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

Monday (2/25/13) 5:12pm - ... wherein Peter posts his notes from the Rich Ross Maestro-directing workshop

Last month, I took an improv workshop from Rich Ross about directing Maestro.  I'm *finally* getting around to posting my notes from that workshop.

* Maestro was invented on the fly by Keith Johnstone when a festival asked him to direct a show with 50 improvisors.
* What makes a good Maestro?
        * Playfulness, fun
        * The unexpected, inspiration
        * Energy
        * Don't take the 'competition' seriously.
* What's the point of Maestro?
        * Our opinions:
                * Entertain the audience
                * Train new players; give them stage time.
                * Mix up who people play with 
                * Trying new setups, experiment
                        * Break the rules in intriguing ways.
                * Play games.
        * Rich's take:
                * Make the audience feel like they were at an 'event', by making the players look fantastic.
                * Ideally, the audience feels like *anything* can happen.
* Maestro has "two shows" going on:
        * The scenework
        * The "behind-the-scenes" stuff.
                * That's like a live-action reality-show.
                        * This is the 'event' part of the show.
        * Think of televised sporting events, which last way longer than the event itself.
                * The 'other stuff' -- the stuff *surrounding* the actual game -- is *interesting* to the audience.
* Everything in Maestro has a purpose
        * Why are there numbers?
                * It makes it easier on the directors
                * The audience doesn't know from these names.
                        * They don't associate *names* with people.
                        * They don't care about the names.
        * Why is there a host?
                * Or rather, why *should* there be a host.
                        * Or alternately, why is it bad that the Hideout does *not* use a host?
                * The host introduces the show.
                        * Starts intermission.
                * The host gets scores.
                * Ideally, a scorekeeper handles the actual scorekeeping.
                * The host keeps the show lubricated.
                * Maybe they just stay on the mic throughout.
                * They provide sports-like commentary that can fill dead space.
                * The host's job is to memorize a version of the opening spiel and do that.
                        * And that's pretty much the bulk of their job, full stop.
                        * The directors don't have that task.
                        * You want that spiel that should be as short as possible.
                                * Eliminate everything that the audience will get from context.
                        * Whoever does the spiel, practice it until you have the important parts set.
                                * If you miss something important, you can also explain it later.
        * Why are there directors?
                * The directors are just there to make the players look good.
                        * They are not there to look good themselves.
                        * The show is thoroughly *not* about them.
                                * When preparing to score a scene, curb your impulse to loquaciously summarize the scene.
                                        * Again, it's not about you.
                                * (If you want a show that's about the directors, do Gorilla Theater.)
                        * Newbie directors start out leaning forward and involved.
                                * With experience, they lean back and treat it like they're watching TV.
                                * Often the best-directed scene has no direction.
                * The director has to monitor shape-of-show.
                        * [ed: Again, this is part of making the players look good.]
        * Why is there a scorekeeper?
                * You want to have separate people for all the separate roles in Maestro -- hosting, scorekeeping, directing roles -- so that each person can *just* focus on his-or-her job.
* Gorilla Theater
        * 5-6 directors
        * They get 12 minutes total
        * For each scene, the audience votes on the director
                * The director gets a prize or punishment.
        * There is also a guy in a gorilla suit.
                * Portraying a good-natured gorilla.
                * Comes in to play color occasionally.
        * It's much more about "directors getting their vision onstage."
* Maestro is about giving the players things they like
        * Thus, "Do you have anything you'd like to do?"
        * Or, "I need three people who want to be zombies."
        * This even trumps 'heat' between the players and directors.
        * Don't fuck with the players unless the players want to be fucked with.
        * As a director, it's not 'your show'; it's the players' show.
* Every improv game is just a training tool.
        * They give you skills you use in scenes.
        * Setting up games in Maestro is tricky.
                * This is b/c you're married to the game format afterwards.
                * Say they do a new choice game, but then do a beautiful scene.
                        * At this point, you're *obligated* to do new-choice-y shit.
                * It's better to set up a scene, and then introduce game elements as necessary.
* Maestro is not *about* the directors
        * Yet still, a bad show is the directors' *fault*.
