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What Kind of Improviser are You?

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

– Henry Ford

One of my students years ago gave me a book called “Mastery: The Keys to success and long-term fulfillment”.  It is a short book and great. It talks about the 5 different types of learners. The Dabbler, The Obsessive, The Hacker, The Expert and The Master.

The Dabbler starts strong. They are into it 100%. When they meet their first challenge (or a great one) they decide that this is not for them and try something else.

The Obsessive want immediate success.  They throw themselves into whatever they are doing. They push themselves and everyone around them to go past their limitations. They want to be great from the first class. The obsessive makes great strides followed by great falls and then plateaus until they start obsessing again. They can burn out or burn the people around them out.

The Hacker just wants to do it. They want to play and get on stage. They are not interested in improving and they are fine with the status quo of their performance. They might even fool themselves into believing that they have peaked and reached the best they can do.

“Expert” is a code word we use at the theater for someone who can’t be taught. It is usually someone who had a class in college and thinks they know everything about  improv. They are not here to better themselves. They are not here to learn. They are not here to improve. They take classes just to get into shows or to “show off” their skills. We can’t get through to them, therefore we have nothing to offer them. They are done on their journey even though they might not think they are. The expert will also argue and correct the teacher and the other students in class. They believe they are right, everyone with something new to say is wrong.

The person striving for mastery (the Master) still is learning. They read books, take workshops, study, and discuss their passion. They know that they don’t know everything. They are trying to become better and learn and hopefully add to the art.

Masters Practice. They put the time in to keep their skills. They play. They focus on strengthening their weak point and pushing their strengths. They spend time trying different techniques and skills.

Masters Surrender. They give up being the expert. They trust their teacher. They absorb the book. They are open in discussion. They know that they don’t know everything.

Masters are intentional. They know that the things in the mind become real with visualization.  In sports this might mean seeing the putt in your head before swinging the club,, but in improv this meas that we see the space objects on stage. If we are supposed to be in love, we believe it and don’t question it. We know that the reality of the stage is real.

Masters are always pushing themselves to the edge. They are putting themselves in situations that push their skills and even their physical nature. They are always stretching how far they can go, thereby increasing how far they can go.

What kind on improviser are you? Are you in the process of mastery? Is this something that is a journey for you. Something that you are fascinated by and understand that you are not so much a part of it as it is a part of you? 

 

I am still learning.

 – Michael Angelo age 90   

Audio Blog

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Hi Faithful Reader,

The other night I got to do an audio blog with Rollie Williams and James Clark about me and Denver Improv.

Listen to it if you want: http://denverimprovpodcast.tumblr.com/ but if you do put your headphones on, I am drinking and swearing.

Yours Truly,

Eric Farone

“Improv”ing: The Game

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

So many people want to get better at Improv (one of the ironies of improv is that you never get better until you stop wanting to be good and just play).  I believe that all expertise comes from getting deep into a subject.  I also think that it is easier when you are playing games and having fun.  With that in mind I have made up “Improv”ing: The Game

Your goal is to get the most points in a week.  You can play by yourself or against friends.
You may not score more than 5 points a day.
Here is how you score points:

Performing in an Improv Show                           = 5 points
Improv Classes                                                      = 4  points
Rehearsing for an Improv Performance            = 4  points
Watching an Improv Show                                  = 3 points
Reading an Improv Book                                     = 3 points
Talking about Improv                                          =  3 points
Watching Improv on Video/YouTube                =  2 points
Immersing in Pop Culture                                    =  1 point
Watching a popular TV show, Movie, Etc          =  1 point

Getting drunk                                                        = 0 points
Going to a sporting event                                     = 0 points
Going on a date                                                      = 0 points
Watching a favorite TV show                               = 0 points
Weekly activities i.e. Dodge Ball, Karaoke, etc. = 0 points
Visiting with relatives                                           = 0 points
Doing Laundry, Cleaning, etc.                              = 0 points

SCORING:

25+ points a week = Winner!  Great Job!  I hope you are having the time of your life, because if you can keep this up you may be doing this for a long, long time.  You obviously love improv and you must perform.  You go see other shows, you are performing, rehearsing, studying, discussing and thinking about improv more than 5 days a week! You are getting better and having more fun each and every week.  You might not see it, but you are growing by leaps and bounds.  Have a blast!

