Monday, 30 January 2012

Mask Workshop Notes

Two blogs in one day, this has never happened before. 

We did some full Mask work a couple of Saturdays ago at The Bedford. I was using full face masks from Trestle Theatre company. They're really excellent actually, I'd recommend buying some if you want a set to play with. 

I teach Mask a little different from how it's written in Keith Johnstone's book, probably because I'm using silent full face Masks rather than the talking half masks. 

So here's steps I take, largely influenced by things I learnt from Kevin Tomlinson:

1. Get an improviser up in front of the audience. 
2. Get them just standing relaxed in front of the audience. Make sure the class has an expectant hush with focus on the stage. 
3. Select a Mask for them. Don't show them the front of the Mask. 
4. Improviser stands on back wall with back to audience, both hands on the wall. 
5. Put the Mask on them, don't show them what it looks like, don't let them look in the mirror. 
6. Retreat in line with audience, leaving improviser with back to them. 
7. Mask removes one hand from wall, turns to look at audience. Return.
8. Repeat with other hand. 
9. When ready Mask turns fully around and walks into space. Ask them to look at the audience, the whole of it and also one by one. 
10. The improviser doesn't deliberately do anything at first, they just turn round as themselves and then look at the audience. They go with the audience, and also with how they feel. If the audience make them feel warm, they are warm. 
11. Ask them questions (they can't talk, so they answer with movement). Also sometimes give them props (Masks love objects). Whatever they do they need to keep clocking and checking in with the audience, it's when we see their face that they become alive. 

Some people playing the Mask were surprised that they could tell what Mask they were playing without actually seeing it, just from the reaction of the audience and the feelings it produced in them.

At first though some of the others weren't getting anything from the Mask, and felt they were faking it. This brought to light an interesting block that  is perhaps summed up by this real conversation:

"I was frustrated, I felt like I was faking it."
"What were you frustrated with?" 
"I was frustrated that I wasn't getting an emotions from the audience."
"The audience were giving you frustration."
"Oh, so I should play frustration?"
"You don't have to play it, just be it. If you're frustrated, be frustrated. If the audience are pissing you off, be pissed off with them. There doesn't have to be a gap between what you actually feel and what the Mask should feel."

Funny enough the Mask in question for this conversation is known to be a bit of a bastard, so playing it frustrated and pissed off with the audience would have been perfect and lots of fun. 

Later on we moved on to multiple Masks on stage, with them interacting in set scenarios or around props. An important step in this became the use of focus and checking in with the audience. At first I had to shout from the back where the focus was, and eventually the actors intuitively understood where the focus was. 

The beauty of Masks is that they give focus very clearly. If all the Masks look in one direction at one thing on stage the audience will tend to also look there. We also experimented with passing around focus to different Masks, and we found that having them look direct at audience as they got passed focus was very effective. 

Also constant clocking and checking in with the audience was essential, as this is when we get to see what the Mask is feeling and when it comes alive. 

When clocking they seem to take the steps of:

I'm about to do something/interact with someone
Hey look I'm doing something/interacting
This is what I feel about the thing I'm doing/interacting
I've done something/interacted
This is what I feel about the thing I've done/the other person

Next step I'm going to buy a load of half masks, or make some, as there's loads more I want to try. 

Lots of love,


Improv classes and shows

New short-form games from last Saturday's workshop

Saturday was lots of fun, thanks for everyone who came along. I had a really fun group of brave improvisers who seemed up for anything, which enabled the group to try out some new things and experiment. 

It's really gratifying as a director to be able to say "I've got this idea, I've never seen it work, I don't think it's actually possible, can I have two volunteers?" and then have five people simultanously jump up. 

So we took the approach of:

1. Do a game. 
2. Learn the current way of doing it. 
3. Do it some more. 
4. Spot the things that people do 'accidentally' around the game. 
5. Build a new game around those accidents. 
6. Learn the new game.
7. Play it more. 

This produced the following gems, which as far as I know are whole new games:

Mass Word at a Time

When we did the original word at a time stories with three people we found that sometimes they got the order muddled up. So instead of treating this as a mistake we decided to make it a point, that it's word at a time but at any point any actor can say any word. 

This soon lead to 9 actors on stage at once, all playing one big fluid scene but where it was still word at a time. Any actor can then provide the dialogue from any other actor. Narration and dialogue is spread among the group. 

