The Groundlings School – Hollywood, CA – Level One: Basic – Day Seven

Class began with a two-line exercise with one half of the class on one side of the stage and the other half on the opposite side of the stage. In this exercise, one student from one of the lines would initiate space work as well as exhibiting non-verbal character traits. Next, another student from the opposite line would come further downstage to observe the other student and proceed to name that person and describe their character’s personality and physicality. The whole exercise was a great way of demonstrating how a person moves and carries herself or himself communicates a huge amount of information about their personality, life experiences and how they see the world.
Next, we did a run of two-person scenes in which each person was given a different personality trait to continuously express throughout the scene. The first group was given the personality traits of stuck up and lewd. The following notes were given:

  • Eye contact!
  • Immediacy of why we are watching this moment.
  • Pay off the trait way more.
  • For sad characters that may be withdrawn, they have to find some way to talk.
  • Don’t forget the “who.”

Then, we did a round of two-person dramatic scenes, which was definitely different from what we’ve been working on in class so far. We were told that we were good at not portraying characters as cartoon-like or outlandish, and that we just need to work on specifics, making more vulnerable choices and raising the stakes (exploding).

Then, it was back to doing a round of comedic two-person scenes. One note given was to be aware of what our body language expresses, such as crossing arms communicates defensiveness. We were also praised for our very supportive energy in class today! Other notes during this exercise included the following:

  • Stay in character.
  • We want to see big reactions.
  • Making it matter is a choice. Most people wouldn’t overreact, so we have to find the characters who will.
  • Have a compelling reason to be there. Don’t make the audience feel like you want to leave.

Lastly, our class was introduced to long form improv. (Even though some of us are familiar with it. I’m looking at you Torch Theatre in Phoenix!) The only difference in style at the Groundlings is that loud claps are used to edit scenes besides touching another improviser to tag them out of the scene. We were told we had an entertaining run, but that we just had to be careful not to dwell on one idea in scene after scene and to not depend so much on “blue” humor, although he found it funny. After those notes, class was adjourned. Seven classes down, five more to go!

– Angelie

The Groundlings School – Hollywood, CA – Level One: Basic – Day Six

Today’s class ended up being a little more laid-back and not as scary as I thought it would be. At first, I thought today’s class would be cut short since there were only four of us at the beginning of class, but it turns out that everyone else was either on a Memorial Day vacation or running late and slowly but surely trickled in. Unbeknownst to me, today was our first one-on-one evaluation with the instructor. We are officially past the halfway point of Basic, and in about 3 more weeks we will each learn our fate in our final evaluation if we are to repeat Basic, move on to the next level or are completely dismissed from the Groundlings performance track. This notion both excites me and scares me. I later learned in class that many of the people in my Basic class are either repeat students of Basic or are in advanced classes just refreshing their skills. I honestly feel like I’ve retrograded in my performance skills as I have allowed the talented people in my class and new information to slowly intimidate me and make me feel discouraged in my abilities.

In my evaluation, Ian was super friendly, approachable and helpful, and not as scary as I thought he would be. I was the last in my class to sit in the “hot seat.” He basically told me I started out Basic strong and more at ease, but that I have regressed as far as performance goes due to panicking during scenes. I agree with this. He still had positive things to say, such as he has seen me say funny things before and earlier in class when I wasn’t so tense and “stuck in my head.” I just need to improve on listening more attentively to what my scene partners say, add more details after accepting my scene partner’s initial offer, and to not be in a state of worry so much. I was more than happy to receive all his constructive criticism, and I feel even more motivated to have fun and perform better in class.

New exercises we did in class included “Animal,” which happened to be an Intermediate level character-building exercise. We basically walked around on stage neutrally and then moved on to behaving as animals based on our instructor’s suggestion. We then would take those animal bodily movements and incorporate them into how a human would move, and then we all faced the fourth wall and began monologues as our newly formed characters. We also tried this other activity involving bodily idiosyncrasies such as hand gestures. In this activity, 4 people on stage would begin or continue a story individually and would eventually be paused by the instructor’s notes as to what notable body movement trait that student repeatedly does while telling a story. As a new student followed up a storyteller, another layer of notable body movement would be added to that person’s character until the line reached the original storyteller. I know this explanation is not so clear out of context, but the main purpose of the exercise allowed me to see how idiosyncratic body movements really give a character a distinct identity.

