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

Monday (2/25/13) 4:48pm - ... wherein Peter posts his notes on day two of the Three For All workshop.

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.

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