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

Wednesday (8/1/12) 1:01am - ... wherein Peter attends week 4, day 2 of the iO Summer Intensive.

Here are my notes from week 4, day 2 of the iO Summer Intensive.  Our instructor for week four is Bill Arnett.

* Warm-ups:
        * Pattern games.
                * Once several patterns are establish:
                        * Introduce "passing objects around" patterns.
                        * Introduce "pass around a facial expression" patterns.
                        * Have everyone walk around the room...
                                * ... instead of staying in a circle.
        * Two-line scenes with weird dialog.
                * Form two unequal lines.
                * The front two people do a two-hander.
                * Person 1 initiates with a line of dialog.
                        * The line's mood should completely contradict its contents.
                        * e.g., I said in a casual and blasé voice, "Help.  Help.  I've been shot."
                * Person 2 can respond in a variety of ways, including:
                        * Match person 1's energy.
                        * Contradict person 1's energy.
                        * Be oblivious to the content of what person 1 says.
                                * ... instead, respond only to the mood.
                        * Point out the bizarreness of person 1's contradictory offer.
                                * Here, you're playing the 'straight man'.
                        * Establish that wackiness as part of "this world's 'normal'".
                                * But that gives you less fuel for the scene.
                                        * i.e., now you've just done world-building, but you still might have no idea what the scene is about.

* 2nd-Beat Practice:
        * Have two students do a scene.
        * Then, perform as many 2nd beats inspired by that scene as possible.
        * They'll go in all sorts of directions.
                * They could...
                        * ... expand the scene's basic idea.
                        * ... put a concept from the scene in a new context.
                        * ... take the story forward/backward in time.
                        * ... put a character from the scene in a new situation.
                        * ... take a *tiny* detail from the scene & run with it.
                        * ... etc.
        * The notion of doing a second beat should feel *freeing*, not *limiting*.
                * Ideally, you should be *excited* about all the directions you could go in.
        * Usually with a 1st beat, the first expansion that occurs to you is to do the next thing in chronological order.
                * This is often hard to play, though, because you'll want it to be logically consistent with the previous scene.
                * Also, it can land you in a scene that's about plot.
                        * Plotty scenes are not execution-proof.
                                * i.e., a crap improvisor can ruin a plotty scene.
                        * Character scenes are less execution-proof.
                                * i.e., crap improvisors playing strong characters can still make something worth watching.
                        * It's safer to use a character inspiration, rather than running the plot forward.
                * Note that (say) modern fiction often progresses in lots of ways that aren't "run the plot forward".
                        * (Me: e.g. Cloud Atlas)
                * Note that our most naïve ideas for 2nd-beat scenes don't reflect how scripted narratives work.
                * e.g.: if you watch an early Star Wars scene between Luke and Aunt Beru, and took that as a first beat...        
                        * ... you might do a second beat about Aunt Beru.
                        * ... you might assume the overarching story prominently features Aunt Beru.
                        * ... you would not conclude that this is the last time we see Aunt Beru in non-crispy-bacon form.
                        * Conclusion: improvised 2nd beats can go in at *least* all the myriad directions that scripted 2nd beats go in.
        * You are never beholden to any particular element of a 1st-beat scene.
                * Just watch and ask yourself, "What did I *like* there?"
                * Again, look for things to be *inspired* by, not *limited* by.
        * Another way to look at things to take from a 1st-beat scene:
                * "What would be the coolest audience suggestion to get based on this scene?"
                * Simpler suggestions would be better.
                        * ... because they are easier to play with.
                * Personalities and behaviors are the easiest suggestions to work with.
        * There is a full spectrum of 2nd-beat possibilities that runs from "Plot" to "Wha?"
                * You can pick anywhere on that spectrum.
                * The "Wha?" end loses all the *specifics* of the scene.
                        * Its connection to the scene is much more tenuous.
                                * The connection is very abstract, or small, or conceptual.
                * The "Plot" end is much harder to play.
                        * But its connection to the scene is much more obvious.
                * The "Wha?" end is very useful if the 1st-beat scene sucks.
        * Imagine that you're *highlighting* some element of the 1st-beat scene.
                * It's as if the 1st-beat scene is a giant painting...
                * ... and you just have a tiny flashlight you can aim at it.
        * Note that the 2nd-beat scene may determine the 1-2-3 pattern.
                * That is, it establishes a pattern that determines where we'll go with the 3rd beat...
                        * ... because the 3rd beat should complete the scene.