Before our individual evaluations, we finished class with a round of scenes. I feel like a broken record repeating notes on things we’ve already gone over in class, but basically (no pun intended), it just goes to show how important it is to remember and be consistent with following these basic rules of improv in order to build a solid and entertaining scene.

Until next class,

Angelie

The Groundlings School – Hollywood, CA – Level One: Basic – Day Five

The emphasis for day 5 of Basic was commitment. BUMP UP COMMITMENT. Our instructor put it as nicely but as assertive as he could and let us know that we as a class have been struggling on committing to anything: emotions, characters, scenes. As we’re approaching the halfway mark of the course, he felt we were not performance ready and that that is what the point of the class is: to be performance-ready. I’ve never felt such an urgency to step up my improv game until now; I like how it pushes me to reach my comedic potential, but it’s something I’m not quite used to.

Instead of posting a copy of my cryptic shorthand notes, I’m going to instead recap the noteworthy highlights of class. A new improv activity we were introduced to was “minutia scenes,” two-person scenes in which one or both characters suddenly react very emotionally about a minuscule detail. The objective is to have either a positive or negative emotional reaction toward the main focus and really making that main focus MATTER. Of course, you still have to find that balance between what’s fun and what’s just plain crazy, which I’m starting to realize more and more affect how funny you are to the audience. The use of backstories help to justify why this scene is happening. Another side note given to me was to not make it seem like I’m struggling to come up with what to say on the spot even though I am because it breaks character and doesn’t come off as real. As a class we also need to work on jumping right into scenes without hesitation and with space work as every scene is a peek into someone’s life. Another note was to let moments build as a character goes through a highly emotional state of mind. Also, don’t use the state of being grossed out as a reaction to your partner’s offer.

I really enjoyed our new new improv game called “Movie Trailer.” Five students at a time would go up on stage; 1 improviser off to the side and the other 4 improvisers center stage. After a movie genre suggestion is given, the 4 improvisers center stage have to position themselves as characters in said movie genre as they would stereotypically appear in a movie poster. The one improviser off to the side would avert his or her eyes until “the tableau” of improvisers were all arranged, and then he or she would turn around to take a look at the big picture to create a fake movie trailer narrative including the following elements:

  • Studio release date
  • Production house
  • Title
  • Plot
  • Title again
  • Tagline

The only major notes were to really size up tableau and reference how each person is positioned, don’t break character, and to be specific (not generic) in descriptions.

And of course, as we have been doing for most classes thus far, we did two-person scenes with instructor side-coaching. The main things to be worked on were the following:

  • Get right into space work.
  • Don’t lose the energy that was initiated.
  • Look out for “green” improvising, in which a relatively new improviser reacts with no verbally stated reason as to why.
  • As in all Basic classes, make space work MATTER. Don’t just do it to please the instructor. Have an emotional reaction as you interact with space work objects.

Next, we did an activity called “Four-Line Poems” to reinforce the whole commitment concept in improv. We went up on stage in groups of 4 people and each added a line to a poem to the meter and rhyme of “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but the objective was to deliver each line of the poem with as much energy, emotion and commitment in order to “sell it.” The main focuses were commitment (energy, selling it, performance) and fitting the cadence (you don’t have to rhyme: just fit the meter).

Lastly, we did an activity as a whole class on stage where one person would start off by describing an imaginary picture on the shirt of the person next to them. That person next to them would then have to come up with a fitting tagline that would accompany that imaginary picture as in a graphic tee. It was a short and fun exercise that really tested your wit and pop culture knowledge.

