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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

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Edit-cation ~ Volume 1, Issue 1

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

In and Outs of “Tap-Outs”

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 are tap-outs?

  • Tap-outs are an edit in which one player is tapped.
  • The tapped player(s) leave.
  • The player(s) not tapped stay on stage in the same character that they were before the tap-out.
  • The person who initiated the tap does a scene the character(s) not tapped out.
  • The new sub-scene takes place before or after the original scene that was tapped out.

Example:

Player 1: John, that is horrible about you and Jessica. So it was out of no where?

John: Yeah, I have no idea why she left. It was kind of weird.

(Jessica taps out Player 1)

Jessica: I have told you a million times that I hate being treated like a servant.  I am out of here!

(Player 1 taps out Jessica)

Player 1: Totally weird.

John: The worst part is I have to get my own beer now.

75% of all tap-outs should return to the original scene and players.  You noticed in the above example how Player 1 returns to the scene.  There are many reasons for this; she says “I’m out of here”, the tap out has added information for the original scene to ingest and to let it morph the scene, the original scene was seen for a reason and we need to see it through to fruition.

When do we not return to the original scene? When the tap-out generates a huge response, if the original scene had no stakes and the new scene has higher stakes, if the tap-outs generate a game (a pattern of jokes that escalate in making it worse for the character) that makes the stakes in the original scene seem trite.

How do I tap out?

When you want to initiate a tap out you run into the scene and tap out the player you don’t want to do the scene with from upstage (if you do it from downstage both players may take the edit as a sweep).  You tap them several times on the shoulder or back.

Bad tap outs look like someone asking to “cut-in” at a high school dance.  The player runs behind the player they want to tap out and then taps, waits  for the player to acknowledge the tap and leave and then finally starts the new scene.  I prefer when a player runs in front of just the player they want to tap out.  As they step in front of the player they tap them with their upstage hand as they start talking initiating the new scene, all in on swift move.

If the player you want to tap out is on the far side of the stage, you may still run behind the scene and tap out.  However this is clunky.  I also dislike the “waive off” (when a player runs in and gives the hand to someone letting them know they are dismissed).  If the player with the lower stakes is on the far side of the stage, I much prefer a “Swinging Gate” (Look for my next blog) to be initiated.  However, between the long run and tap from upstage or the waive off, I prefer the long run, but both pale compared to the swinging gate.

Who should I tap-out?

Tap out the player who has the lowest stakes in the scene.  In the scene above, Player 1 has no name and we talk about John’s relationship.  So Player 1 is tapped out.  If you tap out John, it had better be Jessica having an affair with Player 1.  But even this changes who the scene is “about”.   If both players in a scene have no stakes, i.e. transaction scene, tap out the player who you don’t want to do a scene with and move it toward the relationship or a game.

Why should I tap out?

Tap-out are by far the most energizing and fun edits.  They can bring a history for the character or move the scene forward.  They can move a scene to the past or future being talked about on stage. You should tap out to raise the stakes in a scene, to give it some personal history (of why this moment is crucial), or just to add a quick joke or game.  They can lead us to the focus of the scene and take a sagging scene and give it purpose.

Bring in a history: Since you are tapping out the original scene that is our point of reference.  If you tap out and go back in time, say to be the characters mean mother, when we tap back in, we come back to the same moment and see how that mean mother flash back has added depth to the character.

Move the scene forward:  Since you are tapping out the original scene that is our point of reference. If you tap out and move forward to the point of action being talked about, if there is a tap back in it should be even further down the line than the first tap out.

Raise the stakes: To raise the stakes you must tap-out and let us know why the original scene has more consequences than normal.

Add a quick joke or a game: If someone says  ”you have got the worst luck” and then we see a series of quick tap outs showing us increasingly horrific examples of how bad the characters luck is in actuality.

Tap-outs are a blast.   As long as the Tap-Out is done with the idea of helping the scene, then it is worth trying.  This can be hard because they may be the least organic of all the edits.  People coming in with a tap-out have an idea, they have a joke or a way to fix the scene.  But like any edit, they must be done to support the original scene and not usurp it.

