This is me in March of 2011. I was in awe of the being inside the same building where many of my favorite comedy icons had trained, had performed, and had been discovered. “Groundlings Singles Cruise” was the first main company show I had ever seen, and I soon discovered it was also the most hilarious sketch comedy show I had ever witnessed in my life! Granted, I have not been to as many sketch comedy shows outside Arizona as the next comedy aficionado, and I may sound like small fish in a big pond right now, but it was in this moment that I realized just how amazing and powerful comedy can be. Suddenly, I felt like that little 8-year-old Filipina-American girl again watching another episode of Nickelodeon’s kids sketch comedy show “All That,” asking my mom if I could be on that show one day. I HAD to someday come back here to the Groundlings theatre to watch a show or even, dare I say it, take classes here! About two years later, here I am in Hollywood as a student of Basic at the Groundlings School.
Before driving to California from Arizona to take the classes, I did some online research on the major LA improv schools. Based on my findings, the general consensus of Groundlings is that it is more character-based as far as instruction and style, more selective (You have to pass an audition before you can register for Basic, and the process becomes even more selective the higher the level.), effective for learning sketch comedy writing, and that instructors can be more blunt and “nitpick-y” in their teaching. Personally, I appreciate brutal honesty because I feel I can significantly improve on whatever skill or knowledge I’m trying to learn. I have been soooo looking forward to taking Groundlings classes during summer vacation! As soon as I found out when the first session of Basic classes after my finals opened up, I registered in a heartbeat.
Now, just what did we learn on our first day of class? Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a pen and a notebook to take notes, but I bought a notebook from CVS/pharmacy shortly after and jotted down everything I managed to maintain in my brain. Seeing some of the exercises allowed me to make connections between the curriculum and the comedic styles of their alumni, especially Will Ferrell. The emotionally charged “Pro/Con” character monologue exercise reminded me of a typical Will Ferrell role in that we had to create a detailed and deeply emotional backstory to explain in connection to a suggestion from the audience/instructor. This exercise was hilarious to watch and fun to do! I was also satisfied with our energetic instructor Ian and with the content taught in class. The following is a list of bullet points of things we went over in scrambled order (They probably make more sense to me since I saw them in context.):
- Assigned emotion to be expressed in an energy pass exercise can affect word association choices. (for example: emotion = happy; leads to using words like “yes” –> then “serendipity” –> etc.)
- Energy and enthusiasm, especially towards the end of an exercise or class, is important. The last students should feel as supported and celebrated as the first students.
- Group storytelling exercise: use very specific details of the moment being described (for example: As she bit into the most delicious, succulent, free-range bison burger, juices squeezed out of it and streamed down her chin and neck, and eventually left a greasy stain on her white cotton t-shirt. She was too distracted by her euphoric state of mind to notice the stain and reach for her Dixie brand napkin.), don’t just talk about changing locations (for example: …then he went to the bathroom, then he went into a stall, then he went to the sink, then he went to the door, etc.), pick up the sentence started by the previous person right where they left off (for example: PERSON ONE – “He jammed the Ikea fork into the plugged-in…” PERSON TWO – “…toaster, and felt the intensity of electrocution.).
- Playing emotions to a 10 (on a scale from 1 to 10) is what sets Groundlings apart from other comedy theatres in LA.
- EYE CONTACT is important for maintaining humanness, emotional connection, and authenticity.
- Pro/Con emotional character monologue exercise (reminded me of the “Love Rants/Hate Rants” exercise I learned in a Rob Belushi workshop at The Torch Theatre): NO SALES PITCHES, have a detailed personal story involving suggestion from audience that deeply affects character emotionally, personify the suggestion – give it traits that fulfill your character’s needs not met by the humans in their life, intensify the emotion the longer you talk and escalate the story.
- GET USED TO BEING EMOTIONALLY VULNERABLE. This was one of the first things we were taught (even if I waited until now to mention it). It is pretty much the only way to express any emotion to the highest degree AKA a “10.” The exercise in which each student revealed a personal secret to the whole group helped build trust and allowed vulnerability among us.
- One-word expert group exercise: make sure to give an answer that actually makes sense to the given question, use eye contact amongst group members to mutually agree on when to end the answer/sentence, position entire body as the fitting character for a given suggestion.
As a side note for the importance of eye contact, in the Rob Belushi workshop I attended at the Torch Theatre in Phoenix, I learned about the effects on one’s focal point when doing a “love rant” and when doing a “hate rant.” In a “love rant” exercise, a person talks about something that brings them absolute joy and doing so tends to influence the person to look up at the ceiling with rapture, where as in a “hate rant” exercise, a person has to talk about something that absolutely angers or annoys them and doing so tends to influence them to look down in an accusatory manner or to stare down a focal point in a fixed and concentrated manner.
I’m turning into an improv nerd, and it’s fun. 🙂 Look out for the next blog entry covering day 2!