Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lofty thoughts

I am a spiritual person, specifically a Christian, but my spiritual journey has taken me in a lot of different directions.

No, that's not right. My spiritual journey has taken me in only one direction - toward truth - but I have made a lot of stops along the way and learned a lot of different things. All of these things have contributed to my quest for truth, which I know lies somewhere at the end of my journey, many years, and possibly many lifetimes, from now.

Such is my improv journey. I have had a number of teachers and read a bunch of stuff, and occasionally some of what I have learned seemingly contradicts itself. Sometimes one teacher will even contradict himself (sometimes even in the space of one note). All of this is part of my journey to improv truth. None of it is wrong, and all of it is crucial to my growth.

Just as in my spiritual journey, I try to listen to everything. I try to remember as much of it as I can, and try to I apply it wherever it seems to fit. If it doesn't fit in a particular situation, I don't discard it as nonsense. I simply put it aside for future reference. I have found that most everything someone thought worth teaching was worth learning. It just has to be used at the right time. God help me to remember it all.


we are not a cult.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Walk like an Egyptian

This morning while I was walking the dog, I watched the woman who was walking in front of me. She had a peculiar gait. I can't figure out how to describe it in a way that makes sense. Edit: I just figured it out! She walked like a marionet, with her torso appearing to hang just a bit behind her legs. Anyway, I caught myself trying to mimic her walk. I didn't think "I wonder if I can walk like that", I just found myself trying it. (It hurt my knees)

This is something I catch myself doing a lot - mimicking gestures or facial expressions or voices that catch my interest. Sometimes I repeat an interesting turn of phrase or bit of idiom a couple of times so I'll remember it.

It can be awkward if someone walks into the room while I'm doing it. They just look at me funny, but I overheard someone the other day talking about me observing people and taking notes. I don't literally take notes, but that is essentially what I am doing. I just didn't realize that it was that obvious. Fortunately, the overheard conversation seemed positive. I think they hope they wind up in my improv one day, and they probably will, or have.

The first class of the Level 3L with Scott last night was really awesome. After all the really theroetical stuff Zach had us working on (which was fascinating, even when it was breaking my brain) it really felt good to work directly on scenework and relationship. Scott can get me to find and focus on a relationship like nobody else can. He just has that way about him. I am improv happy right now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Jeeezus! Look at the time! Why am I not sleeping? Oh, right. Feckin' improv.

Tonight was the last Level 2. Mind blowing shit, this class. I am glad I took it, but I'm not sure when I will catch up with most of it. Tonight we did the now-traditional 360 review type wrap-up. I like this, but at the same time, it makes me uncomfortable. I love talking about improv with the people I play with, but I never feel adequate to the task of this review process. These people are all so funny and talented. Who am I to judge them? So I just always tell them why I love playing with them and why I love watching them play. I guess that's the idea, anyway.

I was pleased and humbled by the feedback my classmates gave me. I have talked before about how I never did anything before in my life that I couldn't master immediately. I don't know what it was about improv that made me keep pushing on, no matter how much I sucked. To hear people telling me that I'm good at this and that they feel safe with me on stage - that means more than most of you can imagine.

And it is interesting that some folks wanted to see me play equal or lower status characters. I remember a DSIF workshop with Jill Bernard where she relentlessly worked to get me to take a higher status. She told me I was an expert at turning a high status character into a low status one, and we worked to overcome that. I guess she taught me good.

Jason Quinn, my new TTB! teammate, said something that caught my attention tonight. He talked about coming into a scene with half an idea. To people unfamiliar with improv, that might seem like an insult - like saying someone has half a brain. In improv, though, that is what we really want to do when starting a scene. We don't need the whole idea. Each of us needs to come into the scene with half an idea. Our scene partner will have the other half.

How cool is that?

I will be moving on to the Level 3. I will take a class with Jennings every chance I get. Plus, I like playing with these people. I hope they all take the class.

Monday, October 24, 2005

I had a dream about improv last night.

