What follows in the quoted post is a list of labels. These labels define the social moors or settings or trappings that people might find themselves in, but they are not relationships. That is just how they know each other, or happen to be talking to each other. A relationship cannot and should not be defined only by the occupations your characters happen to have.
A relationship is how two people relate to each other. Perhaps a clearer word is dynamic. What dynamic do two people share? How do they treat each other?
Two people might happen to know each other because one is a psychiatrist and the other is her patient. But if all we play are the labels of psychiatrist and patient we will never find ourselves approaching anything resembling the truth. Does this patient love the psychiatrist like a mother? Does the psychiatrist despise the patient like an ex-boyfriend? Is their dynamic caring, spiteful, cooperative, rote, or lustful? Yes, the trappings of psychiatry will inform and influence the scene. But the real inspiration of the scene will be in the dynamic.
And yes, in this example, like a psychiatrist is how you can treat a person. But we don’t watch drama or comedy to watch a psychiatrist just act like a normal psychiatrist. Like a psychiatrist can be interesting if played in an unusual setting; any label can be interesting when played in a different and unexpected context. For example: Play your psychiatrist in the middle of a boyfriend/girlfriend break-up scene. Or have your child-who-didn”t-turn-in-homework character psycho-analyze his teacher. It’s much more fun.
When we started we HAD no style, no understanding of ourselves or what we were doing. We had feelings, vague ones, a sense of what we liked, maybe, but no unified point of view, not even a real way to express our partnership. We fought constantly and expected to break up every other week. But we did have a few things, things I think you might profit from knowing:
We loved what we did. More than anything. More than sex. Absolutely.
We always felt as if every show was the most important thing in the world, but knew if we bombed, we’d live.
We did not start as friends, but as people who respected and admired each other. Crucial, absolutely crucial for a partnership. As soon as we could afford it, we ceased sharing lodgings. Equally crucial.
We made a solemn vow not to take any job outside of show business. We
borrowed money from parents and friends, rather than take that lethal job waiting tables. This forced us to take any job offered to us. Anything. We once did a show in the middle of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia as part of a fashion show on a hot July night while all around our stage, a race-riot was fully underway. That’s how serious we were about our vow.
Get on stage. A lot. Try stuff. Make your best stab and keep stabbing. If it’s there in your heart, it will eventually find its way out. Or you will give up and have a prudent, contented life doing something else.
“I’m interested in the theater because I’m interested in communication with audiences. “Otherwise I would be in concert music. I’d be in another kind of profession. I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry — just making them feel — is paramount to me.”—Stephen Sondheim, on life, writing, theater. (via nprfreshair)
Fundamentally, all stories are about the relationships between characters and when we try to paint an alternate universe with an intricate counterfactual history, too often we get swept up in the details.
The reason Pixar films are timeless and most Dreamworks animation movies will wind up in the dustbin of history is that Pixar focuses on characters while Dreamworks makes pop culture references. Like I said, this seems counter-intuitive when talking about alternate histories, but every once in a while you need to step back and remind yourself that as an author you’re creating a world with characters that have motivations not unlike those that you’re familiar with today. Great alternate histories are timeless.
“Think of a cool character like James Bond. Do you have an idea how James Bond would be at a dinner party, or fighting a lion or hitting on a girl? Of course, you do. If you were pretending to be James Bond and someone initiated a scene by saying the copy machine is broken. You’d know how to react. Be cool, be suave, saunter over to the copy machine, immediately fix it and say something witty. How would Fonzie fix the copy machine? How would Darth Vader fix the copy machine? How would Nurse Ratched react to a broken copy machine? The copy machine is completely irrelevant. The reaction to it is what’s important.”—Via
Like The Wizard of Oz itself, which helped shape the landscape for queer people in the U.S. through its multi-level themes, our LGBTQ identities informed the landscape of our performances, without being the sole focus of the scenes. My favorite part about improvising is the relationships formed on stage between scene partners, and the relationships portrayed at “There’s No Place Like Home” represented the broad range of the queer spectrum. And yes, I was the shortest person there.
There’s No Place Like Home can be seen at the Magnet Theater most Monday nights at 10PM. Check the site for dates and times. Quote via CherryGrrl
Don’t beat yourself up too much. Sometimes, when a scene is really clicking and everything seems to be working super-well, your scene partner will say say or do something so perfect yet so surprising that you just can’t help but laugh and react to it. In those moments, it’s cool to take a second and recollect yourself and move on.
If it is a commitment issue, it’s because you don’t really believe the words coming out of your mouth, and you’re laughing as a way of indicating that it’s all a nervous joke and please don’t shun me. Recommit to your words and you’ll be fine.
And if it really still bugs you, make the laugh a part of the scene. It’s a real reaction that has happened scenically and thus needs to be dealt with. It’s an emotional reaction, like crying, or yelling, or smiling. Eventually you’ll get pretty bored of doing scenes where people laugh in every one that you’ll learn to curb it anyway.
