Thursday, May 28, 2009


So here’s something new: Teach from a textbook you haven’t read all the way through—after skimming it briefly. (And not even skimming the whole book. Just the first chapter.)

Last night I lead a Viewpoints workshop straight from the book. I spent a long weekend learning some of the technique from Dave Razowsky when I worked with Jill Bernard last fall, but other than that (and a few hours of play at a KC Improv Festival a decade ago), my Viewpoints experience is non-existent.

I used to have to teach straight from books all the time—they were all we had. When Lighten Up got going, my informal motto was, “Use what you know. Learn what you can. Make the rest up as you go along.” (Which I wrote when I was spoofing a Nike ad for a t-shirt.) We set out to learn everything we could from every source possible, including Chicago visits, festivals, intensive workshops, a set of notes from a decades-ago Del Close workshop with the Committee (click "download the notes"—it's totally worth it), and books.

There weren’t many. Impro and Improvisation for the Theater, of course, and Truth In Comedy, when it came out. There were some really mediocre books and some focused mostly on kids’ games. Augusto Boal had some interesting stuff.

But last night, I jumped in at the last minute, and only had time to skim enough exercises to fill a rehearsal. Every now and then, I had to read instructions for exercises straight from the book—others, I was able to guess the intent enough to…um…improvise. After exercises meant to introduce the Viewpoints, we tried some scene starts and scenes, isolating tempo and duration to get a sense of what they felt like. I just adapted some work we’d done with Dave for those.

In teaching like that, I learned as much as I taught. As much as it suuuuuucked not to get to try out the new toys, I got as much trying to figure out why they worked, or didn’t.

The other cool thing: The participants' training, for the most part, was in playing games—with some focus on character and scenic techniques, but much more on the product and what goes up in the show. (We all come from the same place—KC's key provider of the crack on the playground that gets us hooked.) So much of working with Viewpoints feels abstract and strange—and figuring it out together is part of the fun.


  1. Ummm, thank you. Viewpoints book & Del class notes. Gold.

    I, too, nearly taught out of a half-read book last week. Ended up going for other excercises in the slipstream of the class, but I might just try it next week. Or maybe I'll have the book finished by then :)

  2. Your book teachin' was fine. More than that, really. I'm just sorry you couldn't jump in.


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