The Beginning of the End

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite



Our last week. It’s both exciting and sad, I don’t want to say bye to all my new friends. This week’s focus is other long forms, besides the Harold. There is a list of them, I’m not sure how many we will get through. I’m hoping at least a few are ones I haven’t done before though I would enjoy getting to do Close Quarters again.

Barry started the day out chatting with us for a few minutes, having each of us tell the group/him something about ourselves that was not improv or performance related. Learned new things about people. He then recommended that we take one night this week to do something that has nothing to do with improv, preferably something we can look at or watch (like a museum).

For our warm-up we invented out own, based off one we already knew. We started Show Me How To Get Down. To start with, we didn’t change it. As he pushed us to experiment and change it we made tiny changes, but it mostly looked like the same warm-up. Finally, after he pushed a few more times someone got out of the circle, and then things went crunk. It was actually really fun, wish it was something I could replicate but I don’t think I can. It involved random questions yelled, with random (not always fitting) answers, as the group tried to keep the people talking as far apart as possible.

He had us do 2 Person Scenes, with an emphasis on Who/Where. These were burn-off scenes. Several teachers at HUGE would do this and I love it. It’s a chance to get all your bad scenes out for the day and I was glad he brought it out.

We then ran two full Harold’s, each one with half the group. I think he was using this as a baseline for where we are with them, what kind of stuff we gravitate to, our team interactions, etc. He’s responsible for getting us ready for our show on Thursday night and assigning the form or forms we do, as well as the teams.

After that we learned The Living Room. This is a fun form! Half of us got up and set on chairs on the side of the stage. We then got a topic from the audience (I was in the first group and we got Health Care) and then have an actual conversation about the topic, as ourselves. We discussed the topic, hopefully letting everyone say a piece, and then when someone is inspired they jump up and start a scene. We were to do a few scenes, drawing from the theme (not plot and not directly) of the conversation. At any point someone can sweep and return to the chairs, which signals everyone else to do the same thing. Then the discussion continues until someone decides to start a new scene. So forth and so on until time is up.

When you return to the chairs you can go back to the old topic is something is pressing on you but typically its better to move forward, allowing the scenes you just saw to lead you into a new topic. This form is like the Armando in that the scenes are there to allow us to prove or disprove the theme that has been raised. For that reason, it is good to step out with an idea/first line to that end but once that line is said you have to let go and just have a scene- no matter where it goes. He said that we needed to hold onto connection more than detail. These scenes are not to be literal, we are moving the theme to a new set of circumstances, not using the exact same set-up.

Barry also encouraged us to let the conversation expand and grow instead of trying to keep it narrow. To stay polite. Getting fired up is great, but don’t yell over each other. He reminded is that we are human beings, not ideas. We are people, not topics. Don’t become the issue, be a person dealing with the issue. In this form the idea is less (no) history, it’s all opinion. And while we need to honor the suggestions we get, we don’t need to be married them. Expansion is vital.

Barry’s step-by-step of this process-

  1. Take/discuss the topic
  2. Figure out what I think about it
  3. Decide how I feel about it
  4. Find a theme in that feeling
  5. Think of scenes that will illustrate that feeling
  6. Figure out a first line that will get that scene idea across
  7. Say that line
  9. Respond to my partner and follow the scene that happens, not the scene I had in my head

He had us then do Armando’s again because we were struggling with theme, which Barry (in contrast to some of our other instructors) says is always a sentence. We’ve been finding theme in the sense of “selfishness” or “globalization”. However, Barry says those are just ideas. That theme is “selfishness hurts people” or “globalization is inevitable”. That kind of thing- which then gives the premise that we can prove or disprove. I really like this definition. It feels more helpful and useful than a single word, and looking at the Armando scenes as a way to talk about the theme like that gives them a lot more depth. Makes me like the Armando a little more. If it’s done like this.

We then ran half class Armando’s, 20 minutes each. Our specific intent was to find these kinds of themes and deal with them. He said theme is deeper and harder to play than premise (or pulling random details as inspiration) but that it ultimately much more rewarding. He kept urging us to name each other, saying it would help the feeling of being stuck that we were constantly in.

Snatches from today–

  • Honor the choices your team makes by repeating them.
  • Name your partners! Give them odd names, which are easier to remember. Use them repeatedly so that everyone can remember them for callbacks later.
  • Never sacrifice scenes for theme. Theme will emerge on its own.
  • Never play premise. Play the scene.
  • We all have an opinion on any topic that is more than “this is bad/good”. Find it in yourself.

Can’t Do It All

iO Summer Intensive

Week 4

Instructor- Rance Rizzutto


We started out with Zip-Zap-Zop but with the same rules as the pattern game yesterday. We were to copy EVERYTHING about the way it was passed, and the circle as a whole. In a way this was more difficult because I “know” how to play the game and I kept ignoring details because they weren’t part of the rules. Except they were. Except I couldn’t seem to remember that.

