This past weekend, I audited a workshop put on at the Hideout Theatre by the renowned San Francisco narrative-improv troupe Three For All. "Auditing", in this context, means I didn't participate, but I sat in the theater and took notes.
Here are my notes on day two of the workshop.
DAY TWO: STEPHEN ================= * Random teacher thoughts from this section: * Thoughts can separate you from beautiful experiences. * Improvisors should have perspective. Try going to a plantarium. :) * "We're *all* thin-skinned. That's what we're covering up with the thick skin." * We criticize our own improv viciously * "Worst seat in the house", he says, pointing to his own head. * That said, you should watch tapes of yourself performing. * "Finding the game" can feel like it reduces improv to something vaguely mathematical. * As opposed to "letting the scene come to you". * Ball with no counting. * No apologies. * If it goes out, bring it back into play as quickly as possible. * Play the game as if it's been scripted. * Remember to breathe. * Effects: * This takes the pressure off of getting up to a high number. * The "scripted" nature of it makes it feel like the "failures" are just part of the story. * No downtime for "re-setting" after a miss. * Exercise: two groups of four: * The teacher counts down from five * On one, you should be in a tableau * Properly "set" on one. * The teacher counts down from five again. * On one, you should be back in the wings. * Take care to stop on one, not two. * If you get caught onstage, own that. * Don't 'flinch' to the audience. * Don't apologize to the audience with a weird smirk. * "I'm onstage. I'm not supposed to be. But that's okay." * The teacher sometimes counts quicker than the students can comfortably move. * The count often slows down mid-count. * If you find yourself with extra numbers, keep moving. * The count often starts from numbers that are not five. * Variation: two people carry chairs. * On "one", they put the chairs on the stage. * The chairs should land firmly but silently. * Be bold with them. * "Really nail it but not make a sound." * "You're on your own now. Count in your heads, and you'll all land at the same time." * So, no counting, and starting at the same time. * Keep eyes on everybody so you can see who's stopping at the same time. * Looking *across* the stage is key. * "If one of you is stopped and not all of you are stopped, that's not what this is about." * What does this teach you? * Stay connected to the cast. * Stay aware of your body. * Stay ready to *move* while you're waiting in the wings. * i.e. "practicing readiness" * This could be a warm-up. * Exercise: partner up. * Play the opposite gender. * Face your partner * Just in your mind, change gender. * Don't do anything physical. * Notice what's different in your body. * Perhaps call to mind immediate relatives of the other gender. * Think about how, if endowed as the other gender, you could play it this small. * Shake hands. * Shake hands. * Then, go back to normal. * Shake hands again. * Think about how that moment as the other gender *felt* different. * Remember that this can throw you into self-judgment very easily. * "No. Wait. No. That's sexist." * Remember, doing improv is largely about learning to contend with that self-criticims. * You practice shrugging, letting that thought happen, and moving ahead. * Alex: "There are women in real life who 'play women'." * Now, try crossing the stage as a different gender. * Your body might do things differently, and that can inform you about the character. * If your arms don't move, maybe your character is just *ripped*. * If your girlfriend shrinks away from you, maybe your character is an abusive asshole. * Whatever you find in this, it'll let you settle into the character. * ... and whatever you find out about your character, you can SAY verbatim. * Now, try crossing in pairs. * Try adding to it: you're both 78. * Brad: "It's like people age into this genderless mass of geriatricity." * In this exercise: * the men-as-women tended to look around more, while the women-as-men tended to focus. * Men tended to play women as confident. * Exercise: four people onstage. * They stand in a horizontal line facing the audience. * Have the audience suggest a genre as inspiration. * First round, engage somehow in a (space) garment you've got on. * It's helpful to have a (space) mirror in front of you. * Second round, check in with an accessory (i.e. jewelry) * Third round, engage with a space object. * Things to try while doing this: * Try investing the physical action with meaning. * Go slower. Do less. * Find the *bare minimum* of the interaction. * If you do a multi-step process, reduce it to the first step. * Going slower makes things more intense. * Be willing to go slow in real shows. * A useful mantra: "Not now." * Don't hurry through this physicality to get to the next shit to do and (especially) to say. * Don't signify anything with it. * Try to be positive about the garment * Perhaps without smiling. * Again, listen for information from these simple physical actions. * If the motion informs you that your character is nervous, take hold of that. * Takeaways from this: * It's okay to say literally what you're thinking. * Let the improv come to you. * Just listen, and respect what comes your way. * Sit still, and let the universe lap at your feet. * Doing something small, but committing to it, is always watchable. DAY TWO - TIM ============= * Side notes: * Improv characters never turn on the lights. * Once in a blue moon they might flip a wall switch. * They *never* use area lamps. * Skills development -- working on one specific skill for a while, as opposed to "working on improv". * This can help especially when you're feeling 'stalled out' as a performer. * How do we establish a setting? * Just say where you are. * Use all your senses to hit setting stuff. * Enter through