I then encouraged movement with the direction "be a bit like the old fashioned black and white cartoons with the bounce" and it released a fluidity in the group. 

Characters would pop up and suddenly they'd have three actors around them mirroring movement and all speaking word at a time, with another group being another character, while another was a tortoise on the floor. 

It turned out to be an exceptionally good group mind workshop. All dialogue and narrative and character and movement is shared across the entire group at all times. It was also exhilarating to be in. So much so that I had to abandon teaching and jump in with them, yelling "this is fun!"

Surprise Entrance

I can't even remember how this comes about. I think it was just a casual mention that if you have an environment of support and trust where offer is accepted, incorporated, justified and built upon, you can enter a scene without fear. Also it was a training in people reacting to someone new entering. improviser leaves the room so they can't hear the suggestion or see or hear the scene, they count to 45 seconds. Meanwhile two improvisers in the room start a scene as ordinarily and boring as possible, based on a suggestion from the director. Suddenly the outside improviser burst in with a strong character, and delivers a strong offer before they've even seen what's happening. Everyone then carries on improvising, incorporating and being changed by this. 

What was weird was how often these blind offers actually made sense to the scene, and rather than being a spanner in the works proved to be really helpful.

For instance two characters were playing at a casino, discussing cheating and generally talking about money. Suddenly an improviser burst in, with no idea what had been going on, and shouted 'it's a stick up' while holding two guns. 

If the improvisers on stage accepted and built on the offer, as if it made perfect sense, then the scene took off. 

New Choice Yourself / New Choice the other person

New Choice is a really well known short-form game, and a really fun one to play. Actors play out a scene but at any point the director can shout out New Choice and they have to repeat what they just said but change something.

We adapted this to then be 'New Choice Yourself', where the actors play out a scene but any point can shout out New Choice on their own lines. It was especially fun when they were encouraged to shout multiple New Choices, and to shout New Choice before they knew what they were about to say. It was quite effective at getting improvisers to push themselves into the unknown. 

The next adaption was 'New Choice The Other Actor', where two actors play a scene but they can call New Choice on the other actor. This was done by two people who knew each other quite well so it was done in a really positive playful manner, and produced a giggling fit in them.

Simultaneous Dubbing

In this game two actors are on stage mouthing the words of a scene while two off stage actors provide their words, simultaneously matching their mouth movements. Nobody is leading - if someone opens their mouth, someone else must make their voice, and if their is a voice, then the corresponding actor must open their mouth. 

I've seen this as a short-form game before but never gone into depth before, and found it a fascinating game to play. 

We separated into pairs to practice simultaneous dubbing, to see how in synch we could be with each other. It turns out to be the ultimate listening a seeing exercise, a really core impro technique. 

Repeated First Line

I've been playing with this in the pub with a lovely chap called Rob. We think it's hilarious but whenever we do it in front of a workshop audience it bombs, which makes us like it more!

Two improvisers start a scene, but whatever the first lines are have to be the only lines of the scene. They can use each others lines, chop up words, change emotion, play actions, but they are limited on the words. 

At first they seemed stale and stuck, but we played and played and played and eventually they became really fun. With the words limited the improvisers started to release other things - changing emotions, physical play, relationships, story. 

Also it had the great side effect that it makes a whole scene/story based entirely on the first two offers that come along, which is really good practice. Also it's slightly Meisner Technique in style with its release of emotion. 

See you soon,


Improv workshops every Monday, Thursday and Saturday in London
More improv classes around the UK
Improv shows every Tuesday and Wednesday at The Miller in London Bridge.



Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Character Exercises to Play With

Hi everyone, these popped out of last Saturday's workshop.

Some of them were originally learnt from Katy Schutte, from The Mayday's, Music Box and Katy & Rach, so many thanks Katy. She's teaching some workshops in London soon with The Maydays.

I go into characters in various depths, but this time round it was mainly introducing a number of 'tools' to play with. I like to look at character exercises as bits of lego, that you can use however you want in shows to generate a character on the spot.

Also I'm keen to encourgae people to play with character. You don't have to wait until a director or teacher or other improviser tells you to do a character, just play with one anyway. This is really fun to watch, when people take a character on stage for no reason, and actually really giving as it gives the other improvisers and audience something to play with.

