I can’t believe how fast my six weeks in Basic of The Groundlings School came and went. I’m a little homesick and still looking forward to driving back home to Arizona, but I’m also already feeling Los Angeles withdrawal knowing that I will be soon departing the land of entertainment dreamers like myself. I want to come back. After graduation, I will definitely be looking for jobs out in L.A. to finally make the move.
I was in redemption mode during the last week of class, in delusional hopes of redeeming my gradual performance regression throughout the course. I signed up for the twice-a-week for six weeks version of Basic, where our class met up every Wednesday and Friday afternoon from 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm. On the second to last day of class, we began with our usual Character Walk exercise on stage and used facial expressions this time to develop original characters and monologues. Next, we did “Last Letter” scenes, in which the first letter of the first word of a character’s dialogue would be based on the last letter of the word that the other character used in their dialogue. This took a lot of concentration and brainstorming on my part, but it was also a fun challenge for me. The following bullet points are the notes our instructor gave:
- No frequent spacing between sentences.
- Don’t look like you’re thinking. Stay in character’s emotional state to cheat the fact that you’re still thinking of what to say next.
- Even if scene didn’t end up taking off, maintaining the use of improv techniques makes scene forgivable.
The last new thing we did that Wednesday were “Types” scenes, in which two students were each given a specific character trait that the others in class were not used to seeing them portray. Due to my frequent unrefined character choices, the suggested trait given to me was “classy.” =P This scene was yet again another scene in which I didn’t help establish the who, what, where and why right off the bat, but at least I was able to try and exercise a character choice I’m not used to doing. We were told to work on paying off the traits given to us a little more.
Then, Friday, June 14th came along: the final day of Basic in which I would find out my fate of one of the following results: passing and moving on to Intermediate, not passing but repeating Basic, or not passing and being dismissed from The Groundlings School forever. (Although, I’m sure the last outcome is reserved for hopeless and incorrigible troublemakers.) As much as I wanted to hear that I passed Basic, I also didn’t want an undeserved pass if I didn’t meet the high expectations. We began the last day of class with another Character Walk warm up where we each started out moving on stage like real animals (panthers). Then, we took some of those movements and personified those mannerisms into human characters with original monologues along the fourth wall. Finally, we each began the two rounds of scenes leading up to our one-on-one conferences with our instructor to find out our fates. In both of my two final scenes, I was paired up with a partner chosen for me. In the first scene, I played an Asian-American mother who had just finished sewing her daughter’s wedding dress, only to end up admitting to her daughter that she was biologically her mother but was originally conceived using her egg to be the child for another couple. Due to her strong attachment to her egg, my character had stolen her biological daughter from the couple to raise on her own, and hadn’t admitted this to her daughter until now. I know, pretty crazy story, but according to our instructor, it was the best work I had ever done in class, especially with my emotional escalation and commitment throughout the scene. To hear him say that I had finally met my “rite of passage” required for class was music to my ears as this is what I had been trying to figure out how to do. Too bad I hadn’t figured this out and been consistent with it earlier in the class, but hey, we each learn at our own pace. In my second scene, I fell back into my old habits of not being believable; not establishing the who, what, where and why at the very top of the scene; and not sticking to the first main idea/game introduced in the scene. I played a friend and/or babysitter (not clearly established), and I was at F.A.O. Schwartz with my friend/babysitting client in awe of all the toys because my character was not allowed to have toys as a child. This was definitely not the stronger scene of the two, but I was glad the first scene went well. After every student did their two finals scenes, we all left the classroom and waited in the break room down the hall to find out our results one-by-one.
Finally, my turn rolled around, and I sat once again in the “hot seat” with our instructor for my final conference with him. He asked if I had anything I wanted to say before he continued. I thanked him for everything I learned in class, and that even though this was the most challenging improv class I had ever taken, I was glad that it allowed me to grow. Then, he revealed my fate: I did not pass, but I’m eligible to retake Basic. I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I was going to feel since I also wanted to pass only if I deserved it, but it made me wish I had pushed myself harder in the beginning to get these concepts down to spare having to pay for this class again in the future. I was told that I am a funny person (thank goodness), but that I need to, of course, establish the who, what, where and why quicker at the top of the scene; work on matching my emotions to what I’m saying; consider taking acting classes, work on escalating emotions to a 10, and to work on being consistent overall. Then, our one-on-one conference pleasantly ended with a warm good-bye and send off back to my school and life back home in Arizona, and a quick promotion of this blog on my whole Basic experience. 🙂
Our whole class and our instructor all ended up hanging out at a local place called The Dark Room where we conversed, ate and drank before the The Groundlings School Advanced Improv Student Showcase on the new G3 stage at 8:30 pm. It was there where I found out that I was one of two people in class who had not passed to go onto Intermediate, but it was reassuring to also find out that two of those in my class who did pass had also not passed the first time they took Basic. I’m just glad I was given a second chance to prove I can do this. I will miss everyone I met during this L.A. improv journey, and I’m grateful for the mistakes I made and the knowledge and experiences I gained from taking this risk. This “groundling” will try again to climb out of the pit and onto that stage in the future. (I know, I couldn’t think of a better way to conclude this blog entry.) Thanks for reading!