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

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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: 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

How I Ended Up Doing Improv and How It Has Impacted and “Improv-ed” My Life

"Improv-ing" together!

“Improv-ing” together!

I just had to use an unfunny pun in the title. I couldn’t resist.

The first official improv class I took was back when I was 18, taught by the director of a local improv troupe called The Originals. I had done improv exercises a handful of times in high school drama classes, but they were never classes fully devoted to the art of improvisation. It wasn’t until talking with people way after high school that I learned many high schools actually offer improv as a class. Had my high school offered it during my stint at North High, I would have taken it. Anyway, a lack of improv experience and the desire to become a better actress were reasons why I decided to take my first improv class right after my high school career.

As a teenager, I always had acting/singing/entertainment industry ambitions. I first showed interest in anything entertainment industry/comedy-related at 8 watching sketch comedy television shows like All That on Nickelodeon, In Living Color, and of course, Saturday Night Live and Mad TV. I wasn’t the most seasoned or talented entertainer, but I was still a little diva that looked up to the likes of Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys, and Christina Aguilera, and I was hungry to become a singing/dancing/acting triple threat and get my perceived entitled share of the fame pie. I was somewhat naive to the logistics and statistics of showbiz, but that didn’t stop my pursuit. To some outside observers, it may have seemed like unexpected ambitions for a painfully shy, quiet, and socially awkward girl, but I had so much fun doing these activities in my classes and extracurricular activities, and it gave me an excuse to come out of my comfort zone once in awhile. It may have led to a bit of a delusion of grandeur in my head, and my life as an only child only fueled my self-centered, protagonist view of the world, but what I lacked in a social life and reality, I filled with performing arts and fantasy. When I was 13, I was determined to make my showbiz dreams a reality. With much bratty crying and screaming, I finally convinced my mother to let me join this deceptive “talent agency” that had her fork over hundreds of dollars in mediocre acting classes in order to be represented by their agency. After signing a bogus 2-year contract with them, I was never notified of any auditions or given any acting work. In other words, we were duped. I was involved in theatre all four years of high school to make up for this lack of an acting career. I never got my “big break,” and I still haven’t got my big break. It can be hard medicine to swallow when you grow up ignoring “side coaches” telling you acting is not a promising or secure career choice, (and they have proven right thus far), but acting has been and has become a fun hobby of mine that I cannot imagine not having in my life somehow. From being a cast member in a local sketch comedy variety show called First Friday Night Live to making my own sketch comedy YouTube videos to taking improv classes and being a player at both The Torch Theatre and National Comedy Theatre, I’ve been actively still pursuing acting.

So, how did the pursuit of acting lead to comedy? The year just became 2010, I was 21-going-on-22, and I missed being onstage. The year before, I dabbled in stand up comedy for the first time after hearing about and attending the annual NBC Stand Up For Diversity competition in San Diego, CA. One of my new year’s resolutions was to finally take stand up comedy classes at The Comedy Spot and get a little more serious about comedy. Being a mostly serious, moody, and child of angst, I was never considered funny ever growing up. Maybe a couple of my closest friends would actually label me funny since they’re the only ones I’m most comfortable with being absolutely myself. Most people find it hard to believe that confidential and reserved Angelie gets onstage in front of people on a regular basis, and refers to herself in the third person as she writes a blog entry about this self-indulgent lifestyle of hers. For me now, I feel there’s more comfort in risking embarrassment and rejection in front of a bunch of strangers since you’re more likely to never see any of them ever again and face/hear their criticism. However, It didn’t feel that way the first few stand up comedy classes I attended. I remember my heart racing right before my turn to go onstage, and the intense bodily shaking and fear I felt in front of these peers of all ages that I assumed were funnier and more seasoned comics than me. It turned out to be a little more comforting than performing an actual stand up comedy set in front of an audience since you get instant constructive feedback from the experienced instructor and other supportive comics of all levels. However, after submerging myself in stand comedy for a bit, I felt more improv training would help with my stiff and robotic performance skills, so I decided to take another installment of improv classes at the National Comedy Theatre in Mesa, AZ. I took Level 1 and 2 with my long lost elementary/junior high school friend Brian. The following year I started, half-assed, and was dismissed from nursing school, falling into a pretty deep depression about failing and finding my true bliss and purpose in life, and took the third final level at NCT during the summer. I felt bittersweet and torn about making a complete detour from a secure career move yet relieved to have more time for activities I missed and actually enjoyed. I also went back to First Friday Night Live (FFNL), the sketch comedy ensemble I left earlier to make more time for nursing school ironically. I felt my performance skills needed more sprucing up, so again, I decided to invest in more improv classes, this time at The Torch Theatre with the discounted hoilday gift card to myself.