Stacking/Physically lead character

All stand in a circle. Change something physical about yourself. Anything at all, for instance maybe one arm is more relaxed, or you're slightly slanted, or one finger is straighter than the rest. Walk across the circle to a new place in the circle. Relax. Take a new physical position, and repeat.

You don't have to deliberately do anything, just feel how the physical change has altered you. On the first round do this in silence.

Then repeat, but this time allow sounds to come out, any sound. Don't think about the sound, but just let it come out.

Repeat again but this time the characters can interact as they cross. Also encourage people to try different styles of movement. If they go fast, they can go slow. If they are snappy, they are smooth. If they are big, be subtle. This is a little bit like fast-food Laban. Just experiment with how you move and how it affects how you feel.

Then repeat and now people can talk as they cross the circle, just whatever is on their mind. Encourage them to have obsessions. It doesn't matter what they say.

Changing the body can change how people feel which can change what people say which produces a character instantly on many different levels. I've found this in real life recently, since I've started doing Alexander Technique classes it's made me moody straight away afterwards!


Two characters enter a scene at the height of an emotion. They don't have to know why they are feeling it yet, just feel it at it's height, they can find out and justify why later.

Great emotions to start with are Happy, Sad, Fearful, Angry as they are really core emotions.

Funny enough it doesn't seem to matter what emotions people pick or what combinations come in, it always produces something. So there's no such thing as a 'right' emotion for a scene, just coming in with one supercharges the scene and is very giving to the other actor.


Two actors come in playing a character from a specific genre, without making the scene that genre. I've found it's good to get actors to pick a specific character from the genre, and also keep reminding them that they can use it more subtly and not to make the scene that genre.

For instance the location could be a boardroom, and the actor could come in using the genre of 'French 18th century romantic poet' and it would generate an interesting character to have in that location. It's not as if the character is actually from the 18th century and wearing a frilly shirt, it's more that this modern day businessman is from France and happens to be more romantic.

Bad Impressions

Two actors come in to a scene doing a bad impression of someone famous, without revealing who or making the scene about this person. For example you could end up being 18% Kermit the Frog while playing the Prime Minister.

It's important to note that all these techniques are only really for the first inital impulse of getting on stage, to give inspiration, and then once you start you are in the scene and should be yes anding as normal. For instance even though you come in as Kermit the Frog, if you get endowed as Prime Minister then be Prime Minister, but keep some of Kermie.

Lots of love,


Improv Classes and Shows

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Long Form / Tall Tales Workshop Notes

Long-form, long-blog.

Last Saturday's workshop was awesome. One of those sessions where impro gets described as 'magical'.

The session was on long-form techniques, but was called Tall Tales for some reason. I think because I don't like the term long-form. I like long-form, I just don't like using those words to describe it. 

I can't remember who said it in one book, but impro seems to be the only art-form that is split by how 'long' it is. You don't get long-paintings, small-paintings. Composers don't decide whether to only make short music or long music. 

But more than that I've found that 'long-form' has become a 'thing' over the years. And something becomes a 'thing' then there becomes a right and wrong way to do that thing, and before you know it there are rules on something that was never meant to have rules. 

Furthermore long-form has become something that people have passionate opinions about, and before you know it there is less mindless play and more opinions on stage about what's being done wrong. But that's just my opinion. 

So it was called Tall Tales, and the idea was to use long-form techniques but as if they've never been taught before and with a view to change and experiment with them and come up with something new. Not holding up techniques and methods on a pedestal to achieve, more using them as toys to fuck around with. Ridiculously over-ambitious thing for a drop-in workshop in one day with a bunch of people who don't know each other!

Looking back at the history of Chicago improv with Del Close and all it seems it was a time of vibrant experimentation and constant change, adapting to the ever evolving venues, improvisers and audience. I really don't think that when Del Close invented The Harold that it was supposed to be set in stone, it was more of a transient manifestation of the great man's colourful and varied life at that moment.

So on with workshop notes, I won't put them all down but here's what I found helpful:

- Chat at the start to set the scene. I find constantly re-enforcing an environment of safety, trust and support is essential. John Cremer's excellent book Improv talks about this extensively, thanks John!

- Reinforcing that this is a workshop where you will be constantly falling on your bum and getting back up again. I meant this metaphorically, but about 5 minutes later a chair broke and someone did actually fall on their bum, to a huge applause. Their bum was alright. 

General warm ups. Word at a time in partners and What happens next in partners.