        * The directors should show up *prepared*
                * A sheet of opening scenes, group scenes, 2-person scenes, 3-person scenes, directions for any scenes.
                        * Be affected
                        * Be changed
                        * Get closer together
                        * Leave/faint/kiss/touch/kill
                * Current events are helpful.
                        * Helps a show to have 10-15 minutes *about* something.
                * Those lists help you include variety.
        * Keep setups short.
                * If you as a director could tell the audience "you'll understand it as we do it", you can *skip* that explanation.
* Rich has a free book online about Maestro.
* "Mischief"
        * In a directed format, the player can do ANYTHING
                * Then the directors can call something back when it sucks.
        * Think of the directors as the parents and the players as children.
                * Players cannot fuck the show into the ground with mischief.
                        * You're still a responsible player.
                        * You're still thinking of shape-of-show, etc.
                * So, you *calibrate* your mischief.
        * Mischief makes the material feel less precious.
        * Mischief adds to the sense that anything could happen.
        * If you get called back by your last name (instead of your numbers), you know to just call your mischief off.
                * It's the Maestro 'safe word'.
        * How do you encourage mischief?
                * Make the safe-word clearly known before the show.
        * How do you discourage 'forced' mischief?
                * Emphasize that mischief is for making the show better.
                * Emphasize that everybody has their *own* mischief
                        * Taking somebody else's mischief is always forced.
                                * Unless you *absolutely* know why/how that mischief works and *make* it your own.
* After the first couple of rounds, use fewer group scenes.
        * This lets you focus in closer on the remaining players.
* Having preconceived ideas (i.e. "Ryan is my ENEMY tonight") can be useful for getting out of a rut.
        * OTOH, it can become a rut in and of itself.
        * "USUALLY" is the enemy of Maestro.
* Casting Maestro:
        * Get people who want to play -- ENTHUSIASM!
        * Avoid falling into ruts in casting.
                * [ed.: Ironically, "don't fall into a rut" is a general rule that applies over and over again to Maestro.]
* Being good-natured is key.
        * Don't worry about how much stage time you get.
                * You are *always* in the show.
* Notes:
        * Outside feedback is a *gift*; take it as such
        * It's not infallible, but it can't be dismissed either.        
        * Often you want a "Notes Nazi" (the "Nozi")
                * Ideally, someone not-in-the-show who can take down the notes.
                * Also, they can kill off useless discussion.
        * Put a time limit on notes.
                * And assign someone the role of pushing things along.
        * The goal of notes is not to have a discussion.
                * The goal of notes is to say what you think and move on.
                * Discussion is for the bar.
        * Only say something if you *have to* say it.
                * If it was said already, don't repeat.
        * Statements, not explanations.
                * No defensiveness.
        * Give notes you wouldn't mind getting.
                * Notes are about generosity, not judgment.
                * The goal is to help everyone be better.
        * If a player gives a negative note on another player...
                * The director can take the blame him- or her-*self*.
                * Or, ask what the rest of the cast could've done to help.
                * Or, give a negative note and take some of the blame.
* The opening group scene rarely seems to be necessary
        * It can warm up a cold audience.
        * You can often do a group scene with not *everybody*
                * Just do the same game with six people.
        * Do something that *matters* to the scoring.
* Offer to score support people.
* How do you get variety in scoring?
        * Focus on the 1s.  Take the curse off the 1.
        * "You're not doing anyone any favors by giving a 1 a 2, a 3, or a 4."
                * If they think it was bad, we *know* it's bad.
                * "You can vote for the 1, because WE KNOW when it sucks."
                        * "You're not surprising us."
                * If we don't get a 1 for it, we'll take that as, they kind of liked that, and we'll do more of it.
                * A 1 is something that would make you change the channel, if this were TV.
        * We set them to practice a 1 or a 3.  Don't set precedents for the 5.
* Reject suggestions you don't like.
* In Maestro, you don't need to warm-up the audience.
        * If the audience is already warm, why bother?
                * He dares us to *not* warm up a dead audience.
                        * "The worst thing that happens is the show sucks.  But you do 20 million shows a day."
* Everyone is good-natured about getting the 1.
* Maybe try having players introduce the game?
        * Might not work, might be kind of awesome.
        * Or just skip setup
* If you reach a plateau of 4s...
        * Improve your opening setup to imply a variety of scores.
        * Make the next scene the opposite of the current scene.
                * Usually, similar chains of scenes cause a 4-a-palooza.

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