We then played You-Yes the same way (it’s a game I always heard called Go, but with a slight variation). And then we played Pass the Word the same way. Rance was very specific that we were supposed to mimic the sounds we heard exactly. I’m very bad at that. I kept saying the word we started with, the word I knew it was, instead of the word I heard. Rance said some people are good with words, some with voice, and some with physicality- but that no one is going to be amazing at all three.

He, nicely, pointed out afterward that I kept screwing the thing up because I was forcing the word back to what it had been. Told me my strength is clearly words, now I can work on the others to become more well-balanced. And on my listening, train myself to hear what is actually being said instead of what I “know” is being said.

I’ve gained a lot of knowledge into the kind of player I am over the past four weeks. I’m not naturally gifted with accents or characters- I don’t snap into them quickly or instinctively like some people. I don’t see patterns as fast as many players. I’m not naturally “funny”, I don’t think of puns or plays on words or jokes easily. I struggle with expressing myself emotionally- what I think is a strong emotion isn’t, 99% of the time. My rhyming skills are dismal. I’m not “high energy”, by natural disposition. My default is quiet and watchful, not engaging and active.

But I’m good with making connections between things. I am physical, I move around and do a lot of space work. I can keep a lot of things straight in my head at once- I love the Alphabet Game at CSz because I’m naturally good at it. I tend add details, specific ones, that add depth to characters or places without realizing it (probably why I’m naturally drawn to scene painting, character painting, etc). I’ve been told repeatedly that I am grounded on stage. I’m a natural straight man, and this intensive has shown that even more. I enjoy being the one who says little things to make the scene move forward while other people are bouncing off the walls.

Now I have a double challenge to myself. One, to work on my weaknesses so that I can become an over-all stronger player. Practice my rhyming. Get on YouTube and learn at least a few accents. Learn to roll my R’s! Push myself to show my emotions clearly on stage, and more intensely. To play the crazy character more often. To make high-energy choices on stage. Two, to spend just as much time working on my strengths. Instead of only trying to bring up my weaknesses, as important as that is (since some of them will really hold me back), I want to focus just as much on strengthening things I already do well. To push myself to pay attention to/remember even more things at once. To practice my space work, pushing into new actions. To get into better shape so that I can be even more physical. To practice my deadpan. To practice adding details that are exquisitely nuanced.

Anyway, to get back to class. The next thing we did was run Harold’s from Opening through second game, half of the class at a time. However, each one had a restriction placed on it that was in effect the entire time.

  1. Use the opening to paint three characters that somehow connect. Then use the first in the first beat, the second in the second beat, and the third in the third beat.
  2. Paint a room during the opening. All three first beats take place in that room.
  3. Everyone must stay on stage at all times, even during edits. No sides allowed at all.
  4. Entire thing after the opening had to be in gibberish. No actual dialogue. Or exaggerated miming. Just talk and trust that they understand you.

The afternoon was spent running full length Harold’s. Each of use got to be in two of them. Things got a little off the rails because we got started playing with all of our toys and chasing plot to hold it together. Which just led to a learning experience as we had the chance to see what it feels like from the inside when things get side-tracked. We got confused, and as soon as that happened things would start feeling flat. I wonder how long it takes to develop the sensitivity to feel that right away, as soon as it starts, so it can be headed off before it takes over?

We did props at the end and I got one for the tree I played that turned into a bully, and also for a scene I did where we mapped the scene from the first beat. That scene is probably the scene I am most proud of, out of this entire intensive. The other two guys started out and I suddenly saw what they were doing, and it was magic. We turned “getting a girl” into “getting a job” and it killed.

Snatches from today–

  • Don’t feel like you have to talk about the objects you use so that people will know what they are. Don’t, in fact. It’s a crutch. Just use them.
  • 3rd beat of a Harold is for connecting things. That’s the only rule. One scene, three scenes, eight scenes- doesn’t matter.
  • “Anna, I wanted to see you kill someone. Or all of them.” -Rance. The note I never thought I’d get.

Recap: Week 22

One Million Words Challenge

Week 22

So, I can’t write on buses. I thought I could, I write in cars. But for some reason bus travel sucks out all of my brain power and I end up just sitting there, staring blankly out the window.

Made it home Wednesday. I had a wonderful trip, fun and exciting, but it’ll be nice to have a few weeks here before I move. To do things like write, read, get paperwork in order, catch-up on emails I owe people, finish typing up my class notes, dye my hair, etc. Normal, “boring” life stuff that hasn’t happened much over the past 8 weeks.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 1,375
  • MPs 4,913
  • Blog 91
  • Letters 569
  • Black Dog 336
  • Total 7,284
  • YTD 304,426
  • Where I should be 421,960

Making Everything Worth It

iO Summer Intensive

Week 4

Instructor- Rance Rizzutto



We started this morning with Pattern Games. I’ve done these before but not like this. In a normal Pattern you stand in a circle and one person points to any other person and says any word. The second person points to someone else and says a new word that somehow connects to the first. Then the third says a word that fits the pattern that has been established. After that everyone is just to follow that pattern. Typically you leave your arm up until everyone has been pointed at, to make sure no one gets skipped. From there, multiple variations can occur depending on the lesson being taught.