I knew people through FFNL who had taken improv classes at the Torch Theatre, so that’s where I first heard of it and was first prompted to check out their shows back at their old location at Space 55. I wasn’t too fond of the class prices, but after taking a couple of the free introductory improv classes offered by the Torch and seeing the discounted holiday gift card offer, I was finally sold. January 2012 marked the beginning of my gradual addiction to long form improv at The Torch Theatre. Now it is January 2013, and so far at the Torch, I’ve completed Levels 1 through 4, been in 2 lottery (randomly assembled) improv teams, numerous Bingo Jams and Fourth Friday Flash Jams, and met many amazing and talented people I wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise had I not become involved with this theatre.

To make a long story even longer, just how has improv impacted and “improv-ed” my life? (Call back to said unfunny pun.) I could go on in another novel-long tangent, but to keep this more simple and less painstakingly lengthy to read, here’s a list:

1. It has taught me to be more supportive. As any big-headed diva going into improv, I only did it as means of making myself look better on stage in stand up comedy or in any other stage performances, and to build more self-confidence. The bottom line is that I did it all for me. Although all performers naturally prioritize their own self-interests, improv teaches that you look better by making others look better. I didn’t understand this concept fully until I took level 3 at The Torch Theatre during the insightful yet painless individual evaluations in front of the whole class and instructor. I tend to make many of the scenes I’m in all about my character when I should be always striving to make my partners in a scene look better or at least just as important as my character. It’s all about contributing as much as you can to an ensemble whether it be sound effects, playing a prop, or acknowledging an offer made by another player to make EVERYBODY look good and utilized. Just do something, and it shouldn’t always revolve around you. Everyone is important, and it isn’t all about me unfortunately. 😉

2. It has showed me how society and people are structured in the real world. In improv, we’re taught about status, psychology, and relationship, relationship, relationship. Improv is yet another example of art imitating life. The low social status of the nerd and the high social status of the all-star athlete show the ranking systems that exist in any aspect of real life, and how those labels can affect each character/person psychologically. In a long form improv structure we learned in Level 4, we had to introduce 2 characters, remove one of those characters, and then introduce a new character from that remaining character’s past in a new scene. This new scene from the past would explain why the character from the previous scene is presently the way that they are psychologically. As confusing of an explanation as that was, I’m basically trying to say improv allows you to see how psychology shapes a character played on stage and allows us to see these relationships and psychological aspects in the real world, in our own relationships or in people we observe out in public.

3. It has taught me to be a better listener. Going back to the whole “going into improv as a diva” thing, improv gives another reality check by utilizing the importance of listening. A scene cannot move forward if a partner ignores or doesn’t acknowledge their partners offers. For example:

  • “Hey, Sally. I bought this dress for you because I know you wanted it immensely.”
  • “Thanks for the new purse, and I enjoy skiing as well!”

Completely missing, disregarding, and negating your partner’s offers not only kills the continuity of a scene, but also shows how you’re focusing on something else and not listening. I am countlessly guilty of this. I think this is very true for many beginners of improv since you’re so focused on thinking of something clever to say next that you accidentally don’t pay attention to what your scene partner is offering you on stage, and as a self-diagnosed person with adult ADD, I didn’t catch myself doing this until I watched the footage of my lack of listening skills uploaded Vimeo videos in Torch Theatre performances:

  • “Uh uh, that’s my olive oil!”
  • “Girl, if you touch my sprinkles one more time, one more time, something’s about to go down!”

Oops.

4. It has taught me to see the beauty and opportunity in everything. Improv gurus use the mantra: “There are no mistakes in improv. Only happy accidents.” This mindset allows you to see the opportunity and potential in every character, every choice, every space work, and every scene. I have trouble with adding further details on my end of the scene, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not only because I judge and filter any idea that comes to mind that prevents anything from coming out. It’s also because I’m not opening my mind to the possibilities that an offer can become. If I see a partner pantomiming using a shovel, I can label it more than just digging a hole in the dirt. They could be shoveling snow, shoveling coal into a furnace, or scooping a scoop of a Costco-sized barrel of sugar into a giant mixing bowl. The possibilities in offers are endless!

5. It has allowed me to step further out of my comfort zone. If I had stopped taking improv classes altogether in 2011, I would not be in the same mindset as I am today let alone taking the time to type up this freakishly long WordPress entry. I see the world differently, and have a better view of the potential in everything offered, including myself. When you watch seasoned performers making improv magic and gold on stage, it can be intimidating to newbies and an improbable level of skill to reach, but now I see how the time invested in anything can lead to extraordinary results. The steps one takes out of their comfort zone are proportionate to the results they gain, whether it be in audience laughter, comfort on stage, becoming a better person, or self-acceptance. Thank you, Improv. 🙂