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.

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