Archive for October, 2009

Running Amuck?

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

I hear from some players things like “You can’t put rules on improvisers, it’s an oxymoron! How can the mind perform freely when it’s constricted before even getting on stage?”  These folks are usually complaining about the rules stopping them from swearing, going to a dark place (i.e. child molestation, etc.), or going the bathroom on stage.  They feel like these boundaries are keeping them from letting their brain run wild.

I am here to tell you that there is a difference between “running wild” and “running amuck.”  It’s the difference between freedom and anarchy. Anarchy is a state of lawlessness (no rules). Freedom is the right of enjoying all the privileges of membership or citizenship.  Improv is a group effort.  You must have constraints and improv already has many.  You play in a form,  perform scenes, you must listen, work with others, build on what they say.  There are physical limitations in theatre; you perform on a stage, in front of an audience, you must conform to the rules of the theater, your group, the art and to some extent the audience.

Yes, the “tourette’s”  mind is unconstricted, but it is not improvising.  If you want to just say what you want, without regard for the art, the theater, other players on stage with you, or the audience, then you are unconstrained, but you are not improvising. You are a player serving your own purposes, however you are not working with regard to the improv art form.

Improv requires a certain amount of focus (I would say a dual focus, but that’s a different blog).  It’s the difference between a “flow” and an “explosion.” In flow, one takes what has come before and builds on it and moves forward. An explosion destroys.

For example, in the improv game “Free Association” you must take the word said right before your word and say anything that that word makes you think to say. There are many constraints in this game (as in all improv games); you must wait your turn, connect to the word said before yours, then and only then, you can say what the word inspires you to say.  It is not a bunch of people in a circle screaming what they want, when they want, without regard for each other.

There are global rules for improv and theater.  Give and take, connect and build, listen and add, just to name a few. Rules are what creates the freedom to play. We have agreed as improvisers to try to make a group that is wonderful.  Something that transcends the individual and reaches for group mind and group discovery.  We need rules in order to prevent anarchy so that we can all strive for freedom on stage.

When an actor shuns the rules, what they are in effect saying is their personal choice is more important than the group and the art form.  That they matter more than anyone else.  Friends and colleagues may have even told them they are funny or talented and they have begun to believe that their choices are the only ones that matters.  If they believe that, then they don’t get what improv is all about.  It is not about a group of unfettered individuals being as funny as possible for their own self-serving needs.

The art of improv is about a group coming together to transcend themselves and create something bigger than the sum of its parts. Accomplished without a leader, in the moment, for an audience who hopes to see that moment of transcendence.

So yes, there are rules. If you don’t like the rules then, by all means, go and be what you would call “free” and “unconstrained.”, but don’t do it on stage.  Talk and interrupt people at dinner, go and swear at children and accost old people in the park.   You don’t have to be constrained by a stage or be in front of an audience to be ‘in flagrante delicto’.  Live without constraints without caring how it effects others.  Run amuck if that is what you want to do, but don’t call it ‘Improv.’

You don’t have to ‘fight for your right’ to Improv.

