I perform maybe a quarter of all of my NY stand up sets at The Creek. Way more than on any other stage, I have learned how to be a comedian at The Creek. No other full time comedy venue allows the freedom and the stage time together that this venue provides.
There’s are roughly 10 open mics a week on two stages. There is a podcast network with roughly a dozen podcasts with tens of thousands of listeners. there are 20 independently produced comedy shows a week. Stand Up, Sketch, Improv, Short Films, Plays, Music, and any other relevant kind of comedy that exists is showcased here. If you look closely you can see The Creek in the background of dozens of comedy shorts made by people who know that whatever idea they can conceive, it can be realized within these walls…
I was going to write a post on this subject, but Nick says it better. If you support comedy in New York City, support the Creek.
Rick Andrews is a very talented improvisor that I count among my personal friends. I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him on a few occasions and I can attest to his quality as a performer, teammate, and teacher.
Rick Andrews is a teacher and performer at The Magnet Theater in New York City. He teaches and performs around the country with The Magnet Theater TourCo, with ensemble Brick, and his duo, The Cascade.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about two words we hear a lot when improvising: “Fear” and…
There are a lot of us out there. Each of the big three improv schools in New York has hosted ladies nights. We perform at many venues around the city, and many of us have formed all-female teams with our close friends (or sometimes classmates who have become close friends). Yet there are still…
Dunbar brought tape recorders into meeting rooms and loitered in the hallway; he read grant proposals and the rough drafts of papers; he peeked at notebooks, attended lab meetings, and videotaped interview after interview. He spent four years analyzing the data.
Meta is difficult to pull off. And most of the time it comes from a place of uncertainty or desperation for laughs–more on that in a bit. It certainly has its unique challenges, so it’s usually a better idea to not do it. But I’ll never say never do it.
Last summer I coached a very good group called Big Buddha. A scene began with Will and Jenny dancing, and verbally playing a game of anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better. Then Jenny made the move to call Will “Will.” The scene now slightly shifted—Will continued playing one-upmanship, but in regards as to who would be the better improvisor in the scene. It was about the characters of the real people Will and Jenny, not just two dancers. It ended with Will stripping his pants off, and it was goofy fun and it was glorious.
The scene gets sweep edited, and a normal two-person scene begins. A third player, Evan, makes an entrance. WIll immediately steps in. “Evan! What are you doing?” I coach Will to step back and to let the others continue on the scene as it was going.
Why? Meta has a tendency to overwhelm. If we go Meta in one place, we start to want to go Meta in every other place. And Meta also devalues what’s happening in the scene. It destroys what was going on by acknowledging that it is indeed fake and that there’s no reason you should care. And if we lose that care, then we’ve lost the show. It’s all fluff now.
The first scene worked because it still had a dynamic to be explored - two performers wanting to top each other. It didn’t poop on what had come before–it kept on playing with it. And it was earned. It happened because an opportunity to have fun was seen and pounced on. The second moment would not have worked because we bled our scenes too quick (it was still only the first beat) and on top of that called the yet-to-develop scene stupid.
Meta mostly happens when someone doesn’t trust that what is happening on stage is funny or makes sense. Instead of editing out of that scene, the third player tries to “save” it by declaring it all a dream, or a rough draft of an unfinished screenplay, or a really weird TV channel. I have nothing against these labels (I actually enjoy playing with levels of reality) but I do have a problem with the motivation. Moves should never be made out of desperation.
So. If you seen a fun idea, and it happens to be Meta, go for it. The operative word is “fun.” Don’t do it because you think someone needs saving. Earn it, make sure it doesn’t overtake the set.
At a show last semester, my improv group performed a Montage that made me want to punch things. The problem with this particular Montage was meta**. My improv group has been getting really meta in general meetings, but this is the first time I can think of where it showed onstage at a show.
Billy Merritt subbed in to coach one of my teams a ways back and asked us something that had my head spinning for weeks: “What are your goals as a group?”
There was a lot of fumbling and mumbling and vague half-ideas, before he finally nodded a curt, “Ok,” as if we’d said all we needed to say by saying nothing at all.
When you practice with your group, what are you doing really? That is: what is the point of group practice? Don’t say to get better; you can do that in class. Don’t say building group mind; you can do that at a Denny’s.
Our group had no goals, other than to vaguely “get better,” so we did montages. Sometimes they were good, sometimes they were great, sometimes they were shitty, and the unstated goal was to “get better.”
This nagged at me. Our goal is to do better montages? Yeah, us and every other indie improv group.
“But children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. Children also perform better in the long term when they believe that their intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things.”—In improv, take risks. Via.
Kristen Schier has a B.F.A. in Theater Arts from the University of the Arts and has been working in Philadelphia Pennsylvania as a professional actor, improviser and teacher for many years. She is the Artistic Director of The Philly N Crowd, which a short form improv ensemble. Kristen also…
I don’t understand: are there actually people out there who are reticent to learning and playing intelligently to enhance their improv? If there are, I guess it’s because knowing things sounds like work, and improvisors do improv because it doesn’t involve all that work of knowing things like lines and blocking.
Facts and knowledge enhance improv. But scenes shouldn’t hinge on some fact being accurate, and they definitely should never hinge on some pop cultural reference. In improv, where everything is “right,” a “wrong” answer simply spirals us into an alternate universe where this is correct instead.
