I was in some great workshops with some amazing folks at Camp Improv Utopia East this year, including this one from Rick Andrews.
Kristen aka KMac asked me for my notes after I used some exercises from this workshop in a coaching session with Topiary. So, here they are! I hope they are useful to someone.
Any great ideas and brilliance in here are because of Rick and the other workshop participants. Any bad advice or mistakes below are my own.
Warm up - sound and motion hot spot
someone enters center and does sound and motion alone.
a 2nd person joins and matches
1st person fades back into the circle.
2nd person morphs sound and motion into a new one.
same as above, but people come out in pairs.
watch as new pair discovers new sound and motion together
This workshop is about getting out of the way of that discovery.
We often improvise like people who need approval from the audience. It's exhausting for players and audience alike.
Black holes are detected by how their gravity affects things around them, warping light. An addict filters all decisions through their addiction. We are addicted to being interesting.
If someone tells you to do a cave scene, almost everyone's first idea will be "Oh no, we are trapped!" But have you ever been in a cave? Probably! Have you ever been trapped in a cave? Nope. So why don't people do scenes about just being in a cave?
2 people in chairs having a conversation
- start w/ a word as inspiration
- truthful conversation as if no audience
- real facts and beliefs
- real human interactions are believable. not like the people in Drive w/ Ryan Gosling (lol)
lots of surprises happen, and quickly.
- "I love podcasts." "Oh, me too!"
- The saying that you should wait for your third thought is garbage.
- Also, the people in these scenes are strangers and that is fine and not awkward!
- if people are affecting and reacting to each other, we like the scene.
- if they are not affecting each other, no one cares about the scene.
Same as above, but instead of sitting the players are miming an unrelated activity.
Improvise with each other. Little things are not missed.
- We notice odd things. "I want to hear more about that."
- People ask questions in real life! it's not out of fear and trying to push along or push against a scene, but out of real curiosity.
Same as above, but each player adopts a weird voice or at least a different voice from their normal speaking voice.
- e.g. more nasal or guttural, or change pitch
- no affected accents
Only the first lines from each player needs to be true.
After that, follow what feels true for the character. it's a subtle change.
- No need to overplay emotion. In real life we feel things like anxiety or shame but we don't come out and say it and we don't broadcast it by being obvious.
Extremely overplanned scenes.
- Example: "You're coworkers at cocktails after a blowing outing"
Example: "One of you wants to buy a suit. The other is selling suits."
- Goal: make it feel real.
We are afraid of starting conversations that we don't know where they're going.
- Lots of improv is shortcuts to give us a problem to solve or a weird thing to talk about.
A deconstructed example:
- input: "you're school dance chaperones"
players started by standing around awkwardly. one takes a breath as though they are about to speak, but thinks better of it. gets a little laugh.
- this is kind of a manufactured nervousness, playing up the emotion unrealistically.
players suddenly talk at the same time.
- this is playing off the previous bit. again, kind of false even if it gets a chuckle from the audience.
finally, this exchange is gold:
- A: "I like this song. Who is this by? I can almost remember."
- B: "It's Carly Rae Jepson"
- A: "Oh, you know her work?"
- B: "She is going to fucking save pop music"
- This is a real discovery! An unexpected, genuine, super strong emotional stance.
- We have lots of awareness in real life. we've been practicing being human as long as we have been alive. if we let ourselves take our time, we bring that listening to our improv.
- People laugh all the time in real life. It is okay for your character to find humor in the scene.
People tend to like each other in real life.
In real life, conflict is like a squeaky door - awkward tension.
- We don't look to pick fights. We don't make things impossible for others.
Working to have fun is different from working to be funny.