.

We started out with Zip, Zap, Zop. Then we passed the clap and added a bear, a lame doctor and something else I can’t remember. We played Bunny, bunny, bunny and changed it up Utah style. We played Bippty, bippity, bop, again adding some Utah flair.

It was fun playing these old games in new ways, and it was really fun playing them with people who were playing them for the first time. Seeing the games through fresh eyes really adds a level of fun to them. I can see why Ross loves teaching the Level 1.

We played a game I had never played before – Bear, alien, salesman. We split into groups of three and stood with our backs to each other, counted to three and turned around with the appropriate sound and motion for one of those three things. The goal was for all three of us to be doing the same one when we turned around. This was a lot of fun.

The first group I was in was successful almost every time. As we changed groups around it was not as consistently successful, but I noticed that there were some who would turn around with a neutral pose and adapt to the rest of the group almost instantly. I realized I was doing that, too.

I’m always saying the group mind is a psychic thing, but it really has a lot to do with the ability to observe and quickly adapt to what the group is doing. I still say a lot of us are psychic, though.

We played It’s Tuesday and everyone did really well. I am always anxious playing It’s Tuesday. You can’t hide in two lines. If you don’t do your share, it is instantly obvious. Though I am sure my hiding is pretty obvious to most anyway.

We played longer scenes and then replayed them with accents and styles. I tried to make a point of not being last to go up. That is step one of my plan to defeat the confidence problem. Important things to remember toward this goal: I think, I feel, I want. We played scenes where Ross prompted us to use one of those things to further the scene.

This will be a fun, challenging class. I plan to have my foundation well jacked up by the time it’s done.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Advanced Scenework, Class #5, Scott Jennings

Ok, one more and then I’m all caught up.

This was the last Advanced Scenework class, and I was sad to see it end. The commitment of the people in this class has been phenomenal and so valuable to us all getting the most out of it.

Scott made me start the warmup, which for some reason made me feel self conscious. Isn’t that strange? So we played zip zap zop. Spell Check says zop is not a word. Hah! I fixed it.

Scott told us he wanted us to do scenework that would stay with us for a lifetime. Or something like that. I have to stop waiting a week to write up my notes. We rocked some awesome scenes and had a lot of fun. I can’t say enough about how concentrating on the relationship has made me feel more confident in my play.

I believe I attempted to seduce Dave in at least two scenes. Ahhh, tradition.

We sat down and had what has apparently become the obligatory talk about why we do improv, though it was my first time doing it in a class. I knew when it came to be my turn I would have the sappiest reason and be the most emotional about it. How very girly.

The guys were nice though, and didn’t roll their eyes or anything. After all, Dave and Eric were in my earliest classes and witnessed a couple of very real emotional breakdowns. It was Eric who snapped me out of the screaming rage trance (Rage?).

I’m sure poor Austin has no idea what a mess I was when I began, which is funny, because he actually bore the brunt of the one really therapeutic scene I had, where I yelled at him for being shallow and manipulative. I think I hurt his feelings.

Scott opened the floor to questions, and Eric asked how, if we wanted to ground a scene in relationship, we should play with a scene partner who was just using exposition. Scott was inspired to try this as an exercise.

He had us do two person scenes where one of us would keep starting with the same who, what, where initiations until we were able to successfully yes, and with the relationship instead of more who, what, where. It was challenging, but really fun and a good learning experience.

It was during this exercise that Tom gave Scott a twenty minute warning. “You only have twenty minutes left to make her cry.”

He never did.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Level 3L - Harold, Jon Karpinos in for Ross White, Class #6

Ok, it’s about time I sat down and did what I promised myself I would do. This is not so much a journal at this point as it is a memoir.

The last Harold class was taught by the lovely and talented Jon Karpinos, since… what was his name again? Oh, yes, Rob, no, ahhh… Ross. That’s it. Ross White had some really pressing day job kind of stuff going on. Kidding. We love you, Ron.