20-24 points a week = Really Good Job!  You must love this stuff.  You must be playing and rehearsing, but you can never watch enough Improv. Go watch some more and deconstruct it, until you see every choice, feeling and reaction.  At this rate, in a few months you will be playing at a different level.  Keep it up!  It’s a lot, but it beats watching TV every night.  Soon you will be surprising yourself on stage every time you get out there.

16-20 points a week = Good job. It is hard to get the big points without performing a lot.  Form another group and find someplace to play more.  Go see more improv.  Talk about what you saw and not just evaluate it, but figure out what it was that made it fun or horrible. Go to see all the shows.  Be a fixture.  You are doing incredible and you should be having more fun each and every week at this rate.

11-15 points a week = Okay.  You are into Improv, duh.  You may even play, but are you getting better? Are you always out of your head?  Are you part of the Improv community? Do you want to?  Time to ladder it up a little.  At this level you can get better after years of play, why not jump up the commitment a bit and cut that time in half?

6-10 points a week = You have got to get out more to see improv.  Talk Improv with the people at the theater.  Talk with folks after it.  Take a class (or another one).  Form your own group.  If you want to get good at something you have to do it at least 3 times a week.  You are close to something wonderful, keep going!

0-5 points a week = You may be able to enjoy Improv and even understand it more than most, but you are never going to be a great improviser at this rate.  Time to re-double your efforts or pick something else to be passionate about and just be content watching and laughing.

That’s “Improv”ing: The Game.  I hope you have fun playing!

I am a member of the Improv Community

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

What is a community?

I think we all agree that a community is made up of a group of people with common goals, ideas or needs.  This commonality can be location, spiritual or interest oriented.  The community can not be centered around one person or just one thing or it is just a cult.  It must be something broader that transcends the here and now.  It must be big enough that many different people can find a value of coming together under the umbrella of the community.

Communities are also inclusive.  They bring in everyone and welcome everyone.  They support and encourage everyone at every level of commitment to the community.  If the community stops being patient and starts ridiculing others, it stops being a community and starts being a club or a clique.   Without this idea of supporting and encouraging people to take the next step deeper into the community it fails.

According to the Oxford Press:

The word “community” is derived from the Old French communité which is derived from the Latin communitas (’cum’ = “with/together” + ‘munus’ = “gift”), a broad term for fellowship or organized society.

So community is not only a group of people with a commonality, but a group of people in service, or with a duty to each other.  So community means we are in service to the others in the community.

We in the improv community need to remember to be in service to each other.  Each next level needs to reach out to the level before it and encourage, support and help.

Improv players need to encourage each other.  At the Bovine when we go out on stage the last thing we say to each other is “I got your back”.  We need to act on that on stage and off. Not just to other players, but we also need to reach out to the current students and newbies and encourage them to keep going and keep having fun.  There are no cliques in an improv community, because cliques are divisive, mean and exclusive.

Coaches and teachers need to encourage each other and support each other.  We need to mentor the people who want to coach and/or teach.  We need to encourage the new players and coach the current players to support each other on and off stage.

During classes and rehearsals we need to remember that there are no good players and bad players.  There are only people who want to be a part of this community and we need to encourage and support them.

Simply put, community’s are inclusive, bring everyone up and are about service.

As always, due to the huge amount of spam we receive,  if you please make sure you include the word “improv” in any comments you leave, we will make sure that they get added to the post.  Thanks!

I am an improviser!

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

I am an improviser.

I Serve:  I serve the scene, my fellow players and improv.  I serve the purpose that I have in the scene.  I serve my fellow players in that I support whatever they are bringing to the scene.  My fellow players are the most important thing in the scene and I will treat them that way. I serve improvisation, in that I want to go toward the unknown and not stay in what I have already figured out.

I Add:  I must bring something as a gift to the scene, the other players and myself.  I add by bringing something extra.  I must not only accept what has happened in the scene, I must contribute and build.  I add by accepting and accentuating what you have brought to the scene.

I Will Bring Myself: I will fully commit to each scene, each character and each moment.  I will never be myself on stage, but always bring myself to the character.  Playing with all of my knowledge, beliefs and fears.  I will play characters who are real to me, so that they can seem real to the audience. If my strong suit is adding color I will add color. If my strong suit is to add energy, I will add energy.  I will play to my strengths to add to and serve the group.