Happy Improv!

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Open Letter to Bovine Teachers

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

How We Teach at The Bovine

At the Bovine our teachers use a standardized curriculum.   In Level 3, Class 1 everyone plays the same games as anyone else whoever took Level 3, Class 1.  Our teachers are all given the same games and the same information to teach.  In training, each teacher is given a description of the exercises and ’side coaches’ to say during the exercise and then told what the ‘purposes and objectives’ are for each exercise.  ”Side coaches” are phrases we say to get the players to experience the exercise through their body. “Purposes and Objectives” are to get them to consciously understand what they just did.

Each exercise builds on the last one and all are targeted around the point of the night.  The idea of each exercise is to get the student to discover the “purpose and objective” of the exercise, if necessary through the use of “side coaching”.

The Big Idea

The idea is to get the student to embody the exercise, so they become the lesson.  We need to get the student to do the exercise in a way that they get into their body and out of their head.  When someone is in their body they are present.  They are not worried about the future or concerned with the past.  They are here and now.  Being in your body and trusting it is hard for some players, but it is the only way they can discover their Improv.

Why Side Coaching is Key

Side coaching is what we say when the players are playing the game.  It is more than a positive affirmation, it is way to gently get the player to discover the exercise and get into their body and out of their head.  It is our way of having them let go of control or fear and to play.  Once they embody the game, they own what they felt.  It is theirs and we don’t have to teach them anything, because they discovered it themselves.

Why Purposes and Objectives are Overrated.

After the exercise we ask “What did you get out of that?”. We do this so that the players can make an intellectual connection to what they experienced.  As teachers we have a tendency to focus on this part, because we want to “teach”, but this is a false ideology.  Anything learned by talking about it must first be understood, then believed, then set into practice and then embodied into actions.  This is a mush longer and difficult route that gets players in their heads and out of their bodies.  And although I love the connection to the intellect, unless they experience something for themselves, they can not fully understand it.

How We Should “Teach”

We want the students to discover their own Improv, so we must focus on getting them to embody the exercises.  We get them in their body through having them play games.  If we think they are thinking, planning, isolated, in general missing the point, then we side coach.  By side coaching we can get players back on the tracks.  Once they are playing in their body we pull back on the side coaching to let them discover the game.  We reinforce afterward by asking what they got out of it, but we don’t make that the focus.  Our focus should be on having them learn by doing.

Bottom Line

To get the players to be improvisers, focus on side coaching.  If you want to get players into their heads, focus on purposes and objectives.

Find Your Improv!

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

When you come to the Bovine School of Improvisation you will get in class and the teacher will tell you how the game functions and then you will play it.  After everyone has played the game the teacher will usually ask something like”What did you get out of it?”  They rarely tell you what you should have done or gotten out of an exercise, especially in the early levels.  Some people find this frustrating.  They say “Just tell me how to do it.”  Here is why we don’t.

I follow Viola Spolin’s philosophy and her belief in essence that we are so hung up on wanting to do things correctly and wanting to please or not wanting to fail that we don’t find our own center.  There is an old saying that goes something like “If you meet the Buddha on the street kill him.”  The reason being that the Buddha can’t teach you your path.  You are the only person who knows your path because it lays inside of you.  The Buddha can teach you things that have helped him or her, but they can not be assured what path you need to take because the course you must travail is through your own ego.  Your ego is not real.  It is your pride, defense mechanisms and insecurities,all of which create a barrier to the real you. We don’t want to show our path, we want you to find your own path, because it is unique.

Spolin’s has a belief that there should be no positive or negative feedback to force one to look inside themselves for if something connects for them or not.  You must look inward to find the truth.  You find what feels right or wrong to you after you do the exercise.  By asking “What did you get out of that exercise?”  We have the player first look inside themselves and see what the take away was for them.  If you did something and that was easy, fun and seemed to connect for you, then that becomes part of you.

If I get up and tell you what you have to do, to do good improv then I am telling you what you need to to do, to do my improv, not yours.  Not only that, you then must understand what I am saying and believe it and strive for it on stage before doing it.  Even then it may not be the best, most fun and easy choice for you.