We warmed up with a lively game of Shame, which is now our favorite warm-up game. Shame is the game we played when we did that exercise where the group just starts playing a game and understands the rules as we go. It is an awesome game, and I feel safe saying that any one of us would be glad to teach it to you if you want to learn it. Jon had us heighten it until it became insane fun. Yay, Jon! Yay us!

We did a couple of Harolds, with varying success. Some good stuff, some ehhh stuff. We did one where we all just kind of got lost. We knew we didn’t have to follow the form strictly, but we strayed so far that some of us stopped playing (me, of course) because we didn’t know where we were.

After that we had a long discussion about the form that finally tired Jon so much that he just said he didn’t want to talk about it any more, that it was clear that we knew the form and we just needed to do it. It was kind of cool watching as everyone, including me, realized that we did know it. The next one we did was more fun.

We all sat around and talked about our strengths. I don’t remember if I said I even had a strength. Oh, yeah, I remember. I said I was strong on Yes. Suzanne added “, and”, but I said “No, just yes”. That is the oddest sentence, isn’t it? “No, just yes.”

After we each told our own strength, the rest of the group told what they thought our strengths were. To my surprise and delight, one of mine was “strong choices” followed by an example. Another was that I was “good at bringing the scene back to the relationship”. Thank you, Scott Jennings!

Woo hoo! I am learning some stuff. I was right in thinking that the two classes at once would be beneficial. Sometimes I know what I am doing.

When we did the last Harold of the night, the last Harold before our performance, we rocked so hard. What a wonderful finish to the class. Kit and I concluded that what we needed to do for our Friday night class show was to meet early and do three Harolds before the show so that the one on stage would be great, since that seemed to be our pattern.

We didn’t wind up doing that, but we did do a really fun show. I was not in any of the scenes, but I played the group games and had a blast. I had a good reason to stand back, and the scenes were great and did not need me, and I will not take any more shit about it. You know who you are. No, not you. I haven’t heard any shit from you, but I know you were thinking it.

All in all, a wonderful class. I am very happy I took it, and I will take it again from a different teacher (although I was treated to three of them this go-round). People, if you haven’t done it yet, re-take the same classes from different DSI instructors. You will learn tons and tons and you won’t regret it, I promise.

Saturday, March 6, 2004

DSIF4 Workshops

I can tell you right now that I will not be able to do these workshops justice because I waited too damn long to write this. What you see are the things that stand out in my mind, but there was a lot more that I have hopefully internalized.

The First Thirty Seconds, Anthony King
Ok, this was a great workshop, but the main standout is that Anthony King is HAWT.

We all got used to each other and let Anthony know who he was working with by doing some real quick scenes. As usual, I was impressed and thoroughly intimidated by everyone else.

We did some two person scenes where we gave ourselves an emotion about the other person. I couldn’t begin to tell you what emotion I chose and I was still too in my head about not wanting to suck in front of all these people, so I didn’t have as much fun with that as I should have.

We managed to do a surprising number of scenes considering the number of people in the workshop, but there were a lot of DSI’ers there, and we all found ourselves waiting to jump into scenes so we could play with the new people. In the end, I was able to play with a couple of people I didn’t know, though two of my scenes were with the same person. I really enjoyed them, though, and wished I had the chance to play more scenes with him.

The last thing we did was a two person scene where one of us started with an activity and the other joined and we had a conversation. That was really fun, and I was happy with myself. I played that with Ethan and I was glad, since I haven’t had a chance to play with Ethan since Philly.

Ensemble Scenework, Jeff Griggs
Again, HAWT. So HAWT. How am I supposed to learn anything from these guys when they are just there being so damn sexy?

We did a lot of warming up – protector, passing the clap and so forth. We played “assassin” (I assume that’s what it’s called) where we all closed our eyes and Jeff walked among us and designated an assassin by squeezing their arm. Then we all had to wander around with our eyes closed and the assassin would squeeze the arms of the people he encountered and they would be dead and would then get to stand along the wall and watch.

That was a really fun warmup, but I didn’t realize until I was dead and watching the others how much it served to make us listen and be aware of the people around us. When we did it a second time, I noticed that I was really able to sense when someone was nearby, even when they were quiet.

