* The beeping exercise. (Responding to feedback.) * First, send somebody out of the room. * Pick some simple activity like 'touch your nose' * Bring the victim back in. * Have the crowd 'beep' when the victim gets closer to the desired activity. * Keep going until the victim does the activity. * This is basically operant conditioning. * If done properly it's very effective * You have to do it *in the moment* * That is... * ... don't beep when they did the right thing a while ago * ... don't beep when they look like they might do the right thing later * Beep when they're doing something correctly *right now* * We'd do all sorts of inappropriate beeping. * Keith would gently correct us by telling the victim, "Sorry, we're all very new at this." * Communal storytelling. (Pleasing the ensemble.) * In this exercise... * A large group got onstage * Someone would suggest an activity. ("Let's ride bikes!") * Everybody who wanted to do the activity would say "YES!" while punching both fists in the air. * Then they'd do the activity. * Everybody who didn't would quietly leave the stage. * The rejection makes the game dangerous * i.e. you might screw up and wind up alone on the stage. * This trains you to do things that please your ensemble. * This is a very very good skill. * Too often, we just try to delight ourselves. * Director: "I'd like a tap dancing scene" Micetro cast: "But none of us tap-dance!" Keith the Co-Director: "Director, are *you* a tap-dancer?" Director: "Why, yes! How did you guess?" * Weird thing: experienced improvisors tend to stay onstage the longest * Perhaps they're conditioned to "YES!!!" any damn thing * ... whereas being more discriminating might be valuable. * Remember: some ideas deserve to die. Quickly. * "What comes next?" (Pleasing your partner.) * This exercise takes two people. * Person A asks, "What comes next?" * Person B suggests an activity. "We do ." * At this point, one of two things happen: * Path 1: * Person A does the suggested activity. * Person B joins in. * Person A asks, "What comes next?" again. * That is, we go back to the top. * Path 1: * Person A says "No." * Person A does this while raising their eyebrows. * Again, we make the rejections as gentle/non-negative as possible. * Person A suggests a different activity. "We do ." * Person B does the activity. * Person B asks, "What comes next?" * That is, we go back to the top with the roles reversed. * Again, this is all about pleasing the other person. * Usually, this involves doing wwhat hte other person (and probably the audience) is thinking already * Subpar movies fail at this. * "Most of the time, the movie makes you *wrong*." * A great film, you *predict*. * Good storytellers hint at where they're going. * "*This* is what will happen later." * Surprises are generally mean and bad. * Keith once did a show with a giant mechanical crocodile prop. * They tried showing the audience the prop in action *before* the show. * This made its eventual appearance get a much better response. * How do you play this with a stranger? * In that case, you just rely on certain universal qualities of storytelling. * We all like predictable connections. * For me, the exercise got pretty dream-like pretty fast, but it stayed connected. * Plot summary: * We went through the jungle * We found a tiger * It ate us * We went to tiger heaven * We got sent to tiger hell * We climbed a big ladder * We climbed out onto the top of a Mayan pyramid in the jungle. * We spotted that same tiger again. * We all had a laugh about what had just happened. * The tiger guided us to a secret door in the pyramid. * We opened it, and... out of time. End of exercise. * It was very surreal, but it was all connected. * You can't follow "We go to the beach" with "We go swimming". * It's too big of a jump * You need intermediate steps, like "We paddle." * The "taking someone home" scene. (Change.) * We did a bunch of iterations of the scene where somebody takes a date to their apartment/house. * Entering someone's territory is always interesting * i.e. you put someone in "the wrong place" * Every scene was able to coast on the inherent interest to that setup for a minute or so. * After that, then what? * Then you have to really improvise * If you take someone home and then go to the bedroom, that's an okay completed action * But that scene has no change; it needs a tilt. * Perhaps a 'scene 2' could provide the change * Note: don't be afraid to cut to scene 2 once scene 1 runs out of gas * Keith has recorded his own channel-surfing * When things don't change, he gets bored and flips the channel * (... especially when *relationships* don't change.) * Theater should illustrate change * Resisting an obvious change in improv can give you a cheap laugh at the expense of the drama * This is because we laugh at people who get thwarted. * Improv cars never go anywhere ("oh, the key doesn't work") * Remember: the car never has to go to the "right place" -- it just has to *go* * The tilt has to alter you. * If you refuse to change, you've killed the tilt. * Tilts can be rational or irrational * Irrational is better suited to comic performance * Be altered when batshit stuff happens * This happened repeatedly: we wouldn't respond to an insane event with "That's insane!" * You don't just blithely "Yes, and" the content -- you respond realistically * Silent comedians (e.g. Buster Keaton) were geniuses at fighting for honest reactions. * Movies like The Kid or Safety Last work hard to make the main set-pieces feel *real*. * The comedy comes from the star being *forced* into the situation. * The 2-hander with snaps. (Pleasing your partner, good-natured pranksterism.) * The setup: * It's a basic two-person scene. * Three preferably-burly men stand off to the