It good for teaching the concept of how patterns are set. First person says anything, for example- “Red”. Now the second person really has the most control because they set the pattern. If they say “green” we are probably doing colors, if they say “slick” maybe we are describing blood. However, the third person can have some say in the pattern. Like with “green”. If the third person says “orange” then yes, colors. But if they say “reindeer’ now we’re doing Christmas stuff.

Rance had us doing this but he took it to the extreme. We were supposed to watch and copy EVERYTHING about the pattern. Things I didn’t even think to look for before he pointed them out. The tone of voice, accent, pauses before/during/after speaking, body movements, gestures, expressions, etc. All of it. An overwhelming amount of things. It was very similar to Pass the Character but I like this version better because it was easier to see what was going on standing still.

He used it to explain Group Games in the Harold. They are the same idea- we have to stay in the moment and react to the thing that just happened (instead of whatever happened several people before) while at the same time keeping the entire pattern in mind, and stay current with what is happening on stage. Over the entire stage. It’s a mental juggling act.

General group game advice-

  1. A group game is not a scene. Don’t let it become scenic. There were three scenes before it, three scenes are going to follow it. It needs to be something different.
  2. Don’t feel like you are ever stuck or have to keep doing the same thing the entire time. In a scene is important to have and maintain a point of view or character. Not in a game. Feel free to evolve and change, and to drop things.
  3. Make sure your game moves are strong. Strong choices get supported.
  4. The 2nd group game can be very short. We already have all our pieces/information, it is more of an energy/palate cleanser.

We moved into doing Openings-3 Beats-Game-3 Beats, half of the class at a time. Rance pulled each person aside and gave us a special assignment for this baby Harold, something we were to do as much as possible during the games and scenes without anyone else knowing what we were doing. Afterward he gave us a list of the things he had assigned people-

  1. Scene Painting
  2. Character Painting
  3. Narration
  4. Monologues (stepping out mid-scene to deliver one)
  5. Sound Effects
  6. Being Objects (that was mine! I was a box, mouse, tree, and mail sorting bin.)
  7. Group Edits
  8. Playing an Extra (background character)
  9. Moving the Action Offstage (up in the audience, behind the stage, wherever)
  10. Music/Singing
  11. Interacting with the audience/involving them
  12. Taking over other characters
  13. Being SUPER blunt (even to the audience)
  14. Controlling Physical Space (adding camera angles, rotating the space, etc)

Our Harolds that came out of this were crazy. And amazing. I didn’t know improv could be so much fun. Why had I never been objects before? Why have I never narrated? Why have I never ordered my scene partners to flip the scene orientation, so that they had to run to the back of the room so we could see the other side of them?

Today was light on notes, heavy on mind explosions. Today was magic. I can’t find the words to describe how I felt. Rance opened up a world of wonder and excitement and fun that I didn’t even know how to look for. All of the frustration over the past few days, and even with Lyndsay last week, paid off this afternoon. For the first time since I started doing improv I felt like I could do anything. Anything! It was liberating. I wasn’t worried about screwing up. I wasn’t trying to make sure I was doing the right thing. I wasn’t in my head.

For the first time I understood how no move is the wrong move. Nothing we did today was a mistake because none of us thought that it was. We were all behind each other 100%. I was able to relax. That’s it. I relaxed on stage for the first time because I KNEW everyone else had my back and nothing was going to be judged. What an empowering, honoring thing the experience.

Even the “mistakes” were fun. We turned them into games, and suddenly they were perfect. One person stumble? Now we all take turns stumbling, maybe in that scene, maybe later in the show. One person use odd grammar? Now we’re all looking for chances to use it too. One person have to ask the person character painting what they said? Now we’re all asking for clarification after something/someone gets painted.

I was talking to a classmate who had the same sort of revelations today. Neither of us felt fully capable of putting it into words. It’s like, now I have this tool belt of amazing things that I can use. Me! I’ve seen other people do this stuff, my favorite improvisers, but now I can do it too. I don’t know why that never occurred to me before. I’ve never felt like I had the “right”. Like, once I’d put in a certain amount of time, or gotten so good (however “good” that is), or done something (undefined) then I would be “allowed” to do these awesome things. And, I didn’t know how. I mean, I’d never tried it before, I wasn’t sure what it was I wasn’t doing. Now I know. Now I know what it feels like, what it’s like to step out and make a move.