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

I see a lot of fights on stage.  Some nights there are so many people fighting on stage I feel like I’m at Wal-mart near Christmas time.  Fights stop us from going forward.  I know my position and your position. We are not really improvising, now we are just finding ways of defending and attacking while being clever. So why do so many improvisers feel like arguing is good scene work? Is there a time for a fight? And if you are a player how do you get past the fight? Let’s talk!Why are there so many fights in improv scenes?Players love fights on stage for a couple of reasons.  The first is “conflict” is said to be good on stage.  I think that “tension” is really what we are looking for on stage.  Fighting, arguing, and conflict are the easiest form of tension.  The tension coming from “What is keeping both of these people here and not just walking off?”  The next easiest type of tension is sexual.  Fighting is the easiest tension for many people to play, just as anger is the easiest emotion for some people to play.  However you can find tension in many different ways.  You can have tension in the characters being in a different environment.  The relationship can change. You can be on the same page as you partner and still be tense.  The great thing about a good straight person is they know where the tension is and they play it like a harp.Is there ever a good time for a fight?Yes.  If your scene is a game.  A game, by my definition is a scene that has a joke that is repeated and heightened.  If you are playing a game, a fight is great because it will stop the scene from going forward so it is easier to play your game again.  Since the purpose of a game scene is to get laughs and a fighting scene keeps you from moving forward you start to loop and are on terra firma, so when you want to play the laugh card you can easily do it.How do you get past the fights?Don’t fight it, feel it and own it, get deeper.The first way to avoid a fight on stage is easy, lose.  That’s right, if someone attacks your character on stage for being something or the other, agree with them. Fighting comes from a deep seeded defense mechanism that many of us have instilled in childhood.  If you are attacked on stage, lose!  This is easier when you are playing a character.  It is easier for us to have a character admit faults than it is for us to do.  Practice losing arguments on stage with a friend.Most fights start with the first line, “I can’t believe you did that!”.  Watch out for these first line traps and own it.  If you say something like “I know, I suck (or rock, etc).”  You get past the fight into some interesting areas.  Once your character owns being fat, ugly, mean, etc you can move the scene forward into finding out what the scene is about in actuality. So, own it and get it into an emotion besides anger.If they do start with something like ”I can’t believe you did that!”. You can own it and give them more information that gets deeper into the why and past the action.  ”I did it and if you get another roommate I’ll do it again. You deserve to be alone” It still sounds like a fight, but you have added an emotional element and some context that can be the key to escape the trap.  If you start to feel it emotionally (that they deserve to be alone) then you can get past to conflict to the cause of the friction.  That’s what is interesting.  Psychologists are not paid (in theory) to listen to you bitch, are there to help you figure out why you are having these issues.  This is how you need to approach a fight scene.  It’s not what the fight is about, but why you are fighting.  It’s not that you cheated on him, but why!So in close, next time you are in a fight scene that you don’t want to be in you can lose or take it emotionally and own it, or you can try to get to the deeper issue of the matter.  These are only 3 ways out of the fight scene.  There are a lot more.  Try to find your own method.Play Hard! Have Fun!

Auditions for “Denver’s Next Improv Star” on November 7th

Friday, October 9th, 2009

“Denver’s Next Improv Star”

Long Form and Short Form Improv Competition Show

Created by Eric Farone

“Denver’s Next Improv Star” offers a fascinating window into the competitive, pressure-filled environment of world-class improv. The series features sixteen aspiring players who compete for their shot at Improv stardom and the chance to earn the prestigious title of “Improv Star.” Each episode holds two to three challenges for the players. The first is a quick game test of their basic abilities and the second is a more involved elimination challenge designed to test the versatility and inventiveness of the improvisers as they take on unique improv  trials such as working with unusual and exotic suggestions or performing games and scenes that are made up in the moment. The challenges not only test their skills on the stage, but also uncover if they have the teamwork abilities required of a “Improv Star.” There is a panel of three judges and a special guest judge each show.  The competing players live and breathe the high-pressure lifestyle that comes with being a master improviser and each week someone is asked to “Pack up their space objects” and go home.
Video required for audition.  Video should be 30-seconds to 1 minute max showing your attitude, who you are, and your experience.

Scheduled in 20 minute time slots. By appointment only.



Saturday, November 7, 2009 starting at

10:00 a.m.

by Appointment Only

Bovine Metropolis Theater
1527 Champa Street
Downtown Denver



Performances will be every Saturday at 8pm. Starting in January.



Twice before the show starts, days and time TBA




Minimum Age is 18


Bring Headshot and Acting Resume

All actors are volunteers and this is not a paid acting position

To request an audition slot e-mail to:
or call 303-758-4722

Please include:
Your Name
Your Contact Telephone Number
Emergency Contact Number for day of audition (if different)
Your previous improv experience (class and/or performance)

Play at the top of your intelligence.

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

A lot of people don’t understand what I mean when I say this.  The first day of class we play a CD by a sketch called “Improv Dogs” by a sketch group out of Portland. It’s a bit about an improv troupe that tries to sell hot dogs in an “improvisational style”.  The improvisers are the worst group if improvisers in the world.  I play this CD to tell people here what we are NOT about and to serve as an example of NOT  playing at the top of your intelligence.