Three line scenes. I always do a couple of run-throughs without any direction or feedback, and with lots of wild applause from audience. Sometimes the first run-through will be really blocky, but that's fine and people spot it and correct themselves and warm up. 

More three line scenes. This time the 2nd and 3rd line have to start with the person saying a positive "yes and" and then adding to the previous offer. I don't continue the workshop until everyone is able to do this, it takes quite a few attempts. As a director it's easy to direct, either people are saying "yes and" or they aren't, so just keep re-doing them until they do. 

More three line scenes. First line names the other person, second line names the other person back, third line names where people are. It gets people used to putting in a platform together quickly, and also endowing. Again I don't move on until everyone has got it. 

First Scene Krypton Factor. 

This is a whole new exercise I think (wooo!). The Krypton Factor was a fiendishly difficult game show in the late 1980s and one of the many rounds was where the contestants were shown a film, and were then asked difficult questions about the film to test their observation and listening ("there was a fruit bowl behind the first character, how many satsumas were in the bowl?").

I've found before from doing either long-form or narrative shows, including one I'm rehearsing at the moment, that when the other scenes have come out of the first scene in some way (be that narrative, characters, game, patterns, emotions) it's really rewarding. But you sometimes end up in shows where people are stuck, they don't know what scene to do next, even though quite often the scene beforehand had given them so much information and things to play with. All I could think of is that people off-stage were thinking and planning what to do, instead of just picking up on the obvious cues from the scene that was actually happening on stage. So I made it an aim of the day for people to realise how much there was already on stage for them to play with and expand. 

So the Krypton-Factor game. Two people went on stage, and were given the instructions to play a scene as ordinary and normal as possible, in fact they were to attempt to bore the audience. They were given the set-up of a married couple getting sandwiches ready for a picnic. They embarked on the scene and it probably helped the whole day that it turned out to be AWESOME! They did indeed play it straight but found themselves coming up with magical stuff in the moment, including mention of other characters, locations and more. Furthermore as they were relaxed they didn't miss a single offer. 

The second it was finished I asked the workshop audience a barrage of questions:

- What was the name of the character they mentioned?
- Where was the holiday home?
- What's in the sandwiches?
- How many fridges have they got?
- What are these people like?
- How does she treat him?
- What else have you noticed?

As it was a challenge, the audience had engaged completely and actively with the scene and were passionate about their opinions on the characters. 

I then discussed things that could be expanded from the scene into other scenes:

- Events that had been mentioned that hadn't happened yet (a picnic, a visit to a holiday home). 
- Characters that have been mentioned that haven't been seen yet (kids, other couples). 
- Games that are being played that could be exaggerated (class battles over numbers of fridges, people, things kids do to food when they aren't looking)
- Relationships that could be investigated
- Taking people out of context (husband at work being treated same way by secretary)
- Taking games out of context (scenes about class, high status people being low status around trivial things)
- Different points of view (other couples also getting ready for picnic and talking about them)

There was loads. Immediately there were so many scene ideas, that to play them all would have taken about two hours. And all that from one scene that lasted only 2 minutes. There's so much information in them that we miss, just in the first scene, let along everything else. 

We then continued with everyone doing it in small groups of 5 simultaneously. Two people perform a straight scene, I honk a honker, the audience tell them what they saw, and then they go again. We did this continuously for quite a while, until the group had a great ability to both improvise naturally on stage and listen and observe from off stage. 

Next Scenes

We carried on the same as above, but this time when I honked the hooter there was no discussion and instead the two on stage immediately sat down and another two jumped up and improvised a scene of the back of it. 

Now the group was listening they had no problem setting up the next scene. Sometimes the scenes would be natural narrative flow scenes, sometimes we'd see something inspired by character, sometimes game. 

We were still doing this simultaneously as groups of five around the room.  The lack of outside observer or judgement seemed to open them up. The emphasis was on play. Play play play PLAY!

The next step was I kept honking the hooter so there were now multiple scenes following the first scene. The instructions were pretty vague ("you can put back in old characters and things if you want to") but the group really got it. 

There was a beautiful bunch of scenes:

Scene 1 - a couple of technicians are getting the space shuttle ready for take-off. They flip switches and knobs. One casually mentions as an aside that his watch had stopped working. The shuttle takes off. 

Scene 2 - A dodgy watch salesman is selling dodgy goods. The watches have tracking devices.