The hard part will be doing it even if the people around me are not. To support myself the same way I supported my team, and was supported by them. To step out in jams and classes and shows with other people and trust that they will have my back. And to grow into this place where even when they don’t it’s OK because I have my own back. I have to have the confidence to make moves with no guarantee that anyone will have my back. And that’s terrifying. Yet, I think that’s the thing I’ve been missing.

I’ve never had my own back. I wait for permission, and I wait for others to support before I risk anything. But my favorite improvisers, the people I look up to and love on stage, don’t do that. They have their own backs. They make moves and trust themselves, and if the others around them are doing the same thing then it’s beautiful. But even if the others don’t, like in a jam with beginners, it doesn’t make them stop. They are still confident in themselves and what they are doing. I can too. I can believe in what I am doing and do it without apologizing for it.

I’m not even entirely sure what to do with this revelation. But having it makes all the frustration over the past couple of days more than worth it.

Snatches from today–

  • Be careful to not connect the 2nd beats. Save those moves for the 3rd beats, makes the magic bigger.
  • It is always the right time to do something, if the group supports it. If the group doesn’t support it then it leaves that one person looking like an idiot.
  • Sometimes inaction is harder than action. Being the still person in a scene takes a lot of work.
  • If I’m wondering, “Why won’t someone edit?” I need to change that thought to “Why don’t I edit?”
  • Nothing you do on stage is a mistake unless you or your team think that it is. Then you’ll die up there, in public misery.
  • Moves are never wrong. Never. They only feel wrong when they aren’t supported or when they are half-assed.
  • When it doubt- say it. Don’t know how to make an idea work? Say it. Just say it.

Make Your Moves Clear

iO Summer Intensive

Week 4

Instructor- Rance Rizzutto



This morning Rance had us stand in a circle on stage. He told us he was going to put on some music and we were to think about improv and it’s effect on us, our time at iO so far, etc. To meditate for a few minutes. We, or at least I, shrugged. Didn’t see the point, per say, but at this stage in the game I’ll do whatever I’m told- I’ve learned so much over the past three weeks, often from things that at the time seemed weird or pointless. So, why not?

Then Rance turned the music on. My head snapped up- it was a loud rap song- NOT meditation music. I stared at my classmates who looked equally confused. I thought maybe it would change. Nope. I thought it would cut off in a minute. Nope. In fact, the lyrics started and they were along the lines of “get out of you f****** head!”

We stood there to start with, wondering what to do. Slowly but surely we started moving with the music, it was rather catchy. Then one of my classmates stepped out and started dancing in the circle for a minute before going back to her place. It took some time, but then someone followed her. Over the rest of the song several other people also stepped out and danced, as others started clapping and getting into the beat.

OK, I didn’t dance. Or even clap with any enthusiasm. I was so self-conscience that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I can’t dance and I know it, I was sure that if I stepped out I would only embarrass myself, I’d also earn the disapproval/judgment of the group. It was easier to not.

Rance came down when the song was over and told us it was a test. To see who would be the first to break out of the circle (break the rules), who would join in, what we would do, etc. It was a sneaky test. He also asked if any of us had held back. I was one of a few who raised out hands. He said he knew, and that it was obvious. Which stung. But it was true, I did hold back. I didn’t want to do something badly, or draw attention to myself. He left it at that and we moved on.

The first exercise of the day was to do silent world building while music played in the background. The music was instrumental, and varied in speed/emotion. We were to pick a specific place we saw ourselves in, interacting with the others or not, but all of us were to belong to that space. We could interact, didn’t have to, but no miming or non-verbal communication. Just interact if we wanted, then move apart if we wanted. We could have a narrative in our head but no sharing it with the group. We were to be together yet separate.

It became very interesting. At one point there was a huge fight and someone got shot, which held the attention of most of the group, we were all interacting with this thing going on, in our own way. Which was interesting because there was no common knowledge of where we were or what was happening. I saw it has all taking place on a train platform, others saw a bus depot or a town square or a farm, I think. Didn’t write them down.

Rance’s point was that it didn’t matter. He asked us, what drew you together? What caught your attention? It was the big, specific actions. He added that when we are confused we tend to want to stay in a nebulous space but that in reality adding specific details is the answer to that confusion. A blank slate helps no one and solves no problems.

Also, we tend to avoid adding details because they might be wrong but any details we add can be adapted to fit situations as they change. I thought I was on a train platform, someone else saw a sort of “small town”, where everything was compressed together- yet our individual actions didn’t cancel each other out. Who he saw as a possible killer strolling through town I saw as a stalker I was dodging while I waited for a train. By reacting specifically and with a clear idea both of us were supporting the other without even knowing it.

