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

Saturday (7/21/12) 3:39am - ... wherein Peter attends a physicality workshop in the iO Summer Intensive.

Today I took a workshop on improv physicality from Jet Eveleth.

* First, get into neutral position.
        * Center your hip-bones above your feet.
        * Pretend a tiny rope is lifting your head.
                * ... and thus, straightening your spine.
        * Lift both sets of toes.
                * Then plant them one at a time.
                * This should set your feet squarely on the ground.
        * Note that this simple exercise is also a great thing to do just before you hit the stage.

* Prepare with some stretching.
        * Remember, if your body is cold going *into* a show, you're unlikely to do anything physical *during* the show.
        * Don't half-ass your stretching.
                * Think about pulling apart opposite parts of your body.

* Physicality can come from an objective.
        * Exercise:
                * Get everybody on stage.
                * Tell all the guys to grab the cup and then touch the UL door.
                * Tell all the ladies to grab the cup and then touch the UR door.
                * Then, throw a plastic cup on stage.
                * THIS IS SO FUN TO WATCH.
                * It's fun, because everyone commits to the objective.
                        * Everybody *really is* trying to grab that cup.
                        * Nobody's half-assing it.
                        * The objective is very direct and obvious.
                                * We're not manipulating other people to get what we want.
                                * We're not being clever or nuanced.
                                * We just WANT THE CUP NOW.
                * Useful quote: "Athletes are the best actors."
                        * Because they really *believe* in what's going on.
                        * Putting a ball through a hoop ABSOLUTELY MATTERS.
                                * ... even though, on some level, it really doesn't.
                        * Our goal is to believe in our scenes that much.
                                * Even to the point that, when responding to side coaching, we *can't* completely drop the emotion.
        * Then, try the same objective, with limitations.
                * Examples of limitations:
                        * Your legs are tied together.
                        * Your belly has to stay on the ground at all times.
                        * Your eyes are closed.
                * These are analogous to the limitations your "performer brain" can give your character in scenes.
                        * A limitation can make achieving a simple objective an engaging struggle.
                        * "I want to eat all the Chee-tos, BUT I don't want anybody at the party to *see* me eat all the Chee-tos."

* "Excess give."
        * This is a physical form of "yes and".
        * With "give", somebody lightly pushes your shoulder, and your shoulder lightly wobbles back.
        * With *excess* give, somebody lightly pushes your shoulder, and you spin around and fall (safely) on the ground.
        * It's still a real touch, with real contact.
                * It's the *reaction* to that real contact that's heightened.
                
* Giving someone your weight.
        * The key here is not just jumping in somebody's arms and screaming, "CATCH MEEEE!"
                * Because, maybe they can't.
                * And even if you can, the audience cringes.
                        * ... because they're worried about your safety.
        * Instead, give your partner your weight in increments.
                * 10%, then 20%, then 30%, and so on.
                * Try to make the increments as small as possible.
                * Side benefit: this stretches out the action, which typically makes it funnier.
        * Don't do anything sudden
        * If you're giving weight, and you feel your scene partner buckle, *stop*.
        * If you're receiving weight, and you feel like you can no longer support your partner, *put them down*.
        
* Physical conflict on stage.
        * Wrestling is useful.
        * Wrestling ends up making it about "which *actor* is stronger?"
                * ... instead of "which *character* is stronger?"
                * Now it's a sporting event.
                        * ... and those are inherently engaging.
                        * Also because, in a *real* contest...
                                * The actors *believe* in the contest.
                                * The actors *commit* to the contest.
        * 'Fight' until you're exhausted.
                * This exhaustion will come across as genuine.
                * It lets you briefly hit the 'reset' button on the fight.
                        * A slight break for panting, then: MOAR FIGHTING!
                                
* "Scoring"
        * As a physical conflict continues, both characters can find ways to 'score'.
                * i.e., to get small victories along the way.
        * If your character is in the lead, it's useful to find ways to let the other guy 'score'.
                * In soccer terms, this is the difference between an exciting 
                3-2 match and a dull 10-0 blowout.
                * Note: we're talking about the *performer*, not the *character*, backing down.
        * 'Scoring' can force your opponent to try a new tactic.
                * Switching to new tactics is very useful.
                        * It lets us burn through the normal strategies.
                        * And then we're forced to resort to crazy strategies.
                        * But the crazy strategies make sense in context.
                                * After all, we've already tried every reasonable option.
                        * In scenework, you usually burn through all verbal options before going to physical business.
                                * It's all part of that heightening.
        * Cliff Notes version: know when to let your partner score a point.
                                
* Two characters fight onstage over something.
        * Your characters should have conflicting objectives.
                * If your characters do not have clear objectives, it won't feel like a fight.
                        * It'll feel like a dance.
                                * In the sense of its being pointless abstract motion.
        * Whatever goal you are fighting over, it should correspond to something physical onstage.  Examples:
                * "We're fighting to get through that door there."
                * "She's fighting to grab this orange in my hand."
                * Making your objective(s) specific can help with this.
                        * This also makes it more relatable.
                        * This also allows for more forms of 'scoring.'
                                * (See above.)
                * Try to visualize that onstage physical object in detail.
        * It's helpful to use "want words" here.
                * This is when you reduce your character's objective to a word or two.
                        * Then, repeat that mantra-ish tidbit throughout the conflict.
                * These help keep the objective in the scene.
                * This helps distract your "word-brain" from trying to return the scene to Talky-town.
        * "Breath sounds" are also useful.
                * A breath sound is a sound carried by the breath.
                        * Ideally, it should be an outgrowth of an emotion.
                        * At the very least, it should convey emotion.
        * Note that your fighting characters NEEDN'T BE ANGRY.
                * Not angry => the audience likes you more.
                * A non-angry character is more likely to think of more interesting/insane tactics to burn through.
                * Me: often, in a fight, any average person would be angry.
                        * Thus, picking something else tells you how this character is unique.
                * Remember that Chaplin was always a beleaguered optimist.
                        