I was driving with someone and we were talking excitedly about improv and the new theater. I was on a familiar, well lit highway, when suddenly I drove into the dark. I couldn't see where I was going and I was scared, but not in a bad way. I was scared in that thrilling way you get riding a roller coaster. The road was unpaved and bumpy, and as my eyes got used to the dark, I saw that there wasn't actually much to see. The landscape was barren. There were no buildings, no landmarks at all. I was going to have to find my way in the dark with nothing to guide me. I looked for a place to turn around, but as I did, I realized that, with no landmarks, I wouldn't be able to find my way back to that familiar, well lit road anyway. I just needed to find a new place to go.
When I woke up, I didn't exactly know what the dream was telling me, but I knew immediately that it was about improv.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Self discipline - I can tell already I'm going to hate this

Since DSI began doing shows, I have always tried to be at as many of them as I could. I generally only missed shows when I was sick or out of town. My attendance was so regular that when I missed one, someone would usually call or im me to make sure I was ok.

One reason I made it a point to go to every show I could was to support my friends and the theater. My friends came to see my shows, I wanted to go to theirs. Support is not just something teammates share, it is a big part of what our whole theater is built on.

The other reason I always went to shows was that if I missed something golden, it was gone forever. I didn't want to miss anything. EVER. I want it all. Every little bit of DSI improv there is and has ever been. Every wonderful thing that is said, every priceless pause, every hilariously expressive facial expression, everything.

The opening last weekend was glorious. It was the realization of our dreams. We all had good shows. It was so much fun and so much improv. It was improv gluttony. And I was exhausted.

The only other times I've gorged myself on that much improv in a weekend have been festivals. I would compare improv festivals to Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone eats (watches, plays) way too much, often to the point of discomfort, but it's awesome, and we know we only do it once a year, so it's ok.

Last weekend I realized that if I continue my habit of going to every show, I would be gorging myself on improv every single weekend. There is no way I could expect myself to do that and not burn out. I resolved to stay away unless I was working or playing. It is a healthy decision, I believe. I know all too well what a burnout feels like, and I don't want to repeat it.

But damn it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

I am so smart, S.M.R.T.

As young children learn new skills, they often seem to forget the skills they already had. For example, a child who is struggling to master potty training will often seem to lose speech skills she had already mastered.

In fact, the child has not forgotten her speech. She is using all her learning abilities on the new skill and putting the old skill on hold for a time. Once the new skill is mastered, the child then exhbits the previous proficiency, and even progress, in the "forgotten" skill.

I could google that to have a reference for you, but I don't feel like it. Trust me. I know it to be true.

Working with Zach as both a teacher and a coach, I am approaching improv from different directions than I ever have before. It is blowing my mind. It is making me feel like I'm forgetting everything I ever learned. I have to remind myself that I have not gotten stupid, I'm just putting the old skills on hold until I learn the new ones.

I look forward to the fun I will be having when I integrate them.


I am so smart, S.M.R.T.

As young children learn new skills, they often seem to forget the skills they already had. For example, a child who is struggling to master potty training will often seem to lose speech skills she had already mastered.

In fact, the child has not forgotten her speech. She is using all her learning abilities on the new skill and putting the old skill on hold for a time. Once the new skill is mastered, the child then exhbits the previous proficiency, and even progress, in the "forgotten" skill.

I could google that to have a reference for you, but I don't feel like it. Trust me. I know it to be true.

Working with Zach as both a teacher and a coach, I am approaching improv from different directions than I ever have before. It is blowing my mind. It is making me feel like I'm forgetting everything I ever learned. I have to remind myself that I have not gotten stupid, I'm just putting the old skills on hold until I learn the new ones.

I look forward to the fun I will be having when I integrate them.


Saturday, October 8, 2005

Still trying to find words

Tonight DSI realized the dream. It was beautiful. It was everything it should have been and more. All but one of my original Level 1 (101) teammates were there, either on stage or in the audience. You think I'm gonna' sleep now?! Pffftttt!

Wednesday, October 5, 2005

Sensei Zach

This Level 2 class is blowing my mind. The first week was pretty much what I expected, though I learned a lot because I have not really had Zach as a teacher since the 03 summer intensive, and because this class is full of amazing talent.