I was, however, completely unaware of the guy crawling on the floor until I fell over him. I managed to keep my eyes closed, but judging by the reactions of the dead people who were watching, it must have been an impressive tumble. I had some trouble after that keeping quiet because I couldn’t stop laughing, but I kept from getting dead for quite a little while.

We did quick scenes and I had a really fun time. I was not so in my head by this time, and was able to just play and not worry so much about it. I think the long warmup helped a lot. This time the only person I knew in the class was Thomas, whom I have never played with, so it was a blast playing with all new people.

We then did scenes where we gave ourselves something, whether it be a physical characteristic or an attitude or a want. I decided to give myself Southern church ladyness.

We all know the church ladies. I don't mean the Dana Carvey type, though I knew one or two of those in my past life as a Southern Baptist. I mean the nice ladies who spend all day Sunday at church related activities and then Tuesday night choir practice and Wednesday prayer meeting. They’re sweet as can be, but I always get the feeling they wish they were allowed more in life.

Thomas wanted me to play basketball, and the scene progressed uncannily along the lines of that church lady wanting more in life, with me feeling guilty about missing church activities to play basketball with him. It was so awesome, and I never lacked for the next thing to say.

After realizing that he had misunderstood the length of the workshop, Jeff finally had us do some group scenes with only something like fifteen minutes to go. We decided to just go late, because we were having such a good time and really wanted to get to the meat of group scenework.

The group scene I was in was in a barbershop. We all had to engage each other two at a time and establish a relationship with each of the other people in the scene (there were five of us). Jeff would “mute” some of the people in the scenes so that the others would have to form relationships with each other.

It was challenging, but not as difficult as I had imagined it would be. It did feel a little chaotic, but we were assured that it did not appear that way from the “audience”. I could see that as I watched the second group do their scene.

I don’t know if I would want to make group scenework a regular part of my play, but I have to say that this taught me a lot about how to handle those times when a bunch of people wind up on stage.

Individual Scenework, Jill Bernard
I believe I got the most from this one, because although Jill is HAWT, she is not my type (girl kissing at the party notwithstanding), so I wasn't distracted.

Jill has so much positive energy and enthusiasm, and if you’re not a better improviser from just being near her and soaking up the awesomeness that she exudes then I don’t know what. I wish Jill would come live with us here in our improv commune.

We did so much in this workshop that I know I will miss something here, and I will certainly never get it all in the right sequence (which matters only to me, I suppose).

We did two person scenes with the most awful initiation possible. As prospectors. That was ridiculous fun, and I think prospectors should be right up there with pirates as improv favorites.

We learned "ralphing", which I think will prove one of the most valuable exercises of the whole weekend for me. We just said “banana, banana, banana, banana” until Jill stopped us and then we made whatever sound came to us and words just fell out of our mouths. I found, to my surprise, that characters accompanied the words, and it was very cool.

We worked on status by playing Wrong Room. We had to come in the door and be high status teachers who put on our glasses after a few lines to discover that we are in the wrong room and switch to low status and make excuses and leave the room.

Some of us had a harder time of it than others. I had to do it three or four times before I got it right. It seems that I am so good at playing low status that even when I am higher than the people I am addressing, I still play a lower status to the imaginary people who are not in the scene. We got some good tips on how to convey status, and I plan to obtain a copy of “Impro” and study it thoroughly.

One of the things Jill said to me that I think is the most important thing I learned from the whole weekend is that I do really well when I give myself something. When I enter a scene holding something or doing something or having a physical characteristic I have a better idea of who I am and I don’t need my scene partner to tell me.

This is something all my teachers have said in all my classes, but I don’t think I have ever worked on it so specifically before, and it really drove home the point. I know that my teachers read my journal, so I’m putting you all on notice. Push me to remember to give myself something.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Level 3L - Harold, Porter Mason in for Ross White, Class #5

Oh faithful improv journal, I have not forgotten you. It is just that there has been so much improv in my life I haven’t had a moment to spare for you.