My greatest thrill as a teacher is watching people on stage who I have taught, who bring themselves to this art.  They play their way.  They have found out what works for them.  They are all different as performers and that makes the group stronger.  They are playing near to who they are which is easier, but also makes it easier for them to be effected by choices made on stage.

So if you come here for classes the teachers will ask you things like:

“What did you get out of that?”
“What connected for you?”
“What did you feel on stage”
“When was it fun and easy for you or not”
“What were you doing that made it fun or not fun?”
“So what was going on with you when you were playing?”

The teachers will stay away from evaluative questions, like “Did you like that?” and “How would you rate that?”.   The reason we shun those questions is because they evoke an evaluative answer.  Like something or dislike something it doesn’t matter to us as much as what you can take away from it.  I can learn a lot from my mistakes.  What you experienced and how it felt in the moment is the only thing we are really looking for you to connect with.

We also ask players to answer in “I” statements. “I did this…”  “This really seemed to work for me.”  “When I did ‘x’, it felt ‘y’.”  We want people to look at their  experience.  So many players start of with “You have to do …” To which I reply “I wasn’t up there.”  Instead of looking at how they liked it or what behaviors will lead to ’success’, we ask them to discover what they experienced and found to be true for them in the moment.

In this way they find the path to their own improv that is real for them.  As we get deeper into the levels we start to look at thinking, controlling and avoiding.  These are the behaviors we look at and try to remediate.  Thinking, evaluating, judging, controlling and avoiding are all things that keep you from a direct experience.

Now, as far as no positive feedback goes, I don’t think that we are the same society that Spolin taught in.  I teach with a focus on positive reinforcement.  Someone does something brave or outstanding we applaud (Viola is spinning right now).  We encourage the people who are having a tough time who have made a brave choice.  We salute each of our students, because taking class is a brave choice in and of itself.

I also give feedback, counter to Spolin.  Spolin’s belief of whatever the group gets out of it the group needs to get out of it.  I believe that is true, but especially with some adults the only passage to the intuitive side of their mind goes right through the rational side.  So after we ask what you got out of it, we sometimes say “Did you see this?” “Did you feel that?” “What happened when she did that to you?” “Why did you make that great choice?”.  We try to not tell you what to think or do, but to explore what we saw as significant and see if it made a connection to you.

So the funny thing is that although one of the big focus of Improvisation is “group mind” that the focus on classes is the individual finding their own unique improvisation.

Short Form v. Long Form & Me.

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Improvisation to most people is people getting up and taking suggestions, coming out and being funny.  And for the average spectator that is all you need to know.  What most folks don’t know is that there is a split in the improv community.  I find that many improvisers divide themselves into two camps.  Short form and long form.  Short form being games played on stage.  Going to the audience frequently for more information to start new games.  Those of you who have seen “Whose Line is it Anyway” have seen game improv (short form).  The other side of the division in the improv community is long-form.  Long form can most easily be explained as improvisations that take one suggestion, normally have multiple ideas generated from the original suggestion and are scenic in their orientation Like Del Close’s Harold.   An improvised play could be considered a long-form.

Short Form and Long Form very in terms of format and content.  The difference is very easy for the audience to see.  You might say one looks like entertainment and one looks like art.  Let’s look at both a little more closely.

Short Form

Short form is usually a series of games.  The structures of the games are done in a way to allow you a very high success rate.  They all have beginning, middles and ends.  For example: Beginning, this is how the game starts, two players will come out and start a scene doing nothing but asking questions.  Middle, when one of them makes a statement someone from the back line will come in and take their place and continue.  End, it’s over when the lights go off, or when someone stops it.  If you know how the game is played then there is a freedom that comes from playing the game.

You can make so many choices.  If you know the rules of the road, the road can take you anywhere.  As long as everyone follows the rules of the road (the game) then the results can be hilarious and rewarding.  Once everyone is playing on the same page, games also allow you the freedom to play and the safety that comes from everyone knowing the game structure.