Last week was just intense. We really had to open up, and Zach pushed us hard. Having visited some scary places in my psyche in Ross's early classes, I was reluctant to delve too deep, but I shared. Others in the class really gave so much of themselves, and I wished I had shared more.

Tonight was really the one that blew my mind. We were working with our environment in a different way than I ever have before, and it took most of the class to understand where we were going. Once we got there, though, it was pretty cool. The closest thing I can compare it to is "Wax on, wax off."

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Thoughts on "game"

"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon

Isn't it something that the game we're all looking for happens when we least expect it? Sometimes we work so hard to try to find something fun to play with, and the things we say and do while we're looking, while we're working instead of playing, are the things that wind up being fun. If we're paying attention, we figure it out and stop trying so hard and just start playing.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Meditations on improv

I get a My Daily Om email every day. Sometimes I skim them and yawn. Sometimes they’re really helpful. This one was particularly interesting, in that it was unintentionally about improv.
Being a good listener means being an active listener by being fully present when someone is talking to you. Making eye contact when someone is speaking helps to connect us to one another. It also keeps us focused on what is being said, rather than what we are thinking. We need to not only hear words, but also to read body language and understand feelings.

So often I find myself searching for what my character would say, not because I’m looking for the funniest line or the most brilliant game move. Those things are usually way out of my reach. No, I just have trouble knowing what my character wants to say. The answer is simple, and something we use every day: eye contact. Scott Jennings emphasized it during the recent Level 2. “The next line is in your scene partner’s eyes.”

Eye contact lets you and your scene partner know each other, and when you know each other, you know what you want to say. Once I make eye contact, I discover that my next line is, indeed, right there. More importantly, it is often something completely unexpected and delightful.

It is also important to listen and pay attention to what our scene partner is giving us, instead of spending the time while they're talking thinking of what we're going to say next. We can't do that. Whatever we're going to say next hinges directly on what our scene partner is saying now. We need to know what that is in order to respond.

We need to not only hear words, but also to read body language and understand feelings. The posture and attitude of our scene partner speaks volumes about who we are and how we are feeling about each other. When you're out in the world, watch people interact with each other. Watch their body language and learn what it means. Learn how to use it in your scenework to express what your words are not necessarily saying. And pay attention to your scene partner’s body language and listen to it. Give it the same weight as you do their words.
We don't have to agree with everything or anything that is being said, but listening with an open mind is respectful to the speaker and it allows us to understand the other person and ourselves better. By letting go of assumptions and hearing what is being said, as well as the tone of voice the speaker is using, we can better understand our differences and perhaps find some similarities.

As improvisers, we do have to agree with each other about the reality of the scene. We can’t build anything together if we don’t. But we don’t always have the same idea coming into a scene. Sometimes we have very different ideas. Without one of us completely dropping our thing, which is jarring to the players and also the audience, how do we reconcile our two different ideas and agree on a reality? The way we build the reality is by listening and respecting each other’s idea, and accepting and incorporating it into our own. In this way, two seemingly different realities can become one.
Reflect back to the speaker that you understand and empathize with their feelings of happiness, anxiety, and/or sadness. Ask questions if you don't understand, but respect boundaries if the speaker seems uncomfortable. Sometimes, being a good listener means listening to the silence in between words. Being a good listener is easy - simply listen with your ears, as well as your heart.

Listen to the words your scene partner is saying and acknowledge them. Don’t spend all your energy and attention on the nuance and forget to hear the actual words. Respond to the thing that was just said according to the reality you are creating together. No matter what else has gone on in the scene, no matter what the subtleties of body language and eye contact tell us, the words are out there now, and they must be responded to.

It seems so complicated: read the eyes, read the body, hear the words, play the game. In real life we all do it every day. In real reality. When we improvise, we should just think about the fact that we are creating a reality, and we can communicate with each other in that reality in exactly the same way we do in real reality. If that makes any sense at all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I love getting the opportunity to take off a giant mascot head. I really do.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Second thoughts

Hmmm, I'm still thinking about that quote. When I posted it, I was thinking about it in terms of hesitating vs. making mistakes (and learning from them). I have long struggled, in improv and life in general, with hesitating out of fear of making a mistake, and the quotation seemed to speak to that.