I have had so much improv since this class that it is all kind of mushed together, but I will try to separate it by class and workshop, if only to maintain the continuity of the journal. I think these will be pretty light, but rest assured, I did learn stuff.

Porter stepped in for Ross this class, and it was great to have a different point of view. I do wish Ross had been there, though, because it was a little disorienting to have someone new there when we did our first full Harold. I respect all our teachers, but they do have different styles, and they take some getting used to.

The first couple of times we ran through the form, we began with a pattern game and I think we technically did pretty well, but we were awkward and uncomfortable. Porter told us to just have fun. We tried Trashcan Jam as an opener and that went well, though it is not one of my favorites. We did pull themes from it, though, and we wound up having fun.

Porter told us we were editing too fast, which was a little confusing, since we have been editing too slow all along. One thing he said about one of our group games, though, was that he wanted to see more of it. Our response was that it meant our edit was perfect.

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Level 5 - Advanced Scenework, Class #1, with Scott Jennings

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” 1 Corinthians 13:11

I joked about the fact that I expected Scott to make me cry in this class, but I have seen him giving notes after a show, and he is the proverbial gentle giant, no matter what he would have people think. I really did not expect to cry. At least not yet.

I was expecting a firm, patient, very specific teacher, and I was right. After a few classes, though, if I am still clueless, he may not be so patient. Bring it, Jennings. I like it rough, ask Ross. He has made me cry more than once. I learned from it, though.

After a warm up, we went straight to scenework. Scott started us out right at the top with the goal of trying to overcome the habit of establishing all the external elements of the scene in the first two lines, and getting right to the relationship instead.

Although it was hard to change the usual pattern, I understood what he was looking for, and when I finally got right to it, it felt good. I was confused as to why I had been taught all along to get all that other stuff out first, but as I am typing, I am also understanding, so I am employing the delete key vigorously.

When I started learning improvisation, there was no way I could possibly have comprehended what Scott was telling us today. I needed what he called the “security blanket” of knowing who I was and where I was and what kooky thing we were doing. And I am definitely the player who wants my scene partner to tell me all those things. I’ve been struggling to overcome that for a year.

When I stepped out to play with Corey, he started to initiate something with an activity and Scott stopped him, saying that I had wanted to initiate. That was news to me. I said I didn’t have anything, but Scott insisted that I did. And he was right. I didn’t have a line or a location or any of the things I thought I needed, but I did know I had a crush on Corey’s character.

That was all I needed. It was not a scene I would have wanted to do in a show, but once I understood the thing I wanted, which was for Corey’s character to love me, I didn’t have so much trouble finding the next thing to say.

I wrote in the last post that in the Level 3 - Harold class it is good that all the people are new to me. In this class I am really glad that I have already spent a lot of time playing with everyone else. Dave and Eric have been there with me from my start at DSI, I have had classes with Tom, and I've been taught by Corey. And, thanks to a moment of weakness when TLaG allowed a couple of penises to practice with us, I have even played with Austin.

This is good, because I really sense from this first class that I will need to concentrate all my energy on what Scott is telling me, so I don’t want to have to worry about being shy with my scene partners.

I will learn a lot from this class.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Level 5 - Advanced Scenework, Class #4, Scott Jennings

As I arrived home from class this evening, Mars hung poised over the thin sliver of the crescent moon, as if at any moment it might lose its place in the night sky and just fall and roll back and forth along the curve…

Sorry. Wrong journal. It was pretty, though.

We spent most of the class today working on mirroring each other. We started in a circle, then face-to-face, and back in a circle, slowly mirroring each other’s movements. I saw some people doing tai chi by the lake yesterday, and this exercise reminded me of that.

Then we said “Hello” to each other. We stood in a circle and one of us walked up to another and said hello in some kind of character. The other person mirrored our hello and then walked up to someone else and said a different hello. We kept trying to get bigger and bigger.