In his Tenth Anniversary book, Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, talked about an early dinosaur strip in which he depicted dinos as cartoonish lumbering beasts. A trip to the library later, he learned that dinosaurs are viewed as much more vibrant and alive than he thought; his succeeding strips reflected this new knowledge. Does that invalidate the first strip? Are all of the strips about how accurate his depiction of dinosaurs are? No. The realism of the dinosaurs reflects how powerful they are in Calvin’s imagination; Calvin’s imagination being the real point of the strip. Watterson then said that the more you put in your head the better the stuff that you get out of it.
All told, it’s very simple. Be aware of your world. Don’t be afraid to learn new things and put stuff in your head. And if you don’t know something that comes up in your scene, treat it smartly.
I get in trouble for saying that because I deliberately say it in a jerk manner. KNOW EVERYTHING. When someone says “I didn’t know the movie my partner was mentioning” I’ll sometimes say “Well, you don’t HAVE to know it but it would be easier if you knew it.”
“People are afraid of themselves, of their own reality; their feelings most of all. People talk about how great love is, but that’s bullshit. Love hurts. Feelings are disturbing. People are taught that pain is evil and dangerous. How can they deal with love if they’re afraid to feel? Pain is meant to wake us up. People try to hide their pain. But they’re wrong. Pain is something to carry, like a radio. You feel your strength in the experience of pain. It’s all in how you carry it. That’s what matters. Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you. Your own reality. If you feel ashamed of them, and hide them, you’re letting society destroy your reality. You should stand up for your right to feel your pain.”—Jim Morrison (via bitchville)
“You have to be patient. You have to give yourself a chance. When you’re first pursuing a job in a field like this, there’s a strong tendency to panic. When I took classes with Del Close, he would challenge all of us to wait - to not make the cheap, easy joke in a scene but to have faith that something funnier and more organic was on the way. It can be that way with a career too. There are a lot of times when your biggest task is just to stay calm and keep working.”—
Chris Gethard is a New York based actor, author and improvisor at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre that has appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and the ABC sitcoms Hope & Faith and the Knights of Prosperity. He starred in the Comedy Central sitcom, Big Lake, and assisted the writing staff of the show Crossballs. In 2007, Chris served as a guest writer for Saturday Night Live and also contributed writing to the Onion News Network, the Fuse Network, and more. Gethard is the author of Weird NY, as well as the upcoming title A Bad Idea I’m About to Do, which has been highlighted on This American Life. He has appeared at both the Montreal and Chicago branches of the Just for Laughs comedy festival, and has taken his stage show, The Chris Gethard Show, to public access televison. It airs Wednesdays at 11pm on MNN and at www.thechrisgethardshow.com.
As a fun thought game, I made a list of improvisors I know from across the country and tried to make ensembles out of them. A kind of Fantasy Football but for improv. The interesting thing to me is that, no matter how hard I tried, I was always left with a few people who just didn’t get cast.
I think a lot of improvisors view casting from one point of perspective only: skill. An improvisor who feels they are good will simply get cast, hands down. Not being cast is a reflection on their skill. They could not be more off the mark. Viewing it from the other end, from that of an artistic director, we see that there are many vectors that are considered.
Aesthetic. An artistic director may have a particular style that they are going for. They may prefer cerebral improv over more physical work. If many teams are being created, an AD might want variety and create the “funny” team and the “smart” team and so on. Very good players might not have the aesthetic an AD wants. Unfortunately, this is an extremely subjective quality and thus the most frustrating for a performer.
Type. When I created my show, Military Time, I cast partially for type. I wanted improvisors who looked like they might possibly be in the military. This led me to look at players who fit a certain physical type. This vector mostly comes into consideration only in genre-play or scenario improv or any show where actors are playing characters that look very much like themselves. However, an AD might also want to create an all-queer cast or an all-female cast or all-over-40-years-old cast, etc. At current, I would not be cast in any of those groups.
Skill. Only a small part of the equation, because skill can be taught. It is mostly considered if the director has a particular technique that they want to see used in their show. For example, organic transitions are a particular skill that an improvisor can learn; the technique does not come naturally to most players. If a director wants to see organic transitions in their show, they will look for people that know and can use those transitions.
Confidence. Does the performer exude confidence on stage? Does their presence put the audience at ease? Do we feel that their being on stage is not a struggle for them? Auditions are highly stressful and unnatural settings to do improv in. A player who can rise above that and do good work can be an incredible asset.
Experience. Experience level is not indicative of skill or anything other than this: it shows that you have some idea how to behave on a team in this setting. It suggests that you have some sense of what is expected of you.
Chemistry. Many improv auditions take place in a team setting; you play with the people also vying for a spot. A savvy artistic director is going to take note of which players just naturally work well with which. They might work well together because they have worked together before, or they just might have similar mindsets. Whatever the reason,that dynamic can be capitalized upon.
Project-specific factors. I put together a puppet improv group in 2009, therefore I mostly cast improvisors who were also puppeteers. Can you sing? Can you dance? Are you quick-sketch artist? Do you know a lot about comic books or Westerns or the collected works of William Shakespeare? A project might have need of a knowledge base or certain skills that are not improv.
Directability. This is by far the most important vector. Can you be directed? Do you show good listening skills? If the casting director gives you a note during the audition, do you attempt to carry it out? Your actual success at utilizing the note is not as important as the fact that you tried to utilize the note. All of the other factors allow directors to trust you to do your job without their hand-holding. But directors also want to know that they can guide you towards their vision if they need to.