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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (12/26/11) 9:45am - ... wherein Peter posts his notes from this past July's Bill Arnett workshop.

These are my notes from the Bill Arnett workshop at Coldtowne Theater (7/16/11-7/17/11).


* Playing aggressively doesn't preclude patience.
* In the info of a line, what's important in that line?
        * What's conveyed?
        * Character > situation
                * The *character* is what's important
* "The relevant detail"
        * The bit of info that, if chnaged, would have the greatest effect.
                * It's what the scene is about.
* "The engine of improv runs on the logic of morons."
* Aggressively = insult, get enraged, when your partner's actions justify it.
        * You don't even have to play your partner's *friend*.
        * You should say "ouch!" when pinched.
        * You should *leave the scene* when that's justified.
                * You can *always* leave.
                        * It won't break improv.
        * Many times, a performer is implicitly *asking* you to treat their character scornfully.
* If your worst scene is still a realistic depiction of life, you're golden.
        * Gagging is unrealistic.
        * Frequent direction:  "This is really happening, <x>!"
* If you find yourself in a transaction, play out the transaction realistically and move on.
        * The audience will forgive you.
        * Who knows, something weird might happen.
        * It doesn't need 'saving'.
* Don't play the action, play the person.
        * Again, character > situation.
* You can *always* disclose your opinions/knowledge about the other character.
        * This lets you 'check in'.
* Usually in a comic two-hander, one person is absurd.
        * If you see an opportunity for one person to be absurd, home in on that.
                * This can help you make choices.
        * TREAT WEIRD THINGS AS WEIRD.
                * So if one person does something weird, they're probably the absurd one.
                        * *Respect that weirdness.*
* At least figure out what kind of person the other character is.
        * Say it, and carry on with it.
* "You can't be emotionally bulletproof."
        * Be aggressive:  if something gets on your nerves, *respond*.
                * Pinch -> OUCH!
* Try to believe in the scenes as much as possible.
        * Especially in that 'relevant detail'.
* If you're playing what's going on, you can always observe other people's unreality.
        * "If someone's being cold...", you can say they're being cold, and bring it into the reality.
        * If something happened, it's real, talk about it.
        * "We can bust 'em on it."
        * "This is only as out-of-line as you make it."
* re: details
        * Our descriptions of poor scenes usually lack details.
        * Our descriptions of funny scenes are usually full of details.
* "What kind of a guy is <x>?"
        * Exercise:  stop a scene and discuss characters like you're comparing notes on a friend's boyfriend.
        * Those are the 'relevant details' to cling to through the next scenes.
                * Hold on to/operate on those relevant details.
* For second beats, it can be useful to riff off, not the *situation* but the 'relevant details' of the characters.
* Keep your attitude towards the other character *real* and in the scene/part of it.
* Funny use of the suggestion = 2 pts; funny scene = 30 pts.
        * Callbacks, etc. are a *secondary* priority.
        * Scenework is important.
* Character test:  can you change the subject & be the same people?
* Exercise:
        * Line 1:  mundane line
        * Line 2:  emotional noise
        * Then, scene.
        * Some notes about this:
                * Person 1 doesn't have to be cool with the noise.
                * Generally, you don't want to be indiscriminately happy with everything.
                * Person 1 needs to hold on to that emotional response.
                        * Don't drop it.
* "The jury needs evidence."
        * Once you know who you are, you can *add* evidence for it.
        * This reinforces the notion.
                * ... and lets you add detail/reify the notion.
        * You can explicitly call out what you do without ruining the scene.
* "Omittive denial" = ignoring the offer, or its real content.
        * If someone throws a face card, respond to it.
        * Often the emotional sound above is that 'face card' offer.
* You don't need to 'solve' weirdness immediately.
        * Eventually, it's an opportunity for exposition.
* Exercise:
        1. Person 1: plug your ears.
        2. Person 2: deliver a first line.
        3. Person 1: make an emotional noise.
        4. Person 1: unplug ears.
        5. Repeat 2-4 exactly as before.
* Note that the emotional response works, audience-wise, even when you don't even *hear* the line.
* Instead of an emotional noise, you can try repeating the line you just heard, with an emotional attitude.
        * This gives you the character's POV without having to come up with a line.
* Every move in a scene has a 'move tax'.
        * Not responding to a line = a moderate fee.
        * "Yes and" = a smaller fee.
                * Also, just "yes", adding nothing, but being real, is also a smaller fee.
        * Blocking or gagging = expensive.
                * The 'price' is that now you have to live in that self-contradictory universe.
                        * It's tough, but sometimes it's doable.
                * Sometimes that higher-price move crystallizes the scene.
        * "You can do anything you want, so long as you're willing to pay the price."
        * Bill tries to coach people towards doing cheaper moves.
* When dialog picks up in speed & specificity, that's usually a sign that the performers are confident & know what's going on.
* Exercise:  do you have a nemesis?
        * You can't escape this person, and it creates tension.