But no matter what, it happens. Get over it, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
So here’s my problem: I break a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Usually not to the detriment of the scene, but you can count on a few swallowed chuckles in any scene with something ridiculous in it. And it doesn’t seem to be a commitment issue, like it is with a lot of people, because I’d like to think I…
Generation Friends is combining it’s 4th Annual Evergreen Improv Festival, with what would be it’s 2nd Annual Evergreen Sketch Festival! The result will be an all-out comedy assault featuring a vibrant range of sketch and improv comedy.
Six University of Florida students found that out when they competed in the College Improv Tournament on Feb. 26, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Eleven other teams also competed and threatened their hopes at every moment.
I was once told that the greatest comedy comes out of the greatest tragedy. While individual scenes will usually clearly lean one way or another, going in to play Comedy or to play Drama is strange to me. This is because I love the range of expression available to me in Improv, and I like knowing that I can let a show go either way.
But of course, sometimes we do want to have a show be one thing. I feel that saying “I want to do dramatic improv” is a useless thing to say because, well, what does it mean? What does that mean, do dramatic improv? It is much more useful to identify the things you might see in a drama and then figure out which of those things are playable.
And finally, the danger is to read “drama” as “maudlin.” Of course it’s not. Drama means that you have heightened stakes with clear, personal, grounded repercussions. Which to me means that we should always be going in to our improv ready to play dramatically.
Warning: this is a rambly, introspective examination of my thoughts on dramatic improv. I’m writing this primarily to straighten out my brain wiggles but maybe it will be useful to someone. Maybe not. Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.
I started out doing improv in comedy bars- Wait, scratch…
Improv, Fashion, and Puppies: Organic Scenes: Part 1 (Situation Initiations)
There’s a lot of good thoughts here, and definitely some things to think about. A few reactions: I find it more useful to use “weak” and “strong” when talking about moves instead of “good” or “bad.” A Weak Move can still be used, because anything can be used in Improv, but a Strong Move is preferred. I find it to be a helpful way to avoid a sense of judgement in playing.
Also, while I do feel that strong scene starts offer a lot to unpack, the danger is thinking that it has only to do with the actual words being said. “I cut my finger” could be a strong scene start if said in a character voice with a clear attitude behind it. But I do take your meaning; I’m aware that cold text doesn’t carry quite the same cache as actual lines spoken in an actual context.
I’m also not a big fan of “premise,” but mostly because that suggests there’s some clear-cut idea that a player had, and that idea looks like a comedy sketch, and all we can do is just play that out. I prefer “context.” I stole this from Napier—Context allows me a greater range of freedom because it means that I’ve only had to set up my fundamental information of the world the scene takes place in. Napier describes it better than I can, and I am also inclined to believe this may be a matter of semantics, so we won’t worry about this too much.
I also believe that sometimes you just gotta say “eff it, I have to start a scene.” And in that moment you step out on to stage and clear your throat and suddenly that becomes the first line of your scene. That’s when you’re truly improvising.
Sean and I were discussing organic scenes in improv. An organic scene is a scene inspired by a single word suggestion, without an opening. It is arguably the most difficult type of scene for beginner improvisers because there is so much room for failure. We all know “Yes, And” and spotting the…
“…this is something - this is my daily mantra - sometimes minute by minute mantra, which is love yourself. Learn to love yourself. And stay in this moment. This moment right here is where your power is. If you drift into the past or into the future, you lose your power and your ability to love yourself. So this moment right now, be kind and love yourself.”—
Justifications are tricky business and I’ve been trying to figure out how to coach them.
So you have scene with some weird/odd/funny. Usually the funny thing is behavior and some actually thing or activity. The activity or thing might be weird it is darn hard to continue to play and to heighten unless it is associated with a behavior. Justification is often how we get to that behavior.
Just dug up the following exercise in an old notebook of mine. This one’s called “The Bear” and it works like this. One player is the “bear.” Everyone else in the room lies down as though they are playing “dead.” But this is a very special bear - he’s going to try and make the playing-dead-people laugh. Once someone breaks, they join as another new bear. The game continues until everyone’s a bear.
Now, the bear can do anything the bear wants to make someone laugh. There’s only two rules as to what you cannot do: no tickling (too easy) and no “bikini-area” touching (too uncomfortable). Other than that, the bear can do anything.
This is primarily an exercise for learning how to not break. It’s also just a fun, silly, “game without winners,” an idea introduced to me by the teacher of this class. I love the idea of games without winners. There’s no points, no way to lose, nothing else to do other than just play the game. Even when you “lose” at your first goal - lying still - you get to do a different fun thing - acting like a bear! Once everyone’s a bear, the game can reset itself and continue on indefinitely.
Improv is a game without winners. We all win by playing the game well.
The one thing that I will always unequivocally love about the Magnet Theater is the Mixer - a chance to get up on stage and play. To me it represents what Improv is all about - truly making something up with no preparation. You don’t even know who you’ll be doing a scene with until moments before that scene begins. Every good habit you should have about improv, trusting your scene partner, yes-anding to the fullest, supporting, and making your scene partner look good, you need to have in this situation. Logging in those pilot hours at the Mixer will definitely make you a stronger performer with better habits. If you’re in the NY area, go to the Mixer.