We moved into Openings, followed by the first three beats. His instructions were very vague. On purpose. It was a continuation of yesterday and the first thing that morning. We kept doing things, or not doing things, and then he’d ask why, or point out that we weren’t really enjoying ourselves, and when we told him why he’d say, I didn’t tell you that. And, quite frankly, it was frustrating. I feel so overwhelmed doing improv on a good day that trying to keep up with all these new things we’re learning and balance so many things at once is really hard, and then add to that trying to figure out what he wanted from us too, when he wouldn’t say, well, it drove me nuts. And some of my classmates looked openly angry at points. I figured out what he was doing, I had a teacher at HUGE who did the same thing and it drove my “do everything right and perfect” brain insane.

Rance talked about First Beats in the Harold then, after we’d done some. First beats must be emotionally grounded. This is vital because they set the foundation for the beats that follow. The Opening is a place where anything can and should happen, a world of crazy. The first beats need to slam us, and the audience, back to the ground emotionally, and be authentic. In the second and third beats we can easily go from grounded to crazy, but it is very difficult to impossible to go from crazy in the first to grounded in the second. And he said that we need to keep the box of weird shut, and shut tight, in the first three scenes. Weird box holds the fun toys but they need to stay put up until the first group game.

Also, first beats each pull from the Opening, never from each other. The further apart these first three scenes are the more magical it will be at the end when they are woven back together. These first beats should be simple. Don’t make them bonkers. They should only have two actors in them, if there are more for some reason they should still only have, at most, two points of view. This keeps things untangled for later beats.

We talked more about the structure of the Harold in the afternoon. Rance said any edit is potentially a group edit. The mood of the Opening should give a hint as to if that is the case. The first beat needs to be long enough to establish something, but not long enough to finish the story. That’s what the second beat is for. The group game that comes between the acts will often tell you the type of move that needs to happen in the next piece, to move the story forward. Rance listed four types of moves that can happen in the 2nd beat–

  1. Story. Most common. We follow the relationship of two characters from the first beat. We are NOT following plot, though it might come up.
  2. Character. Almost as common as Story. We follow a single character from the first beat, as they are someplace else or interact with someone new. This feels like a tag-out, something about this character made us want to see more of them or see them somewhere else.
  3. Thematic. Little vague to define. This includes mapping (Tara separated the two). We take the essence or spirit of a scene and move it to a new scene. Keep the original emotion.
  4. Tangential. Something, anything, catches the eye of a player and we explore it. This often blends over with theme.

He said that if we are the same actor in the same beat of another act, we need to play the same character. It’s not a rule, but it’s very confusing 90%+ of the time if we don’t. The only way around it is to make a fast, massive change in accent/posture/attitude/etc right off the bat. But even that doesn’t always work, so typically just be the same character.

Snatches from today–

  • We have to act even when we think there is a 90% chance we can/will fail. It’s our only chance at being great. Failure and success both teach a lesson.
  • If you’re going to suck- suck big!
  • Hesitation means you’re over-thinking/judging.
  • No one pays for an improv show to watch people “try”.
  • If you’re trying to play subtext and the audience thinks it is reality- it is now. Play the subtext harder next time you try.
  • Playing a extra in a scene is a fair move, just make sure you stay connected. And no matter how much you don’t want to be a main character you are if your team makes you one. Accept it.
  • Touch people. Touching brings relationship, puts the scene in the moment, grounds the scene, and connects the actors.
  • If I feel stuck, or feel like the scene is stuck, I must unstick it. We are all waiting on each other. It’s my responsibility to act.
  • Story and plot are not the same thing. Story -> Alive. Plot -> Dead.
  • We really DON’T have to front load our actions with words. Just make a clear move and trust that your team will follow you.
  • When we get confused we often start hyper-yessing. Instead, respond with reality.
  • It is easy to get caught-up in one or two parts of what is going on but we have to train ourselves to remain aware of everything at once.
  • Keep a watch on energy levels over the course of a piece. We want to make sure there is a variance from scene to scene, but also, even more, to make sure that it doesn’t ever go too low.

Recap: Week 21

One Million Words Challenge

Week 21

This week caught part of the week before and the lack of writing that occurred. It was about half way through that I realized what I was doing and went back to trying to write an adequate amount every day. I did make some progress, but not enough to undo what I’d already done.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 1,881
  • MPs 4,860
  • Blog 7,154
  • Letters 238
  • Total 14,133
  • YTD 297,142
  • Where I should be 402,780

When You Assume You….

iO Summer Intensive

Week 4

Instructor- Rance Rizzutto


This week is Harold Week. This is the week where we learn the form iO is famous for, a form I’ve never done. It’s considered foundational here for other forms but at HUGE I never did one. Which everyone in my class finds very odd. In fact, I think I’d only seen one before this trip and it was long ago when I had no idea what they were doing.

By the end of this week I am supposed to be able to do the Harold in multiple ways and understand the reasons and the different options available. I’m looking forward to this so that I will have a better common basis for discussing improv forms with other people.