I allowed myself to have more fun and worry less in class today. Let’s keep this up. 🙂

– Angelie

The Groundlings School – Hollywood, CA – Level One: Basic – Day Four

This has been the most frustrating class I’ve had so far at Groundlings, most likely because I kept focusing on all the mistakes I made and the corrections from the instructor. A friend of mine who has been through and passed Basic at Groundlings told me that she felt the experience was definitely an improv boot camp where blunt constructive criticism could push you to tears, and I hope I’m not speaking too soon by saying I almost was pushed to that point. I repeatedly kept on not emotionally investing in my character, not committing to my character, not making realistic offers in response to my partner’s dialogue, not zeroing in on one main idea in a scene, and not raising the stakes/escalating scenes high enough. I don’t blame Ian for my frustration, I was just angry with myself for not being funny and taking things too seriously. Sometimes I think I place too much of my self-worth on how funny I can be, and when I don’t get that instant validation from laughter or praise, I let it get to me when I should just learn from it and not get pissed off about it. With all that said, here’s an outline of what we did and learned in class:

– Emotion walk exercise

– Middle word exercise

– Changes exercise

  • 3 players (1 on stage, 2 entering together later on)
  • POINT OF EXERCISE: The emotion during a line determine its meaning. Changing the emotion and keeping a line can alter its meaning.
  • Adjustments will be made.
  • Neutral to adjustments.
  • CHOICES: Love it, hate it, fight it, or fuck it.
  • COMMIT! BELIEVE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING!!!
  • Don’t apologize for side-coaching.
  • Match emotion when it changes.
  • Don’t always go. (I don’t know what I meant to say here.)

– Who/What, Who/Where, Why exercise

  • Again, COMMIT.
  • Bigger emotion.
  • Believe what’s going on and in what you are saying.

– 2 relationships exercise

  • Be characters, not ourselves.
  • You can be uncomfortable and still like the other person, so react truthfully by suffering.
  • You have 3 beats to raise the stakes.
  • Zero in on one main idea.
  • Reasonable people are NOT FUN TO WATCH.
  • Get even more charged up about the main idea.
  • You have to react emotionally to gifts.
  • Establish relationship and backstory.
  • Audience is a barometer of what works by their reactions, such as laughter.
  • Sense what’s funny about what induces laughter.
  • Big emotion (losing your shit) has audience more emotionally invested.
  • Trust your info. Don’t think too hard everything.
  • Get out of your head.
  • Don’t verbally point out when you’ve made a mistake in continuity, such as “I lost my accent.”
  • Raise the stakes!

I’m pumped to do better in class and to reach my comedic potential. Although it did at first, I won’t let one bad class discourage me.

– Angelie

The Groundlings School – Hollywood, CA – Level One: Basic – Day Three

The first thing we jumped into was a character walk exercise. Everyone in class got up on stage and walked around as our instructor Ian gave us all further directions. Each direction added a layer to the characters we individually created. After walking around in neutral positions, Ian gave us the first instruction to move and position our bodies as if we were set designers. I took on an analytical persona as I walked around the stage. Next, we were told to make vocal sounds (not talking) that we thought our set designer character would make. I proceeded to say inquisitive “hmm”s. Then, we were instructed to line up as a class along the “fourth wall” facing the imaginary audience and begin a monologue from the point of view of our character addressing someone the character would know personally. I went on some rant about how the venue wasn’t good enough to accomodate the high budget production and some other diarrhea of the mouth. We repeated this character walk exercise with a few other suggestions, such as ice fishing trucker and nurse. A note that the instructor gave us was to not rely on old-fashioned stereotypes of professions.

The next class activity was known as “scrolling” in which we went on stage as pairs facing each other, taking turns listing off things we see in a location verbally suggested to us. We were to mention all words that exist specifically in that world and heighten it with emotion while maintaining reality at the same time. I had a rough start during my scrolling exercise by listing “maniacal laughter in the hallway” as something real I would hear at our location suggestion: the dentist’s office. Oops. The following are more notes that were given to us:

  • It’s about really putting yourself in ware. (I think that’s what I heard him say?) Explore.
  • BE SPECIFIC to location.
  • Think about what would only exist in that place.
  • Fully explore.
  • Don’t forget the point of the exercise.
  • Emphasize point of view.

