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

Sunday (1/8/12) 7:02pm - ... wherein Peter takes notes on the Maestro-directing workshop.

I took some notes on today's Maestro-directing workshop at the Hideout Theatre.

Troy:  Structure
===========
* We've done Maestro since the Hideout opened.
        * It's a very solid format, and it kills already.
        * But we can always make it better.
        * (Shouldn't it get an award for that?)
* Different directors have different (successful) philosophies...
        * ... but there are still some fundamental aspects that hold true.
* Maestro is based on sports
        * Getting the same excitement:  trophies, etc.
* Prepare for the show
        * Come up with games & setups you like
                * You don't always need to go to the audience for a suggestion
                * You can just pre-load some suggestions yourself.
        * Pep-talk the cast
                * Tell them to have fun, be mischievous, etc.
* In the show, the director is much like a referee
        * Avoid delay-of-game
                * KEEP THINGS MOVING
                * Be efficient
        * It's not really about you & your personality & your stand-up bit.
                * Keep setups concise and direct.
                * Stay off-stage with your setups
                        * Keep focus towards the cast.
* Shape of show
        * Overall, it wobbles upwards.
                * It has its ups and downs, especially early on.
                * Generally, the scenes get *stronger* over time.
        * You want to keep variety from scene to scene
                * Never "more of the same"
        * Maintain variety...
                * ... of tone. (light, dark, creepy, cheery)
                * ... of style. (games vs. scenes, types of games)
                * ... of stage picture. (chairs vs. no-chairs, # of players)
                * ... of noise/energy. (loud vs. silent)
* Basic structure:
        * Hosting:
                * Explain the rules, suggestions, scoring
                * Show off the $5,  practic scoring
                * Move fast, be efficient.
        * Then, rounds.
                * Maestro works best if there are *more* rounds.
                        * This means more eliminations.
                        * This also means there's more *momentum*.
                                * More sports-like.
                        * Some scenes can be *really short*.
                                * If you're in a quick blackout, don't bitch about it!
                * Finish first couple rounds by ~10:45pm.
* Players should all stick around for notes
        * This makes them look like a team
        * There's a bit of good nature for the very end.
        * And even if you're eliminated early on, you're part of the show.
* How to explain scoring:
        * 2 is average.
        * 1 doesn't mean you hated it, just that you didn't like it.
        * 5 means "we want to see more of that"
                * Tell the audience they guide the show.
        * Mention that whooping and hollering doesn't count.
        * If you're evenly split on two scores, go low.
                * Especially for a 5
                        * It forces a better arc to the show if we have to *earn* 5s.
                * Don't be afraid to piss off the audience w/r/t scoring.
        * Take your time with scoring, even if it was a clear 5.
                * 1, beat, 2, beat, etc.
                * Also, this draws it out.
        * Stay neutral -- don't cue a certain score.
                * Don't judge the audience's score.
        * Clarify that you're not just judging on funny.
                * It's on how much you "enjoy the scene".
                        * The audience often gets confused by the first serious scene
                                * Try slipping a serious thing in early
                                        * This preps the audience.
                                        * Generally prep the audience early for "improv is not just one thing".
* As the show goes on, fight for...
        * More resonance, more truth, more depth.
                * Even if it's just a game.
* The first scene *can* be a group game (but usually isn't).
        * If you haven't warmed up the audience, a group game is good.
                * Or if the audience is cool for some reason.
        * A larger cast -- probably want to get right into the first tround.
        * Helps put a greener cast at ease.
        * The extra random point can help vary player scores.
        * In any case, keep it quick and succinct.
                * Again, be efficient.
* Ending on a head-to-head tiebreaker is great.
        * If scores are off by one, then head-to-head solo scenes can work
                * ... especially if there's still time.
                * Put the lower-scoring person first.
* Finish a show by 11:35pm, or 11:40pm at the latest.
* Exercise:  get into groups and come up with a Maestro set list.
        * Then, adjust to account for wrinkles.

