Thursday, June 4, 2009


So in yesterday's comments, JJSKCK asked an interesting question:
Can we declare a moratorium on calling rehearsal "working out"? It's a bit self-righteous.

As flip as my comment back may have been, I should start by saying I don't automatically argue with everything Josh says—though it's fair to say we are the yin yang of Tantrum.

His question got me thinking: Is referring to what happens in rehearsal or classes as "working out" self-righteous—holier-than-thou, smugly moralistic, hypocritically pious? Even a little bit?

I don't think so. At least, it's certainly not meant to be.

This is "rehearsal":
  1. dry run (a practice session in preparation for a public performance, as of a play or speech or concert)
  2. a form of practice; repetition of information (silently or aloud) in order to keep it in short-term memory
This is "work out":
  • exercise: the activity of exerting your muscles in various ways to keep fit.
When people ask how you rehearse improv, the best answer I can give them is that what we do is a lot more similar to how a sports team might get ready for a game than it is to the way a cast prepares for a show.

And at its best, getting together with Tantrum or Spite or going to class feels a lot more like going to the gym than memorizing lines and blocking and trying different line readings. It might be different if we spent all our time practicing games and formats or polishing the presentation of the show...

What I want from a 2-3 hour session with other improvisers is to isolate and strengthen muscles and tone and define my technique and skills. I want to get something new out of an exercise every time I try it, because as I get stronger, I can go deeper into it. I want discipline. I want long-term results.

No moratorium for me. I'm going to keep working out. (Seriously good question, though...)


  1. "Working out" sounds appropriate for what you guys are doing! I've always been curious about how you prep for those shows, so this was interesting!

  2. I like "work out" as in solve a problem. When we have an improv form you got to bang it out, solve it, figure out how it works, try to break it, make it stronger. Yeah!

    It's only self-righteous if you are.

  3. Part of the "self-righteous" comment was in reference to your previous post.

    But calling it "working out" gives practice/rehearsal/whatever you want to call it far more gravity than it needs or deserves. You want to be able to tell people how hard you work at improv; that's fine. You spend more time doing it and, frankly, care more about it than I do. The analogy about muscle memory and all that stuff is a stretch, but if it makes you feel like your time was more productive have at it.

    But I have to say this: I don't know what sports teams you've played on, but having fun and laughing at each other in improv rehearsal and calling it "working out like a sports team" is just flat-out wrong. It just is.

  4. Oh! A call back. Awesome.

    You know it's not REALLY about just wanting to tell people how hard I work, or deluding myself into believing all this time I spend is productive, right? Some people study and work hard to get better at yoga. Or writing. Or parenting. For me, it's this.

    Oh, and I'll admit—I've never played on anything but an elementary school soccer team and adult league dodgeball and kickball, so my view may be a little skewed. But I am disappointed that the locker-room pranking and goofing off I see in sports movies is BS.

  5. I'm sure there's more leeway in the pros, but my experience was that there was little goofing off when a coach was present.

    Here's a little story (one of a couple dozen I could tell). We had a jazz band concert offsite. It went long and the bus got us back to school late. I ran down, changed clothes, and got to baseball practice as quickly as I could. I was about 30 minutes late. The coach knew I was late due to a school activity. Practice was over, but he told everyone we had extra running to do because I was late to practice. He made me lead the team in 20 minutes of running stairs and hallways, and let everyone know it was my fault. Everyone loved the extra running I made them do. Everyone loved me, even when I tried to explain.

    I think that's why I have a hard time with the sports analogy--I refuse to participate in something that demoralizing ever again, and I refuse to associate my improv experience with BS like that.

    Overall, we get different things out of improv. At its core, I think that's why we don't always see eye-to-eye. Maybe on this particular topic, it's that I won't allow myself to associate improv with yet another aspect of my life that requires discipline.

    It has to remain squarely in the realm of fun. The instant it feels more like work, I'm done with it.

  6. What if we called it "workhearsal" or, if that's too long for you, "worsal"? Yes, I'm a problem solver.

  7. Y'all may be operating under the faulty assumption that I don't think improv work-outs are fun.

  8. I think you all rehearse too much. IMHO.

  9. That's my point, Trish. You describe going to the gym as something you know you should do but are too lazy. It's not laziness--it's that working out is boring. It has little to do with energy level and everything to do with monotony. You know you should do it because you like the results, but it's not fun. It is simply a means to an end, a fair trade of effort for well-being. That's a workout.

    Improv rehearsals are beneficial to your craft, but they're mostly a fun time with your friends. If you must use a gym analogy, it's much more like playing pickup basketball, not working out. I've never heard people say they WORKED out after PLAYING ball. And I would roll my eyes at them if I ever did, because I would feel like they were severly upselling how they spent their lunch hour.

    And using your definitions, rehearsal is much closer to this:

    a form of practice; repetition of information...

    than this:

    exercise: the activity of exerting your muscles in various ways to keep fit.

  10. Found this in a book about Anne Bogart & Viewpoints I was reading today (yes, for fun):

    "Americans are plagued with the disease of agreement. In the theatre, we often presume that collaboration means agreement. I believe that too much agreement creates productions with no vitality, no dialectic, no truth."

    (Hey, I don't just work at improv...I study it.)

    Repetition of information bores the hell out of me. Your definition of exercise is something I actually enjoy. I remember old CC rehearsals, when we played "What are you doing?" over and over; that's repetition, and it's tedious and unhelpful. But scenework and character exploration? That's exercise. (This all explains why the day of training I look forward to most is Saturday, when we do yoga instead of just strength training.)

    We're just coming at this stuff from different directions. That's what makes it cool.

  11. I personally prefer to call it "rehearsal" because to me, improv is a form of theater. And that's what you do when you prepare for a theatrical production. You rehearse. I don't care if non-performers or non-improvisors don't understand how you "rehearse" improv. If someone asks me "how do you rehearse improv?" I ask them "Do you rehearse being an idiot?" Then while they try and figure that out, I leave.

  12. Jared! Jared! Corey called improv theater!

    Also, Josh: I'm going to intentionally say things you'll disagree with more often. My numbers are WAY up.

  13. That's fine. Just know that sometimes you'll sound ridiculous. :)

  14. Zing! Josh just called it like he sees it. This thread is getting interesting again.

  15. Did he not mean "ridiculous" as a compliment? There was a smiley right after.

  16. Oh. This thread just got boring again.

  17. I'm not a fan of the term "rehearsal", because we don't always do things that are a part of the show. Some of what we're doing is purely experimental.

    Improv "experimentation" has some appeal, but that *really* sounds pretentious.

    Improv "work out" doesn't sound pretentious to me, but I don't think it's terribly accurate. Working out is when you lift weights, run steps, or do anything that exhausts you for the purpose of building stamina. Improv is more like stretching.

    So I like the terminology I use for my preferred stretching regimen:


    Improv is a practice, like yoga is a practice. It's a means of approaching perfect focus, smoothness, and openness. It's a way of learning to be in control of one's mind no matter what challenge life throws at you. It's a way to learn one's limitations and extend those limitations. And it never ends - you can always get better.

    As my 4 year old nephew wisely put it, "Practice makes progress." :D


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