side. * If at any point you are disappointed with the scene, snap your fingers. * At this point, the burly men will drag your partner away from the theater * All the while, the dragee will shout, "But I'm a good improvisor! I'm a good improvisor!" * (And, of course, your partner is allowed to snap as well.) * This is another exercise in giving your partner what s/he wants * Remember, if your partner stays interested, odds are the audience stays interested too. * Also remember that getting changed is a good way to maintain people's interest. * It's also about good-natured pranksterism. * Don't worry that your friend will be mock-dragged-away * Treat it like a good-natured prank. * Friends play pranks on each other * [They have permission to screw w/each other's status. -- ed.] * Being good-natured about it calms the audience * Scenes with stuffed animals. (Inactivity has its uses.) * In this scene, we had an improvisor return home to their significant other. * The SO was portrayed by a small, inanimate plush-toy rabbit. * Keith occasionally directed the improvisor to tell the rabbit, "Look at me when I'm talking to you!" * The animal attracts attention *with* its inactivity * [I noticed this especially when I expected a 'reaction shot' from the rabbit.] * We then replaced the stuffed animal with a similarly-inactive improvisor. * We still watch that inactive improvisor. * Why aren't we ever this inactive in shows? * Funny/scary/sexy. (Staying connected to your partners.) * This exercise is almost identical to the one described here. * Keith: "Have you played this before?" Us: "Yes." Keith: "Well, play it with me, and then I'll tell you why I invented it." Avi, sotto voce: "KJ, MAKIN' IT RAIN, BITCHEZ!" * We did a first round where the performers just found *themselves* funny/scary/sexy * This led to a very isolated/disconnected-feeling scene. * Then they played as normal. * Keith reminded them that the scary one will strike you if you let on that you're scared. * This forced more naturalistic behavior. * Keith said that the front door was locked. * This forced the improvisors to move around more. * "Parent-teacher meetings." (Status.) * We did a few scenes where a parent came to a teacher's office to discuss a kid's misbehavior. * "Status" is something you do, not something you are. * If you're high-status, you do things to other people. * If you're low-status, things get done to you. * Low status needn't be miserable * We love happy low-status people, b/c they aren't a threat * High status needn't be nasty * Some physicality shortcuts to low status: * Look but don't get caught * Overbite, esp. *laughing* overbite * Servants and balloons (Raucous fun with status.) * Three people lined up * The master in the middle, servants to either side * The servants would try to make fun of the master to the audience. * They'd do this whenever the master wasn't looking. * They'd start with just sticking out a tongue. * Then they'd expand from there. * The 'to the audience' part is key. * Otherwise, it's just a mean-spirited servant being snarky on his/her own. * Note: the servants can see the audience; the master cannot. * Improv involves a lot of looking to the audience. * When you see the audience, make sure your face looks alive, not flat-affect. * See also: Jon Stewart on The Daily Show * He's almost always looking at 'the audience' (= the camera) * ... but he's never flat-affect about it. * Whenever the master has an excuse to, s/he beats the servants with a big balloon. * Keith is running out of his favorite brand of balloons. * "Airship" brand ballons, a name that's regrettably googlescrewed. * When hitting someone with a balloon, swing *through* your target. * People tend to slow down as they approach a surface, which is counterproductive. * Every audience is familiar with master-servant relationships * We all 'get' status. * Other variations on this setup are possible. * You could have four people in status-order. * With your balloon, you can only hit people of lower status.
* Keith Johnstone likes furniture * Master-servant scenes (see below) are often more fun if a bed is involved * (Add your own BSDM jokes here.) * He also likes having a sofa with a hole in it. * Actors can get sucked into the sofa * A head can *sit* in the middle of the sofa. * Furntiure, like props, can be useful for variety. * You can have a scene with props followed by a scene without props. * "Rules are for beginners." * "No blocking" is a rule * "No questions" is a rule * If you do block... * Don't just say, "I broke the rule," and leave it at that. * Always dig deeper. * Ask, "Why did I just block?" * If you did it to delight your partner, it's cool * If you did it out of fear, it's not. * If we could get rid of a performer's fear, they could improvise perfectly. * Types of fear that screw up improv: * Fear of the uncertain future, of being altered * Fear of getting attention for joy or odd behavior * The problem is, audiences pay to see alteration, joy, oddness * We're conditioned to guard ourselves * Don't look naughty at school; don't look disreputable * Don't look approachable/hit-on-able in NYC * People who look joyful and approachable get picked on, mugged, etc. * If you're afraid, that scares the audience * Instead, stay tapped into your pleasure in improv * Good-natured screwing up assures the audience you're cool * Failing is how you learn * So: fail early and fail often! * If you don't screw up, you're not learning * In work, failure is a disastrous loss. In play, it's no big deal * If you're good-natured about failing, the audience will love you for it. * Only eggshell-ego'ed actors should worry so much about failure. * Micetro *needs* failures for it to feel properly sporting * (Relevant quote: "Be wrong as fast as you can." -- Andrew Stanton) * Improvisors have trouble performing in the moment. * We get caught living in the past or the future as performers * Similarly, we don't really *see* the other performers * He saw a show with performers who wore tied-on false noses * It was hot, so often the performers would... 