The Groundlings School – Hollywood, CA – Level One: Basic – Days 11 & 12


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!

– Angelie


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


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!

❤ Angelie