Group Mind: I will serve group mind.  I will bring myself, add and adapt to the group.  If the group is going somewhere I am not comfortable with, I will speak up, because I am part of the group.  If the groups direction and my own are different, I will add, adapt, change or find a new group.  When teaching a class I will serve group mind by making sure that everyone is welcome and accepted.  When directing a group I will serve group mind by making sure that all people are heard, that all are valued and that everyone has the same mind-set and goal, which the group has determined by virtue it’s make-up.

I will be truthful: I realize that realism and comedy come from being truthful on stage.  I will be truthful in accepting my choices and declarations on stage as being true.  I will be truthful in accepting your choices as true (even if I have no idea how it fits). I will be as honest as I can be in our interactions.

I will have fun!  This art is all about fun.  Our fun, the audience’s fun, the evening’s fun.  I will have fun.  I will never get angry about a choice that someone has made.  It is only improv, if you can’t laugh at it, it’s not fun.

Group Mind

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

If you are an improviser you have probably heard the term “Group Mind”.  What most people mean when they say “Group Mind” is that the group not only acts as one entity, but the result on stage is also greater than the sum of the parts.  When you are experiencing group mind you will find yourself jumping on ideas that you would have never thought of, but seem to be perfect.  Everything flows.  We try to develop group mind in all of our house teams and groups to have our players to be a part of something bigger than the individual.

I believe group mind comes from the individuals all believing in something bigger than themselves.  Something that the group all has in common and have faith in and believe, so much so that they may even lose themselves as an individual for a bit.  For people who belong to a church or done Habitat for Humanity know what I am talking about.  Broncos fans know what I am talking about.  Anyone who had been in a march, parade, mob or a riot knows.  We all have to have the same focus and goal and move as one.  Once we all have the big picture it is up to us as individuals to embody that philosophy.

For improvisers that philosophy is part of the very nature of improv:

Support and build on each other’s ideas, trust yourself, others and that the story will unfold the way it needs to, take the next step, pay attention, be ‘in the moment’, don’t know what will happen next - just know it will be perfect, the smallest things matter, own it, make bold choices, make mistakes, laugh, smile, support and play.

These are some of our beliefs and philosophy as improvisers.  All of these beliefs and more help us create something out of nothing on stage.  These are also the rules we need to embody to help create group mind.  When we start taking these practices off the stage and into our group, our rehearsals and our social time together that is when we start to develop group mind.

When I think of Improvisation I think of the word ALACRITY.  This means: liveliness or briskness, a cheerful readiness, promptness of response, or willingness; alertness, gameness, goodwill.  This is what I think of when I think of an improvisational attitude.  To me an improviser is someone who is ready, enthusiastic and quick to join.  When you have a bunch of people with this mind set on and off stage, you are that much closer to achieving group mind.

Improvisation should not just how we perceive the world on stage, it should be how we engage each other off stage too.  Taking the lessons of improvisation into our core and putting them into play in our social interaction, our rehearsals, our warm-ups, and hopefully our life.  This is how we start to create group mind with our group and a more improvisation life in general.

Improvisation is our philosophy, spirit, or beliefs on and off stage.  We need to be improvisational in every aspect of our lives at The Bovine.  When questions come up we need to ask “WWID” (What Would Improvisers Do?) and we need to bring it not only to the stage but to rehearsals, warm-up, the box office, the light booth, in our social interactions and in classes. When we all embody the spirit of improvisation we sow the seeds of group mind in our class, group, show, theater and world.

Improv Your Life!

 

Eric

As always, due to the huge amount of spam we receive,  if you please make sure you include the word “improv” in any comments you leave, we will make sure that they get added to the post.  Thanks!

Rules of Improv

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

I did a show last week and a few people came up to me after the show and said “you broke so many rules of improv”.  They were not accusing, they were confused.  To be honest, I not only broke some, I broke a ton in one sentence.  For example, I started once scene looking out a window (not focused on my partner), I said “Do you think they are still out there? (question and talking about someone off stage). One of the other audience members involved in this discussion said that I was in character, my character was afraid and that choice was honest to the character and that is why it worked.