And of course someone made me jump up and down. I have noticed that I wind up being led to jump up and down in almost every one of these classes. Since I decided I might occasionally use emoticons in this journal, I will now insert the following: :roll:

Fortunately, I happen to like my boobs. If I ever wind up at Mardi Gras, I will probably have to rent a U-Haul to bring back the beads.

After we all said hello in an amazing variety of ways, we did two person scenes where we were to mirror each other’s characters. Tom and I struggled for a long while trying to settle into what Scott wanted us to do, but we finally managed to be two little children having a tea party.

Both Scott and Ross are still really having to push me to take the initiative and make choices in scenes. I worry that I will never move past this problem. It is born of many long years of conditioning, coupled with a natural shyness and eagerness to please. I think I am gaining ground, but I may always be a follower.

Later scenes were more fun, with Dave and me playing church ladies gone bad and Tom and me again, this time touting the benefits of terminal illness. He could not have known that there was danger in this choice.

Again I see that I can now touch on those subjects most painful to my heart and not dissolve into a puddle as I once did. I grow stronger, and this is part of my growth as an improviser as well as my growth as a human, and so belongs in this journal.

We spent the last half hour being pirates. ARRRRR!!! At first we were pirates doing improv about pirates, but our pirate teacher growled at us and rattled his saber and we then began to be pirates improvising about fathers and sons and men and women and roommates and groceries and all kinds of ordinary things that pirates might encounter when they aren’t out raping and pillaging.

ARRRRR!!! Improv do be a rewarding pastime.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Level 3L - Harold, Ross White, Class #4

This was one of the more fun classes I have ever had. The focus was on group games. I had not realized before how together this group is. Having been with the same group for so long, it felt awkward for me to join a different group that has, for the most part, been together for a little while. But, of course, like all of DSI, they are welcoming and inclusive.

I guess it might seem strange for some of them to read that I felt awkward joining them, as I am already on a team (kudos, btw, to Erik and Kirk, who have just joined house teams) but when a dynamic has been established, it is… I won’t say hard… it is challenging to join it. I will remember that when Throw Like a Girl chooses new Girls.

Anyway, we soon discovered something I think we were only peripherally aware of (at least I was only peripherally aware of it). This group really plays well together. I mean, really, really well. We had so much fun.

I also discovered that Ross White no longer has the power to make me cry. He spent a great deal of the evening yelling at us, but I know it was because we were so close to the point he was trying to make that it drove him nuts. It’s fun to drive Ross nuts.

After warming up, Ross had us make up games. We immediately began playing a really fun game where everyone understood and agreed upon the rules without ever having discussed them. We did it twice, and the second game, which we dubbed “Shame” felt good enough to play again and even pass along to others.

When we began in earnest, Ross attempted to direct us to begin with a hosted group game, but we just wound up playing the game he knew we would play (we called it “Python Pile-on”). This is a group that knows how it likes to play.

We finally did wind up, after a couple of false starts, playing the hosted game, and to my immense surprise, I was the “host” in a fun game of “Gather ‘round, men. It’s the eve of battle.” As I am usually terrified of being the center of attention, this was especially rewarding. It was a really fun game, and I felt completely supported the entire time.

We played trashcan jam, which is always fun, though I fear I will never learn to rap (I love rap). We also played a supported two person scene game.

The things that stood out the most during the evening were:
1. This is a fun f**king group
2. We need to calm down and focus more
3. We need to work on strong editing – there were times during the evening that I wanted to edit, but for some reason I held back. Watch out, you guys, I’m not going to do that anymore. If you don’t want me to be the only person editing from now on, you’d better jump out there. And you may have noticed that I like energetic edits (a result of a Ross bitching out combined with a CeCe Garcia dig) so if you don’t jump out there and edit, you will find me in front of you shaking my boobs (an edit I am particularly fond of in practices). Hmmm… I don’t know if that is helpful or not. I may have to rethink that threat.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Level 5 - Advanced Scenework, Class #3, Scott Jennings

Yesterday’s class was, again, very challenging, and also fun. I think we’ve all been concentrating too hard to have fun up till now (all except Corey, who makes his own fun wherever he goes). That is what Scott is trying to get us to move beyond. We need to learn to stop thinking. To learn to trust that we have internalized all we’ve learned about improv and we don’t need to concentrate on it anymore.