The problem is, I ignored the other half of the quote, which was about being inferior vs. superior. I hope none of us are striving to be superior to our teammates. That isn't why we do this. I hope what we are striving to do is raise our teammates up so that we all feel good about what we do.

And I suppose the same holds true for life in general.

Another quote untentionally about improv:

While one person hesitates because he feels inferior, the other is busy making mistakes and becoming superior.
Henry C. Link

Words to improvise by.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22). You've always admired those people who call a situation as they see it in the moment, and today, you're one of them. Helping others is how you're joyfully fulfilled.

What an awesome first show horoscope.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A couple things

There was just too much DSIF to process right now, so I'm not even going to try, but I wanted to put some things down before they slip away.

From Dan Izzo:
"Who, what, where is there to serve you. You are not there to serve Who, what, where".
"Make a big choice, accept that choice, then play with it."

I got to be a pirate having a water balloon fight. How awesome is that? I am so lucky.

More to come, whenever I stop procrastinating and write it down. Right now, I'm headed for bed. It was an amazing week. Thank you DSI. I love you all.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Thinking about not thinking

They say you haven't really learned a language until you stop translating it and just start thinking in it. Improv is kind of like that. I know, we're not supposed to think. I don't mean we should think about the improv. That would be like translating.

I guess what I mean is, we need to learn to start thinking as our characters instead of trying to say what our character would say. I had a really interesting moment the other day. Not so much that the scene (a group game, actually) was awesome (it was way fun), but thinking about it later, I noticed something about how it played in my head.

I hate trying to describe scenes because they're just never fun if you weren't there, but it's the only way I can think of to explain what went on in my mind.

We started out sort of vaguely as a jug band tuning up, pouring water out of our bottles or jugs to get the right sound. Then someone heightened by making us a military force who could explode people's hearts by hitting the right note. We decided we'd just practice the bowel loosening note instead.

Now, I wasn't thinking "How would I react if this were true?" or "What would I say in this situation?" But I was thinking.

I was thinking "Wait, if we play that note, all our hearts will explode/bowels will loosen! Oh, ok, they must have ear plugs to prevent that. Shit! I don't have ear plugs! I'm screwed!"

I wasn't thinking "If that, then what?" I wasn't translating the reality of the scene. I was part of the reality of the scene, as silly as it was. I didn't stop to think "Ok, so if there were a military jug band strike force who could make people shit themselves with just the right note..." For just a few moments, I was worried that they would blow that note and I didn't have my earplugs.

Monday, February 14, 2005

If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.
Lewis Carroll, "Alice in Wonderland"

I like finding quotations that are unintentionally about improv. The reason there are so many is that improv is about life. Sometimes life is disguised as space monkeys on the moon, but it's life all the same.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

It is bad to be late for an audition. It is disrespectful to the people who are audtioning you and to those who are auditioning with you. That being said, sometimes it can't be avoided. Make sure you let the auditioners know as soon as possible that you will be late. Sometimes it may even be better just to stay away and not distrupt the process that has already begun. But sometimes it is about not letting the bastard stand in your way. (the bastard is nobody you know).

So I arrive at the audition (my what, fifth?) in tears and determined to go through with it. I weep on Zach for a few minutes and am let loose on an ongoing audition. I have no hope of being cast, but this is about not letting someone bully me.

I go up for my first scene, and as I turn around I notice a huge stain on my shirt. Then I look farther down and see the dog shit on my shoe. And I say to myself "Fuck it. I'm here to have fun." and I did.

I don't even want to try to describe what had already gone horribly wrong with that morning. It was just a seriously fucked up day. And now there's dog shit on my shoe.

The last thing on my mind was that audition. I wasn't even thinking about it.

Oh, ok. That makes sense, doesn't it? *Awesome.

*This was once a link to the announcement of the team that would become Take the Box!. As things tend to do, it has mysteriously disappeared, as if it never existed. Odd, that.