I explained it like this;

The rules of improv are guide lines.  Like a coloring book where you get a picture and you color it in.  You can pick any color you want, but at first you try to stay in the lines.  As you get better at staying in the lines you are developing a pincher grasp, basic techniquess and an idea of what picture you like to color and which ones don’t interest you.  At some point staying in the lines is not going to be enough for you.  You are going to want to draw your own pictures.  Now some of them may be very similar to the pictures in the coloring book, but they are still yours and still original.

The “rules of improv” are the lines you color in and try not to cross.  When you have mastered staying in the lines then you branch out.  You get rid of someone else’s pictures and do your own.

Picasso when he was 16 was an extremely good realist painter.  By the age of 21 he was doing some very good impressionist paintings.  He kept growing as an artist and eventually spearheaded the Cubist movement by the time he was 29.  He had to learn the rules and techniques of the other styles in order to transcend them.  Take Jackson Pollack for example, he transcended his other styles to create his own and to take art further.  If I throw paint on a canvas I am mimicking the style, but until I learn the techniques and own them, I will never be able to be a great artist.

The rules are the lines and it is hard to stay in the lines at first.  We all realize the the rules have set us on a path in order to transcend them.  Then we understand and have the skills to not worry about the lines.  I have been around long enough to want to create my own lines.

Rules should be transcended and not aimed for.

Auditions in July!

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

We have auditions coming up on July 16, 2011.  To make it easier for players we are separating auditions into a Monday/Tuesday House Team audition and a Thursday House Team audition.  This way if you are on a Tuesday house team and you want to play on a Thursday house team, you just need to audition at the Thursday house team auditions.  If you are not available for Thursday or Monday/Tuesday nights, you pick the audition best suited for you.

This July, I will be adding members to both of the troupes I coach, The SansScript Players and MooCrew.  I often get asked what I look for when I am casting for my house teams.  When I add players to one of my groups, I look at them as people and players.  They need to be improvisers on stage and off.  This sets a tone for the group, show and the theater.

First I look at them as people; do they improvise in their interactions with me and others at the theater.  For example are they enthusiastic, fun, easygoing, “yes and”, interesting, adaptable, eager people?  Are they improvisers in their personal life and mind-set?  Do they see the world as a fun place filled with possibilities or are they a miserable person who kills ideas, operates out of spite and malice?  They most likely will bring this attitude with them to the show and the theater.

Then I look at them on stage; are they experienced enough to embody the rules of improvisation on stage too?  Are they having fun, are they entertainers (not just satisfied by simply playing on stage, they are only fulfilled by entertaining the audience), are they building and supporting everyone on stage, do they create energy, excitement and fun?

Both are needed for me to cast someone.  If someone is a self-serving, ego driven person in their personal life, but a great improviser; they may be great on stage, but cause so much damage to the group, show and theater off stage that it creates a difficult environment for everyone.  This attitude makes the group feel icky, then it creates discord in the show and eventually it can infect the entire community.

If someone is a natural improviser, but has not performed on stage enough to trust them when performing, this can affect the group too.  It can disrupt the team’s performance and then this brings down the show and has a negative effect on the theater as a whole.  I will cast people who are just about ready; people who are growing and moving forward on stage.  But the people who just don’t have enough hours on stage to be comfortable in their own skin, I will pass on this time but look for them later.

So, when I am casting for my groups I try to bring people into my groups who are 51% the embodiment of improvisation in their lives and 49% embodied improvisers on stage.  My job as a coach is to develop and push folks to do better on stage.  I can work with somebody who positive and struggling on stage.

If someone is an improviser on stage, but not off stage, I try not to cast this person.

If you are auditioning for us this July, break a leg!

Please remember, if you are adding a comment to our site please include the word “improv” in your comment.  I use this as a filter for the thousands of spam comments we get.

Thanks!

Happy Improv!

Eric

Edit-cation ~ Volume 1, Issue 7

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

It’s all about your “Edit-tude”

Remember, all edits must serve the scene that is on stage currently, not the scene we want to bring in from the sides.  The original scene is being shown to the audience for a reason.  It is up to the folks on the side of the stage to serve the scene with the edit.

What is “Edit-tude”?