Rance started us out with a warm-up that had no name. First he emphasized “safety first” as our number one rule this week, but particularly during this warm-up. Then he had use walk around the stage area and decide on one person who we wanted to make eye contact with, without that person knowing. When he gave the word making eye contact with them became out number one priority. Of course, unless they happened to have picked you as well it was almost impossible. If that did happen, or you made eye contact some other way, then you were just to pick a new person. I managed to get my target to look at me after a minute, but my second one never did.

Then he would call out the name of a person in the group and suddenly we all wanted eye contact with that one person more than anything else in the world. That person picked one of us to give it to and then was not allowed to change to someone else.

This may not sound like an exciting game but it quickly grew into something out of control. We were polite to begin with, just walking around and trying to get in the way of the two people but as Rance encouraged us to take risks (while staying safe) we became more and more motivated and direct in our attempts. By the end we were tickling the “looker” to make them let go (as they were often wrapped around the main person hanging on) and dragging them away, covering their eyes with our hands to make them stop looking, while they took drastic measures to stay together, including laying on each other. And all that pushing/pulling/tickling/wiggling resulted in quite a few people going down in piles, getting picked up and removed, crawling through the group to shove themselves up through the middle, etc.

After it was over we named it Hot/Awesome. Because we were hot and it was awesome. Obviously. Rance used it as an example of several topics for the day. One, to be safe in really physical situations on the stage it is important to move slowly and in smooth motions instead of jerky, fast ones that are unpredictable to people standing over or very close to you. Two, both for safety and for scenes it is vital to keep an awareness of everything going on around the stage no matter how much we are focused on one thing that we want.

We then ran scenes. Just a montage, simple stuff. After a few minutes he stopped us and asked what we were doing. We said, running scenes. And he said something along the lines (I wish I’d written this conversation down) of, why aren’t you tagging out? Or doing other edits? Or having fun? And we said, this is the way all the other teachers have had us do this over the last three weeks. This is the way we’re supposed to do it. And he said, I never told you that.

So we did more. And we did tags and a few things. And then he stopped us and said, Are you having fun? And we weren’t. He said he could tell. And then we explained that it wasn’t that fun because of this thing and that thing we couldn’t do or had to do. Then he said, I never told you that.

And then we got irritated because he wasn’t being reasonable.

Openings came next. Rance said the purpose of an Opening is to find theme, character ideas, generate information, get group mind flowing, and teach the audience the Rule of Three (subconsciously).

Three big things to keep in mind doing Openings

  1. Explore and Exhaust. Don’t jump topics, stay with a thing until it is used up and exhausted. This takes longer than you tend to think.
  2. Energy. Be at the same level during the Opening or else going up. Never go down in energy. This can be in intensity, doesn’t have to be volume- you don’t have to scream. An energy dip in the Opening often means the group is confused/not on the same page.
  3. Be on the same page. Avoid a confrontational tone/being on opposite sides.

We then moved into a training Opening. It was structured as object-object-object. We would describe something in detail, then move to a second thing that somehow connected to the first, then to a third that connected to the second.

For example- “We see a cactus. It is green. It is tall, twice as tall as I am. It has white flowers all over it.” etc. Keep going as a group until everyone had spoken at least once, and the thing is well described. Then, “Over here” (moving to another part of the stage), “We see a horse.” Describe it an equal amount. Then something else, on another part of a stage. A cowboy, or a barn, or an airplane. Whatever. Doesn’t really matter as long as you see the connection. This teaches the audience the Rule of 3, and it give plenty of information to the group.

A theme could be pulled from it. Or specific details, like flowers and saddles. Or you could use each of those three things somehow in the first three beats. Whatever. That’s up to the group. But it’s there and available to be drawn from by everyone.

We spent the rest of the day doing Openings. Rance had us form two groups and we rotated out. However, as each group did one it was off the table and could not be repeated. That was fine until about 6 in, when he made it clear we were going to keep going. That made us panic. We were out of ideas. Each time a group got us we would look at each other with fear and confusion because it felt like there was nothing left. Yet, he only stopped us a couple of times to make us start over. We did-

  • Scenic
  • Scene Painting
  • Invocation
  • Machine
  • Tribal/Interpretive
  • Soundscape
  • Character Monologues
  • Personal Monologues

Then we started getting more creative as we got pushed out of our comfort zone-

  • Silent (we were puppets)
  • “Over Explanation” (heavily interactive with the audience)
  • Narrative, Dr. Suess style
  • Multiple Hybrids that were so far off the charts they were impossible to categorize. My favorite was either “Zip-Zap-Monologues, with Glitter” or “Misunderstanding all the suggestions, followed by jumping on a motorbike and racing until we crashed and flew off”.

The point was, we never ran out of options. And as we were pushed further and further from the standard forms we knew an interesting things developed- fun. We were all having more fun, and coming up with Openings that were more interesting and had more content. Plus, even without meaning to a lot of them had three parts. Interesting.

