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

Thursday (7/14/11) 10:17pm - ... wherein Peter takes notes on the TCIF TJ & Dave Sunday-afternoon workshop.

I took TJ & Dave's Sunday-afternoon workshop at the Twin Cities Improv Festival.  As usual, I took notes.

* Pay attention.  Full stop.
* Your scene partner = where all the information is.
        * This includes all the information about who *you* are.
* "Be yourself.  Don't worry.  Nobody'll believe it's you."
* Exercise:  the group creates a musical piece, soundscape-style.
        * Have fun while doing it.
        * Listen for what's missing, and provide that.
        * Try to reach for the musical capabilities that only the *group* can reach.[1]
* Integrity!
        * Play and react honestly.
                * Work from a place of truth.
                * This should make a scene easy and simple.
        * Play spacework realistically.
                * Taking it slow helps.
                * Don't get so wrapped up in it that you ignore your partner.
        * If you're going to speak bullshit, just say nothing.
* Exercise:  playing simple scenes as yourselves.
        * No story, just genuine, real acting.
        * No real jokes either.
        * But it still plays, and it's still engaging.
* Blind agreement is disrespectful.
        * "Yes and" = "Yes this happened", not "yes I agree".
        * "Hold this scorpion!" really should get the response "Go fuck yourself!"
* It's easy to start a scene with positivity.
        * It helps to get the house happy and on your side.
        * Negative energy is hard to wrangle.
                * Tricky, since we have an instinct for 'instant trouble'.
                * You can avert this by focusing on the characters onstage.
                        * Not on the situation, its logistics, or the problems involved.
* 'Check in' before the scene's first line, if possible.
        * That will *inform* your first line.
        * Note:  this means you'll want to be within sight of each other as the scene starts.
        * It's not "What can I make this?", but "What *is* this?"
        * 'Checking in' is very important.
                * Even a great offer falls flat if the other person doesn't notice.
                        * ... or notices, but isn't affected by it.
* You don't need to inject conflict/overplay fights.
        * Improv has dramatic tension inherent in the form.
                * ... because you're making it up as you go.
                * ... and you might screw up.
        * Therefore, it does not *need* conflict.
        * Plus, conflict will find you.
                * Conflict that happens on its own:
                        * ... will be unique instead of generic.
                        * Will be real.
* Don't 'overblow' a geniune response for dramatic purposes.
        * Real life is always interesting enough.
        * Don't lie to *make* things silly or funny.
        * "Energy's really beautiful, and effort's really ugly."
* "We're all hoping this goes well.  Everyone in the place wants it to be fantastic."
* A genuine scene doesn't need to be slow.
        * It just needs its proper pace.
        * Pauses are okay.
                * "It's not dead air up here."
                * If you're still present and engaged, everything's still cool.
* You don't have to hammer the location, but subtle and realistic reminders of where we are are good.
* You can always choose to play honestly.        
        * And if you do, then the scene will always at least be okay.
* Story is not your job.
        * Your job is to react to tiny little things in the moment.
        * Trust that it will all add up.
* Even in games, you can pay attention and be genuine.
* Hold on to the same authenticity if you're playing the opposite gender.
* Scenes quickly narrow down from the realm of "all possibilities".
        * Observe how those possibilities narrow down.
        * Observe your scene partner.
* Exercise:  pair up.
        * Person 'A' picks a very specific relationship.
        * Person 'A' spends 30 seconds silently conveying that to Person B.
        * Person B guesses about what the relationship is.
        * Usually, B has a good guess in terms of 'heat' and 'weight'.
                * These matter more than specific details.
* Exercise:  start a scene with still silence.
        * Don't do anything until you have a read on the relationship.
                * Otherwise, you're just adding confusing, ambivalent noise.
* A line is not completed 'til your partner *receives* it.
* If something's wrong, we have an instinct to explain.
        * This leads to stupid, deliberate plot-constructing.
* Remember, *any* opening pose can work for the scene.
        * And it doesn't always lead to a huge 'thing'.
        * It could be about a lost pair of shoes.
* Not naming something for too long can give it too much power.
* *Enjoy* not knowing anything before the lights go up.
        * Enjoy not knowing about yourself, or the other person, or the situation.
        * It really takes the pressure off of you.
* Make your actions about your face more than a physical action.
        * This is a way to focus on characters instead of plot.
* Don't worry about endings.
        * "Honestly:  just the next little thing.  And the rest of it... seems to work out."
* Occasionally, things go surreal.
        * But generally, it's easier to sustain a mundane reality.
        * You have to *start* with something grounded and believeable.
                * *Then*, you can go to Crazytown, if necessary.
        * If there is surreal-ness, the story isn't *about* the wacky things.
                * It's about how the wackiness affects the characters.
[1] One very neat moment in the workshop:  during this exercise, I introduced a simple, repeating, three-whole-note descending line        into the music.  After I did this a couple of times, the women to either side of me simultaneously jumped in and sang along to it in three-part harmony.  Awesome!

My favorite dialog from the workshop:

"What, seriously?  You started a wildfire?"
"A minor wildfire."
"There's no such *thing* as 'a minor wildfire'."

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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