Here are my notes from week 5, day 1 of the iO Summer Intensive. Our instructor for week five is Miles Stroth.
* First exercise: do a bunch of 2-person scenes. * Then: what did you think went wrong in those scenes? * Miles considers "what went wrong" in terms of: * What type of scene was it? * What was I doing to serve that type of scene? * Did we fuck up the basics of that type of scene? * Most scene problems happen in the first ten seconds of a scene, usually due to a lack of listening. * Scene Type #1: Straight/Absurd Scenes * i.e., one silly person, one "straight man". * This is the default scene type for newer improvisors. * This is because they tend more strongly to play premises than play characters. * It's also just common throughout improv & comedy generally. * (Esp. Monty Python -- see "The Dead Parrot Sketch".) * Figure out which one you are (straight or absurd) as soon as possible. * Then play that part as hard as you can. * How do you figure out which one you are? * When the scene starts, you *listen*. * In Harolds, people usually start a scene with an idea/initiation. * In the rare case when the initiator does *not* have an idea, you'll know quickly. * So your biggest priority is to watch that. * Be 'paranoid' for "which of the two am I?" * If the initiator's taking their time with their idea... * Just bide your time until the idea shows up. * If you have to talk, just say, "Yeah." or something similarly non-offery. * When you're absurd, take the absurd thing you've done and delve into it. * Do NOT justify, explain, or defend the absurdity. * If you successfully justify your absurdity, it's no longer absurd. * (If anything, it's just tragic.) * If you're absurd, don't be normal. * Don't curb or justify your absurd behavior so it makes sense. * You're not trying to make your behavior 'right'. * That would destroy your absurd-ness. * Why would you want to do that? * If anything, you're trying to make your behavior *more wrong*. * Any 'logic' you use to justify your behavior... should also be absurd. * How do you invent absurd logic? * Start with normal logic. Then invert it. * "Why did you burn down the house?" "So I'd get the insurance money!" --> NO "Because it was completely uninsured!" --> YES * Absurd logic lets you dig into the "Why?" of your character, without giving up your absurdness. * (e.g. "Well of *course* it was *nailed* there....") * Alternately, you can just be in denial of the straight logic: * "You're drinking because Mary left you, aren't you!" "No I'm not! *sniffle* I'm happy she's gone!" * If you're absurd, it's not your job to argue *anything*. * It's your job to be absurd. * It's the straight man's job to pose arguments. * As the absurd person, don't engage those arguments. * Just keep being absurd. * Likewise, if someone attacks your character in their initiation... * ... your instinct will be to defend yourself. * DON'T DO THAT. * You totally don't need to. * Instead, just accept it as an offer, and embody the attacked quality. * If they call you an asshole, then hey! you have license to be an asshole! * Embrace the negative quality as a form of absurdity. * Even if the 'realistic response' is to defend yourself, in this one case, don't bother being realistic. It's not helpful. * On the other hand, if you're *not* the absurd guy, and you say something crazy, you should provide an explanation. * What kind of absurdity should you play? * The initial offer usually tells you. * Hell, it usually tells you *exactly* how you're absurd. * So your game is to follow and develop that offer as far as you can. * Typically, the absurd guy's POV is happy and positive. * This is to counter the straight man... * ... who is usually in a negative, frustrated state of mind. * When you're the straight man.... * ... your job is to call out what's absurd about the absurd guy. * Call it out in the simplest possible terms. * Don't worry about finding a clever way to say it. * "... alright. I see what's going on. How do I *not* say it?" --> NO * Even if it's a small observation, *make that observation*. * Explain, in detail, why it's wrong. * Listen attentively to the absurd guy... * ... so you can find more things that are wrong. * Once you have straight and absurd parts established... * ... stick to that. * If a subsequent offer counters those roles... * (e.g. if someone makes the straight person look crazy.) * Just straight-up block that bullshit. * That is consistent with the world the scene has established. * Once you've gotten through the basic situation-establishing of a scene, you can move it to a straight/absurd scene. * Either make yourself absurd or make the other person absurd. * If there's something fucked-up that happens in the scene, seize on that. * Be paranoid about seeking out fucked-up things. * Your first instincts are probably right. * This is far preferable to just stalling and thinking. * (This is usually the "oh god what next?" moment in any scene.) * Scene Type #2: Character Scenes * This is where the primary mover for the scene is just watching sharp characters be themselves. * You can add a straight/absurd dynamic *to* this, but it's mainly about the characters. * If your character scene goes full straight/absurd... * You can drop your absurd business occasionally, and dwell in character land, but go back to the absurd business regularly. * You can also both join on the absurdity, and keep it a character scene. * If an absurd offer comes up in a character scene... * Either you're on-board with it, or you hate it. * Either way, you know how you feel about it. * Don't be hesitant, with lots of confused questions. * This is very useful when you find yourselves in a "double absurd" scene. * A character is different from just 'a slight alteration to oneself'. * A character is usually an archetype that carries a whole set of expectations. * If you play a grizzled private detective, we all know what to expect from him. (We've seen movies & stuff.) * Note that archetypal relationships (e.g. "father/son") imply, to some extent, archetypal characters. * If you can't play an archetype, you can at least play someone with a strong, driving POV. * And if you don't have that, you can always observe a POV for your current character. * And failing that, you can just pick a POV arbitrarily. * If you introduce a character who isn't an archetype, your partner will likely assume you're playing an absurd character. * When you see a clear "character" initiation, try to play a character instead of hitting straight or absurd. * You can start by just mirroring the initiated character, if you have no idea what's going on yet. * If you suck at mirroring, DO IT ANYWAY. * Practice is the only way you'll improve. * The audience loves watching you make the effort. * And it's what the scene needs. * With time, you can sort out how your character is different from the existing one. * Once you discover this difference, it's up to *both* of you to play up that difference. * Try to limit this difference to the *content* of what you say. * The manner in which you say it should still be mirrored. * The nervous mob guy talks about being nervous, but still does it like a normal mob guy. * If you do not find a difference between you and the character... * Then you both usually end up focussing on one thing. * That requires an endless, creatively-challenging game of heightening/one-upmanship. * If you find a difference, then it's a matter of translating things back and forth between your different POVs. * If you have a better idea what you're seeing, you can play a complementary character. * Do NOT play: * A character who has nothing to do with the other character. * A character who could exist anywhere, and has no particular reason to be around *this* person. * Sometimes you see an initiation that could be "character" and could be "absurd". * In those cases, ask yourself: which is stronger in this offer, the character or the premise? * Then, respond to the offer appropriately. * In character initiations, once you've established the situation and the characters, and you have that (usual) "Okay, what next?" moment, you can really go *anywhere*. * It can be fun to indulge "opposite impulse" in a character scene. * i.e., do the exact thing you *wouldn't* expect from this character. * Scene Type #3: Alternate Reality * This is where you both take something absurd for granted, as part of the world you live in. * à la sci-fi. * Sample initiation: "Man, the vampires are going crazy tonight." * Given an initiation, how do you tell if it's "Alternate Reality" or "Straight/Absurd"? * Does the offer imply a crazy *person*, or a crazy *world*? * Again, if you pick an *archetypal* alternate reality (e.g. "vampires exist"), then a lot of shared audience knowledge comes *with* that. * But alternate-reality doesn't have to be genre. * It can just be accepting something absurd. * If you do that, make life easy for yourself. * i.e., pick an absurdity that's simple and easy to play. * But make sure you accept it in such a way that: * ... makes the absurdity a rule of how the world works. * ... lets you explore what further things that absurdity implies. * "If <x> is true, what *else* is true?" * Always perform that exploration. * If you pick a non-genre alternate reality, the audience will have lots of questions about it. * If it takes place on Earth, question #1 will be "How did Earth get like this?" * In this case, a crap explanation is far better than *no* explanation. * Default explanation: "Ever since the aliens landed...." * Aliens is cray-cray. * Just get the audience to stop focussing on its questions, and start focussing on your scene. * In the same way you want the world's absurdity to be simple and clear, you want the explanation for that absurdity to be simple and clear. * Just use the first explanation that occurs to you. * It'll be simple, and it's probably right. * You still have a scene game on top of that. * Maybe it's a "bad roommate" scene