* Fun with props.
        * Pick an object.
                * Larger objects are better.
                        * ... b/c "Gross" (i.e., large) movements scan better from the audience.
                                * These also keep your body busy.
                                        * This manages to distract you from judging yourself.
        * Find some space in the room.
        * Use the prop normally.
        * Now put aside the prop and spacework the same action.
        * Repeat this a few times 'til you get it down.
                * Note that this is something you can (and should) practice every day.
        * Now, try to use the object and fail, five times in a row.
                * Note that this requires your character to have a little ignorance and naïveté.
                        * This is common for slapstick characters.
                * Failing at a simple use of an object = something you can practice.
        * Let the five failures have an arc.
                * Burn through the normal uses first.
                * By 5, you've gotten to 'crazyballs' uses of it.
        * Remember that 3, 4, & 5 get more intense.
                * Start using breath sounds and mantras on those.
        * Stay optimistic and reasonable.
                * Be surprised every time a strategy fails.
                * Feel optimistic about the next time, post-failure.
                        * Be sure to pause and react to the failure.
                        * This includes a moment to realize (to your astonishment) *that* you failed.
        * Make sure you fully explore each failure.
                * Don't withdraw from it.
                        * Let each failure develop, heighten, and become as bad as possible.
                * Note that you can *always* find a way to make a failure worse.
                        * "We can always make shit worse."
        * If other characters are present, watching, and straight-manning this scene, the situation becomes neven more embarrassing for the failing character.
        * Note that it's not the end of the world if, eventually, one of your strategies *works*.
                * In improv, we really never know if a character will achieve their objective or not.
                * And if the character gets what they want, we get to see what happens on the other side of that event.
                * If the character, by the end of the scene, loses -- that's a character we can bring back later.
        * It's okay to quickly heighten in improv/sketch.
                * Short form is based around 5-minute scenes.
                        * ... ergo you can't move at "movie speed".
                * So go ahead and take your failures to the 8-10 range fairly quickly.
        * Note that sketch allows you to use real objects.
                * ... and sometimes real objects crop up in improv.
                * Failing that, you can always do object work.
        * You can always open a scene with a character messing up something physical.
                * Me: explore how that mistake makes you feel, and what that mistake might tell you about the character, and you'll start finding the character.

* Characters with objects.
        * Again, try interacting with a real prop.
        * Then, try performing the same action with spacework.
        * Then, repeat both steps as a character.
                * e.g. "a cowboy", "a mortifician", and so on.
        * Using a character should affect how you do the action.
        * Note that this is a great way to start a scene.
                * It establishes the character's POV and environment.
                        * All that's left after that is relationship.
        * Note that talking *about* the object...
                * ... is unrealistic.
                * ... it adds very little information.
                * ... it obviously signals to your partners, "I'm doing unclear spacework."
                * It's easy to prevent this by talking about other stuff.
                
* General Advice:
        * Always show up onstage prepared for physical stuff.  So:
                * No earrings or dangly jewelry.
                * Tie your hair back, if it's long.
                * No skirts.
                * Me: my wearing a dress shirt to this workshop was, perhaps, stupid.
        * Another reason to tie back your hair: it exposes your eyes.
                * Again, the audience experiences the scene through your eyes.
        * To get out of your head, go somewhere else.
                * You have three possible destinations:
                        1. Your environment.
                        2. Your world.
                                * Eh, I think I wrote this down wrong.
                                * Maybe 'want'?
                        3. Your scene partner's eyes.
        * In comedic physical work, always give the audience a bit of a wink.
                * This lets them know, "It's okay to laugh at this."
                * You especially want to do this when things feel heavy.
                * Breath sounds are useful here.
                        * Whenever you want to pant, make a sound instead.
                * "Flair" is a useful way to wink.
                        * This is small physical business that doesn't actually help you achieve your goal.
                        * So if you're pushing against a barrier as hard as you can, and then lift your right leg behind you and waggle it, this is flair.
                                * It serves no practical use whatsoever.
                        * Flair helps assure the audience that you-the-performer are still in full control of the physical situation.
        * Climbing under someone's body is humiliating.
                * Also, it is hilarious.
                * Also also, the audience will love it, because you are getting to do something that they could *never* do.
                * On a related note, physical heightening should eventually land you horizontal on the ground.
                        * That pretty much maxes out your helplessness and ridiculousness.
        * Remember that who you are onstage is pretty much the same as who you are offstage.
                * So, if you engage in some kind of regular physical practice in your day-to-day life (yoga, sports, dance), you're more likely to make physical choices onstage.
        * The audience always needs access to your face.
                * More specifically, your eyes.
        * The question you can always ask re: theater is "Would I stick around and watch this if I saw it happening in real life?"
                * Putting actions on a two-inch raised platform shouldn't make us completely reassess how we judge them.
        * People totally drop environment.
                * Even though environment really helps ground you in the scene.
                * Good environment helps establish the fourth wall.
                        * Having a fourth wall means the audience is watching *characters*, not people.
                                * This makes it okay to laugh at them.


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