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

Friday (8/3/12) 1:37am - ... wherein Peter attends week 4, day 4 of the iO Summer Intensive.

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

* Interruptive starts:
        * Split the class into to lines.
        * Person 1 initiates the scene verbally.
        * Person 2 interrupts person 1.
                * Person 2 only lets person 1 get, like, four words out.
        * Results:
                * Person 1 doesn't feel disrespected as a performer.
                * Both people find their characters pretty fast.
        * How is this not a train wreck?
                * On the surface, it's very similar to "cross-initiations".
                        * This is where two performers have different premises in their heads, and they deliver both of them at the top of the scene.
                                * ... leading to lots of uneasiness and confusion.
                * In this case, the interrupting line shows up with some *emotion* behind it.
                * So it creates a pressing emotional conflict within the *context* of the first line.

* Improvised Movie Trailers!
        * When doing an improvised movie trailer, you basically have one of three roles:
                1. The Narrator ("In a world...")
                2. The Star ("Oh, yeah?  Well, you've just crossed the WRONG GUY!")
                3. The Scene-Painters ("A half-chewed cigar dangles from the corner of his mouth.")
                * Try not to wander from one role to another within a line.
                        * Me: I would think that, ideally (for clarity), you'd want to stick to one role throughout.
                        * This is part of a larger goal:
                                * Only do one thing at a time.
                                * Let every offer land.
        * Remember that the camera only sees one thing at a time.
                * So you really can't do two scenes onstage at once.
                        * (Okay, unless it's a split-scene.)
                                * (... but seriously, when do you see *those* in trailers?)
        * Use the full panoply of film effects.
                * Match cuts!
                * Close-ups!
                * Insert shots!
                * Slow motion!
                * You get the idea!
        * Especially make sure you use "Cut to:".
                * Most importantly, remember you can "Cut to:" something random.
                        * Jump to something seemingly random and unknown.
                        * Then, justify why you did it.
                        * Remember that normal trailers do this.
        * You can avoid 'offer soup' by being calm and deliberate with your offers.
                * Only do one idea at a time.
                * Let every idea land.
                * Respond to the last idea you heard.
                        * ... as opposed to dispatching the old idea you've had in 'the hopper' for five minutes.
        * You want these trailers to have a group-game energy.
                * Follow the energy.
                * Provide sound effects as necessary.
                * Embody objects/characters/etc.
* Variations on the Harold.
        * Split the opening up into thirds.
                * Do the first third at the start.
                * Do the second third between the first two 1st-beat scenes.
                * Do the third third between the second and third 1st-beat scenes.
        * Split the opening into halves.
                * Open with the first 1st-beat scene.
                * Do the first half between the first two 1st-beat scenes.
                * Do the second half between the second and third 1st-beat scenes.
        * Freestyle:
                * Improvise THE STRUCTURE OF THE HAROLD.
                        * i.e., don't stick to the "training wheels" traditional structure.
                * Watch the structure that's emerging within the show.
                * Watch for moves that can remake the Harold's structure to better reflect material from the opening, or the original suggestion.
                * Bill gave us some suggestions that really lent themselves to this:  "déjà vu", "inside Jerry's head".
                * We sort of overshot, making too many crazy structural moves for the Harold to comfortable accommodate, but oh well.
                        * They still turned out pretty well.
                * Generally, hold on to a 'macro' view of the show you're doing.
                        * Keep an eye on the structure that's emerging, so that you can recognize, support, and develop it.
        * In all cases, giving an individual show the structure it wants to have is far more important than following all the beats & games of the traditional, "training wheels" Harold.
                * If your show turns into an improvised murder mystery, MAKE IT A GODDAMNED IMPROVISED MURDER MYSTERY, Harold-structure be damned.

* Repetitive Starts:
        * Split the class into to lines.
        * Person 1 initiates the scene verbally.
        * Person 2 repeats person 1's line.
                * Not necessarily with the same tone.
                * Also, it doesn't have to be totally 100% word-for-word.
                        * It can have, y'know, minor variations, within reason.
* Close Quarters:
        * Do a set of two-handers in one big location.
        * Never use the same sub-location twice.
        * Never play the same character twice.
        * None of these scenes should have plot.
                * It's just about exploring characters and sub-locations.
        * Note that these scenes are not consistent with each other.
                * If the location is diner, assume that each scene takes place in a different diner (or rather, in sub-locations thereof).
        * Since these scenes are *exploring* (character/setting) rather than *resolving* (plot/premise), they don't have a fixed (and brief) lifespan.
                * They can go on forever.
                * Bill called the edits on these scenes, and all of them ran very comfortably past the three-minute mark.
                * Me: again, if you find yourself in a plotty scene, you can always let go of those plotty specifics to explore your general character.
        * After enough two-handers, finish off with a whole-group scene.
* General notes:
        * Remember that "intense" does not always mean "big" or "grotesque" or "frenetic".
                * It can be very contained.
                        * i.e. in a confrontation in Victorian England.
        * Stating the obvious is always good.
                * It lets the audience know that they're right.
                * Bill, when watching a scene, often has obvious questions he wants answered.
                        * "Where are these people?"
                        * "How do they know each other?"
                        * "What is the 'thing' theyre planning?"
        * Scenes about people abusing their power are often hard to play.
                * Only because they touch on very painful issues.
                * e.g. child molesters, spouse abusers, animal torturers.
                * It's not *impossible* to do these scenes, but most of the time they wind up uncomfortable and non-fun.
        * You don't want your first-beat scenes to be *too* heavy.
                * Even though you do want the audience genuinely engaged with them.
                * Me: at the very least, make sure you keep varying up the energy, for shape-of-show.
        * "Walk'n'greet scenes."
                * These are scenes that open with "Hey, how's it going." from person 1 to person 2.
                * Then there's an awkward pause.
                * Then the improvisors start casting about, trying to figure out what the scene is about.
        * Many scenes -- especially "frustration scenes" -- eventually hit a point where the subtext is so close to the surface that your character can finally *say* the thing that everybody's thinking.
                * (e.g. "Dammit, why are you being so creepy?!")
        * In group scenes, you often have a whole range of POVs, each trying to "win".
                * Remember that, especially in a group scene, it's okay for your character to *lose*.
                        * Your character can stay the same after that.
                * You can always call out other characters on weird/surreal behavior.

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