By The Numbers

5 weeks.

5 instructors.

15 classmates.

100 hours of class.

1 writing class audited.

2 workshops attended.

1 city explored.

3 injuries sustained.

20 lunches eaten with friends.

2 threatening encounters with locals.

4 shows participated in.

40+ shows watched.

50+ cups of coffee consumed.

60+ hours spent on the L.

=

One of the best decisions I ever made.

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The End

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite

Thursday

Last day of class. I cannot believe how fast time has gone by, feels like I just got here and now it’s over. Which I’d best not spend to much time thinking about or I’ll get choked-up.

Barry woke us up with a shake-out, butts added. My favorite. Then we jumped into a back line to do burners, but with a twist. Following up on the last thing we did yesterday we added scene painting. Two people would step out and paint three things, then two new people would step out and do a scene there. Then, after they got swept they’d stay, paint a new scene with three new things, then two more people would do a scene.

We then ran half class Harold’s where the first three beats were scene painted before they started. Barry told us to get our 3rd beats moving fast, runs are good. We can show anything/everything we want, don’t let these scenes drag or build, that time is over.

We’re not going to get to Close Quarters, just picking up a few skills that go toward it. Which is sad because I love the form but, on the other hand, I learned new forms instead so I suppose that’s better anyway.

We then ran Cat’s Cradle’s again. He really wanted to have one of the teams tonight do one but we just are not enjoying them. I like the form, as do a couple of other people, but it doesn’t play to the team’s strengths. And we were driving Barry half crazy because almost all our scenes were about people hiding…

Before lunch Barry sat us down and explained how tonight would go, and made teams. One half will do an ASSCAT, they will go first, and then the other team will do a Harold. The only rules he’s putting on us are that the ASSCAT can’t have any scene painting and the Harold can’t have people playing objects. That will make it pop more when the other half does those things. He also mentioned that we should feel free to do incantation edits, as we’ve been doing them a lot this week without being prompted.

To decide teams Barry drew names out of a bucket. I ended up on the ASSCAT team with Seth (who will host/do the first monologue), Chris, Rauno, Mihkel, Tormi, and Andres. We’ve had standing team names over the 5 weeks, each group taking whatever one they want as they got up. One has been “Team Girl”, which is what my half will be tonight because I’m going up with 6 guys. The other team will be “Team Shorts”, which will make no sense to the crowd sense they’ll all have pants on. Inside jokes abound in improv, I’ve noticed.

After lunch we ran our forms. And we got chewed-out. Barry got onto us because we were making a ton of newbie errors. He told us we have GOT to QUIT FIGHTING. Especially at the top of scenes. NO fighting at the beginning. It’s a rule for us, because we are out of hand. Also, we have to start our scenes in the middle. We are doing tons of introduction scenes and “Hi” scenes. That has to stop! He says it’s crap and that we are too good for it. We’ve all got a lot of improv under our belts and we have to stop sabotaging ourselves.

It was an uncomfortable few minutes but it was justified. I could tell he really wants us to succeed tonight, and to do that we have to quit this nervous ridiculousness.

Our motto for tonight is “Know Each Other. Love Each Other.”

Snatches from today-

  • Use Harold games to hit on the scene topics. Make tight patterns.

  • If you are scene painting, being thoughts, being an object, etc. don’t let that stop you from editing. You can always edit (unless, maybe, you are physically pinned or holding someone’s safety in your hands).

  • If someone puts something negative on me I should turn it into a positive. Avoids a fight and protecting myself- it’s more fun to be wrong/bad/etc.

  • Armando monologues should be reflective/emotional, not facts.

  • Keys to being a great show host

    • Confidence! Fake it if you have to, but no hesitation.

    • Speak loudly

    • Get room energy up

    • Greet/thank the crowd

Best Improv Form. Ever.

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite

Wednesday

 

We did more burner scenes this morning, Barry’s favorite, and then moved into openings done in a certain style (Art House, Action Movie, etc.). After that we did a long, shared character monologue. Playing with different opening techniques.

The next form we covered was my favorite form I’ve ever done. It’s insane. JTS Brown. I’m going to try to turn my notes into something reasonably easy to understand but this form is complicated enough that Barry added to it in layers so it’s a little tangled up in my notes. Barry said there are about 9 fun things that this form adds to the scenes, if everyone is playing at the top of their game.

The entire set scene changes come through transformational edits only, no sweeps. Anyone can be any character at any time, all characters are common property. It’s vital to make character choices VERY clear in this form, and use names, because people need to be playing each others characters as it goes on. Also, when the scene transforms, if you stay on stage immediately and drastically alter your character. Keeps things clear.

It starts with a shared character monologue. Someone starts a scene from there, this is the one sweep edit that can occur if you need it. Scenes can be one person, everyone, whatever. Any scene can be brought back at any point if you want to continue it. However, in the middle of the set there should be a 4-6 minute two person scene that is not added to, touched, or brought back. This is the grounding scene that everything can go crazy around. When I say “any scene” below this scene is exempt.