This CD in day one, class one helps establish the rules of our theater.  When you are performing we don’t want obscenities, bodily fluids, pre-planning, drug humor, guns, misogyny (or any other hate humor against a group of people), going for a laugh below the belt, impersonations, claiming of ideas,  to be unprofessional,  and lastly, energy over content.

There are good reasons for all of these rules, and no it’s not a ‘moral’ choice or because we have a lot of middle school and high school kids come to our theater.  It is a professional choice.  It is a choice that supports and enhances the art of improvisation.

Obscenities, bodily fluids and going for a laugh below the belt.  These are all quick ways to get a laugh from the audience.  The problem is that these are gimmicks and not improv.

  • Sometimes a character will swear, that’s not great, but understandable once in a while. The trouble is that once a laugh is received a new improviser will take that positive reinforcement and do it again. The trouble is that after the first swear the next swear has to be bigger and more aggressive to get the laugh.
  • So as soon as there is a dick joke you have to go further next time to get the laugh.
  • After you puke on stage, everyone has to puke on stage.  The other problem is that these laughs from the audience are from feeling awkward.

Once you heighten the awkwardness that the audience is feeling you stand the good chance of crossing the line and offending them.  The big problem I have with this group of crutches is that they are gimmicks.  They play the audience, instead of discovering something in the moment with the other characters in the moment.  They have no regard for the scene and they focus on the audience reaction as opposed to the improvisation going on, on stage. It’s a selfish way to play instead of focusing on creating group mind.

Pre-planning, guns and claiming of ideas.  All three of these things have the same problem at different times in the process.

  • Pre-planing is when someone says something like “You be the mom, I’ll be the dad and you are the son who comes home drunk.” What is happening is that discovery is out and one person is defining the scene for everyone.  They have eliminated some of the choices that the other players can make on stage, thereby diminishing them as players.
  • A gun in the scene does the same thing in the moment. “I have the gun, I am in control!”
  • Claiming ideas afterward is the admission that you were creating and not improvising on stage.  You were planning and plotting. Not in the moment and letting yourself and your character be surprised by the others on stage.

Once again, this is a group art that is a shared discovery of the moment. If you are planning, controlling or trying to figure out where it should go, you are not playing and improvising you are plotting and thinking. Everyone in the scene helps define it.

Drug humor, hate humor and impersonations. 

  • Drug humor dismisses the characters behavior and will get some knowing laughs and some awkward laughs.  But it diminishes the character and what they can do on stage.  The worst part of this is all too often they become a caricature, a two dimensional character on stage.  Someone who will never be changed or affected by anything happening on stage to them.
  • Hate humor appeals to the lowest common denominators fear, hate and ignorance.  Making fun of a people on stage because they are not us  so they must be ridiculed only encourages stereotypes and propagates hate. When you play an African-American, or a Jew, or a Lesbians or Gays if you play it as a stereotype you are not playing from the heart, but from your head.
  • Impersonations are somebody else’s character.  They are not from you and your experiences, but from someone else’s life.  This makes it an intellectual choice and not an improvisational choice.

A character that comes from your life is a character that you can relate to and play honestly.  You find something about the character to love and they can surprise you.  Playing a stereotype is keeping your character at an arm’s distance. Calling the character a name or “crazy” writes them off in the scene saying that they are of no importance to what is happening on stage.

Unprofessional and energy over content.

Because our art is play it is easy to develop and unprofessional attitude about it.  “As long as we are having fun, that is all that matters.”  I noted above that playing to the audience removes you from the scene, but playing with no regard for the audience removes them from the scene.  When improvisers get together it should be fun and playful, but a show too.  Puppies in a pet store are fun and playful and make me laugh too, but I am not willing to pay for it and sit down for an hour and a half to watch them.

  • Professionals and great improvisers rehearse and create group mind and try to transcend being a group of good players to being a talented group.  To just get together and put on a set without regard for the audience is akin to group masturbation.  People who consider improv an art form and more importantly, their art form, must think about the show.  What is the effect for the audience.  This is the only way they will come back.
  • Energy over content is the hallmark of bad improv groups and unrehearsed improv groups.  “I’m yelling, so it must be good” is a flawed axiom

Not having a commitment to the art form through practice, rehearsal and focus on what is our show “about” are all forms of disrespect. Disrespecting your art form, disrespecting yourself as an artist and disrespecting your audience. This is setting yourself up for a fall.