        * They have annoying, repeatable patterns of behavior that are irritating.
                * The 'relevant detail' is a *behavior*, not a silly walk.
* Characters/POV can often be summed up as simple adjective/noun dyads.
* A straight man is a scharactoer  long as that person is consistent.
* Exercise:
        * Pick a broad location.
        * Come up with specific people in specific sub-locations.
        * Give them aggressive, specific intentions.
* Don't be afraid of being broad/archetypical at the start of a scene.
        * You can/will get more specific afterwards.
* Even in great scenes, characters can be ambiguous.  Nailing them down can make a great scene even greater.
* Beginnings are the most important/difficult part of a scene.
        * "Audiences are most forgiving at the top of a scene."
* Direction:  "Are you happy with this person, or unhappy?  'cos you've kind of got a foot in each camp."
        * Choose to be happy or unhappy, and proceed from there.
        * The same goes for actions in the scene:  be happy or unhappy about them, but try to avoid 'meh'.
* "Listen less to the words, and more to the delivery."
        * Use gibberish in scenes, if necessary.
        * Avoid 'situationalism'.
* The character is still themselves regardless of the situation.
* "In a world of Nazi vampires, a Nazi-vampire shoe salesman is just a shoe salesman."
* In the Harold, take something very small from the Invocation, and use it to do the best scene you can.
        * (Discover the *real* theme organically.)
* Warm-up:  patterns.
        * i.e. people bounce around a list of car brands.
        * Another pattern = an object that confers mobility.
* Warm-up:  quick two-handers.
* Exercise:
        * Do two-handers.
                * One person gets two slips of paper:
                        * One has a one-word trait written on it.
                        * Another has a relationship written on it.
                                * (This helps keep the character in the scene.)
        * A useful question in the field:
                * "If <x> is on the 'trait' slip of paper, what's on the other?"
        * Typically, the scenes have unremarkable situations.
                * ... but the character choices are strong.
* General-agreement scenes benefit from information.
* Additional characters can walk on to provide *grounding* for a scene.
        * ... to remind us that we're in the real world. :)
* "Good improv is good improv, but bad improv is different at each theater."
        * Annoyance falls apart when individual strong characters don't "click" or "mesh".
                * ... or they mesh arbitrarily, and it feels forced.
* "Pinch until you get the 'ouch'."
        * If your weird/rude behavior doesn't "land", exacerbate the problem.
* Even when dealing with authority figures, push back against weirdness that inconveniences you.
* "Cross-initiations" = both people try to initiate.
        * Usually somebody has to cede right-of-way.
        * Similarly, if you're in a two-hander with *two* absurd people, consider letting up on your thing.
                * ... b/c people don't always have an *effect* on each other in such scenes.
* "Play the scene that's there."
        * If something funny happens in the scene, drop what's in your mind.
                * Always be willing to drop stuff.
* What to do with an impasse?
        * "Someone has to lose... without giving up who they are."
        * You can begin the transaction, and veer away after a bit.
                * (even admit that what you did was wrong!)
* "Say yes/do no."
        * Agree with your partner, assuage their worry, but don't do what they want.
* All scenes have tension.  How do you *manage* that tension?
* Your character can be talked into something uncomfortable or stupid.
        * It could be for the good/lengthening of the scene.
* Exercise:  start with a monolog, and pick traits out of that.
* Vamping
        * In music, it's marking time
        * In improv, it's a stretch of "yes"ing without "and"ing.
                * If it's realistic and reasonable, the audience is okay with it.
* My feedback:  play *firmer* characters.
        * Use silence to confer status on yourself.
* Use known people to nail down character consistency.
* Use emotional noises to convey and commit to emotional responses.
* "I'm just the kind of <x> who..."
        * This line-beginning helps you commit to a well-defined character early.
* "Work for a note" -> be more reckless.
* "Interrupt with non-sequitur."
* Setting simple, clear, tenable challenges -- things that you know you *can* do -- is the easiest way to break out of a rut and make progress.
* Game:  "Mystery Film Festival"
        * Pick three [random] movies thaet verybody knows.
        * Then, pick the theme of that film festival.
                * You'll find many themes are available.
* Exercise:  do three scenes in a row.
        * Look for themes in these scenes.
        * It's usually helpful to look for behavior patterns (good shortcut).
        * The 'correct' theme is the one you tell the audience the theme is.
                * Then, start a shared monolog exploring the theme you 'picked'.
        * "*Now* I see why they did those scenes; it all makes sense now."
* Variation:
        * Do a group game *besides* direct address.
                * You need to aim it at the audience.
        * But you can still hit the theme dead-on.
* In such a 'theme game', focus more on exploring the theme than fussing with the game/scene.
*Variation #2:  Follow that game with three more scenes.
        * Then, see where the show's gone.
        * "Improv is awesome at the 'reverse justify'."
        * Once your setup has honored that game/theme, you can just focus on doing a good scene.
                * You don't owe *more* to the theme.
* "Being in your head" = when an external rule contradicts what the moment needs.

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