* Test Harold
        * This is a Harold rearranged into this pattern:
                * Opening
                        * Do an opening with at least three distinct games in it.
                * 1st scene, 1st beat
                * 1st scene, 2nd beat
                * 1st scene, 3rd beat
                * Group game
                * 2nd scene, 1st beat
                * 2nd scene, 2nd beat
                * 2nd scene, 3rd beat
                * Group game
                * 3rd scene, 1st beat
                * 3rd scene, 2nd beat
                * 3rd scene, 3rd beat
                * Ending
        * That is, we "batch" all the scene 1s into one contiguous section.
        * For the three-game opening...
                * If you want to change the energy of the opening (e.g. introduce a new game)...
                        * ... make it a very *clear* change in energy.
                        * ... do it DC, where everybody can see you.
        * Don't be a slave to "letting games emerge from the preceding scenes" or "making scenes emerge from each of the games"
                * Keep finding new, cool ways to do the transitions.

* Test Harold II
        * We then did some properly-structured Harolds.
                * ... except all the scenes were really really short.
                        * This let us focus on openings and games.

* Endings
        * Ideally, endings will reincorporate earlier material.
                * Ideally, theyll incorporate as much of that earlier material as possible.
        * You don't have to complete the whole last batch of scenes.
                * If you see a strong place to transition to a solid ending, DO IT.
                * "We had a great ending" trumps "ooh, we were able to complete all our 3rd-beat scenes".                
        
* General notes:
        * It's okay to die in the middle of a scene.
                * It's okay to leave in the middle of a scene.
                * It's okay to be alone for a while in a scene.
        * Dialog tends to go faster when everybody knows what the scene is about.
        * "Opposite Impulse"
                * This is when you do the *opposite* of what a normal person would do, to comic effect.
                * This will get you a laugh.
                * The problem is, once you make that choice, you have to be willing to commit to/live in that topsy-turvy world.
                        * That can be really difficult.
        * If you get stuck in a scene, try digging into your response to your scene partner's emotion.
                * But really, don't worry.
                        * Every scene -- even the good ones -- has slow, "What next?" moments.
        * In games/openings...
                * If you find yourselves doing a lot of movement stuff, throw in some dialog.
                * If you find yourselves doing a lot of dialog, throw in some movement.
        * You don't have to work hard to consciously establish themes in your shows.
                * Just focus on doing good scenes.
                * The themes will follow.
        * Always think about shape-of-show in a Harold.
                * Put another weay, pretend you're a Maestro director.
                * If a show lodges in a certain type of energy...
                        * It can be hard to break out of it.
                        * ... but you *have* to break out of it.
        * "The melodrama trap":
                * This is when you get stuck in a scene where...
                        1. ... you have a clear emotion, but...
                        2. ... you are not defining anything in the world of the scene.
                * This leads to very emotional scenes where nobody has any idea what's going on.
                        * This tends to make the emotions hollow.
                                * The scenes feel like vacuous political ads.
                        * And it makes the scene tentative.
                                * ("Wait, did somebody say what room we're in, and I just didn't notice?  I'll stay safe by being completely vague.")
                * You can always *define* your way out of the melodrama trap.
                        * Me: it feels like just noticing is, like, 90% of the battle.
        * If a scene gets over-the-top or surreal...
                * ... then *revel* in that surreal-ness.
                * Let your character have that "WTF?!" moment when the surreal thing happens.
        * Villains don't need to have souls.
                * Especially if the villain is in a small role, they can be a straight-up bastard.
        * If you're going to do clumsy course-correction in a scene ("Wait, no, you already said you were my mother." "Oh, right."), it's better to do that earlier in the scene rather than later.
                * Audiences are more forgiving at that point.
        * Remember that the Harold, in its rigorously-defined form, is a teaching form.
                * It's just a structure that's designed to teach people to do 30 minutes of improv using themes, callbacks, and organic group work.

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