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Improv 201, class 2: This is going to be tough

“Be meaner!”

“Umm… Your beard is fuzzy!”

I have a feeling that improv is going to take a bit more work.

We started the second class of Improv 201 with a drill called “Compliments,” where we complimented a person and the person responded by validating the compliment and adding more information on top of that. For example, if you complimented a person on his shoes, he might name the specific kind of shoe or where he got it. Made-up information was perfectly okay. That part was easy.

Then we moved to “Insults”, where we insulted people. Instead of reacting defensively, they were to accept the insult with open arms and be proud of it, adding even more information.

This was where I found out that I suck at insulting people. I’m worse than Guybrush Threepwood. *sigh*

So that’s my homework. I need to be more aggressive. I need to be more comfortable broaching topics people usually dance around. I need to be more assertive. And it’s not like I’m really taking anyone down, because we do this in the safe environment of an improv class. A strong insult is actually a favour because it lets people demonstrate their skill at insult aikido.

Right. Insults.

There are different kinds of insults. There are generic insults (“You’re ugly!”) and specific insults (“You’re as ugly as Windows 3.1!”, or something like that ;) ). In the Insults game, I have fun thinking of person-specific insults, such as teasing a stand-up comedian about how he put everyone to sleep during his show, or teasing a project manager about his late deliveries. It’s more of a compliment, really, because I know something that’s important to them. Those kinds of insults are hard to do with people I’ve really just met, though, because I don’t know enough things about people. So I’m just going to have to get better at specific insults, which can be fun and creative.

I don’t resonate with the language most insult comics use, but there are lots of great examples of witty put-downs elsewhere. And it’s not really about being mean–it’s about being forthright.

I’ll keep you posted!

Improv 101, class 6 (really #7 in the series): Getting the hang of it!

By golly, I think I’m getting the hang of it!

At Improv 101 today, we warmed up by tossing an imaginary ball around, karate-chopped our way to more energy, acted out scenes using only food words for dialogue, and then practiced doing monologue-inspired scenes following the Armando style.

I’m getting better at relaxing and creating characters with their own points of view. I spent some time thinking about and “trying on” different kinds of roles, and that made it easier to mix some of those characteristics with the suggestions that the audience gave. Getting the relationship as a suggestion helped, too.

I still sometimes get stuck in repetitive arguments, but I’m getting better at consciously breaking out of them by introducing new elements. I also had fun figuring out some quick games to play with my scene partner.

Next steps: practice my initiations, get better at listening and responding, avoid simple repetition (build a game of complex repetition), collect more characters.

One more class to go! I’ve signed up for the next course in the sequence, and I’m sure this will all be fun. More practice would be good, too. More listening.

Perhaps I should be like Mr. Collins, writing down and arranging such little initiations as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, and trying to give them with as unstudied an air as possible. ;)

Improv 101: Learning more about characterizations

Improv is so hard! <laugh> It’s a good kind of hard, though.

We warmed up with a game of Hotseat, but with a singing twist. The game is to have someone singing in the center of the circle, and for other people to tag in, replace that person, and sing something inspired by the previous song. It was fun drawing all sorts of connections. I was surprised to find that I could sing and be audible. I normally sing softly. But it was okay to be out of tune and it was okay to forget the lyrics and it was okay to just play, and all of those okays let me relax, resonate with my chest voice, and just have fun.

We also warmed up with 7 Things, and Annie encouraged us to come up with categories that demanded creative answers.

Most of the class time was spent on doing two-person scenes inspired by monologues. I had no problems coming up with a monologue based on an audience suggestion, but the scenework was hard. What I found particularly challenging about it was fleshing out my motivations and reactions as a character. I got a little bit better at listening for the game, but I haven’t quite figured out how to make up a real person. Annie encouraged us to really listen to what our partners were saying and to think, “How do I feel about that? Why is it important to me?” We need to have stronger points of views, stronger characterizations.