Then, we moved on to our assignments where we individually presented space work inspired by our real daily routines. For my space work presentation, I did my daily morning routine in front of the bathroom mirror of washing my face and brushing my teeth with my electric toothbrush. Here are additional notes that were given to us:

  • Put yourself in the literal place.
  • Commit to it actually happening.
  • Don’t make gestures look cartoonish and unreal.
  • Make sure things have consistent weight.
  • Use objects along the fourth wall.
  • Pause when you need to to maintain continuity of reality.
  • Make top layer of object consistent.

Next, we brought back the “who/what, who/where” exercise. I didn’t take as many notes as I would have liked, but here are the two I managed to jot down:

  • Have the name you label your partner, fit his or her gender.
  • Add “why” after you establish “who/what” with the first character and “who/where” with the second character.

Toward the end of class, we did a series of 2-person scenes. The only two notes I managed to write down were the following:

  • Care about what’s going on.
  • Keep relationships real. You wouldn’t maliciously attack your friend verbally.

The final activity of the day was one where Ian had us line up against the wall of the stage, and one by one, had us list fake things found specifically in certain locations. The first suggestion he gave us was “James Bond movies.” I hesitated with my “Double O 70” response because I felt it wasn’t funny enough, which he later referred to and pointed out that I needed to express my idea with more confidence. That tends to be my struggle when it comes to these short form improv games. I feel like what I say has to be HILARIOUS, and when I can’t think of the most clever thing to say, I shut down and it affects the confidence of my delivery. After practicing improv for a few years now, it can be a downer to feel like my confidence hasn’t improved within this span of time, but at the same time, someone giving me a reality check motivates me to conquer my self-doubt inner demons. The last suggestion was “things you find at Whole Foods.” When it was my turn to talk, I stumbled in my confident delivery, but I asked for a redo and was supported with cheering, which allowed me to do the confident delivery I was aiming for. Finally, class was dismissed.

– Angelie

Meg Jay: Why 30 is NOT the New 20

I post way too many of my favorite inspirational quotes and links to articles and videos on all my social media platforms, so I’m most likely THAT annoying idealistic person on Facebook that inundates everyone’s Facebook newsfeed, but I feel strongly about the significance of this particular TED Talks video I saw today by Meg Jay, especially concerning people in my demographic. Every 20-something person should know these things. It explains the 3 things that 20-somethings, male or female, deserve to hear:

1. “Forget about having an identity crisis, and get some identity capital. Do something that adds value to who you are. Do something that might be an investment in who you might want to be next. Identity capital begets identity capital. So, now is the time for that cross-country job, that internship, that start-up you want to try. Don’t discount 20-something exploration, but do discount exploration that’s not supposed to count. It is not exploration; It’s procrastination. Explore work, and make it count.”

2. “The urban tribe is overrated. 20-somethings who huddle together with like-minded peers limit who they know, what they know, how they think, how they speak, and where they work. That new piece of capital, that new person to date almost always comes from outside the inner circle. New things come from what are called our weak ties: our friends of friends of friends. Half of 20-somethings are unemployed or underemployed, but half are not. Half of new jobs are never posted, so reaching out to your neighbor’s boss is how you get that un-posted job. It’s not cheating; It’s the science of how information spreads.”

3. “The time to start picking your family is now. 30 may be a better time to get married than 20 or 25, but grabbing whoever you’re living with or sleeping with when everyone on Facebook walks down the aisle is NOT progress. The best time to work on your marriage is BEFORE you have one. This means being as intentional with love as you are with work. Picking your family is about consciously choosing who and what you want rather than just making it work or killing time with whoever happens to be choosing you.”

IN SUMMARY:

  • “At 21, 25 or even 29, one good conversation, one good break, one good TED Talk, can have an enormous effect across years, and even generations to come.”
  • “30 is not the new 20, so claim your adulthood, get some identity capital, use your weak ties, pick your family. Don’t be defined by what you didn’t know or didn’t do. You’re deciding your life right now.”

