Further down the rabbit hole

iO Summer Intensive

Week 1

Instructor- Tara DeFransisco


Today we started with more montages, to get everyone on the same page. This was after Killer ZipZapZop, where everyone ends up dead on the floor. Violent fun for everyone.

We moved straight into Scene Painting, as a form. I love it as an edit, did it when I was learning the Movie. I didn’t realize that it has been done at iO in the past as an actual form. I’d really like to be in a group one day that did it. You paint a set, then do 3-4 scenes there, then sweep and paint a new set. Continue on in this manner. You can also drop details in during the scene (two people talking, you step out, “We see that a large spider has just dropped onto his head from the rafters”), when that happens the improvisers hear their teammate, of course, but the characters do not.

We practiced that for a little while, building sets and then doing scenes in them. Again, I love scene painting so was as happy as a clam. Not everyone loved it though. I guess it feels cheap to some people? And then others complained that it was too slow and time-consuming and that they didn’t like being constricted to what was built. I suppose I can see that, but I love it anyway! Some of them probably like Armando’s so it all evens out.

Tara said that scene painting is drawing for the audience what we already see. When I’m on stage and I imagine a kitchen I can see it, surrounding me. Part of that is practice, part is that I have always been good at imagining things. I think that’s one reason I like to write, I can simply record what I already see in my head. She did point out a few other things-

  1. The characters are not in on what you painted. This can be fun if they don’t notice things right away, or make mistakes about the things around them. And the audience loves it because they are in on the joke.
  2. DO NOT talk about the objects. The audience is not stupid, they know what you put and where. Don’t say, “Oh, I’m going to eat these chicken fingers.” Just eat the blooming things while someone is talking to you. The folks out there are smart, they’ll remember that fingers were painted in there and they will enjoy being in on it. They’ll feel clever.
  3. Good space work invisible. Bad space work ruins shows, taking all the attention.
  4. Keep track of your objects. If you can use something 3-4 scenes in that no one else has touched, or pick up something someone else moved in another scene, the audience will go crazy.

Next was an overview of the Harold. We go over it in greater depth later, and will do one for our show, but they want us to be familiar with the form now so we can watch them over the next few weeks and understand what we are seeing.

Harold Outline


Act 1

Scene A

Scene B

Scene C

Game Slot/Allsgate

Act 2

Scene A

Scene B

Scene C

Game Slot/Allsgate

Act 3

Scene A

Scene B

Scene C

Lights Out

A Harold has three acts, each with three scenes. It also has an opener, and two game slots. The letter stays the same through all three scenes because the letter marks the theme or idea you are following. I feel like the Harold is a little long to explain here, but I want to hit the high points she mentioned.

“A good opening is journalism on the piece you are about to see.” -Del Close

The opening can be many things but at the end you must have a theme that matters! Get your theme or you are sunk before the first scene. The three scenes in Act 1 are not connected in any way to each other. Each one will be a two person scene, each drawing from the opening, each exploring a different part of the theme. Acts two and three allow a furthering of that theme, in one of the following five ways-

  1. Character Dash. We see a character we already know in the past or future.

  2. Time Dash. We see a place in a different time. A character dash is always a time dash, because people exist in time, but a time dash is not always a character dash (we could see a place when the characters are not there).

  3. Reflective. The emotion of a scene is carried to another scene- if 1A was a job interview (nervous) then 2A could be a first date (nervous). If it was the same character it would also be a character dash, if it was a new character it would just be reflective.

  4. Mapping. Lines of dialogue are moved into a new, different scene. When done well this typically shows up as satire. (1A- Two kids fight over their toys. “Give that to me, it’s mine.” “No. If I can’t have it neither can you.” 2nd kid breaks toy. Jump to 2A- Two men in a boardroom. “Give that to me, it’s mine.” “No. If I can’t have it neither can you.” Rips up an important contract.)

  5. Transgenic. Also, associative. This one is esoteric, and difficult for beginners. The things that is followed is an idea, something that caught the attention of the improviser. There is a large chance that no one else will see or understand the connection.

The other Harold topic we briefly went over was the game slot. This has been he thing which has driven me crazy. I did not, still do not fully, understand this part. Tara helped a LOT when she went over it but I think I need to do it before I really get it. She said the main point is that it is the “art” piece in the form. It must be non-scenic, and if it’s a little trippy that’s OK. 95% of the time it should involve the entire team, it’s a way to get everyone on stage together and reconnected as a whole. She also said that while is is often it is just a cleanser, a way to prepare for the next set, it can be used as a way to draw out new ideas on theme from the opening, or to reinforce themes that were brought up during the previous three scenes. OK. Like I said, I still don’t fully get it.

We spent the rest of today on Invocation. Let’s start with this- I don’t like invocation. I really don’t. It’s too new-age for me, and I feel weird. Having said that, it was better with Tara than when I learned it with Joe Bill. Their technique was almost identical but somehow she made it less weird. Maybe by acknowledging that it’s really weird?

You start with the suggestion of an item. Any item will do. We used chap stick and cell phone. Then there are four stages to the Invocation, each phrase you speak being led with the phrase for that stage. When someone moves to the next stage everyone does, no going back. And energy/volume can only go up. It’s also done popcorn style, you speak as you wish but someone needs to always be talking- no dead air.

  1. I See. At this stage each person is literally describing the physical thing. (If carrot- “I see orange skin.” “I see a feathery top.”)

  2. You Are. At this stage you speak to the item personally. (“You are orange.” “You are crunchy when I bite you”)

  3. Thou Art. At this stage you “Golden Calf” the thing. Some people talk about making it into a god, which is where I backed-off, but Tara also said you could view it as making it Poetic. You want this stage to be dramatic. (“Thou art sweet on my tongue.” “Thou art good for me.”)

  4. I am. At this stage you become the thing, which can create rich metaphors. (“I am good for you.” “I am sweet in your mouth.”)

The idea is that by the last stage everyone in the group will be on the same page and will have found a theme in what is being said. The item should NOT be mentioned in the set. It’s gone. Don’t say it. This is for theme and theme alone. Any physical changes during the Invocation should be made by the entire group and should be organic. Also, while it’s good for ideas to be repeated throughout the levels, and within them, it’s best to let your team repeat what you said, and you repeat them. Don’t repeat yourself as much as possible.

So, yeah. That’s Invocation.

Went to a couple of shows tonight. At Tara’s suggestion I did Harold homework. I saw two Harold teams and mapped each one out as they did it, to look for the connections and callbacks. Neither team successfully completed their Harold. One seemed to realize they were running out of time so they combined the last game slot and the entire last act into a single, messy scene. The other team held to their pattern but ran out of time during 3A. Writing it out, piece by piece, did help me start to see how they fit together.

I also saw Switch Committee- very fast, high energy; Handsome Devils- really nice, my second favorite show I’ve seen; and The Scene- which was very good improv but the form was jarring to me.


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