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.