Improv Wisdom

I am reading Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madson, an improvisor and professor who is very thoughtful about how the elements of improv might work off the stage. Each chapter is a maxim, and I’ve listed them below. They provide a handy little overview of her focus:

Say yes
Don’t prepare
Just show up
Start anywhere
Be average
Pay attention
Face the facts
Stay on course
Wake up to the gifts
Make mistakes, please
Act now
Take care of each other
Enjoy the ride

It reminds me of the wisdom prints by artist Suzanne L. Vinson.

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Improv Performance

Somehow, less than a year after taking a beginning improv class in an attempt to deal with the crippling stage fright I’d begun to experience when speaking before groups of parents on curriculum nights, I find myself in the fourth class of the improv series at the Upright Citizens Brigade training center. And in 401 we have not one but THREE performances.

It is a testament to the efficacy of improv in dealing with my stage fright that I am now suggesting anyone I know come to the show.

When: Saturday July 14, 5:30pm
Where: 153 East 3rd Street, at the UCBEast Theatre

Just be sure to sit where I can’t see you or you may witness a world class regression. Unless that’s your thing, in which case, knock yourself out.

Three Minute Fiction

I decided to try my hand at a super short story using the tips I gleaned from Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering.  The first sentence was the story prompt, from NPR, and the story needed to be 600 words or less.

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.

Cara sometimes made decisions by thinking of a specific question, and then turning to a random fragment of text in a book. Some people called this “bible dipping,” and used the New Testament, but Cara preferred Virginia Woolf’s “A Writer’s Diary.”

Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

Cara stood waiting for the light to change, fingering the harpoon charm she wore around her neck, tiny but sharp. The sun was bright and she did not have her sunglasses, they’d snapped in two when she’d leaned against her purse that morning in Bailey’s office, listening to her plan.

“It’s easy as pie,” Bailey said when she was done explaining how she would pay Cara to take the blame for the accounting improprieties that had taken place in the firm under Bailey’s watch.

Cara stared down at the papers, a simple confession of wrongdoing on her part. Bailey was touching up her scarlet lipstick without looking in a mirror.

“Will I go to jail?”

Now Bailey was searching for something inside her desk drawer. “Unlikely, but if so, one year max.” Bailey fished a pack of peppermint gum from the recesses of her drawer and popped a piece into her mouth.

“You want?” she offered the pack to Cara.

“No, thanks.” Cara found gum repulsive, the idea of a rubbery mass languishing in your mouth to chew like a ruminant turned her stomach.

“Look, I know it’s a lot. But I’m offering a lot in return. Take the morning to think it over. Go out, take a walk. I’m having lunch at one thirty across the street. Come tell me your answer then.”

“Okay.” Sensing that the meeting was over, Cara stood, somewhat hesitantly waiting to be dismissed. Bailey did not oblige her, instead turning her attention to her computer screen.

Cara didn’t notice the dog walker with the dozen tiny charges crossing onto her side of the street, and she found herself knocked down and tangled up in twelve little leashes.

“Oh no, my bad!” He said, laughing as he tried to unwind the mess and help Cara get up. “That’s what I get for tweeting while walking.”

“No, it was my fault,” Cara said. “ My head is in the clouds.” She looked down at the assortment of Miniature Pinschers, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, and other little breeds she couldn’t name. And then Cara thought of Pilar, her own little Havanese. What would become of her if Cara had to go to jail? Would she have to give her away? Cara had no family nearby to take care of Pilar.

“Do you have a card?” She asked the dog walker.

“You’re not going to press charges, are you?” He was still smiling, joking with Cara. She noticed he had a small scar at the bottom of his chin, like her long ago boyfriend had gotten when he took her dare and jumped off the top of a slide in the neighborhood playground at midnight when they were both home on break.

“No! I just might need a dog walker.” He had no card, but emailed her his information on the spot.  “He didn’t look like a Vince,” She thought when she checked her email, waiting for Bailey at the restaurant.

Vince would send Cara pictures of Pilar during her twelve years in jail. Bailey had either underestimated or misrepresented the risks. Vince had Pilar’s urn waiting for Cara upon her release, and Bailey, having since moved to Colombia, was not forthcoming with Cara’s ten million.

Here There Be Monsters

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy this last year exploring different ways of being creative. I have challenged myself to follow up with anything that interests me, which has lead me to face my stage fright and learn improv.  I have kept up a daily practice of  writing morning pages as a way to help chart my course.

It is still scary at times to make a next move. Should I sign up for a full on acting workshop? Should I try to expand my tutoring practice? I am at a crossroads and feel like I have lots of decisions to make. Which is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Improv According to Matt Besser

I had the chance to attend an improv lecture/workshop with UCB founder Matt Besser this Sunday at the UCB theater in Chelsea.  He favored a socratic style, peppering the audience with questions about what makes for good improv.  He was extremely insightful and unsparing.  I salute the brave souls who agreed to take the stage to perform some sample improv for Besser to dissect. Here is what I learned:

Start out being as logical as possible.

“Yes-and” ONLY until you find the UNUSUAL thing. THEN ask, “if this unusual thing is true, then what else is true.”

“PLAYING AT THE TOP OF YOUR INTELLIGENCE” means you should react the way a real person would react. It is not about smarts so much as
authentic response.

The funny thing that you pick to start a scene with is your PREMISE.

You don’t have a GAME until your scene partner interacts with you

LISTEN to each other . React accordingly.

HEIGHTENING is not about raising stakes. It’s “What’s another great place to play this game.”  In other words, find what’s funny and make it funnier.

EXPLORING helps you answer why you are doing the unusual thing.  (I took this to mean you are exploring to find your justification?)