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

Tuesday (5/4/10) 3:56pm - ... wherein Peter answers an improv questionnaire.

Amy came up with a quick 'improv questionnaire' for the members of Dancy Street, and I thought my answers might be of general interest.

Heck, I think it would make a good meme -- I'd be keen to hear how other improvisors would answer these questions.

1. What makes you happiest about doing improv?  What do you get out of it when it is working best for you?
This is selfish, but I'm happiest when I feel supported.  Basically, those moments where I've done something crazy and stupid, and my troupemates have stepped in to make it retroactively awesome, have been my favorite moments from the shows I've done.

As to what I get out of improv when it works... it's hard to put into words.  It's definitely not the same thing I get out of scripted work, where I'm really proud of the end product, and I'm convinced it stands up to repeated viewings.  When improv works for me, I love that it takes something intensely private -- writing -- and sort of 'externalizes' it, so I can share that creative process with other talented folks.  In the very best shows I've been in, the cast has managed to share that process with the audience as well (e.g. the 'audience thunder' bit from the One More Night premiere).

(Side note:  I suddenly realize this is closely analogous to what I get out of dance.  Dancing, to my mind, takes something intensely private -- how music makes you feel inside -- and lets you share it with somebody conversationally.  And again, on the best occasions, you're not just sharing it with your partner, but with the whole room.)

2. When/how do you like to get notes and feedback from a show or rehearsal?
Historically, I've never seen much point to the whole "get in a circle after the show for notes" thing.  When I've done a show, I walk away from it with little-to-no idea what just happened -- and even with the scant bits I do remember, it takes a few days of rumination for me to verbalize how I feel about them.

So basically those bull sessions always feel like business meetings, in that 90% of the time I'm staring off into space while people argue about matters I have no opinion about.  The remaining 10% goes in one ear and out the other, and the troupe never comes out of those meetings with any concrete plans for what to work on next time.

On the other hand, I felt really happy with watching the of the 4.16.10 show and *writing* notes about it.  I saw all sorts of stuff on tape that I didn't catch in performance, I was able to phrase things as constructive criticism, and nobody had to stand around and wait while I watched a song over and over to sort out exactly what was and wasn't working about it.  Plus it gives us something to look back over if we want to pick out topics to tackle in rehearsal.

I doubt this system works for other people, though.  Me, I likey writing.

3. What is one of your favorite troupes/shows to watch?  What is about their style that you love?
Lemme cheat and cite a few shows I've quite liked:
Improv for Evil, The Barons:  I loved this show's clearly-defined sense of place and style.  So much of improv exists in bland-land (hey, look! it's two white guys in a vaguely-defined kitchen!) -- or, when it goes for something un-bland, improvisors often just cough up a few tropes from whatever genre they're attempting, and the world just looks paper-thin.  The Barons, by contrast, had a solid grasp of its world of pathological liars from the 19th century.  The wild and crazy things that happened all felt like they belonged to a very specific *type* of wild and crazy.  And you felt like the story world existed well beyond the half-hour snippet you saw that night.

PGraph, Grimm:  I feel weird citing Grimm here, because it didn't quite work for me as entertainment.  But it was such a stretch from the conventional, "Hey, kids!  Let's do a gamey montage!" improv that I'd rather see a show like that not-quite-work than get another helping of perfectly-adequate same-old.  It had a fascinating interplay between its main narrative and its quibbling storytellers, and it stayed true to its source material in hitting its protagonists with cruel, deliberately-arbitrary plot developments.  It was definitely a show that stretched and tried new things.

The Glamping Trip:  This is my favorite non-narrative troupe going right now.  They improvise sketch comedy that feels like sketch comedy, they have fun exploring the zany ideas that bubble up, and they manage to use just enough reincorporation to make their show feel of a piece, without making the sketches dull and repetitive.

4. What stresses you out in improv?
Well, the worst stressor is when people decide they'll start doing stage combat on me when they don't know how to do stage combat.  (Same goes for stage intimacy.)  Fortunately, that's rarely an issue.

My answer is sort of the flip side of #1.  I get stressed when nobody 'locks in' to what the group is doing.  When everybody gets tunnel vision, the story evaporates and the scene quickly crappifies, but what's worse is the feeling that you're flailing around all alone as the audience gets bored and the narrative falls apart around you.  When a group works together and the scene tanks, well, at least you're all in the tank together, and there's a certain amont of fun and bonhomie to that.  But failing alone -- while surrounded by other people who are also failing alone -- that is not a happy place to be.

5. What is one of your personal goals for DSD?
Partly, I'm intrigued by the logistics of troupe management, so I've been using DSD to learn a bit about that -- but I doubt this was the goal of this question.

Improv-wise, I mainly want to get a bunch of practice at improvising songs.  I'm hoping that, with time, the really simple stuff -- repeating melodies, verse structure, undemanding rhyme schemes -- becomes second-nature, and I can focus on getting beyond that, say by expanding the genres of music I'm comfortable with, or creating a wider variety of song 'functions' ("I am" versue "I want" versus thematic).

For the troupe, I currently have no particular aims beyond having a regularly-gigging improv-musical troupe that's putting on entertaining shows.

6. What format(s) do you particularly love?
I tend to favor longform, only because longform seems to give me more chances to go somewhere dramatic and emotionally honest.  Sure, I'll fight like hell to turn Party Quirks into a real scene, but it's usually an uphill battle.

I also love it when I feel like a format pushes improv into new/different places -- again, I'll cite One More Night as a favorite example of that.

Among short-form games, I really dig 'Scene Without' (pick three common tropes from a genre -- now do a scene in that genre *without* any of those tropes), 'Pan Left/Pan Right' (I love the time-skips involved), and line games (because puns are awesome).

7. What do you think you are best at, at this point in your “improv journey”?
Generally with improv, I think I've been good at bringing a "grounded", realistic sort of energy to my characters.  I'm proud of, say, bringing a really good "slow lie" to a Micetro, or fighting for the emotional truth of an "actor's nightmare" scene with Emily, or doing a heartfelt introduction for the premiere of One More Night.  This ain't a unique talent, and lord knows I have plenty of flaws, but I think those were the times when I added something useful and lovely to the shows I was in.

Music-wise, I'd *guess* I'm best at song structure:  making sure that verse two sounds like verse one, that the chorus sounds simple and catchy, that the bridge sounds different but still belongs.  On a good day, I come up with songs that sound like songs.

8. What is your favorite Broadway musical?
Sunday in the Park with George, no contest.  I still have no idea why.

Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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[User Picture]
Date:Wednesday (5/5/10) 9:04am
Nice! I just wish we lived closer... :)

On a completely different subject, I think you should start shopping your media analysis essays to various blogs. As a for instance:
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[User Picture]
Date:Wednesday (5/5/10) 9:11am
Nice! I just wish we lived closer... :)

Ah well.  I'll forward show vids when I can.

On a completely different subject, I think you should start shopping your media analysis essays to various blogs.

Interesting idea -- I wonder how that might work....


*adds to text dump*
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