appropriate doors and windows. * He has a rule for students: ALWAYS enter the scene through a door. * No "mushing onstage" * Never just walk onto the stage. * Always enter *through* something. * Using objects in the environment. * Doing a physical activity in the environment. * Never rush those. * Always slow down. * Vary the volume of your voice * Embody inanimate objects on the stage. * Add sound effects. * Be familiar or unfamiliar with the environment. * What questions can we explore w/r/t setting? * Exploring sight lines. * What do you see from where you are? * Time of day/night. * This has strong effects on the environment. * What sort of lighting does this setting have? * What is the weather? * What are we wearing? * How do we move through the environment? * What other locations can we move to? * This so rarely happens in improv. * i.e. moving from one room into another onstage. * Who else is on the stage? * What is the 'population of the setting'? * What furniture is here? * You can answer *all* of these questions *verbally*. * You can practice doing it in character. * In character, it feels a lot less like breaking the fourth wall. * The central question Tim wants to explore: * How can we create, with our bodies and our imaginations, both as an individual and as a collective, the most magic at every moment of an improv show? * Transitions help in this. * Martial artists always strive to "come back to neutral" * i.e., an open position wherefrom you can take the largest variety of actions. * Improvisors need to do an analogous thing. * When a transition happens, you want to be in a state where you can support whatever happens next. * Maybe it's a scene without you. * Maybe it's a scene with you. * Maybe it's a scene with you as a different character. * Maybe it's a time jump. * Maybe it's a split-focus between your scene and someone else. * Generally, you want to take transitions slowly and deliberately. * Rushing is unclear. * Rushing limits your options. * Rushing makes you look uncomfortable/nervous * Transitions require lots of observation of/connection to your fellow players. * You have to think about what transitions you don't yet have in your toolset. * Having a *variety* is useful for the show. * Transitions tend to take us to a different time and/or a different place. * Tech aspects of transitions: * Lights * Work with your lighting improvisor about what kind of transitions you can do. * Is it okay to talk over a slow fade? * Can a scene continue in a total blackout? * There are lots of possibilities with lights that we don't often explore. * Sometimes the lighting imp should leave things dark for all the scene setup. * Sometimes not. * Music * Music *can* go really loud, taking over the room. * But note that a scene *can* keep going under such music. * ... though we never do that. * ... even though it's totally cinematic. * If you want to do this, you have to notify the musicians that it's okay. * Various transition types: * Coming on/leaving with energy. * Entering/leaving a scene in progress. * "Travelling" from one place or another. * Cross in front (or behind) * The most common transition. * Suddenly playing new (established) characters w/o lighting change. * Stay where you are for a while without knowing why * e.g. a dead body becomes a rug in the next scene. * Verbally call it out * Narrate (in character or as observer) * Really commit to the character-versus-observer choice * Tap in and out into new scenes w/same/new characters * You can riff off the last line of dialog. * When someone wipes in front, give it a three-beat before you leave the stage. * This, as opposed to scampering off like cockroaches. * Think back to the martial-arts thing: "go to neutral". * This opens up other possibilities. * Maybe the 'wipers' are joining the scene? * Maybe they're setting a new scene that includes you? * Or includes your characters? * Maybe the wipers are doing a quick 'wipe-through'? * Walking on, saying a few lines, and walking off again. * Scampering away removes these possibilities. * Note that these possibilities might be weird/confusing. * You can use words to kill such unintended ambiguity. * It also makes you come across as more *purposeful*. * As opposed to "Aieee! MUST LEAVE STAGE!" * Transitions in place * Same characters, different time, different place. * This saves *so much time*. * But it does so without rushing. * It also increases the variety of transitions. * Different characters, different time, different place. * This often takes more verbal 'nailing down' of who the characters are. * Commitment matters so much in these transitions. * The faster you commit, the faster the audience buys in. * Just commit to the physicality. * Do it even if you don't know what's happening. * Tap in/Tap out. * As always, don't scramble. * No rushing = more options. * You can tap someone into a back-to-back position. * Then you two can quickly rotate in and out of the scene. (à la "revolving doors") * Maybe trading out two different friends of the remaining character * Maybe trading out different versions of the *same* character. * You can also transition back and forth between scenes that involve subsets of a set of characters who stay onstage at all time. * Like, you have A, B, and C on stage. * And you alternate between an A-B scene and a B-C scene. * Ergo: if you are 'tapped out' of a scene, you don't even have to leave the stage. * Stage picture options: * You could have two scene partners stage left and stage right, and alternate between them. * You could emphasize that two characters are interchangeable by having them on the same side, but still implying that these are two very similar scense at different times. * Or you can *contrast* two very opposite scenes using that same technique. * This can go incredibly fast and be incredibly fluid. * It can highlight all sorts of contrasts and comparisons between the scenes