This TED Talk by Dr. Meg Jay really struck a chord in me, and I hope it has with you if you weren’t living by this philosophy already. =)

❤ Angelie

The Groundlings School – Hollywood, CA – Level One: Basic – Day: Two

Lifting a heavy, gigantic and imaginary manhole cover together as a class was the first thing on the agenda for day 2 of Basic. The point was learning how to use eye contact, visual awareness and mirroring to maintain continuity and preserve the believability of SPACE WORK. In improv, just what is space work? Space work, also known as object work, is basically pantomiming or pretending to use imaginary objects in space, typically along “the fourth wall,” to help establish the location and any other contexts of the scene. For those reading this who don’t know what the term “fourth wall” refers to, it is the fourth open plane facing the audience that serves as the “window” into the lives and environment of the characters in a scene on stage. It is preferred that space work be done along the fourth wall to allow the actions of characters and the interactions between characters to be easily seen by the entire audience. When everyone can see what is going on onstage, it helps to keep everything going on in context. For more on space work, watch this quick YouTube video:  The main notes given in class on space work were to use eye contact with scene partners and visual awareness of what others are doing to match what we are doing. Does the thickness of the part of the manhole cover I’m holding match the thickness of the other parts of the manhole that other scene partners are holding? Does my reaction to how heavy this imaginary cover is match the reactions of my scene partners? Checking in with others to match during space work helps to make the object more believable by maintaining continuity.

An emotional molding-imaginary-clay energy pass exercise and human machine group exercise followed this space work activity. These activities mainly helped us reinforce the Groundlings philosophy of “playing emotions to a 10” and how the energy and style of a group can be influenced by suggestions such as “Be ape-like.” Also, for the sake of variety and interest, group members should place themselves at different heights and positions during the human machine group exercise.

We took time during midway through class to all sit down and write notes. Here’s what they were:

4 THINGS YOU WANT TO GET OUT FIRST IN A SCENE BEFORE MOVING SCENE FORWARD

  1. WHO: Give characters at least names and relationships.
  2. WHAT: The actual activity. Answer the question “What is going on between them?”
  3. WHERE: Answer the question “Where am I within arm’s reach?”
  4. WHY: This is the most important piece of information. Answer the questions “Why is this happening, and why does this relationship exist as it does?”

5 WAYS TO ADD INFORMATION

  1. SPACE WORK: This is often neglected. Make sure it’s purposeful. Commit. It’s supposed to aid you. Use it to move scene forward.
  2. EMOTIONAL ADJUSTMENT: Express the most logical form of that emotion to the highest degree. This is Groundlings philosophy – “play to a 10.”
  3. CHARACTER: Another important aspect of the Groundlings philosophy. Finding ways to say things as this character would put it. See the world from their point of view. Allow them to have opinions. BE COMMITTED.
  4. STAGE MOVEMENT: Should be purposeful, NOT CONVERSATIONAL. Make statements with purpose. None of this “Hi, how are you?” or “I’m fine!” rubbish.
  5. DIALOGUE: Most naturally gravitate toward this. BE SPECIFIC and PURPOSEFUL, NOT CONVERSATIONAL. Again, make statements with purpose.

