Armando’s for Everyone

iO Summer Intensive

Week 1

Instructor- Tara DeFransico

Tuesday

 

 

We started the day out by learning the Armando. Interesting, since only yesterday I was saying I didn’t care for it. We warmed-up with an insane version of Bunny Bunny, the Estonian guys taught it to us the way they play it and it’s very tribal and loud. High energy too. My favorite way I’ve ever played it.

The day started with 2 or 3 person scenes, in a loose Montage. We were still limited to sweeps for editing, which clearly rankled some of the guys who really wanted to do more. However, as soon as we were done with out Montage Tara grinned and pointed out that the very next thing in the book was edits. This was met with celebration.

We did tags, in various forms (all of which I knew) and French Edits, which I didn’t know. You come up off the back wall, through the center of the scene, and start a new scene as the old scene drifts off to the sides. Like a French door opening on stage. I can see the appeal but I think it would be hard to do at a jam or something, no one would get it. It would have to be with a group that understood what you were doing. Of course, I say that like everyone knows sweeps and tags. The first time someone tried to tag me out in a jam I just looked over my shoulder and said “hi”. I thought they were joining the scene because I didn’t now what I tag was. So there is that.

We started the Armando work with an “I Love” Line. Each person stepped forward out of the line, named something they loved, and then started talking about it until someone else stepped up. This is an exercise designed to teach more than I realized at the start. I thought, practice for monologues. Sure, it is that. And it can also be used as an opener. I got that.

After we were done, however, Tara started asking questions and I saw a new side to it. It’s a lot to do with focus. How do you know it’s your turn to step up? How do you know when it’s time to let someone else talk? Focus. And it’s not just the back line taking it, the front line can give it by stopping talking. That’s scary. To stand in front of a group, talk, and then stop, trusting that someone else will have your back and fill in the silence.

The Armando, true Chicago style, has the following characteristics-

  1. The monologist remains the same throughout the show (Unlike ASSCAT)
  2. Stories told must be 100% true, the more intimate the better
  3. The monologist breaks the 4th wall, addresses the audience directly
  4. 2 acts, of 45 minutes each (very long form), the monologist gets up as inspired (averaging 2-4 monologues per half, but that’s flexible)
  5. Cast is inspired by the stories, but NOT reenacting them- you are following single word, or the emotions and/or themes you sensed
  6. Stories must be personal and specific, no opinion bits (For example- the suggestion of “water” should be used as a launchpad for the story where you almost drowned, not to express that you like water and think it is good)

We did several short Armando’s, a handful of scenes based on a single monologue. We then did a full half, about 45 minutes, with the monologist getting up as prompted internally (4 times). I was in the back line for a couple of the short ones, and I was the monologist for the 45 minute one.

Tara talked about how it seems that the more serious the monologue the truer and funnier the scenes seem to be. Something about the tension the audience feels after hearing something intense/sad/scary/heart-breaking makes the following scenes easier to laugh at- all that tension needs to go somewhere and laughter is a release valve. This came up because one of my classmates was very open and shared a deeply personal, very conflicted/sad story. We, or at least I, didn’t know what to do with that because making what she said into a joke felt cruel. It wasn’t funny.

That’s when Tara explained her view on it. I’m paraphrasing, of course. But basically, the scenes that follow a monologue, especially a painful one, are a way of releasing the pain and even allowing healing to take place if needed. It’s not turning their pain into a joke, it’s acknowledging it as real and valid, and then taking the chance to offer something back as a thank-you. She said that she’s had friends break down and cry on stage and when she gets up to do scenes after that it isn’t a feeling of ignoring their pain. Rather, it’s saying, yes, that sucks. Let me offer you this and see if it can make you laugh anyway, if it can help you feel better.

That was driven home when I was the monologist. I didn’t tell any heart-breaking stories, but I did tell one that made me choke-up. Which surprised me. I think it was trying to be real and honest in the moment, coupled with having such an attentive audience. Felt weird. And another of my four was a personal admission I didn’t mean to make. But each time I saw what Tara meant- the scenes that followed didn’t feel bad from my side. If anything, they felt really good. I felt supported. They heard me, really heard me, and were now working from that. I felt great, emotionally, by the time they were done. My class then went on to discuss my monologues objectively, as they did with all the others, while I listened. That was weird. However, I got some positive feedback on them that almost made me cry so it was all good.

I’m still not sure that I love watching Armando’s, but I enjoy being in them! And at least now I get the point, and I have a better idea of what I haven’t liked about ones I’ve seen in the past.

Random notes from the day-

  • When you ask a question you are stealing from the scene! Stop stealing!
  • 10 giant laughs are worth more than 100 medium ones. Don’t pull the rug out from under the scene for a cheap laugh.
  • Laughter is one of three things 1)Release of surprise 2)Release of tension 3)Politeness
  • The Armando can be seen as a loose poem, wisps of story getting tangled together in the moment, not to meet again.
  • The bravest improviser is often the one who stops.
  • Use the idea of short form, only having 3 minutes, to start long form if you are prone to wander around and do nothing.
  • Start with a bang! Don’t just talk and putter. Put your heart into it from line one.
  • We too often take away our own power or rights on stage. We must say what we are thinking or feeling or doing for ourselves, instead of just hoping the other person will figure it out.
  • Train your improv tuning fork to go off when someone says something that needs to be followed. You should feel a vibration with something twinkly gets said, or there is a chance to tag, or when there is something big about to get tossed aside.

The only show I caught tonight was Dummy. It’s a real couple, who also do a duo on stage. They are brilliant. They did a Monoscene, and until the very end there were only two characters (another character showed up for the last 2-3 minutes). They’ve been hailed as “the next TJ & Dave”. I haven’t seen TJ & Dave yet but Dummy was mesmerizing.

They started slow. Very slow. It was real, and it was interesting, but aside from a few short lines it wasn’t very funny. It was almost boring. Not quite, but almost. It was a feeling of, what the heck are they doing? Nothing, that’s what.

It didn’t stay that way. Slowly, almost painfully slowly, you began to realize that he was crazy. Maybe dangerous crazy. And she had let him move in as her roommate. And then you felt very scared for her and what was probably going to happen. And then they kept talking, boring stuff like classmates they had as kids and their recent break-ups and hobbies. But through it all there was a feeling like, shit, he’s going to do something awful to her before this ends.

Yet, something was weird with her too. And the more they talked the more you realized she wasn’t completely what one would call sane. Then, speed picking up, he was still just as scary/weird but she had far surpassed him and you got a feeling that he was the one who was going to be in serious trouble soon ’cause she was flipping insane.

That was when it peaked, and you knew something bad had to happen.

But it didn’t. And they calmed each other down. And it was very organic and real, but the audience, myself included, were sitting forward waiting for something, anything, to happen because emotions were high. Which was when Richard, her ex, showed up. And in that last 30 seconds before the set ended we all came to the same realization as the couple on stage- Richard was going to die.

Very satisfying show. And hilarious. I want to see them again as often as I can get in.

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