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

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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 Nine

I really need to get started on my online course homework, so this entry will be short. Here are the notes I jotted down during Day 9 of Basic at The Groundlings School:

– CATCHPHRASE CHARACTER WALK

– BUS RIDE/FREEZE PHRASE EXERCISE (INTERMEDIATE EXERCISE)

  • Bus scene chair set up
  • Random facial expression choice by instructor
  • Talk about where we’re going, why we’re excited, and what we’re going to do there to get emotionally invested.
  • Watch out for making too much noise that drowns out partner’s gifts.
  • Don’t tear through information. Put in beats to rest and pause for audience reactions. You eventually run out of things to say and start repeating things like “You’re the best.”
  • Focus on one idea for why we’re going there and have a back story or other justification to explain why we’re going there.

– NEW CHOICE

  • Make space work matter!
  • Don’t overly justify partner’s choice.
  • Stay focused on one activity and relish in it or else you’ll end up repeating actions.
  • Match partner’s emotion in scene.
  • Don’t be presentational. Raise the emotional stakes!
  • Don’t lose track of main idea of scene.
  • Sister/lover label is too much to overcome as an audience member.

– INTERMEDIATE EMOTIONAL LETTER EXERCISE

  • Establish who/what/where off the bat. You have only 3 minutes to get out all the important establishing information about the scene.
  • Say things in context of character. Don’t say things your character wouldn’t say.
  • EMOTION + LABEL
  • When you mention something specific, have a specific reason why that choice and no other choice. Why that choice?
  • Sensing how people say things (idiosyncrasies) in improv can be worked into a character.

These cryptic descriptions probably mean more to me than to you, but I found them significant enough to write down, so here they are. Nine classes down, and three more to go. I can’t believe my first class at The Groundlings School is almost over!

– Angelie

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

We spent the first half of class doing an exercise meant to help let us let go of the need to be perfect and prepared when it comes to initiating a scene. Our class formed a circle on stage, and we went around the circle by having each person loosen up either verbally or physically and then organically coming up with either an organic word, organic space work or an organic character. Notes I received on this exercise included play characters that are your own gender and have a “blank” brain when initiating anything on stage. Avoid pre-planning. I really enjoyed this activity because it took away the pressure of having to say the “right” thing when initiating dialogue, space work or a character.

After the break, we began a four-person exercise that involved three separate scenes on stage. I was one of the first four people to try this exercise, only to crash and burn. Our instructor was frustrated with us, especially me for not asking questions when I didn’t fully understand the exercise. Honestly, I felt embarrassed for screwing up, but I tried to bounce back by trying the exercise again in the last run, and I did okay. The following were the notes given in class:

  • One character leaves scene with same emotion, but makes sure next scene is unrelated.
  • More emotional commitment.
  • Each person is adding something by entering new scene.
  • Make sure to understand directions before we begin. Ask questions. Don’t waste time by being confused.
  • Jumping up and down to express happiness is not believable.
  • Only emotions transfer scene to scene.
  • Have a better and specific reason for leaving scene.
  • No racial stereotypes.
  • Fan the flames your partner’s emotions!
  • Find organic and realistic ways to fan partner’s emotion.

I felt a little bummed after class, but I got a confidence boost by attending a presentation at Groundlings on the following Tuesday called “Good Girls Aren’t Funny” by Holly Mandel, which basically addressed biological and historical reasons as to why women in comedy tend to hold back or react passively in improv performances. It was empowering, enlightening and motivating, and I highly recommend it to all female improvisers.

I wanted to change up how I blog here on WordPress, so I leave you with a short and sweet vlog that I shot the day of this class. Enjoy!

– Angelie

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