Games are so much fun.  They are fast paced and focused on eliciting laughter.  The goal is to make people laugh.  Because that is the goal, laughter is immediate positive reinforcement.  I say something, it gets a laugh I have succeeded.  There are few other forms of entertainment that the results are so immediate.  This is the reason that the audience is a necessary component.  If your goal is to make an audience laugh they are part of the equation.  Improv goes one-step further to make the audience part of the equation, performers take suggestions from the audience to give them inspiration for their games.  This gives the audience twice the payoff.  When the performers are successful the audience had something to do with the success.

Some of the other immediate benefits of improv are that there are no scripts to memorize and no homework.  You learn in workshops and on stage.  You must learn how the game is played and the rest is trial and error.

Performing “Short Form” you can “go for the joke” which simply means getting a laugh at the expense of the scene.  The improvers goal is to get laughs.  If improver goes for the joke and succeeds the scene is served.

Short Form is a blast!  I have been to shows that just do games and have laughed as hard as I have ever laughed.  It’s fast, fun and pretty safe.

Long Form       

A long form is where you get few suggestions and create scenes and or games for while based on that one subject.  I believe that there are essentially 3 circles of long form that cross over each other.

One style is the “gimmick” style long form.  This is the long form that is using a style or gimmick to keep it together.  Examples are Freeze tag, 20 Bucks, Slacker, etc.  All of these styles have one thing in common, that how you play it is predicated on the form.  If you must shout ‘freeze’ then assume one of the players positions and start a new scene.  That is how it must be played.  Everyone knows the gimmick and knows how to play the game.

The ”free form” long form is a long form that just goes.  Scenes, games, monologues, whatever may pop up.  Things just start happening.  This is my favorite form.  Stories may or may not happen.  Characters may or may not reoccur.  It only thing that matters is the flow

The third style is the “story” long form.  Some of these include improvised plays, movies, and some free style and gimmick long forms may have reoccurring characters and start to tell a story.  In my book this is the highest level of long form, just as it is a goal of most contemporary theater.

When performing a “story” style long form, sometimes what happens is people start introducing too much information.  The stories become convoluted and lost.  It is at this point (or hopefully before) that the experienced improviser will look back to see what should come next.  I think Alan Watts said that “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”  This is much of the wisdom you will need for doing a long form.

The structure of a long form is a series of scenes.  This makes scenes the unit of measure.  Scenes in a long form should be open.  I bring this you bring that let’s see what happens.  Other players starting new scenes end most scenes that are taking place.  The majority of the time the lights are the final curtain.

The outcome should be the culmination of the scenes that we all bring.  We should have an amalgam of everything that happened as the result.  No one knows what it the outcome will be before you do it.

Some long forms don’t play for laughs, but I think these are the exception.  Laughs are just as important to Long form players as they are to short form players, but laughs are not the goal.  Having a successful scene is the ultimate goal of the long form improviser.

Long form is a blast.  I have been to long form shows and I laughed so hard and still remember some amazing moments.  It’s can be fast or slow, comedy or drama and it is never safe.  What is more long form has a tendency to be bigger than the sum of all it’s parts.  You can get done with a long form and laugh or be amazed.  Ask “how did that happen?”

Many long formers look at long form as an art.  Some look down on the short formers as if what they are doing is not tough enough.  Improv and Improvisation are both challenging and if long form is an art then so is short form.

My Take

I do not differentiate along the lines of short form and long form.  I differentiate between Improv and Improvisation.

Improv is providing entertainment through quick thought and steadfast, well worn gimmicks, control and pre-planning. 
Improvisation is the art of accepting the unknown gracefully without judgment.

These two entities are different, but have many things in common.  They both are created in the moment.  Both are un-scripted.  They are two different sides of the same coin.

There are always moments of improvising in improv.  They are mirrors of each other.  The same and opposite.  You can’t have one without the other.  Improv is the leader and improvisation is the follower.

Improv       

Improv is the art of making up character, scenes, and games in the moment to entertain the audience.  Improv needs an audience. Improv can also be described as the art of making people laugh. Improvers can learn their art in front of an audience.  It has no script.  It relies solely on the person on stage and their ability to make people laugh.