THE DON’TS

  1. DENYING: This is the cardinal sin of improv. Do NOT deny. Go along with whatever is offered. Do NOT have flat reactions on your face to whatever your scene partner does or says or else you will be an a$$hole.
  2. DON’T ARGUE: Just another form of denying. All this is is 2 people bashing heads; however, conflicts and arguments are different from each other. A conflict is a different point of view of an agreed issue. An argument is hostile nay-saying or anything that feels defensive like “No, I didn’t.”
  3. DON’T INSTRUCT, CONTROL OR TEACH: When you do these things, you’re basically turning your partners into puppets. People end up doing these in fear of reacting in real time to what is offered.
  4. DON’T ASK QUESTIONS: Make declarative statements. People end up doing this out of fear of not knowing what to do.
  5. DON’T PLAY CRAZY, DRUNK, ON DRUGS OR LITTLE KIDS: Not making these choices moves the scene forward. Making these choices makes the information from these characters unreliable. These character choices are bad choices as an actor. It’s okay for a character to be buzzed, but not overly intoxicated to the point where information given comes off as unreliable. Use characters who can give reliable information.
  6. DON’T PLAN: Even if you have a great idea, let it go if someone has already labeled key information about the scene. Talking about what’s going to happen in the future does nothing to benefit the scene.
  7. DON’T GO FOR THE LOWEST COMMON DENOMINATOR HUMOR (GOING BLUE): Bathroom humor/d!ck and f@rt jokes. These choices are made out of fear and panic. These choices are just low-brow, and hoping for the best in a dire moment to find something to say. It’s an uncreative way to go for a quick and cheap laugh. However, these choices are not completely out of the question. They just shouldn’t be random and come out of nowhere. Only bring up these topics if they are within the context of the scene and called for.

THE DOS

  1. YES, AND: Accept everything offered. Everything presented is TRUE!
  2. WATCH: There is something innate about watching. Check in and look at partner to know where everything is going to fit in.
  3. START EVERY SCENE WITH EYE CONTACT: It forces you to check in with what is going on in the scene. It’s innate and natural. As soon as you make eye contact, the situation becomes “well, this is happening.”
  4. DISCOVER: Emotional reactions can allow you to discover something about yourself.
  5. COMMIT: THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN IMPROV. If you commit, you will NEVER have a terrible scene. Granted, improv is a batting average, and you’re still going to suck sometimes. However, don’t sell yourself short.
  6. RAISE THE STAKES IN SCENES: Make things matter more and more. This does not mean incorporate conflict. “Peas-in-a-pod” characters are fun to watch.
  7. BE SPECIFIC: In space work. In emotion. In dialogue. In labels. BE SPECIFIC.
  8. TRUST: It can get panic-y on stage. Trust that your scene partner has good ideas. Trust yourself.

Toward the end of class, we did a lot of scene work, emphasizing the importance of expressing emotions to a 10, doing space work, establishing who/what with the first character, and establishing why/where with the second character. As I watched others’ scenes and heard feedback from our instructor Ian about the scenes I was in, I made a list of notes:

  • More fun to watch people who are vulnerable.
  • Physically hurting yourself as a response to what has been said is a choice done out of panic. Only express emotional reactions.
  • React to big emotion. Don’t just stand there!
  • Think about the context of what has just been said in relation to the relationship. EMOTIONALLY REACT TO IT!
  • Everything we do on stage is a window to every relationship/connection like in any television show, movie, improv show, etc. We watch the connection between or among the people in front of us.
  • Sense where the energy is going. In particular scene, the relationship shifted from a mother/daughter dynamic to a sisterly one.
  • No back-and-forth bickering.
  • No eye contact = unconnected
  • Have a reason for expressing an emotion. Don’t randomly react. Have a reason for doing so.
  • Don’t lose the energy after initiating it.
  • Have good characters.
  • Be okay with being vulnerable. Don’t always automatically choose to be a character who is uncomfortable with everything going on.
  • Confess your want as soon as possible. Don’t hold off for too long.
  • Close the physical gap between two characters at some point if relationship calls for it.
  • When in doubt for a character’s wants, FALL IN LOVE! If there is gray area, FALL IN LOVE!
  • It’s nice to add variety by not starting scenes with dialogue right away.
  • Don’t let emotion die.
  • Don’t linger on cute moments like long drawn-out hugs.
  • Choose to agree rather than attacking with sass from the get-go. No arguing.
  • Embrace labels.

At the end of class, we were all given a homework assignment. For the next class, we have to be prepared to pantomime a casual and real daily routine from our life such as brushing your teeth. We have to make sure we present it as natural as possible and that the imaginary objects we interact with are in the same places in space as they are in our real lives. We will mimic our everyday lives with real human emotions.

With all these significant improv rules presented, I leave you with a link to a video of the best improv performance ever recorded in human history: Puppet Blog Master of Improv Space Work. Enjoy!

– Angelie