We started out mirroring each other – or at least trying to. We first kept doing sound and motion type stuff, which was not at all what Scott was looking for. He must have felt a little frustrated with us, but he just kept patiently explaining what he’d just finished explaining a few minutes earlier. I think we finally got it in the end, although we were so concerned about repeating the sound and motion thing that all we actually moved were our hands.

Then we did the exercise where we repeated things to each other over and over, but with phrases this time. That was followed by us sitting across from each other and saying the first thing that came to us in response to what our partner said, and back and forth.

It was hard not to plan and build a conversation instead of just responding without thinking. All our lives we’re told to think before we speak. This can be useful advice at times, but not for good, honest scenework.

After we sat and blurted things at each other a little bit, we stood and attempted some scenes like that, just saying the first thing that came to us in response to our partner. That was where it got fun. Maybe I was having fun because Eric and I just complimented and validated each other. I will always take compliments wherever I can get them.

The second time up, Tom and I started out ok, but then wound up just having a strange conversation about how hurt colors would feel if they knew I had different favorites for different situations. We all spent a lot of time talking about colors. And shirts.

We’ll get there. Unfortunately, it is obvious that we need a lot more than five weeks to really get down to the meat of what advanced scenework is. I think we’d need much more time to really begin to get a handle on this. In spite of that, though, I do feel like I am learning a lot.

I want to second Austin’s thanks to everyone for being so committed to this class. It feels really good to work together like this.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Level 3L - Harold, Ross White, Class #3

I am tired, tired, tired. And not yet sufficiently calmed for sleep.

We worked on beats tonight. On different ways to play second and third beats.
· Same characters at different times in their lives – a time jump.
· Same characters in different situations – ordinary, somewhat extraordinary, way over the top
· Same characters in different environments.
· Different characters in the same situation or with the same dynamic. You could be an animal in the second beat.

We started out with sound and motion and I really feel like we did pretty well in finding three disparate themes to play with. We’re getting better at that clover nipple thing (no I will not let it rest – it is golden).

I wound up as a pirate. I love being a pirate, but I need to study pirates more. The most I can really do is “ARRRRR!”. Now “ARRRRR!” is awesome, but it really won’t sustain a whole scene. You’ve got to add a “matey” or a “landlubber” or two in there for variety. Some keel-hauling and plank walking. Swashbuckling variety. ARRRRR, matey, now there’s some fun, right there, it is! Bring me some rum, wench!

We then used monologues to get information for our scenes. I had a little more trouble with that one. My listening skills are not what they should be, but I am working on it. I am, unfortunately, a kinetic learner. I need to write down what I hear in order to retain it. Teaching myself to remember what I hear will be yet another improv skill that will have a positive effect on my life outside of improv.

Still working on the game of the scene thing. In a scene with Suzanne, I kind of thought I was playing the game. When Ross stopped us and pointed out that Suzanne was tellling me what the game was and that I had missed it, I said I guess I had. I hadn't, but I wasn't playing it with much conviction at all, so I was the only one who knew it. I must remember, if I don't play it hard, I'm really not playing it at all.

I also realize that I am often extremely slow on the uptake. Sometimes I just don’t pick up what people are trying to tell me. I really need to work on that if I want have fun in improv. Or in life.

Monday, February 9, 2004

Level 5 - Advanced Scenework, Class #2, Scott Jennings

I imagine the last thing Scott Jennings ever expected was that his teaching would inspire a student to quote scripture.

This class is one of the most challenging things I have done in a long time. I am now fairly certain I will not be crying, because even though I feel inadequate, I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t feel a little inadequate in this class. The playing field is the most level I have yet to encounter.

We are being asked to completely reevaluate everything we think we know about improv. This is not to say we are having to unlearn or relearn anything. We are just having to take it apart and rebuild it in a completely different way. Using sheet aluminum and a screwdriver.