Let’s compare Commedia with the average improv game played today.  In Commedia the actors knew what the next scene was and what was it’s importance in the overall context of the play, everything else was filled in by the performers.  In an Improv game the actors know the structure of the game and the rules, the performers fill in the rest.  Characters were physical and used set pieces to aid them in filling out scenes.  In most Improv games the bigger the character the better and there are set gimmicks in most games that some performers discover and use again to elicit laughs.

Players who improv with a goal in mind, fame, success, being funny don’t mind having an extensive list of gags and prat-falls to through in whenever they can fit them in.  It helps them be more “successful” when they improv.  Truth be told, comedia dell’arte was built upon this method.  Actors had characters with set routines that they could call upon and adapt for situations when they were in trouble in order to keep the interest of the audience.  They would tumble, sing, play instruments anything to entertain.

There is a place for this type of entertainment, it is low risk. but even in this type of comedy there are true moments of improvisation, moments where no one knows what is going to happen next.

The entertainment that uses established gimmicks, pre-planning,  jokes, directing of scenes, gags or using quick thinking in order to be successful I call “Improv.”

Improvisation       

Improvisation is the art of gracefully accepting the unknown and accepting it as part of the known.  It is done in everyday life.  Theatrical Improvisation is the art of making up characters, scenes, games and story in the moment for the sake of going into the unknown.  It has no script.  Improvisation does not require audience, but it is much more fun with one.  It relies on the person on stage and their ability to go forward into the unknown without fear.

When you are improvising, even at the most basic level, there are moments when you come off stage and think, “What just happened?”  The moments that you were not thinking about what should happen and yet everything came together effortlessly.  These “magical” moments that grow out of the moment, are generated from pure improvisational moments.  When know one knows what is going to happen next, and everyone still moves forward, that is what I call “Improvisation.”  The funniest improvisational scene can not be explained because “you had to be there.”  It came from the moment and lived in the moment.  The life of it is over before I tell it.

Does this mean that improvisers are not funny?  No.  It just means their focus is not on what behaviors produce laughs.  Their focus is reacting to gifts given to them on stage.

So why improvise, when you can do improv and go for the joke and just have fun.  Improvisers focus is on the scene and creating a shared focus sounds like hard work.  For people like me, who love laughs, the laughs are richer and deeper and longer and laugh louder if the humor comes from the scene.  If improviser is not humorous, they can still be engaging.  In this way improviser does not fails often as an improver.  If improver goes for a joke and fails there’s nothing but silence, what is called “crickets,” so called because the silence is so deafening all you can hear is crickets.

If an improviser goes for a joke the scene is over.  The reason is, is that the improviser derives the humor from the situation.  The improviser negates the scene or makes the scene a joke by commenting on it from “outside” the framework of the scene.

The other reason people choose to improvise, is because improvisation can be a hearty meal that satisfies.  I remember going to an improv show with some friends that when we saw it we thought it was funny.  After the show we decided to go for drink.  We sat around talk about how funny the show was, but as we told the funny parts didn’t seem funny anymore.  We forgot more and more “bits” as the night went on.  Until the next day, when I got up, I couldn’t remember what was funny about the show all.  I went back the next week and saw the same jokes and lines.

Improvisation relies on everyone trying to attain an end with no one forcing it.  Much like a Ouji board everybody is pushing, no one is directing and messages appear.  Improvisation, when done properly, can leave you with that same feeling of “how did that happen?”  Those moments and lines that come out of those moments stick in your head.  20 years later I can remember scenes that happened on stage.  Pure improvisational moments that are embedded in my mind.

 To paraphrase Viola Spolin; Improv goes for the “Ha Ha” and Improvisation goes for the “Ah Ha”.

Short form or long form can be Improv or Improvisation.  The difference is not the form or the content, it’s the context.