That’s what I get out of that four minute sketch in Day one, Class one.  It says a lot about what we can be as players and what we shouldn’t be as players.  I want the Bovine to be a place where individuals can be part of a group that wants to transcend the negative stereotypes of our art.  I set the bar in the first day of class and hope that the lesson sticks all the time they are performing here. You need to get past yourself and be part of the group and include the audience in on the discoveries on stage.  In order to do this you must play at the top of your intelligence.

Call for Performers/Improvisers for Thesis Project in Boulder

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

My name is Melissa McNamara and I am looking for dedicated performers/improvisers as part of a thesis project for my Masters in Contemporary Performance at Naropa University. I am interested in exploring the artform of longform improvisation through various exercises and forms - integrating my previous experience as a professional improviser (longform and shortform) with my current training in contemporary performance and movement theatre.

I am looking for dedicated, curious, open individuals with or without previous experience in improvisation (as we will be exploring new forms anyway). Ideally, we will meet once a week (in Boulder) and eventually, perform once a month (Boulder/Denver).

You can email me at with your interest and questions. WE WILL BE HAVING OUR FIRST MEETING NEXT WED, SEPTEMBER 30 AT 6PM AT NALANDA 6287 ARAPAHOE AVE.

Melissa McNamara has been training and performing in the craft of improvisation for over ten years. She has studied extensively with the Second City Conservatory (Toronto), Upright Citizens Brigade (NYC), Annoyance (Chicago) and Impatient Theatre Company (Toronto). She was a charter member of the Canadian Comedy Company, a cast member of Bad Dog Theatre Sports, has performed on the Second City stage in Toronto and spent a year performing various roles in the cast of Second City’s longest running show, “Tony ‘N Tina’s Wedding.” In Toronto, she performed regularly with ‘Lil American Bastards, District 38 Ladies Improv Auxillary, and The Blue Margarets. In Denver, she is part of the House Team, The Fillers at the Bovine Metropolis Theatre and has also appeared in the Friday Night Tropical Train Ride. She has created over 15 original works for the theatre, including her one woman show, “Leaving Normal,” which toured the Fringe circuit, selling out in
Minneapolis and winning an Audience Choice Award in the NYC Frigid Festival. In 2007, she directed the one woman show, “Spotless,” which won awards in Minneapolis and San Francisco, and is debuting in Los Angeles this fall. She also has an extensive movement vocabulary, having trained in Mime, Commedia Dell’arte, Pschophysical Acting (Grotowski), Body Mind Centering, Viewpoints, and is a Stott Pilates Instructor Trainer.

HGTV: “My First Sale” - Casting Call

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

HGTV: “My First Sale”

High Noon Entertainment and HGTV are back together again, casting for a brand new show in the Denver area!!! The show is going to be called “My First Sale” and it showcases homeowners who are selling their first place (and their agents, of course).  The format is very similar to our hit show, “My First Place” but this time we want to show the inherent drama and excitement of selling a home for the very first time!!

Realtors involved play a significant role in the storytelling methods of the show and will receive nationally televised (HGTV) positive exposure.  Everyone involved will also receive DVD copies of the show(s) they appear on, upon airing of the episode.  I have attached to this email a casting flyer with a little more info about the show, for your reference.  Feel free to and please do forward this email and flyer on to any and all appropriate real estate contacts you have in the Denver area.  The more who know about this, the better the show will be.  We will be casting at least 13 episodes in the area–suburbs and nearby cities are also welcome. We want to showcase a variety of homes, homeowners and selling stories. Your help is much appreciated!

Contact Jenny Rawdin for an application. We ask that the home-selling candidates fill out a questionnaire and return it along with a few pictures of themselves and the house going up for sale for HGTV’s consideration to appear on the new show.  The earlier in the process we can get on board with these home selling stories, the better their chances of selection (ideally we would find them prior to listing, but as long as no offers have been made/accepted, all is fair game).  Don’t hesitate to call or email me with any questions or concerns you may have.

Thank you so much for your time!

Jenny Rawdin
HGTV’s My First Sale- Casting Associate