We started with an exercise from some Meisner guy Scott claims is well known. Two of us had to sit across from each other and one had to say the first thing we noticed about the other. The second person had to repeat the word and then we just repeated it over and over to each other until it began to sound like nonsense.

The first go round sounded like something other than nonsense after not too long at all, but Tom and Eric were troopers and stuck with it even after the rest of us began to snicker. We tried hard not to.

We all did this a couple of times, and then we started scenes by repeating a suggestion over and over till we were ready to start a scene. Scott really pushed us hard to work on the relationships and not the situations or the “comedy math” we wanted to fall back on.

The first scene I did wound up being pretty true to life, my old life at least, but when asked to react honestly, I could only fall back on that. It is a measure of my growth that I was not at all shaken by the exchange, but that all belongs in the other journal.

In the second scene, I tried to seduce Corey again. Apparently not convincingly, though, which may explain why I am not getting any, but that is also for the other journal.

This class is hard work. I am enjoying it thoroughly, but I don’t think I would exactly call it fun. Well, yes, it is fun. It is serious fun. It is very satisfying.

Edit: Ahh, tears from an unanticipated source. It is never my desire or intent to make this class more challenging for my classmates than it already is. If I am causing difficulty by doing or failing to do something, please call me on it, as that is how I will learn to be better. I try to make the best choices I can based on my understanding of what the goals of a particular exercise are, and if I am misunderstanding those goals, I need to know it then and there so that I am not wasting everyone else's time.

Saturday, February 7, 2004

Level 3L - Harold, Ross White, class #2

I really must commit to writing these journal entries as soon after class as possible.

The focus of the class was finding the game. I know what that means. I know what to look for: the first unusual thing, the first thing that gets a laugh, the thing that gets repeated. It sounds easy, but sometimes I spend too much time looking for the game and not enough time in the moment of the scene. Other times I forget to look at all. It will come with practice and exercising those improv muscles.

The class was fun. We first played a pattern game to get information for our scenes, and then we used monologues. Ross wants us to learn to get to the three nipples of the clover. That’s right Ross; you will never be able to erase that image from our minds. And we will never forget that we need to start in one place, loop around and then wind up at the starting point again, and again and again.

I attempted to put into practice some of what I learned in the scenework class about directly engaging my scene partner right at the start. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I did not, but I believe I was right in thinking that taking the two classes at the same time will teach me a lot.

We learned about editing – by the time we are thinking, “I wonder if this needs to be edited” we should already have edited. And we discovered how very awkward it is to start to enter a scene and then creep back out again. It makes everyone feel icky, including the audience. If you’re in the scene, you’re in it. Deal with it.

We practiced mirroring each other. This is always great fun, and it is something that Throw Like a Girl enjoys immensely. We always have fun scenes when we start out by mirroring each other.

We talked about keeping what we bring into the scene and not completely dropping it when our scene partner starts something different. Don’t come in visibly angry and then get happy because that’s what your scene partner expects. The audience will wonder where the anger went.

And play real. If we are in love, we don’t hug each other with five inches of space between us or give each other air kisses. We should trust each other enough to risk a real kiss and a convincing embrace.

And Ross attempted to drill into me once more that my not playing looks a lot worse than anything I might do in a scene.

I am enjoying reading my classmates' notes. I am finding them very helpful. Thanks, guys!

Friday, January 30, 2004

I can never sleep after improv

As I stood in the breakroom today babbling about improv to a coworker who had that familiar “deer in the headlights” expression on his face, I realized I need a new journal. An improv overflow valve.

I already keep an improv journal on the IRC. "a leap in the dark…” is about my discovery of improv as therapy and my subsequent discovery of myself. It chronicles the spiritual journey I have taken over the last year, and how improv and my improv family have helped me to grow.

I rarely discuss details about practices, classes or shows in that journal, partly because that is not its purpose, but also because of shyness and lack of confidence. That may sound strange to anyone who reads “a leap in the dark…”, which is at times deeply personal and usually wide open. It is easy to write that stuff. I can speak with complete authority on my personal issues.

