Monday, June 8, 2009


I want more ways to get physical in the work I'm doing.

(Yes. Work.)

So one of the books I'm reading is An Acrobat of the Heart: A Physical Approach to Acting Inspired by the Work of Jerzy Grotowski. So far, I have two reactions:
  1. I love it.
  2. Shit. I can't do these exercises by myself. Must find partners.
Lots of exercises, lots of advice and lots of of really exciting insights into bringing more to characters and scenes. And, in the middle of the back and forth after the last post, this:
"There are many jobs in this world that you can do well even if they are no fun.* But you cannot act without joy. On the other hand, learning to act can also be hard work. So maybe the first question we must ask is, How can you work hard at something that is, basically, pure fun? Or, to put it another way, How can you remember to have fun, even in the depths of the hardest, most serious acting work?"
The answer—for me, anyway—is on something my sister gave me almost 20 years ago. An artist in San Francisco developed his own characters and calligraphy, and she gave me a piece of his with this quote by Rabindranath Tagore (thanks, Joe):
"The spirit of work in creation is there
to carry and help the spirit of play."
Improv, to me, is the purest form of creativity and the closest we get, as adults, to real play. Every rehearsal, whether I'm teaching or playing, is a bizarre combination of exhilarating and exhausting.

Tonight, for example, I played with mixing Viewpoints work I did a few weeks ago with character exercises we did in class. John led us in some of my favorite stuff—creating characters by leading with body parts—and I challenged myself to play with tempo and topography.

That's the beauty of taking level-agnostic classes. Because I've done body-lead work before, and know to pay attention to my tendency to hold my head the same way and watch getting too cartoon-y, I can add layers to it. In this case, once I've established the physicality of the character, I can mess around with the way I move through the space. I worked on moving in curves vs. angles, fast vs. slow. I didn't do too much with extremes in tempo, but I can try that in Wednesday's

The exhilarating part: I could really see (as usual) how making a big physical choice pushed me into a character I didn't know—someone with surprising reactions and playful responses. One of the other players noticed a choice I'd made to just run back and forth across the stage—fast—just because it was different from the other stuff going on. (Her guess: Of all the sperm, I would be the one to make it out first.) (And there's the fun part.)

The exhausting part: I was reminded how hard it is to focus on topography and tempo once we move from scenes with a specific point of concentration to a full-on long form. Plus I got home late-ish on a school night, with 3 hours of work still to do (and yes, writing this blog is part of that—but only because I had to get bread in the oven) and the knowledge I have to really work out at 7am.

This shit isn't effortless, but it's our job to make it look like it is. Spontaneity, collaboration and trust—some of the keys to consistently funny shows—don't come naturally. (Especially for anyone over age 7.) Rehearsing (workshopping, working out...whatever) helps train your brain and body to respond in the most helpful way in the moment.

But it's what happens in that moment that makes it worth it. Connecting with another player. Saying or doing something surprising and delightful. Realizing that you've made people laugh by doing something fearless. Or smart. Or, sometimes, incredibly silly.

*Last week, I was reminded that mine is not one of them. My improv training, as ever, is more helpful at work than my advertising degree. To tie my work-life even close to my play-life, one of my creative teammates has organized panel discussions by creatives who happen to work in theater. Her theme, courageous collaboration, has sparked some of the most intriguing conversation I've been part of in 20 years** at Hallmark.

**How the hell did that happen? Crap.


  1. Rabindranath Tagore. Is who the quote is from

  2. "Shit. I can't do these exercises by myself. Must find partners."

    Email me. I haven't studied Grotowski, but it sounds like fun!

  3. Jen—yay! I wonder if we could find some folks for a little "study group."

  4. Why not Wednesdays evenings in the back room of the coffeehouse?

  5. I knew we should have moved all the way to KC... :-) I could do at least some Wednesdays, and bring some Laban/Barteneiff theory. I've seen some great movers lately, and there are some people I'd like to just grab and get them moving! Bendy limbs, U haz them!

    BTW, did you know Kessler will be teaching a yoga class?

  6. Wednesdays aren't great for me—but let's talk about other dates! I'm getting ready to leave for vacation, but I'll holler when I get back.

    I heard about Tom! You AO people are bendy, indeed.

  7. Let me know anytime you're looking to play, Trish. I always tell people everything I know about improv I learned from Trish Berrong. Although Denton has been giving me some great insights of late...I may have to change that formulation to "everything I know about improv I learned from the Trish Berrong school." :D


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