Sunday, February 6, 2005

Scattered thoughts and somewhat muddled metaphors

If a singer’s instrument is her voice, an improviser’s instruments are her mind and body. Both must be kept fit and ready to move quickly. I am increasingly aware that my physical condition has a big impact on what I can do in improv, affecting what I am able to do with my body and my mind. Right now, for example, if I am edited while on the floor, I can’t clear the stage quickly, making my teammates wait – not long, but long enough to interrupt the flow of the piece. And my chronic sleep deprivation definitely has a big impact on my mental fitness. I need to take better care of my instruments if I intend to move forward in my play.

I have noticed a very positive trend in the way I think about scenes I’ve done. I no longer agonize over scenes I am unhappy about (and there are sooo many of those). Instead, I think about other choices I might have made to make the scene more fun or move it forward. And when I am happy with a scene, I don’t just say to myself “That was fun. You did that right” and move on. I still think about other choices I might have made to make the scene fun or move it forward. The choices are infinite, and exercising the mental muscles to learn to recognize them is an important step toward mental fitness.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Always with the cheesy metaphors

I spent the morning in TLaG practice and the afternoon working on setting up my sewing room in Joanna's old room. As I worked in the sewing room, I thought about how I love to experiment with craft projects. Just trying things out to see how they work. More often than not, the experiments don't turn out all that well, but I learn things from them.

One thing that never happens with a needlework project is that I feel like a failure and want to give up because something didn't turn out the way I wanted it to. I have never said to myself "That sucked, I am stupid and I should stop sewing."

Thursday, January 27, 2005

"The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause."
Mark Twain (1835 - 1910)
Often we fear silence in improv. Often this is because the silence is a result of fear - that terrible feeling we get when we start thinking and stop being in the scene, making us not know what to say (by "we" and "us", I mean "I" and "me"). But silence can also heighten the scene. How do you tell when it's a fearful silence that needs to be filled or a heightening silence?

That's not a hypothetical question. I don't know the answer. I'll have to watch for the difference and learn.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Your friends are there for you. So are your scene partners.

Monday, January 24, 2005

It does not feel like I have been away at all, but I really have. Since Incubator III ended last fall, I really haven't done much improv at all. TLaG has had shows, but not many practices. Montage has had no opportunity to practice, and I have had no classes. It seems strange to realize that I have been away. I go to shows every week, and wind up in them often enough (even editing from the audience once), but I really have had an involuntary break for quite some time. I'm glad the dry spell is over. TLaG is committed to regular practices and I am in a class now. I will audition whenever possible. This is where I live right now.

A friend (not an improviser, bless his heart) asked if I planned to keep improvising forever. I could only tell him that I can't imagine stopping. I said "It's good for my head."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Who needs to join a gym?

Started the Level 3 Harold class with Jennings tonight, and it kicked my ass. We did a lot of pretty physical mirroring and sound and motion. It didn't start out that way, of course. The initial mirroring was the usual facing each other and twitching our hands (except for show-offs Melanie and Paul with their ballet).

After the initial slow start we had more fun. Erik and I morphed into monkeys and then shaved and became human. Tons of brutish, apelike fun. As we worked, we waved our hands around and (some of us, but not me) jumped up and down. Shit wore me out.

I have been in classes that had a group mind almost from the first warm up, and at least one that never really found it at all. This one, like most, I think, falls in the middle. The group didn't get cohesive right away, but we were within a few pages of each other by the end. We had fun, and we will keep finding the fun, I think.

I noticed that, although everyone didn't always know what everyone was doing, we did find ways of communicating what was going on. A couple of times I met someone's eye and we both realized that we were the only ones who knew what we were all doing, and so we found ways to show everyone else. I believe others had the same experience tonight.

I hope I don't sound like a heretic saying that I think this is the most common manifestation of group mind. There is that mystical, magical thing that happens when everyone just knows. But I think more often than not, a few people know and everyone else trusts them until they figure it out. That's still pretty cool, and it's better than the non-improv community can manage. This makes us superior.

Bask in your superiority, Improvisor. You are great.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

It doesn't cost a dime to pay attention

If you're fucking around on the back line, you will miss important information you'll need later. When that happens, just make the best of it, trust your teammates and remember never to do it again. It will be alright.