What worries me about posting class notes is that people will read them and see that I have completely missed the point and that I don’t actually know anything at all. That is silly. It may also sometimes be true, but so what?

So now I feel the need to document my growth as an improviser. My goal here is to post more improv related stuff, as opposed to the emotional stuff in the IRC journal. Truth is, though, I don’t really think I can completely separate the mechanics of improv from the emotions and still be honest and effective in learning about my scene partners and helping them to learn about me. So you will still get some of the emotional stuff.

Deal with it.

So anyway, notes:

Last night was the first Level 3L – Harold class, taught by Ross White. Most of what we did had been covered in other classes I had taken from Ross, and I think he was aware of that. After class he asked me if I had learned anything.

Hell, yeah! The way I look at it, if I don’t learn something from every improv experience, then I am doing it wrong. I really enjoyed the class, and there are some elements of it that will help me immensely. The biggest thing, of course, is that I am learning Harold.

One of the other really valuable things, though, is that everyone is new to me. I know Kit well, and have had a couple of conversations with Andrew and Jeff, but for the most part I just met everyone else for the first time Saturday night, and I have never played with any of them.

I have been playing with mostly all the same people almost since I started improvising. I love them, and we know each other so well at this point that I would feel prepared to jump on a stage with any of them without warning and do a show. This is a good thing, but I need to work on playing comfortably with new people. Last night I followed my usual pattern of hanging back to watch how everyone else played. I want to get to the point where I can get up with someone I have never seen before and just play.

I have done it before, so I know I can. I still remember playing my first scene in a DSI class. I was late (it’s a pattern with me, so sue me!) and I walked in, sat down and Ross said “Lisa, get up there” and I got back up, grumbling, and did a very short scene with Dave Siegel, having never laid eyes on him before in my life. I don’t remember the scene, probably because it was not memorable, but I will never forget the cool feeling.

Dave remains one of my favorite scene partners. We have since done a lot of fun scenes in classes and shows, but he will always be my first DSI scene partner (and I have never stopped hitting on him, in spite of the fact that I have houseplants older than he is).

Back to notes, bear with me; this will take some getting used to.

We worked on openings.

We started with Sound and movement. Well, everyone else did. I was late (who was surprised?). Seriously, I-40 was a parking lot, blahdy, blahdy, blah. Fortunately, we got the chance to do it again later.

This is an exercise I have never really been satisfied with except once or twice in Throw Like a Girl practice. I will welcome the chance to work on it some more. We just start moving together and making the same sounds, gradually heightening what we’re doing and hopefully we achieve a group mind and begin making the same new sounds and movements all together, as if we knew beforehand.

Then we talked very briefly about Harold as a form. TLaG does a deconstruction. We have a lot of fun with it, and it suits our temperaments and our goals well, so I don’t imagine we will change any time soon, but I do want to study Harold. It seems to me the same as learning to drive a stick shift. Once you’ve mastered that, you can drive anything.

Next we did monologues. I like monologues. My 202 (now Level 2) class wanted to do just Armando as our class show. We wound up playing games, too, but our first longform love was Armando. Back then, I told Ross that I didn’t have that many stories, and he said “Yes, you do. You tell me stories all the time!” I worried about the time when I would have to come up with more. Last night I wound up sharing two stories I had never told before. Much fun.

We learned a pattern game. I have done something similar, but not quite like this. We were given a word, then we thought of the word inspired by that word but did not verbalize that one. Instead, we said the word inspired by the one we had thought of. Very, very cool. After we did that a couple of times, we had to try to get back to the original word - pants. It started with me, went around and was fireman when it got back to me. Suspenders. Pants. YAY! I actually mimed the suspenders without thinking.

And we also did some scene painting. This is also something I have a lot of fun with, but I want to learn more about what to do with the themes that come out of it. Well, yeah, that’s why I’m in the class, isn’t it? I want to work hard on listening and even harder on capturing all the details and being able to pull them out and use them when they are just what the scene needs.

I am very excited about this class.