Thursday, August 27, 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Not a whole lot of talking in this one.

Our third rehearsal was about group work and bonding. Even though we all play in the same troupe, ComedyCity's cast is huge—which means some players barely know each other.

And that calls for super-physical and emotional stuff. YAY. What we did:

1. Group choice warmup. I kind of like letting groups warm themselves up (One of my favorite teachers does this by saying, "I'm shitty at warmups. You guys get yourselves ready.") It's a great way for them to get to know each other, play with leadership, and get warmed up the way they want to. So I asked for three volunteers and told them to go.

2. Viewpoints work. I want this Harold to be big and physical and brave—no danger of people standing like an 11 talking about things instead of doing them. So the first part of the rehearsal was just choosing different ways of moving through the space, and letting them affect each other.
  • Topography: Players moved on grids and in circles, playing with size (tiny grids, big loops), tempo, and spacial relationships to each other. 
  • Architecture: Players decided a physical or emotional relationship to the tangible pieces of the room—walls, tables, floors, etc.—and explored the characters that resulted. 
  • Shape: Players shaped their bodies differently and moved through the space...
  • Repetition: ...and then found a gesture to repeat...
  • Tempo: ...and then played with increasing and decreasing the speed...
  • Duration: ...and how long they repeated or held the gesture.
  • Spacial relationships: Then we basically played Attacker-Defender, experimenting with the distance between players.
Maggie was distressed when Sebass got in the way of her relationship with the stools.
This was mostly about building a toybox...getting them to think of different ways of relating to the space and each other. It's also about making physical choices, which can lead to more surprising emotional and verbal moves.

3. Caligula. I love this exercise created by Susan Messing. It seems simple—move around the stage, making sure you stay in physical contact with the rest of the group. And at first, the movements and connections were pretty basic.

Basic hand-holding. Nothing to worry about here.

This is where the cast starts to get comfortable with each other. 

4. Music and Emotion. Because we're doing a movie genre based piece, I added a soundtrack. A lot of my side-coaching came from work Rance Rizzutto taught at The Improv Retreat. The Caligula exercise continued, but players allowed the music to affect their emotions and movements and relationships.

I believe the extended theme from The Walking Dead was playing.

And the love theme from Titanic.
Jimmy learns to trust everyone.

Before we open, we'll work on lifts and falls and carrying other players, so they know how to cue each other, and the person being lifted can feel in control.

In this whole rehearsal, there were no words exchanged on stage or during the exercises—just in the debriefs. But here's what the players said at the end:
  • It felt like we had real relationships. 
  • It broke down any awkwardness between us. 
  • I knew no one would drop me. 
  • I felt supported. 
  • I had a responsibility to take care of everyone. 
  • Different ways of touching led to different emotions.  
  • The emotions were stronger—when you can't use words, you can't bullshit.
I love that last one. I want us to create a piece about intense relationships, and the combination of trust, physicality and music got us there fast. I'm not sure yet how this work will show up in DIFFERENT, but I can see it being pervasive. We'll look at ways for it to influence edits and group games, as well as making our stage pictures interesting and helping us with strong focal points.

Other stuff: 
We discussed wardrobe for different. Basically, I want them to wear all black—but beyond that, the only restriction is "cover your knees." They have to be able to move without worrying about things riding up or falling out as they leap, crawl, roll, and get thrown around the stage. We'll also look at some way to differentiate roles—buffs, scarves, temporary tattoos, something like that.

Love this cast. So much.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


Last night we worked our opening, String/Rope of Pearls (an exercise I learned from Dave Razowsky), and building characters using La Ronde.

Here’s a description of String of Pearls from Fast Co Create:
For "String of Pearls," the group forms a line. The person at one end is given the first sentence of a story. The person at the end of the line is given the last sentence. Each person in between takes a turn improvising a line of dialogue aimed at making the story progress logically to its pre-set end point.

In Rope of Pearls, players add multiple lines, moving around and changing places until the story is complete.

You guys, we’re born storytellers. It’s super-hard to avoid plot…and learning not to force the narrative is a key to successful genre work. Our brains want so hard to connect dots, but if we don’t enrich the story with strong emotions and surprising details , we’ll find ourselves on a straight, boring, empty path.

Our biggest challenge for this game will be adding specifics and creating relationships…fleshing out the characters and making the environment come alive instead of driving hard to the ending. Next time, we’ll do some “color and advance” work to slow us down.

La Ronde was next. We played it the way I learned it from the old iO group The Neighbors, focusing on heightening characters with each new scene. The job of the character entering is to give the existing character a new, completely different opportunity to be more of who they are.

Which meant a break to work on the characters’ “thing” or “deal”—some hard-core Annoyance stuff.

One of the things that’s most fun about this piece is blending influences from different schools of thought into a pretty traditional Harold format. Annoyance, Viewpoints, Second City, Spolin…they’ll all find their way in.

But ultimately, I’m guided by this note I got from Del Close after performing our take on a structure he’d created that was super-fun to play: “You played all the games very well. I just wish I’d given a shit about any of the characters’ relationships.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Harold + genre, from scratch

This will be a long one, with some back story.

The first time I directed a Harold, I'd never seen one. A stand-up and improv comedian named Joey Novick who studied with Del Close in San Francisco happened upon our company, Lighten Up, and gave us these notes.

We taught straight from those. Later, I visited Chicago and saw ImprovOlympic perform (this was before they had their own theater) and fell in love. But teaching Harold work to a group that had never seen it was like giving a group a pile of parts and a picture of a car and saying "do that."

This next one will be much easier. Half my troupe has long-form experience, I have a hell of a lot more than I did when I started, and there's good longform work all over KC.

Annnnnnnd it's one I've wanted to direct forever: a Harold-based dystopian YA fiction piece, like Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent, etc., etc.

I remember watching Silverado with my pal (and teacher) Rob Reese, and talking about how beautifully it hit the games/tropes of the Western genre. As the Harold was becoming more popular outside of Chicago, improvisers described it to their friends as being like Pulp Fiction (and the Deconstruction was Reservoir Dogs).

This will be my third go at directing a genre piece. The first was with the "younger troupe" (muuuuuch younger Jared included) in Lighten Up, and followed the structure of Reservoir dogs (down to a table in the middle of the audience where the cast would sit and talk). The second was an insanely controversial Thunderdome piece; Scriptease wanted to do an action-adventure movie, and I coached.

And now we're here. What's happened so far:
  • I started digging post-apocalyptic dystopian YA fiction after reading the Hunger Games trilogy. After reading a few more series, I wanted to improvise it. 
  • Jared and I made the case for ComedyCity to add long-form to our show schedule and troupe repertoire.
  • We held a couple of workshop/audition type things to figure out which cast got which troupe members. 
  • I've taken SO MANY NOTES and rewatched a bunch of stuff and read a lot of YA writers' blogs.
  • After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at a group watch party (stupid fighting cats and tornado watches), we finally met for the first time to talk through characters, themes, tropes, and games. And it was excellent. 
NEXT UP: Rehearsal calendar
Scribbles and notes and blurts.

I want the poster to be super-cheese-tastic. I sent this mockup to the cast so they'd know why I was asking them to send me full-body photos to turn into silhouettes. The name is set; the tagline is a work in progress.