Monday, October 26, 2009

ImpFest 2009, part 2

Ooof. Stayed home from work AGAIN today, and slept most of it. Stupid cold—though I guess I'm lucky it's not the flu. We'll see how much of this I can get through without dozing off...

Workshops with Jill
Omega Directive, Coma Chameleon, Improv-Abilities
One, Dictionary Soup, Brownies Don't Lie

Jill taught her Fireball Theory class, which I've taken once and watched her teach the kids. It was interesting to take it again with a different—and much larger—group, and to hear their takes on the work and their improv issues. Her Fix 'Em Up session was terrific; we gave her our issues, and she put together exercises to help us work on them. Exhausting, but a great warm-up for our show.

A little thing about the make-up of the class: It was mostly John's Roving Imp students, plus a few local improvisers. One of the things John's doing is instilling a love of the craft in the folks who work out of the Imp. Every local group has a vibe—whether it's one they intentionally seek and foster or not—and theirs is full-on improv geek, in a wonderful way I love being a part of.

We finally have Ryan back in Omega Directive, which is wonderful. I love playing with those guys. It's not just that I don't have to do any of the production-side work; John has put together a fun, strong, really interesting mix in this cast.

I'm not proud to say this: Somewhere around hour 15 of the ImpFest, I hit a wall. The cold, being tired, doing shows, taking all took its toll and I missed a few sets while Jill and I walked around and cleared our heads before our show. I would have loved to have not missed a minute of the festival...but to get ready, getting out for a while was really important.

Plus...well, Jill and I have only done the show once, and hadn't had a chance to rehearse for the one we had coming up in a couple of hours. So we got some down time: wandering around the Dollar General, walking around downtown, browsing a great little Mexican convenience store I didn't know existed, and getting in a good (if really, really quiet) warm-up in the green room and out on the back deck. (From what we heard from backstage, the sets before ours rocked. I don't think anything all weekend made me much happier than hearing Julie get loud, enthusiastic, sustained, well-deserved applause.)

I would be lying if pretended I didn't spend the first scene and a half all the way up in my head. The monologue: "Holy crap. What's going on? I'm not getting it. I'm not connecting. This isn't working. I'm totally blowing a chance to play with Jill. ARRRRRGH." Then: "Fuck it. Let's play."

In our third scene, I climbed up on a box and hid in the nook at the back of the stage, and played the first third of the scene in total silence, just playing some subtle stuff and trusting that it would be plenty for Jill to mess with. It was, and after that I totally relaxed and just played. We played the kind of long scenes we did in our first show—strong relationships, multiple turns and an inside joke or two (rrrawwwrrr).

Coaching session for as-yet-unnamed duo
Making Connections class (teaching)

So Erik and I got a couple of hours with Jill to work on our show, and it made me realize just how invaluable to work with someone who's seen, performed with and directed multiple two-person shows. We started with warm-ups, and her advice that any group warm-up can be a two-person warm-up. (Aaaaah, Big Booty...)

Then a series of questions: Have you said "I love you?" Have you kissed? Have you slapped each other? Are you portable? All designed to make sure when that stuff comes up on stage, it doesn't freak either or both of you out. (We may have to work on the slapping thing. I'll have to convince Erik he can hit me at least a little harder. And the stage slap won't work, because I always turn my head the wrong way—plus, the loud noise startles me more than a real slap.)

Next, more questions, this time to get at an aesthetic for the show. Stuff like favorite books, movies, TV shows...what kind of improv we like doing...what we feel like the show absolutely should have in it...what skills we have outside of improv.

Um. This is where the one-dimensional thing really sucks.

Here's the surprising thing, though—turns out we're both pretty physical, so that could be something fun to explore. That never in a million years would have occurred to me; I used to have to work really hard at making physical contact on stage. I'm not completely without issues or self-consciousness, but thanks to two-plus years of three-a-week workouts with a trainer, the physical stuff doesn't scare me anymore. Not being picked up. Not climbing on someone. I've done a few dozen push-ups on stage, know how to lift with my legs instead of my back, and have the core strength required to play a monitor lizard (see above).

As far as aesthetic, we both seem interested in the same stuff, which we knew: Rich, grounded characters in real relationships. (Pretty much the same stuff Jill and I do in Brownies Don't Lie, so that's handy—I want to do more.)

We spent the rest of the time on exercises—including one Jill had run with Tantrum in her Truth & Beauty session with us a couple of years ago. It's simple: A five-minute scene where one person talks, and one doesn't. It's great at building trust on both sides.

And then I taught a class—and Jill hung around. Um...eep. We talked beforehand about being students in situations where we were sometimes teachers, and vice versa—she did a very gracious job of jumping in with really insightful comments, but never, you know, rolling her eyes and stuff.

The class I taught was on making connections (described here). The goal: Help improvisers get more out of openings, whether they're monologues, stories, scenes, or single suggestions. The first two-thirds were mostly what we notice, why we listen and how we remember things; for the last part, we started scenes, just to explore different ways to use the stuff we remembered (from purely verbal to more character driven starts). It was a more intellectual class than I usually teach—and I had a ton I wanted to cover. So it ended up being more about giving people new ways to approach the work than it was about fixing or changing what they normally do.

Then it was off for more BBQ. And a loooooong freakin' nap.


  1. Thank you.
    Your monitor lizard was A-Freaking-mazing!!!

  2. How did you get Jill to coach your two-person show? (Other than she's awesome)

    vinnyfrancois from Without Annette

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. What I meant to say about working with Jill: We just asked. She was in town for a festival, and we asked if she'd mind working with us during a couple of off hours. She has different rates for different stuff...just ask her!

  5. Also,'re welcome! And thank you. I enjoyed being a lizard.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed Brownies Don't Lie. You and Jill are a fantastic team. And I'm totally psyched about the duo-to-be-named-later. I even have a venue hookup ($50 for a 50 seat venue with chairs and stage in the middle of the Crossroads district) when you and Eric are ready to put on a show. Do you have time to talk tonight after work (Wed)? I want to get your insights on some things Jenifer, Scott, and I are working on. I'll email you.


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