1. Go offstage 2. Raise their false noses to their foreheads 3. Have a drink. 4. Return to the stage with the false noses still raised. * Not only would they not notice their own noses were still 'up'.... * ... they would also ignore the fact that their fellow performers now looked like unicorns. * Gossip is how we distract ourselves from the here and now * From real questions about people. * From really knowing our friends. * We're socially conditioned to avoid probing questions * Voice and pace. * A strong voice *subdues* the audience * Which is a good thing * Improvisors tend to talk too fast * They're afraid of getting interrupted * Great clowns are slow * Be slow. Be clear. * Stage pictures. * Onstage, cross your legs *towards* your partner. * (... unless you want to seem distant from your partner.) * Enter on the *upstage* leg. * (... unless you want to seem afraid of the audience.) * Move *across* the stage when possible -- "open out" the set * Improv favors 'dead-on' stage pictures * This is because we need to completely see everybody * People tend to sway in party scenes * We sway to adjust our physical arrangement w/r/t to those around us * It's about status. We set the pecking order. * Giving way on a narrow sidewalk works similarly * It's instinctive and silent * We tried freezing a large spontaneous group of people, then removing subsets of them. * This leaves the stage artificial, off-balance negative-looking arrangements. * [Like people mis-arranged in an elevator. -- ed.] * Onstage, you want to 'not act' and rely on your instincts for positioning * (See the "trance" notes below.) * The only people who don't position themselves naturally are.... 1. Aggressive people, and 2. Bad actors. * If you can't do drama, you have to rely wholly on laughter * We're not good enough to get constant laughter * Don't trust the laughs * An audience has a limited supply of hysterical laughter * Maybe 15 min or so * Street theater needs an awesome start to get attn * Paid theater should pace itself * Laughter needs to be contrasted with non-laugh scenes * Audience suggestions. * A good prompt is, "Could you suggest an <X> that will inspire us?" * If you *are* inspired by something, admit that you are inspired. * It won't be a 'pride goeth before a fall' thing. * If you crater, it'll be fine so long as you crater cheerfully * The audience will be cool with that * Remember: the audience laughs at stupid suggestions *because* the stupid suggestions are stupid. * Taking tough/dumb suggestions can lead to the 'performing seal' syndrome * Trance, etc. * "Don't act." * Actors tend to strain to act, and don't rely on natural instincts. * Jeremy Irons quote about acting: * "In a film shoot, there are three or four moments that require genuine acting. The rest of the time, I'm just walking in and out of doors." * In scripted work, you get out of the line's way. * Just stop acting, and count on your instincts to guide you. * More trancey stuff in sports books like Golf is not a Game of Perfect and Inner Tennis * Physical actions and mask-like facial tics can provide similarly automatic behavior * Pigeon-toes, worrying your hands in your lap, overbite, avoiding (but still attempting) eye contact. * This leads to being cute. * Lengthening your face or always touching your mouth automatically generate certain kinds of characters. * Hypnosis removes stage fright and thus unlocks hidden talents * Neat things that Keith did in the exercises: * Instead of asking for volunteers for scenes, he would just read a few names off of the class list. * I like this better than waiting for volunteers * It makes you feel less pride-goeth-before-a-fall-y when the scene goes crappy. * Keith did a lot to make on-stage rejection as gentle/non-negative as possible * He also would start a lot of exercises with, "Do this for 30 seconds, then we'll do it for real." * This took a lot of the pressure off at the very start. * The advance warning made it easier for him to stop the performers and give notes at the 30s mark. * Many times, he ran the same exact setup, with the same actions, repeatedly. * This let us focus on specific structural stuff without worrying about content. * A lot of his exercises are about getting you to be less verbal. * Screwing up your verbalization improves your physicality. * Mantra does this * A mantra isn't meant as an objective * Mainly it's just noise to get you to be less verbal. * Gibberish sabotages verbal-ness, too. * ... although it's a little less effective * Getting rid of language entirely is helpful. * For instance, if the audience doesn't speak English. * In this case, all you can do is physicality. * ... and rely even more heavily on having your character change. * Props temper our verbal tendencies, and make us talk less * Some miscellaneous notes: * Hypnotists pick the people most suggestible -- that is, the ones who fit in. * The instinctive fearful shrug is a reflex to protect the jugular * English naturalistic acting is tedious * The Enlightenment killed a thriving world of masked improv * "Whose scene is it?" Hint: it's not always yours. * He regretted that his concept for "MusicSportz" (i.e. competitive improvised music) never happened. * Actors tend to be scared. So theater keeps turning into a museum exhibit. * They find something that works, and desperately stick to it. * Don't do this in improv. * Keep it risky/dangerous -- that's why it's fun! * Keep testing your limits.