Sunday, August 23, 2009

Exit 16 rehearsal #1: Dig mah parallel structure, yo.

It might strike some as obsessive that I'm doing two blogs in one night. (Which is not an inaccurate characterization.) But I figured I had to do this anyway, and since I've got at least a few pals who've expressed interest in working with high school improvisers, I might as well do it online.

So. Exit 16 starts up again on Tuesday. Things I know about this year:
  • It's a smaller group than we've had in a while. For a variety of reasons, we've got fewer players (just 10) than we've had in a while (11-12). It's only by one or two, but if you've been around high school kids, you understand.
  • Six of the kids have prior experience. Chris, Laura and Elizabeth started as sophomores, so they've been around three years. Kay, Steve and Garrett joined last year. Tristan, Taylor, Anna and Bailey (first two are guys, second two are girls) are newbies.
  • They've experienced the improv community beyond Liberty High School. They play monthly at the Corbin Theater, and last year's troupe played the Chicago Teen Comedy Festival, and the three elders have a Thunderdome belt under their...uh...belts.
  • My relationship with them isn't just Unyielding Authority Figure. When I started teaching them, I didn't play that often—so they knew me only as a coach. Now they see my shows (where I occasionally use bad language and there's often adult material) and I invite critiques afterwards. At the KC Improv Festival, some of them will be in classes with me. In other words, yeah, I'm the coach—but we're also fellow improvisers.
All of which means this year I have to bring my A-game. To bring out more bullet points (dude, I have been working in PowerPoint all night), I have to:
  • Inspire and motivate them. They need to have something to strive for—it's a balance between feeling confident and knowing there's still plenty to learn.
  • Hold their focus. They're easily bored, so I'll need new challenges.
  • Keep them out of their own way. Their energy, confidence, and comfort with each other can turn against them in an instant.
  • Instill discipline. Things got a little out of control last year, and I spent a lot of time asking them to be quiet and pay attention. Because they've seen me say "fuck" on stage, they think it's OK if they say it. Not so much.
  • Earn respect. Yes, we're all improvisers and face some of the same challenges. But I've been doing this since before they were born, and need to make it clear that means something.
The first month of rehearsals will be highly structured. Each one will consist of (slide #3, please):
  • Warm-up: Provide tools (transformation exercises, mirror games, space walks), build trust (physical games, emotional risks), and get them in the moment (games that require them to listen and focus).
  • Exercises to teach technique: Relationships, object work, give and take, characters, yes-and, heightening.
  • Performance games and forms that reinforce skills: For the first part of the year, every game has meaning. Forward-reverse is an exercise in creating environments and heightening emotions. Panel of Experts is a character game. Beastie Rap is about being confident and trusting your brain. Freeze Tag is about creating something from nothing more than a shape and spacial relationship (yeah, baby...Viewpoints).
Oh, plus, they have to have so much fun a three-hour workout doesn't make them cranky. And make sure I can teach basics to the n00bs without boring the crap out of Chris, Laura and Elizabeth.

Let the fun begin...