How can I practice this? I’d like to get together with my classmates outside class too, as we need a lot more practice, and it might be fun to hang out. Maybe reading short stories will help, too, because then I’ll be able to learn more about characters interacting with each other. Writing might be fun, too. And practice, lots of practice…

I’ve just signed up for the next course in the series. This is really good training in stepping up to opportunities, listening well, and fleshing things out, and I’m looking forward to practicing more so that things flow better.

Improv 101, class 4: Characterizations

It occurred to me that I hadn’t written about my fourth class in Improv, which was two weeks ago. (I skipped last week’s due to a conflict, and will take a make-up class in September.)

Annie was away, so Kevin substituted for her. We got a lot of practice doing two-person scenes, which I enjoyed a lot because it gave all of us plenty of practice time and threw lots of different situations at us. Kevin was jokingly frustrated by the way my classmates occasionally asked him to define the words he used for suggestions. I know what that’s like! W- and I both use vocabularies wider than most people’s, although he actually has the discipline to look up pronunciations in the dictionary, so he’s comfortable saying things and I often fumble with a few different ways to pronounce rarer words. =)

Looking forward to improv class tomorrow! I’ve got a calendar full of meetings, and then I’ll be off to class.

Improv: Catch 23′s Next Act, people-watching

Hat-tip to Taylor for telling me about Catch 23‘s improv event at the Comedy Bar last night. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot!

Here’s what I picked up:

  • The singular of words often pluralized (“Timbit” versus “Timbits”) is funny because it’s unexpected. In the context of the improvised scene, it was also endearingly pathetic.
  • Group reactions make scenes come alive. In one of the scenes, a character was (Chuck Norris-ly?) weight-lifting the whole floor. We could see that because everyone else raised a leg in sync with the character’s motion.
  • Creative analogies win crowds. There was a rather vivid analogy involving taxes and accountants, which made lots of people laugh.
  • Twitter can be a source of inspiration, particularly with quotes taken out of context and with the translation of written conventions (ex: “Wowwww”) to spoken language.
  • Breaking the illusion can work quite effectively. “I want to see a montage of how you captured those monkeys!” We’d never say that in real life, but it made sense as a humorous edit / prompt.
  • Mess up math? No problem, just call back to it and make it a running joke.
  • One of the presenters (Kayla Lorette) was great at conveying subtle emotions through very quick, quirky facial expressions and silences. I was also impressed by the way she used aggression, an accent, and smooth delivery all together.

I wonder what studying people’s expressions will reveal… =) Our homework was to study people. People-watching!

On the subway ride back, I noticed a couple clearly having a tiff. They seemed to be in their twenties. The woman had curly hair with a pouf secured by butterfly clips. She wore a brown floral blouse, white slacks, and ruffled black three-inch heels. The man had short hair, a slight beard, and eyebrows that seemed to always be slanted in a sad look. He wore cargo shorts and canvas shoes. They stood waiting for the train, bodies angled away from each other, yet still standing close enough to be identified as a couple. As the train lit up the tunnel, the woman quickly walked forward until she was near the yellow line marking the edge of the platform. After a short pause, the man slowly walked forward as well.

I boarded the same car and continued watching them from under the brim of my hat. They sat together. She crossed her legs at the knees, angling away from him. Her hands were clasped on the side away from him as well, and she kept her eyes in that direction. His arms were casually crossed, and his legs were crossed at the ankles. He looked away, too. His knee extended into her space, but they didn’t touch. Still, no words.

They didn’t speak throughout my part of the trip, but over time, the woman started glancing over at the man’s side. Not directly at him, but in that general direction. Her arms also loosened slightly, although she still leaned away. Interesting, indeed…

(I studied other people as well, but they were the most interesting folks for that trip.)

More as I learn about people and improv!

Observational humour and solo improv play

Check out this humour specialist’s observational humor monologues based on real-life events at his Toastmasters Club.

It sounds like the kind of thing you could do to practice improv comedy on your own, although I’m sure it takes a lot of practice to come up with things as quickly as he does!