Why “Where” Work?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

The first thing we teach in classes is object work and where work, the act of creating props and a set (location) out of thin air.  It is also the first thing dropped by many improvisers as they learn new skills.  If you teach someone how to do gibberish or character work, objects and the where fall by the wayside.  When I look at YouTube videos of improv sets and often there is no object work at all.  Creating a “where” has become as rarer than having a character.  One of the driving forces for a good player is to connect to the other player on stage and build on what they are bringing, but often times it is done now to the exclusion of other elements of a scene.  What is the most important aspect of a scene?  Is it that need to connect to the other player on stage, or creating a character to take choices personally, or is it turning the space into a location that is not “the stage”.  I think all three are vital for good improvisation, but I will tell you why “the where” is so vital for getting you out of your head and into the scene.

In brief creating the where is done through interaction with your environment.  When I get on stage as an improviser I don’t have a set, any props or in most cases costumes.  However these are important aspects to any play, show, or scene.  The way to create the environment on stage is by interaction and exploration of it.  If I don’t interact and connect with it, it doesn’t exist.  And if a where doesn’t exist, I am just a player on a stage trying to come up with the next joke that connects to the previous joke.  That puts me in my head, instead of putting me in a location and often leads to a talking heads scene.

When I first started improvising I thought I did object work to let the audience know where this scene was taking place.  I would start with a simple action like folding towels, so wherever this scene is it is in the midst of this activity.  I would think that should satisfy the audience.  When the scene got going I would drop my towel folding and start to focus on just connecting with the player on stage.  Having already let the audience know we are in “towel folding land” they don’t care about that anymore, they only care about what I am saying, which by the way should be funny (note to self).

Or if I started a scene and we connected before I could establish a where, I would create the where at the end to get a laugh.  So if the scene was a two people in chairs in a break up scene and nothing else has been established about the where, I would wait until I wanted the scene to end and then start interacting with the where like we were in a car and end the scene by possibly getting out of a car and establishing it is in a new car showroom.  That got a laugh and then I thought the audience was taken care of again.

As I improvise longer and longer, I realize that the where is not there for your audience it is there for me.  My physical interaction with the where creates a set of possible locations for the scene to take place in my brain.  And each location comes with it’s own set of expectations.  If I am folding towels with my body it sends a signal to my mind that we are somewhere where this is happening and helps inform the scene.  My scene partner and I are at a launderette, the beach, we are professional towel folders, etc. and each location comes with it’s own baggage and attitudes.  This information from the environment influences the interaction and helps me create a more satisfying connection on stage for me and the audience and my fellow players.

I find that when I use one of my senses too much I have to shut down some of my other senses.  If I want to listen intensely, sometimes I shut my eyes.  This happens too with the mind and body.  If I am so focused on using my brain for laughs, wit, or being cleaver, I shut down my body to compensate.  The result is that instead of being in my body you are in my head.  I have seen it a hundred times, the improviser who is thinking has feet of lead and is working, not playing.  Connection to the other players is a great way to stay out of your head, but it is only one connection.  If you are connected to your partner and the environment then you are twice as likely to not get into your head.  Add a strong character to the mix and you are almost never in your head.

I hope in the future I will see less talking heads on YouTube doing improv, but for now I’ll settle for seeing more object/where work on the stage here at The Bovine.

Improv Boom

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

It seems that Improv, especially in Denver, is going through a boom time.  There are now a lot more theaters offering improv comedy/theater in Denver.  There are more classes being offered.  In Denver especially, improv seems to be growing at a great rate. The Bovine and improvisation has been around for a long time and finally it seems improv is catching on and people “get it”.

The first big boom for improvisation was in post war 1940’s and 50’s.  Not just improvisational theater and dance.  William Carlos Williams, Charles Olson, and Jack Kerouac were working with improvisational prose and poetry.  The bop scene in music was taking off with Charlie Parker et al.  And Jackson Pollack took improvisation to the canvas.  As a matter of fact there was an entire institution, the Black Mountain College, that was dedicated to exploring the aesthetic of spontaneity.

Today it seems that improvisation is having another boom, but instead of creating art, improvisation is being used as tools to help people to connect and make their lives and work better.  What was a fringe movement among artists has become a mainstream phenomenon that people find useful in virtually every aspect of their lives.