Andy:  Support
===========
* How do we best support the players?
        * How do we train new players & make them look good?
        * How do we give veteran players a place to have a good time?
* At the very least, jot down a list of qualities you want to include.
        * You can knock them out as the show goes on.
                * Then you'll know what's left.
* Next level, if you have some more time, list games.
        * List out some games that excite you
                * Categorize them.
        * Also list games that haven't been done lately.
* Next level, if you have more time, list setups too.
* Try to get info from the players:
        * What they like/don't like.
        * What they've been up to lately.
                * This gives you grist for the show.
        * Check in for players' injuries/restrictions.
        * See who's a rookie.
* Also, prep by writing up the number/name pairs.
* Prepping in the green room:
        * The director should get them warming up.
                * Especially if you're new to some of these players.
                * Vary them -- no 15 minutes of bunny-bunny.
        * Or tap a cast member to lead warm-ups.
        * ... and, do the pep talk.
        * This makes the cast feel more invested.
        * End warm-ups 5-10 min before the show.
* Vibe with the audience:
        * Make everyone feel like *you're* the one keeping it on the rails.
        * The directors get the blame when something geos wrong.
        * Possibly have players hang out onstage as the audience enters.
                * This sets the audience expectations low.
                * And connects the cast with the audience.
                * (Lots of bickering about this.)
        * Or players put up their names while the audience is there.
* Overdirect.
        * Especially if you're a newer director.
                * This is how you get better at directing -- screw up.
        * Especially in the first round or two.
        * This takes care of newer players.
        * This keeps the audience assured that things'll be okay.
        * You can add restrictions after a scene has started.
                * Makes your director-involvement more apparent.
        * It also sets things up so that, if you *need* to do directing later, it won't feel wonky and unprecedented.
        * Also, set it up in the pep talk, so the players don't feel insulted.
                * "We're trying to help you."
                * "If it goes wrong, the audience will quite rightly blame us."
* Sometimes the director can seem adversarial.
        * Setting up a really hard scene.
        * "This is the last line of the scene."
                * This can give a scene necessary tension.
        * This puts the audience on the players' side.
        * Or adding an extra restriction/setup tweak as the lights go down
* Be aware of long scene setups.
        * Your general goal is to stay out of the way.
        * ... so don't indulge in a lot of long setups.
        * Your setup doesn't have to include the game.
                * Just set up the *scene*, and add the game mid-scene.
                * This tightens up the initial setup
                * It also makes you more flexible, mid-scene.
                        * The audience likes seeing your flexibility.
        * You can add a "three-word summary" of your setup as the lights go down.
* You can *totally* cheat on which players to pick for a scene.
        * e.g. not pushing a new player into a solo scene.
* You're not an emcee
        * Stay in your goddamn chair.
* Support in the middle of a scene.
        * This is one of the best way to teach new players.
        * Example:  taking back a not-fun-negative scene start.
                * Players can take back a bad start.
                        * Make this clear to players, btw.
        * You don't want to sound judgmental.
        * Or directing players to move around or start in a different position, if they've been stock-still.
* How do you help a scene that's floundering?
        * You can prep with a list of generic "helpful sentences".
                * Examples:
                        * Verbal:
                                * Make a decision.
                                        * Kind of dickish/critical.
                                * Say that sentence again.
                                * Say, "I love you because..."
                                * You heard that.
                                        * That just happened.
                        * Physical:
                                * Make eye contact.
                                * Touch his knee.
                                * Start to cry.
                                * Walk away from him.
                * N.B.:  knock them out as you use them.
                        * (So you don't have repeats.)
        * Effective physical directions are...
                * Very helpful
                * They don't seem overdirectory
                        * Very unnoticeable to the audience.
                * They make the players seem like they're doing it.
        * Call for stage support.
* You can drag people off the back wall, by
        * Gently gesturing them forward
        * Setting up a drinks cabinet DR.
* Feel completely free to draw on the other director.
        * Whispered:  "I have no idea what to do!"
                * Co-director will help.
* Fundamentally:
        * Give characters opportunities for change.
        * Physical offers often generate this change.
* Sometimes you can lob in an actual tilt.
        * "Take off your" human costume.
        * Don't overdo it -- you're not an improvisor.
* Write notes about the show.
        * This is how you give good notes *after* the show.
        * But, be sure you compliment-sandwich your notes.
        
Marc:  Play
==========
* Think of Maestro as a long-form show.
        * It's not a *real* competition.
        * It's a show *about* a competition.
        * It's not disjunct scenes; it has a cohesive arc.
        * Callbacks are awesome.
* Players should have relationships.
        * Pick one player:  you're in love with that player.
        * Pick one player:  you hate that player.
                * And so on.
        * It's great when the players relate to each other during a setup.
                * Sometimes you just get an organic setup out of that.
* Getting a 2 can make improv appear appropriately dangerous.
        * That said, you don't have to *force* the 2.
        * Players can earn a 2 without your help.
* Speak-in-one-voice:
        * Is it the under-the-bus game?
        * Often it works to have 1 singleton and a group of 3.
* If you're a newer director, plan less.
        * You have to take risks, fuck up, and learn from it.
* Encourage bad behavior among the cast.
        * "Support, misbehave, screw with the director."
                * "Don't sit down on the side."
                        * That makes you unlikely to support.
                        * And makes you feel less like you're in the show.
                                * "It's *always* your scene, it's *always* your show."
        * "'Thank you, number ' is a safe word."
* Anyone can pull lights at the end of a scene.
* Don't be afraid to be 'bad cop'.
        * Tiebreakers can be mischievous occasionally.
                * (But generally, they should be earned.)
        * Then again, if a player pushes back too hard against your help...
                * ... sometimes you just gotta let them hang.
* If you give a bonus point, it's got to be for people helping the show.
        * And if the audience *wants* them to get that bonus point.
* You always want it to feel like a fair game with fair rules.
        * ... and those rules are being followed.
* Just because you start a game doesn't mean you need to finish it.
        * End it when the *scene* beneath the game needs to end.
        
Jessica -- Post-Show Notes
================

* They're mandatory
        * Don't blow them off
        * Don't let the *players* blow them off
        * Even if the show was awesome.
                * Then, just discuss *why* the show was awesome.
                        * Revel in it.
                        * Use it as a teaching opportunity.
                                * Point out what things you're *supposed* to do.
                                        * This is esp. useful for new players.
* Mainly they explain games that people don't know how to play.
        * Often players don't know these games.
* One possible rule:  "If you're in the scene, don't comment on it."
* Helpful instruction:  "For now, take the note.  If you want to bitch about it, talk about it with me afterwards at the bar."
* Often good to start with highlights.
        * Follow with "Anything we could've done differently?"
        * Then, go scene-by-scene, efficiently.
* Jessica, as the producer/antipope of Maestro, gets to speak at any point during Maestro notes.
* A possibly-useful question:  "Is there anything you guys struggled with?"
        * Then you can give them a positive thing they can do to address the problem.
* While it might feel kinder to give a general note.
        * But it's more useful to call people out.
                * (Maybe even on an individual basis, afterwards.)
        * Even then couch it positively:
                * "I challenge you to be more positive", instead of "Stop going negative."
* On casting:
        * If you're picked as a director, post that you're a director.
        * Also ping Jessica on people you'd love to direct.
        * Preferably before Thursday, when Jessica does the casting.

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[User Picture]
From:happywaffle
Date:Tuesday (1/10/12) 3:29pm
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And here I thought you were playing the text-based Hideout adventure the whole time.
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