In all this Rance gave us a piece of advice that he says will take us far-

Make strong, clear moves. And support them. Which will be easy if they are strong and clear. Vague, weak moves are hard to support, help no one, and weaken the entire show.

Snatches from the day–

  • Give your character a want. If they get what they want, good. Celebrate, then chose a new one. If they don’t, live in that suffering reality (which is more fun than succeeding anyway).
  • Clap for each other in class, be eager to jump up, pay attention, look like you’re having fun- these are both supportive to your classmates and also good practice for auditions.
  • There is no right answer. There is one wrong answer- hesitation. Quit hesitating.
  • Everyone should join into the physical. No one should be standing around and watching the rest of the group.
  • If the audience sees or hears something- it’s real. Deal with it. And they see/hear everything.
  • Even if you don’t know what is going on and you’re lost- just say your part. And then make it right.
  • Make clear moves. Don’t hesitate. They are always the right move to make.
  • Not speaking in a group/Opening draws more focus than speaking, the audience begins to watch you and wonder when you are going to say something.
  • The first move can lead anywhere. The second move sets the pattern. The third move cements the pattern.

Recap: Week 20

One Million Words Challenge

Week 20

I don’t want to post last weeks numbers because they are so bad. Improv so consumed my life that I didn’t write at all outside of some MPs and journaling/notes in class. That was it. As you can see below. And as much as I can’t afford to let myself get any further behind I also don’t feel bad about it because it was an incredible week at iO and I did a lot of improv. I was in 2 shows, and prepared for a 3rd, plus saw a lot of shows and had class and went to an extra class. So I stayed busy. Just not writing.

Here are my totals for the week–

  • Journal 2,563
  • MPs 4,536
  • Blog 163
  • Total 7,262
  • YTD 283,009
  • Where I should be 383,600

Feeling a Little Lost

iO Summer Intensive

Week 3

Instructor- Lyndsay Hailey


I taught the class Super Villain Death this morning before Lyndsay came in. It was taught to me at CSz in MSP by a teacher who was annoyed by the fact that no one in the class would lose. We all wanted to win, to be right, to survive. Very human of us. Just not useful on stage. I changed it a little to make it flow better and make it more fun, so my version is like this-

Someone is an imaginary super villain, something made up on the spot (Dr. Acidica! Ant Commander! Death with Tentacles!), cheesier is better, and then they kill someone else in the circle with an attack that matches their power (Pour a bucket of acid on them, order 10,000 ants to eat them alive, rip them apart with their mutant octopus arms). As that person dies they must choose an avenger in the circle, someone to rise up as the next super villain and avenge them. As soon as there is another death then the first person killed can rise, fueled by the ashes/life force/powers of the latest victim. I love this game because you get to be so over-the-top dramatic, both in the killing and the dying.

Anyway, Lyndsay came in and found us playing. She seems to feel that we are a very violent group, since pretty much all our warm-ups involve all of us dying. She moved us into Openings and Singing Soundscapes.

Spent more time walking around and doing short scenes with whoever we squared off with when she called a stop. We did different characters, ideas, energies, etc. Then we moved into longer scenes, back as ourselves.

After that was doing an opening and trying to find the theme of it as a group (selfishness). Then doing 8 scenes that could be the first scene of a Harold, each one completely different from the others. I got some hard notes during this part. It was frustrating in the moment because I couldn’t figure out what she wanted (nor could my scene partner), but the feedback hit some of my big weaknesses dead center. So that gives me something to work on.

The afternoon was personal feedback and then scenes with a challenge to address a weakness. This was all feedback from Lyndsay, and it was stronger/harder than last week, though a few of the notes were the same. Some were different though, and one, the big one, was the same note I was getting a year ago! I don’t know how to “fix” it. And I know I’m holding myself back, I’ve known it for awhile. I can feel this thing almost all the time when I’m on stage and I know, I KNOW, that if I can deal with it I am going to be shocked by how much better my improv gets. Just a gut intuition. But that doesn’t help me clear it out.

My challenge was to play a bi-polar person with no control, who has crazy mood swings and doesn’t even make sense when they talk. It didn’t happen, but I did chase my partner hissing and trying to bite him, which is a big step forward for me. And then he beat me to death with his pogo stick. So it actually was a fun scene, but I still don’t know how to get out of my own way.

Snatches from today–

  • Any tiny detail can be mined and mined for richness and detail. Nothing is too small.
  • If you put the theme of the show into your character then it can never be lost, no matter where the scenes go.
  • The real “yes” can be to say yes to the conflict.
  • Strong emotions are supportive, even if they feel impolite or nonsupportive.
  • When you don’t know what to do in a scene it means you are circling the subject to justify it with words instead of acting and improvising.
  • Feel things, and show those emotions, instead of using words and making things make sense.
  • Justification strips the magic out of the thing.
  • Emote!