Work

Improvisation is everywhere in Corporate America today.  Publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and HR Magazine just to mention a few are printing numerous articles every year about the benefits of improvisation in an ever changing work environment.  Colleges like Stanford and M.I.T. have business schools that offer courses in improvisation.  Companies like Bovine Metropolis are doing Corporate training sessions with all types of companies from Fortune 500 companies and mom and pops.  We have done improvisational workshops for advertising/marketing firms, communications companies, restaurants, sales, management teams, the list is extensive.  Improvisation offers creative insights and physical, hands on training to expose people to positive, pro-active ways of communicating, managing and interacting with each other.  Improv is an asset that all companies should have in their portfolio and now many companies are seeing that too.

Personal Life

Instead of poets working with improvisation to help them explore relationships between people and things, average people are taking improvisation classes to help them in their relationships.  As long as there has been improv classes there have been couples getting together in classes.  People always get together when they are together, but there is a mind set amongst improvisers that makes for quick connections.  As a matter of fact, our theater has seen at least a dozen marriages come out of classes and shows in as many years and many times more relationships that have been long term and short term.  What I have noticed is that more couples and friends are taking classes together. Couples are taking improv classes to help them find play and joy in their lives. The benefit of this is also that not only do they have a fun thing to do together, but they have a shared experience and a shared lexicon.  Friends are taking classes together, groups of men and women are signing up for classes together.  They get to play together every week.  Friends find that they often have more fun together afterward when everyone is building on the same idea and joking and exploring the realm of possibilities instead of just swapping stories.  One of the greatest things people get out of the class is confidence.  They are more comfortable in their skin after a few classes.  It’s amazing to watch and amazing to hear student after student tell me how improv has changed their life for the better.

The Reason

The thing about improvisation is that it teaches you how you manage, deal and work through your fear.  How worthless and time wasting the inaction of ‘worry’ is.  Improv teaches you to move through your fear and move forward into the unknown.  More than that, it teaches you to accept and build on other peoples ideas and support them through their fear.  This is the thing that hits home for so many people.  Creating an atmosphere that you can quickly work through your fear and feel supported throughout the process.

No wonder it is in the mainstream who wouldn’t want a fearless relationship, a fearless management team, a fearless communication style.

It’s taken over 60 years, but I am glad to be a part of the Improv Boom today.  For the last 15 years, we truly feel like we have been helping people by making their lives at home and at work better.

Just Play!

Friday, March 20th, 2009

“We don’t stop playing
because we grow old; We grow old because we stop playing.”

-George Bernard Shaw

That was the phrase I saw emblazoned on the wall 7 weeks ago when I walked in to take my very first Improv class, here at The Bovine. I had no idea what I was in for by taking this class, but it was just one of those times in life when I had to do something I cared about again. What better option than taking classes?

Like all of you, I have a day job, and like most of you, it is not what I ever thought I would be doing at this stage in my life. But alas, here I was. Stuck in a Corporate rut with what seemed to be no way out of it. Then, I saw this mysterious post about Improv Classes available at The Bovine Metropolis Theater.
It seemed destined for me to find it. So, I dropped all reservations, and said, “Why not?”

The first thing I see is George Bernard Shaw, and it has stuck with me.

Our very first class, we got to meet all of the other people that had found the same mysterious post I had. None of use knew each other, but we were all here for the same reason. To do something different. So, introductions were made, we played games to learn each other’s names. Our instructor (Amanda Kennedy) asked us in one of the games, why each of us were there. What brought us here? Everyone gave their one sentence reason, and then it came to me. It finally hit me when it came to be my turn. The only thing that hit me was “I want to remember how to play.”

Tonight was our 7th week of class, and we have one more week at this level. Tonight, I feel I was able to play again. No matter how tired I am or how worn out or stressed out from the day-job or life in general, I remembered how to play.

Thank you Bovine, and thank you Mr. Shaw.
Tonight, I feel like it’s okay to play.

I am both excited and nervous for what is to come after this. Only one more week as a Level 1, and then on to Level 2. I just know I will play all the way through it!

You are a Player!

Friday, October 10th, 2008

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” Rumi

This is true for improv too.  We all have players inside of us.  We all have a child inside of us who wants to agree and accept and play. We have all done this, although it may have been years ago or when we are ‘altered’.  We all used to pretend that we were someone else and had fun doing it, even if it was so long ago that you have a hard time remembering it.