Now, on to the really fun “add ons”-

  • At any point in any scene someone off stage can step out and and freeze the scene, then ask any character 3 personal questions. These can range from “How old are you?” to “What is your deepest fear?”. Try to keep them, and the answers, brief but there’s no rule here. Also, anyone in a scene can step out of character as an actor and do the same thing, just stepping back into character afterward.

  • Scenes are STRONGLY encouraged to happen anywhere. Use the entire space, move around the room, play with the audience and get off the stage a good bit.

  • Playing as objects, sentient or not, should be happening. This is a physical form.

  • Entering or leaving a scene transforms it and a new scene starts. If you want to get on or off stage you can do so during those few seconds when a transformation is happening, any other time you’ve changed the scene (so no tags!).

  • Any character can pop out of a scene at any point and narrate themselves (character or history), or whatever is going on.

  • Whenever you find two scenes that can be easily toggled (World Within Worlds) it’s a great game. For example, if something going on reminds you of somethings else (like in freeze tag) you can step out and make it immediately clear that you want them to stay and do this other thing, then step out and hopefully if they’ve caught the idea they will go back to the first scene. You can then step in and out of the scene, toggling it back and forth between two scenes. This one is tricky until the team reads each other well.

  • Playing “ids”. You can step out behind any character and indicate (we used holding our hand over the characters head) that you are that person’s “thoughts”. You can then participate in the scene by playing the things they don’t dare say out loud.

  • “Ed TV”. This is another tricky one to start with. You revisit a scene you already did and make a quantitative difference in it at some point. This can be seen as an alternate reality. If you went left the first time go right this time, if you took the red pill then take the blue, if you fell in love with the hot chick in round one then this time fall in love with her ugly sister. The idea is to explore what could have happened.

  • Stealing characters. Anyone in a scene can “take over” another character, which forces that person to become the character/thing you had been playing.

This form is built entirely on having fun and messing with each other. Hardcore. So everyone has to be on board with that. The trick is to learn to balance things so that the scenes stay up and energetic and everything is getting used, while also letting them have some time to breath. Ground the scenes, hard, and then pile crazy sauce on top.

Barry said in this form especially it is vital to not explain things. Have 10 second scenes, purely physical (silent) scenes, scenes that are more like a Harold game than a scene, dream scenes, repeating scenes, etc. Really and truly train yourselves to allow anything to happen, things that you don’t see in other forms.

This scene played to what my team liked, and what I’ve learned I like over the past 5 weeks. It’s silly and fun, and yet can still have grounding moments. The other half of my team did a set where periodically a pig would run across the stage. Whatever scene was happening would vanish and everyone in the scene would start screaming “Go pig! GO PIG!” and cheering and stomping for it, and then as soon as she scurried off the stage they would snap back into whatever scene they’d been in before. For some reason that was about the most hilarious thing I’ve seen this week.

That took all morning, after lunch we worked on Cat’s Cradle. This is a form where the entire cast stays on the stage for the entire show, everyone is in every scene. To keep that from being to chaotic most people play objects or background characters, most of the time. It’s fine to have a few true group scenes but not every single scene. It has an opening like a Harold, but that smoothly flows into the first scene.

Barry said you have about 3-4 seconds of credit with the audience at the top of scenes to change places on stage, decide who you are, and get started. Edits can be sweeps, as long as you don’t leave the stage. But they can also be focus, or someone simply making a clear move to another part of the stage. Barry also said to do about 4 scenes and then start callbacks. Longer than that it we won’t get to tangle things together as much.

We then did “Oh Mighty Isis”. The entire team forms a line and holds their hands out on front of them, palms up. Then they chant, together, “Oh Mighty Isis”. Barry (or an audience) would then yell out a thing/place/noun. The entire group has to immediately, and with no conversation, create that thing on the stage as a group.

Like, we did an Airplane, Millennium Park, and a Haunted House. Each person should know what part of the thing they are. In the above I was a wing (piece), a fountain, and a “stabby person” (because what haunted house does not, somewhere inside, have a person stabbing up and down with a knife?). It is also possible to be a sound or smell, anything at all that is part of the object or belongs at the place. Just avoid being a “person” (I stretched that with stabby person, but I didn’t care).

We ended with a little Close Quarters training. He didn’t say that but Close Quarters is one of the few long forms I’ve done before so I recognized what he was doing. We would paint a place and then do a short run of tiny scenes set there, unconnected to each other. And each one had it’s own Soundscape.

Snatches from today-

  • The audience wants to know what you like before you tell them what you hate.

  • If a character belongs in a space we are less tempted to talk about the space.

  • Say subtext out loud. Quit trying to be subtle, say things plainly and then heighten them. Playing subtle is often fear of what will happen when the thing is actually said and has to be faced.

  • The back wall is death. Stay away from death.

Racking Up the Long Forms

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite

Tuesday

Started with Burner Scenes again. Added tag-outs to them. Then had a discussion about tag-outs and their uses. Which I didn’t write down. But basically, tag-outs are used to show a new side to a character, to heighten a specific characteristic, to heighten a game, to show a pattern, or, sparingly, as a joke line. But if you chose to go the joke line route be sure you can keep that character/situation going if your team doesn’t tag you right back out. Tags work best when they are a strong shift. Tags should always be used to follow relationships and ideas, never plot.