Can You Hear Me?

iO Summer Intensive

Week 3

Instructor- Lyndsay Hailey



We started out before Lyndsay got there. My class is so awesome, I love them. We are all so enthusiastic about being here and learning that we often start doing warm-ups before class begins. This was a version of Zip-Zap-Zop that the guys from NC taught us last week. It’s played like normal but at any point someone can change the Zops to kill mode and then it’s every man for himself. Dodging and running around the room trying to avoid the Zop in the pattern because if it hits you then you die. Dramatically is best. Eventually the floor is littered with bodies that the survivors have to jump over as they try to avoid being hit. When the end comes and there are only two players left most people take it well, remaining calm as their killer handles them execution style.

Lyndsay came in during the game and since we were already playing the game she waited until only one remained, then had us circle back up for a game of silent Zip-Zap-Zop. Then we moved to elimination style, still silent, and as you got out you were allowed to distract the other players. Screaming at them, jumping around, clapping to cover the claps they were listening for, telling them they were going to fail, breathing in their ears- we got mean. Then we broke the circle and played as we moved around the room. Lyndsay kept adding Zips until there were dozens, then more, so fast no one could keep up. After it was over she pointed out, quietly, that it was interesting how flustered some people got when the “rules” were broken.

We followed that with more walking around and pairing off for scenes. Then 4 people were told to start doing a major physical task, and the rest of us could join in with whoever we were most drawn to helping. These turned into group scenes, that we all took turns watching, where she really drilled up on not talking about the activity or making a plot. Without those two things it’s really, really hard to figure out what is fair game. It’s such a habit to talk about the thing, or something else that isn’t there.

After lunch we did some more Soundscapes/song, which led into a scene. It happened to be an airplane crash, where all but one person ended up dead by the end of the scene. I think the serious mood over the past few days is getting to everyone because my group is experienced enough that we don’t normally kill each other in scenes. (If you don’t do improv you won’t know this but a common reaction for new improvisers is to kill all the peoples. Not everyone goes through that phase but I sure did. Don’t know how to end a scene? Kill them. Don’t know what to say? Kill them. Panic for no reason at all? Kill them.)

Then she asked two people to get on stage and do a scene with no instructions. When the next two got up she told them that they had to repeat that earlier scene, words and motions. They failed. Obviously. But then the next pair were told to mimic that scene we’d just seen, same thing. Also didn’t do well. And even though the rest of us knew what was coming very few of the scenes were noticeably close to the scene they were supposed to mimic. Which led to an interesting conversation about listening, and how little we really hear. Also, though the words and movements were lost the tone remained throughout the piece. Emotion carries a lot better than dialogue.

Lyndsay pointed out some research that shows that we only hear about 10% of what is said to us, regardless of how much we think we are hearing. Now, knowing that can help, and she said improvisers in general tend to hear a little more. I’d hope so, considering how much time we spend just training on listening. Still, most of our mental energy in a conversation goes into planning what we will say next, even in deeply personal conversations. Our job, then, is to SLOW DOWN and be present on the stage. To actually hear what is being said instead of planning our answers to what we think was said.

Snatches from today–

  • Often we don’t respond to things authentically because we want to be likable to the audience. But interesting characters are often people we wouldn’t like in real life.
  • When we talk around issues on stage (instead of naming/facing them directly) our scenes become flat and predictable.
  • Everyone, even side characters, should be looking for the main relationship/s in a scene and doing whatever they can to throw fuel on the fire.
  • Seeing a relationship isn’t writing! It’s intuition, and a gift. Writing is when we see that relationship and try to wait for the perfect moment to use/reveal it. By the time that moment comes the scene has moved and everyone is onto something new.
  • We keep giving our emotional power to someone who isn’t in the scene. Why?
  • If you’re not sure if they are talking about you, make it about you. End that confusion for everyone. It’s a gift.
  • Don’t resist love!!!
  • The only wrong choice is the one to move away from what you feel.
  • Don’t worry about how to protect your scene partners (emotionally or in the story), protect yourself. They are strong actors, they can take care of themselves too.
  • When you invent a reason for something that’s happened you move the action out of the present and into the past.
  • Naming a connection is not inventing. Not if you are aware of and using the energy that is already there.
  • Words are golden, silence is beautiful
  • If you are feeling like something needs to happen in a scene it’s always emotion. Go for the emotion!
  • In improv, to lose is to win. It is beautiful, fun, and safe.
  • Eat the asparagus. You don’t have to like what you are doing to move a scene forward, and that can show, but you still have to do it.
  • If someone baits you into a fight- don’t back down. This is contrary to most improv teachers but Lyndsay said she never backs down- she hits 10. Fast and hard. Go apeshit crazy on them. That will take the emotional stakes over the 10, which will then allow for an authentic status shift. Like in a real fight, there is a pause at the end where everyone just stands there, then life goes on.
  • Anger scene laughs are often a release of tension. Love (in any form) scene laughs are often a moment of recognition.

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