Most people think improvisation is something you have to learn, but the truth is it is something that is in all of us.  When you improvise you are playing.  Play is something that most of us have unlearned.  We have repressed it.  Hidden it away from ourselves and others.  We have covered it up and suppressed it.

Improv classes and performing  help you connect to that play that is inside us all. We call improvisers “players” because we play.  Improv helps you get past the crap that has been put on you and get to that player inside.

To be a great improviser you don’t need to be funny, you just need to unleash that playfulness inside of you.

Leaving the Kennel

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

This morning I was cleaning my apartment. I force myself to do this once a week between Friday and Sunday; I know if I skip one week, my apartment will transform into that stereotypical college student apartment. You know the one. The apartment that has so many pizza boxes around they form furniture, and there’s something growing in the fridge that has begun to form sentient thoughts. (“Leave the light on!” it says.)

The time had come for me to begin the ancient ritual of the vacuum. As always my animals ran away and hid. The cat ran under the bed. The dog went into his kennel, and the fish…well the fish just swam in circles as fish do.  While I was vacuuming, however, the something happened. My dog, Butters, came out and began investigating the vacuum. He’d approach it with cautious concern. As soon as it appeared that the vacuum was coming after him (which may or may not have been me teasing him) Butters would run back to his kennel. Sure enough, though, he’d come back up and try again. He had what I call an “anxious fascination” with the vacuum. 

On the one hand, Butters was terrified. He honestly thought this five pound cleaning device would destroy him. On the other hand, the thrill of getting as close as he could, putting his paw on top of the vacuum, and exploring the unknown was so great he almost let go of his survival instincts.

“That’s just like my improv students.” I did not say. However, I did think it later. I have been teaching improv to several students at Front Range Community College for the past year. All of them are wonderful, talented people; when we started training, however, they were like a dog with a vacuum. I think all new improv students are like that, myself included. I remember, I walked into my first day of class with my pre-conventions with what improv was, or should be. What would the other students would think of me? Would they be better than me? Does it matter if they are?

As the training continued, I gained more and more of that “anxious fascination.” I was terrified to try and perform in front of people. What if I wasn’t funny? What if no one bailed me out of a bad scene? What I don’t bail the others out? Yet, like all improvisers, I didn’t quit. Every time I got scared, and ran back into my kennel, I’d come back and get a little closer to that preverbal vacuum cleaner.

How many times have any of us had a bad scene, or a horrible set, and just rub our noses in it. I don’t know about you, but I will obsess about that moment where I denied a fellow performer, or performed a whole scene without giving a single gift. I will run into my kennel and just whimper. I may even stay in there for months, afraid to try again. Like Butters, I do eventually come back out.

We all do. We can’t help it. That fascination with the unknown draws us back, regardless of the danger it may present.

In addition to exploring this anxious fascination Butters had while I vacuumed, we need to talk about why I had to vacuum. I had to clean today, because Butters decided to drag my trash all over the apartment. This was not his first adventure with the trash can, and I am sure it won’t be his last. No matter what I do, he wont stay away from my discarded belongings. He even knows the consequences. He knows that he’ll get a smack on the nose, and then I’ll get the vacuum out and clean. At that point we start this cycle of courage and fear all over again.

Why does he do it then? Why does he pull out last nights left overs if he knows it will end with him cowering in the corner from the horrible Dyson Monster? Because like an improviser, he makes messes. This is what we do. We make messes. 

As much as I claim I hate it, if Butters never did anything wrong, it’d be boring. If nothing happened in a scene, it’d be boring. How do we fix that? We make a mess. We run into old flames, start a fight, or confess a secret. We make a mess of the scene. We then spend the next few minutes in a state of “anxious fascination” watching others (and ourselves) deal with this new mess. 

Whether your a new student to the art, a seasoned veteran, or someone returning from their kennel, I say this. Go out and make a mess of things. Get it dirty. Get it filthy. You can even get scared. We’ll clean it up together!