in vampireland. * Whatever you do, don't drop the alternate reality. * Keep grounding your bad-roommate scene in the vampire world. * Once the alternate reality is established, and you have the usual "oh god what next?" moment, it's time to figure out what kind of scene you're in. * Again, you can indulge "opposite impulse". * Set up the audience to think they know this reality. * Then break from that in some significant way. * Whatever world you set up, you have to honor the rules of that reality if you ever come back to that world. * If your character rebels against the alternate reality and starts acting "real world"... * That makes your character absurd. * You should just make feints at "normal reality". * After each attempt, "snap back" to the alternate reality. * Scene Type #4: Realistic Scenes * These are just the same as the previous three types, only with smaller and more reasonable choices. * Alternately, the first three types are just exaggerations of certain types of realistic scenes. * Realistic scenes move slower than the other three scene types. * That means that in a 25-minute Harold, you probably won't have time for them. * They're still good to know how to do. * The deconstruction: * Open with a 6-minute two-hander. * Fairly realistic. * Maybe a smidge bigger choices than with realistic. * Do a couple of 1½-minute scenes. * One exploring each of the two characters. * Do a couple more minutes of the realistic scenario. * Include & emphasize what we now know about these characters. * Do five "commentary" scenes. * These are scenes that reflect behaviors from the main scene. * ... but they don't just retell the main scene. * They recontextualize the behaviors into new circumstances. * These scenes are short -- a couple of minutes or so. * Resume the main scene for a bit. * Then a six-minute "run" of scenes. * These are 30 seconds at the longest. * They get faster as the run goes on. * These pick up on anything we've seen before. * This can include tangents. * Note that this includes a lot of really really short scenes. * We're tending to do "soft" scene starts. * We're tending to find our scenes slowly. * We aren't afforded that luxury of time in the deconstruction. * General notes: * Generally, hold off on character choices until you hear your scene partner's initiation. * Once you know what kind of scene you're in, and what positions everyone has in them, you can work on nailing down any bits of undefined CROWE. * Whatever you pick to answer (say) "Where are these characters?" should heighten the scene's game. * e.g., if the absurd character is hitting on you all the time, the "what's your relationship?" answer should make that behavior as wrong as possible. ("Father Flannigan, stop that!") * Don't halfway initiate a scene. * Either start the scene with a clear move, or enter fully blank. * It's easy to enter blank and then adapt to the offer. * If you enter with some half-formed idea, and the other guy makes a move, you have to work at adapting what you just did to the new offer. * That takes energy. * That distracts the audience from the main point of the scene. * If you play a character with a trait the audience will dislike (like, say, homophobia). * You want to give that character some obviously-risible traits. * You want to clarify that the cast doesn't approve of this trait. * "We say awful things so that we can make fun of people who say awful things." * "We play people we want to attack." * Try to stay aware of the audience. * What they're thinking, feeling, etc. * If you notice something weird in your scene, the audience noticed it too. * Use chairs as chairs. * Not props. * Start a scene with a clear move. * Inadvertent scene starts are lame. * e.g., someone randomly coughs, then everyone coughs, and now it's a scene about coughing. * There really are only a very finite number of relationship types. * So don't feel like you have to come up with a new relationship. * "The Big Five" of subject matter: mortality, sex, religion, philosophy, politics. * Great art engages one or more of these. * Improv should never shy away from engaging these. * They should come up a lot, in fact, because we think of them a lot. * We think of them far more than whatever witty and intellectual thing/topic you want to gag about. * When going blue, aim to be "wonderfully awful" rather than vulgar. * Disturbing darkness is better than mere shock. * Miles's example of a "wonderfully awful" line: "You ever see that moment when innocence leaves a child's eyes?" * If a scene hones in on a single point of contention.... * Note that you can lose that 'contest' without losing your character. * This allows you to move on to the next thing. * You can find new *content* to argue about -- new topics -- while holding onto the same *game*. * My notes for myself: * When your partner gives an offer that implies an inter-personal conflict, *accept it*. * Dig into the conflict. * Offer resistance.
Mood: contemplative · Music: none