Our first form of the day was the LaRonde. It’s named for a French play where apparently a group of people sleep together over the course of the thing, one after another. We lined up half the class (7, though 8 is standard) and the first two people started a scene. Then, after 2-3 minutes, the next person in line (no changing order) tagged one of those people, A, out and there was a 2-3 minute scene between B and C. Then B was tagged so C and D could have a scene, etc. When F was tagged out A came back in to do their second scene, which also connected the first scene to the last scene.

Barry said that while the story can follow a tight the spiral, our first one did (everyone was living in one tiny village), it’s better to let the piece move out and away from the first scene. We have to trust that the final scene will work no matter how far we move away from the first one. We shouldn’t be afraid to make distant connections because anything can loop around and come back.

He also pointed out that the most gratifying tags are the ones where we see a new side to a character that is completely separate from the prior scene. Don’t try to tie them together, the mere fact that one character is the same is all the connection that we need.

The next form was the Typewriter. This form starts with the entire team (half of the class) off of stage right. Two people step out and do a two person scene, 2-3 minutes, and then someone tags one of them out. That person and the one who remained behind do a 2-3 minutes scene, just like the LaRonde. During this first run you are the same character in both scenes that you do, again, like the LaRonde. The main difference here is that there is no set order to who steps out, and as someone is tagged out they move off stage on stage left instead of going back with the team (hence “typewriter”, as the team shifts their way across the stage).

When the last 2 people are done with their scene then anyone can tag in at anytime. However, scenes never have more than two characters. The characters, however, are up for grabs and anyone can now play any character from the first set of scenes, or bring in new characters.

Next was Weirdass. Half team again, so seven people. Two of them sit in a set of chairs that are side-by-side at the front of the stage. They do a 2-3 minute “interview” with a camera they are imagining in the back of the room. Not talking to the audience, this should feel like a documentary interview. Think “The Office”. This is not a scene, don’t let it become one. And know each other. Also, these are character interviews, not actors.

When the interview has had enough time someone steps out and begins a scene inspired by the interview. Just like Armando, looking for themes and ideas, not reenacting what was said. A specific detail is OK, but only little ones. The two who were being interviewed will clear the stage of chairs. They can join into the scenes, but try to let everyone else have a turn first.

After a handful of scenes two different people will grab the chairs and go back out to do another interview. This should be inspired in some way by the scenes, but these are not callbacks. They should have nothing to do with the actual scenes and the two characters should be completely new. This flipping back and forth continues throughout the set. Again, much like an Armando in that regard. And while it may be easy to slide into “how we met’ stories try to avoid it, it’s much more interesting to see two people who have the same passion or quirk or whatever than to hear a story about how they met.

Our last form of the day was Road Trip. This is a form designed for four, but five can work in a pinch. He said to avoid more than that because people start getting left out. Four chairs are placed on the stage to resemble a car facing the audience (stagger the “back seat” out so the audience can see their faces) and the scene starts with everyone already in the car, heading somewhere.

This first scene in the car should be a minimum of 8-10 minutes in length. And the scene will work best if everyone in the car is around the same age (not parents with little kids or something), and know each other well enough to be on a road trip together. When someone in the car decides the scene is over they will peel away and take their chair with them, letting everyone else know to do the same.

Each scene from that point forward will have at least one of the people out of car in it. They can have more, but try to avoid that. The idea is to explore outward and see each of these people’s lives outside the car. When the scene is about the character that was in the car then the same actor should play that person, new/support characters can be played by everyone else. Another reason to avoid having several people out of the car in a scene, there won’t be anyone left to play other characters.

Barry pointed out that while 8-10 minutes is the minimum length for the first scene there isn’t a maximum. It could be half the set, most of the set, or even the entire set if it’s interesting and no one wants it to end. He also said that sometimes one person won’t say much in the car, for whatever reason. He said to grab onto that as an opportunity to have a wild card. Because we didn’t see much about this person they can become anyone in the scenes.

Snatches from today-

  • No matter how dark a scene gets it can always go light again. Let it go light. (This was a specific instruction for our team, we tended to do very dark/depressing scenes/sets) Light to dark- easy. Dark to light- hard, but vital.
  • Plot is the hardest, least gratifying thing to do in improv.
  • You never have to mention or make connection to your suggestion, it’s simply for inspiration.
  • 2 person scenes still need these three things-
    • Know each other
    • Start in the middle
    • Like each other
  • DO NOT FOLLOW PLOT! FORGET THE PLOT!

The Beginning of the End

iO Summer Intensive

Week 5

Instructor- Barry Hite

Monday

 

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
  8. GIVE UP CONTROL
  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

Thursday

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.

Making Everything Worth It

iO Summer Intensive

Week 4

Instructor- Rance Rizzutto

Wednesday

 

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

Tuesday

 

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.

When You Assume You….

iO Summer Intensive

Week 4

Instructor- Rance Rizzutto

Monday

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.

Feeling a Little Lost

iO Summer Intensive

Week 3

Instructor- Lyndsay Hailey

Thursday

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!

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