Edit-tude is the attitude that you have about editing.  Everyone in your group needs to have the focus on taking care of each other first; taking care of the audience second and you are third (if you are coming in from the side with an edit).  In order to do this you must trust in yourself that you can jump out with nothing and it will be great.

How do I have a great Edit-tude?

When you are watching a scene and something is going wrong (e.g. there is no tension) you need to save the scene. This is the mind set everyone needs on the side.  If the scene is rocking and getting good laughs, there is a great connection and a location, STAY OUT! 

Being a good editor is like being a good fire fighter, the smaller the fire the easier it is to put out.  Fire in this case is something missing from the scene.  If the fire (bad scene) is allowed to go too long there is no fixing it, you just need to put it out.  The structure is damaged and you have to put it out (sweep).  Don’t enter a damaged scene unless you are sure you can save it.   If there is no fire (the scene is working) then you are like a fire fighter again; you are cooking chili, working out, posing for a calendar, what you are not doing is breaking into someone’s home where there is no fire. 

Edit-tude Examples:

John: I love the beach! 

Jennifer: I love the beach too!

John: I love it!

Player from the side enters: Hey John, you sure look good in your swimsuit. Sexy.

In the above example the player who ran in was trying to create tension between John and Jennifer.  If it is picked up on and played the scene goes forward.  If the tension is not picked up on someone else from the side should sweep.

Why should I Edit?

Because the scene needs help, change or an ending.  It should have nothing to do with you as a player, it is all about serving the scene.

Reasons to Edit?

My whole next blog (and many of the previous blogs) will be dedicated to why and what edits to bring.

Cautions:

If you are editing to take care of yourself the night is lost.  Like in “Freeze Tag”.  You must freeze when the scene needs it, not when you see a funny position to take.  Serve the scene and trust yourself to bring the funny.  You’ll do great.

Most edits should be done to be honest to the scene and not just to get a laugh.

Edits help us make are bad scenes short, make our rough scenes smoother and let our good scenes go until they come to an end.  This way, if we all have the same “Edit-tude” we are minimizing our bad stuff and maximizing our good stuff.  Maximizing our and our audiences enjoyment.  Have fun!

Happy Improv!

Eric

 

Edit-cation ~ Volume 1, Issue 6

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Life is a “Revolving Door”

Remember, all edits must serve the scene that is on stage currently, not the scene we want to bring in from the sides.  The original scene is being shown to the audience for a reason.  It is up to the folks on the side of the stage to serve the scene with the edit.

What is a Revolving Door?

A revolving door is a way of transforming a character on stage. It is initiated when the scene is doing something that causes the players on stage to change form.

  A player on the side runs out and trades places with the player being transformed.  The new player is now the same character (but transformed) and is in the  exact same time and place that the scene was in before the revolving door.  Think Clark Kent changing into Superman by spinning the revolving door really fast.  The time and place stay the same, but the character has changed.

How do I initiate a Revolving Door?

When a player on the side see a moment of transformation, the player runs out on stage.  They put them self back to back with the player being transformed.  The player hooks arms with the player on stage and spins a 180 with both players turning at the same time.  The player who ran in takes over the scene in the exact moment that the spin occurred (no time/space change). The player who is spun out runs off.  To transform back, just turn the revolving door again. 

Revolving Door Example:

John: Jennifer, I have been working on this “protein” shake.  I think you will like what it does to your body. 

Jennifer: Okay  (Jennifer drinks it. A male player runs in and does a revolving door)

Jennifer (new player): I love it!  Do I look hot?

In the above example the player who ran on to do the revolving door did so because they heard something on stage signal that a transformation is going to take place.

Why should I do a Revolving Door?

Revolving doors almost always get laughs and change the expectations and status quo of the scene. 

Reasons to execute a Revolving Door?

If the scene is a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type of scene.  If the girl kisses the frog.  If there is a potion or a magic wand.  Anytime you want to show big changes in an instant.

Cautions:

  • Revolving Doors are rare.  Your scene partner may have no idea what you are doing the first couple of times.
  • The Revolving Door should be done to be honest to the scene and not just to get a laugh.
  • Like any edit where someone is removed from the scene, they player who left can come back at anytime if the scene calls for it.

Revolving Doors are fun and add to the wow factor of a scene.  Have fun with them!

Happy Improv!

Eric