Tuesday, January 13, 2009

That's two

Deciding what to focus on with Exit 16 can be tough. At the start of the year, it's a mix of basic skills and performance formats—I work on games that build specific skills (e.g. Good/Bad/Worst Advice = character).

November/December, if the snow and holidays don't get in the way, we finesse the shows—learn more games, practice hosting skills, work on long form. Spring is tough. Schedules get busy, the kids get antsy and, after the Alumni Show, they might be getting the teensiest bit cocky. (And I might be starting to feel the teensiest bit burned out.)

It's been a busy year: They started with a private workshop with Jill Bernard, saw the KC Improv Festival, took classes at KCiF and added a monthly show at the Corbin to their monthly school show. They've been accepted to the Chicago Teen Comedy Festival in May; to tide them over, we'll bring Second City performer/KC native Tim Mason in for a workshop in the next couple of months. 

(Yes. They're a little spoiled. Most professional improv troupes I've been in would kill for these resources—and their crowds.)

So it's been cool to really feel like I've gotten through and taught them something new in the last two weeks. Last Tuesday, we focused almost entirely on physical work—a space walk (pure Spolin), character work (Annoyance/Bernard/Viewpoints) and Freeze Tag as a shape exercise (Viewpoints). In the space walk, the kids pulled out some incredibly creative, off-the-wall, unexpected stuff. When we talked about why that didn't happen in scenes, they said fear—fear the audience wouldn't get it, fear their scene partners wouldn't track with them. They felt obligated to make everything make sense—which was making things incredibly uninteresting.

For the last part of the rehearsal, we didn't worry about making sense—to anybody. I pushed them to make bold, organic choices. In freeze tag, they let the shapes they found themselves in inspire character and emotion—and did killer scene work. One of the kids said it was the best rehearsal she'd ever been to—and all of them felt like they learned a lot.

Hey! Top that!

So this week, I pulled out something I learned from Dan Izzo and adapted for my Improv Toolbox class. At the end of an intensive, Dan had us each play a scene with everyone in the class, one by one—he set each scene to force us to do something we didn't usually do. In Improv Toolbox, I came up with seven categories of endowments and used them to push players out of their comfort zones in the last class. 

We got through four of the 12 kids tonight—doing a total of 28 scenes. I worried that the other kids would feel cheated, but once they saw the personal attention (and I reiterated that we'd do this every week until we covered everyone), they were fine. Given just one point of concentration and taking away the responsibility of worrying about making sense or even doing good improv, they did hilarious scene after scene. They broke rules, but they committed 100% to physical quirks, archetypes, emotions, verbal restrictions and outside influences.  

A different kid said this one was the best rehearsal ever. 

We've got two upcoming shows: Jan. 27 at South Valley Middle School and Feb. 7 at the Corbin. And two rehearsals—one before each show. We should have time to get through all the kids by the 7th. I'm not worried about running games or a long-form between now and then, but I do have to figure out a way to remind the kids what they know so they can use it in scenes. Some things I've done before or am considering now: 
  • Have slips of paper with character endowments backstage for them to pull right before they enter a scene. 
  • Create the run list myself (I usually hand it off to the kids in January) and choose games conducive to this kind of work (actually, I can give them a limited list of games to choose from, and that should work). 
  • Tape pieces of paper to the stage that say things like "lead with a body part" and "be more of what you are" and "start with shape."
  • Give everyone a short list of character-driven "assignments" to focus on in each game they play—something to keep in their pockets and look at right before the scenes start.
There's nothing like seeing them surprise each other...by doing something new or brilliant, making a completely unexpected choice, taking a huge leap in skills. As much as I'd like to smack them for NOT SHUTTING UP, EVER, they're an incredibly supportive bunch. It's fun watching them have fun watching each other.


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