Things Are Getting Weird

iO Summer Intensive

Week 1

Instructor- Tara DeFransisco



Today was group mind day. The idea of group mind is weird to me, probably to a lot of people. I can’t say it doesn’t exist because it does. I’ve been a part of it. I just don’t know how it works, or why. And I don’t really feel like I can explain it to non-improvisers without sounding like I’m in a cult or I’ve gone off the deep end. So we’ll leave the explanations behind and I’ll stick with what we actually did, in order to work on building it.

First was Count to 20. I’ve done this type of thing a lot. It was heartening that it only took us a couple of tries, I felt that was a good sign for the rest of the day. If you’ve never done it you stand (or we sat) in a very tight circle, looking down or with your eyes closed, and the group counts to 20 together. The trick is that each person can only say one number at a time, and you have to take turns, and no pattern is allowed to develop. Also, if two people speak at once the group has to start over. This is used to train group mind by teaching you to listen to that gut feeling of when you should and should not speak. Can you feel, inside, when it is your turn to speak? I’ve been in a group that did it in one try, and in ones that have taken ten or more minutes to do it. How well does your team “listen” to each other?

Then we did the same idea, but going through the alphabet. I’d done that before as well but Tara tossed in a new rule. There had to be a pause between each letter to keep us from just rushing through in hopes of not talking over each other by being fast. Which I’ll admit to doing. This forced us to feel for our turn more.

After that, we had to build sentences together the same way. One word at a time. Short or long, didn’t matter. But when we felt the sentence was done we had to yell “yay!” together. If even one person didn’t yell it we were supposed to not count that sentence. In this if two or more people said the exact same word it was OK, but different words meant we had to start a new sentence. And we had to complete 10 of them to move on. This took a little longer than I thought it would. It was really very hard. However, the last 5 took less time than the first 1 or 2, so we were catching on to it by the end.

That led us to the trippiest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not even really going to go into into it because I’m not sure how to describe it, or even if I should. Tara said it’s a bit of an initiation at iO, every teacher has done it. And yes, it’s weird. We lay down with our heads in a circle on our backs, smashed together, in the dark, and made group noises. That sounds even weirder than it was. Basically, it was invented by a bunch of guys who were high and you can tell. What was crazy was how surreal the thing felt. When it was over she asked us to guess how long we thought it was and I said 20-25 minutes, which was one of the higher guesses. It was 49 minutes. I have no idea where that time went.

It left me feeling really dizzy and off-kilter, almost disconnected from the room. Spacy. High, I suppose. However, we went into two montages after that, half the class in each, and mine was probably the best one I’ve been in. It was joyful and energetic and we were all on the same wavelength. So, weirdness aside, I think it worked? Still not sure how I really feel about it.

The second part of the day was long, slow 2 person scenes. We started with an activity, did that silently for a minute, then talked about anything else. I’ve done that before but these were longer and slower, and Tara did some side-coaching to help us find what she was looking for in us. It was my favorite things so far.

Random snatches-

  • Make sure the first thing your partner says is treated as golden
  • After “yes, and” add “why”
  • It’s good to have one character who speaks for the audience (straight man)
  • Say one thing, let your partner respond. Don’t redact what you just said, let them answer it.
  • Don’t pile on words to confuse and deflect. Leaves everyone wondering what’s going on. Be still and let them hear what you said.
  • Stalling at the top of scenes is bad. Stalling deep in a scene is fine- it can add weight and the audience will wait for you
  • If you think the audience knows what is about to happen, or that they are already ahead of you, say it out loud RIGHT THEN. Don’t wait! Spit it out.
  • Say things bluntly and plainly. Don’t try to look smart or speak in metaphor. Just say it. Simpler is better 99% of the time
  • Play the game, sure, but be blunt with the punch. If a thing can be said in 5 words or less- say it! Don’t beat around the bush or rationalize it.
  • If you talk about a 3rd party in a scene make it personal to the people on the stage. The emotional weight can’t be in someone who isn’t there.
  • Let the roller coaster go over the hill!

I got the comment today that I play mostly likable characters. What?!? That’s not a note I’ve gotten before. Tense, uptight, angry, controlling, sad- those are my normal character descriptions. So that was a nice thing to hear. I think it’s due to Funny Bones. Playing for the kids has forced me to come out of the gate with more likable, softer characters.


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