in question. * Or hell, we could transition to having the "not in this scene" characters be 'ghosts' in the current scene. * Or inanimate objects. * Flashback transitions. * Five people onstage * Person A tells person B an anecdote from their (real) lives. * As the anecdote takes off, C through E take on the other characters in their anecdote. * And then A drifts out to the flashback scene. * And B can call A back into the present. * Again, be deliberate in your transitions. * No rushing, no scampering. * Split Focus! * Rule #1 for split-focus scenes: "Interrupt forcefully." * Don't always wait for the end of a thought or focus. * Rule #2 for split-focus scenes: "When interrupted, go into a soft freeze." * Don't talk. * Don't whisper. * Don't make eye contact. * Don't distract yourself from *listening*. * If people talk at the same time, there are ways to deal with that. * Maybe you stop talking, and then repeat your initial sentence start. * And maybe that's just your character's speech pattern. * Exercise: 16 of you do a split-focus scene on a Civil War battlefield. * 2 groups of 4, and 4 groups of 2. * Fight the urge to 'converge' everything. * See how long you can keep all six groups *separate*. * Similarly, fight the urge to overhear each other. * Fight the urge to use the information you just heard. * ... because the separateness is AWESOME! * If you are clear in grabbing and relinquishing focus, even this crazy six-way split is not terribly difficult. * Note that in split focus, *both scenes* can fill up the *whole stage*. * Just grab and relinquish focus, occupying the same space Escher-Relativity-style. * Keep intermingling the space -- it reads just fine. * Don't retreat to opposite sides of the stage. * Keep walking through each other. * While you have focus, you could use the actors in the other scene as inanimate objects. DAY TWO: RAFE ============== * General notes * Always feel free to leave space. * Remember about volume. * In a workshop often useful to restart a scene exactly as is, with one variation. * Getting the improv idea across often trumps doing good scenes. * If something is happening, you can point it out verbally in the scene. * If you settle into the reality of your situation, it can have convincing physiological effects on you. * You can throw yourself in a physiological effect, and let it have emotional effects. * Example: trying to get to wracking sobs. * Be kind to yourselves, as improviors. * Would you look at footage of yourself as a baby and sneer, "WTF? Don't you know how to *walk* yet?!" * Know how to play a minor factotum without stealing focus. * Useful directions: * "When you look in his eyes, you can't talk." * "Give me the volume, keep the acting." * "Get changed by this." * For high-status characters: * "Do that again, without gestures." * "Stand still." * "Stand on both feet." * Remember that characters often do things that you yourself wouldn't do. * When you hit "I would never do <x>", well, maybe your character *should* do that. * Try to have more than one feeling at a time. * Make sure you properly 'seize up' when you're trying to say something difficult. * "You have *such* a fast brain. You don't have to keep up with your brain." * The brain can keep being fast, but you don't have to say or do everything it suggests. * Related note: even if you-the-improvisor knows what's happening, you-the-character almost always needs time to process it. * The oath for long-form improvisors: "A long-form improvisor is: attentive, thoughtful, bold, flexible, commited, connected, sensitive, vulnerable, dynamic, precise, and playful." * You're watching what's happening * You're looking out for your players * YOU DO STUFF * You drop stuff when you need to * You commit to the moment * You connect to the players * You're sensitive to *EVERYTHING* they do * You let yourself be vulnerable * You do variations in physicality and volume * You are specific in options and spacework * You confidently have fun. * Freeze tag! * "Do it better than yesterday." * Recap of technical stuff: * *Hard* freeze. * Hold the freeze 'til you're tapped. * Tap from behind. * Walk ahead * Hold the freeze until you've got something. * We'll keep watching. * And hold it until you can say something without needlessly-vague pronouns. * (e.g., "Did you see him about it?") * Your character *knows*, specifically, what's involved. * Reach for newer players and involve them. * Try not to "be cool" (esp. guys) * DO STUFF. * Look like a dork. * Don't play detached/distant. * If your character gets angry, play *hurt* instead. * Show your real soul when the opportunities come. * Do good acting. * These are tiny little scenes * So why bother saying *anything* but 'yes'? * "No" is a move for longer scenes. * [ed: if at all, really.] * Really, any impediment to the action, any block, any stall, is inappropriate for work that's this short. * "Do you think we should call your mother?" * Instead, CALL YOUR MOTHER. * (And once the call is made, don't overload more offers onto the call.) * "I swear I am going to vomit." * Instead, GO AND PUKE. * Find excuses to change. * The easiest way: be surprised by things * And the surprise takes *time*. * Your character's mind has to compute what's going on. * Another way: give importance to things * e.g. to a deliberate physical action. * Sample direction: "That's the first time she's ever touched you." * Digging in your heels and refusing to change is a move for *longer* stories. * [ed: if at all, really.] * Pretend longform scenes * Three people onstage * Prep them with ages, professions, attributes, relationships. * He seems to have a prepped list of such setups onhand. * He always gives very specific ages. * Directed scenework. * This was more directing than coaching. * I included the generally-applicable material I could glean from this in the "General Notes" section.
Mood: contemplative · Music: none