Scene 3 - The shuttle commander's daughter runs into mission control in a panic, she warns him over the intercom that his watch is going to explode and asks him to throw it out of the window. 

All the watch scenes came out of a single throwaway line in the first scene, it was rewarding to see the improvisers pick up on it and make something of it.


The natural next step was rather than me just cutting scenes at random, the groups could edit their own scenes. 

So I introduced to them the well-known impro technique of the sweep edit, where someone runs across the front of the stage and the actors on stage get off so the next scene can start. 

When we first did this the actors on stage didn't notice the person editing, because the running across the front wasn't clear enough. So I asked the editor to make it clearer. The next time they edited they ran like a Victorian gentleman and tipped their top hat at the audience as they went. This was really fun and it was really obvious. 

So for the rest of the day Victorian sweep edits were the thing! These were great as they made everyone have fun and not take it too seriously, which it isn't. 

I also got them to be braver with edits by pointing out that if you edit too early you can always go back to another scene. 

So we continued with the multiple scenes in groups, but this time with the Victorian sweep edits in action and the groups editing scenes right away. 

I kept reminding them to be strong and obvious with their initiations at the start of the scene, and to spot various things like story, character, game, events that haven't happened yet etc. 

Swarm Edits

Next step is the swarm edit, which is similar to the sweep edit but this time someone comes on with a sound and movement influenced by the scene and then everyone else jumps up and joins in including the actors on stage so that everyone swarms off stage as one. 

I also added that if you're not sure if someone is initiating a swarm edit or not, just be brave and make it a swarm edit anyway. 

This also lead to one of the best edits I've ever seen - the eject edit, where one of the improvisers pressed an eject button at the front of the stage and the actors immediately exited as if the DVD had been ejected. 

Again once these were added we played played played played with these in groups doing multiple scenes together.

Tag Outs

When a scene is going on someone can come up and tag out characters by tapping them on the shoulder. They leave, and the new actor does a scene with the remaining characters. We can use it to see a character in a different part of the life, flash backs etc, and the actors tapped out can always tap back in again. 

A couple of questions that popped up were "can I tap myself back in again?" "can I tap myself out again if I wanted to just do quick flashback?". 

The answer to all these questions was yes. 

Basically if you have an impulse to do something, do it, especially when you're learning. 

Putting on Stage

I had people doing it in their own groups for a lot longer than normal. In fact they must have been improvising together non-stop for a couple of hours or so. 

Only at the end did we put them on stage in front of people. 

Three groups, and some of the best impro I've ever seen! We still started with a simple normal scene at the start based on a location, and from that all manner of characters, patterns and stories emerged. I think I'm going to make it one of our new shows next season. 

They were doing stuff I hadn't seen before, using long-form techniques but more importantly making them their own in the moment. It was fluid, fast and fun. 

See you soon,


Improv Classes and Shows

Monday, 16 January 2012

Improv books we can recommend

We were chatting in the pub after a rehearsal of our new show (Imagine If You Will) and found that half the cast read loads of impro books, and half didn't read any, with nobody really in the middle. 

Obviously the best way to learn impro is just to do it, but in the gaps in-between (especially on the tube) I find it helpful to read about it too. I think especially if you're running workshops or directing shows, you can always find a little nugget to use.

I also had a few people at workshops asking me about books, so thought I'd put together a list. There are loads more, but these are some that I've either read or had recommended. 

Impro Books

Impro by Keith Johnstone: excellent book that goes beyond impro and into life, education and creativity in general. It's written more in an essay form so it's harder to extract exact exercises, but it's a great fundamental book. 

Impro for Storytellers by Keith Johnstone: well structured with clear exercises and points that are very practical for performing groups or running impro workshops. 

Improvise by Mick Napier: kinda flips everything on it's head, which is refreshing. People who've been improvising for a while love this book.

Improv by John Cremer: I'm re-reading this at the moment and it's excellent, especially the sections on setting up the right environment of safety, support and trust for a workshop. 

Truth in Comedy by Charna Halpern, Del Close, Kim Johnson: One of the favourite long-form books by long-form master Del Close.

Improvisation for Theatre by Viola Spolin: Written around the same time as Keith Johnstone's early work, it's great to read both as they sometimes come from different directions. Lots of great exercises too for workshops. 

Genius Now by Alan Marriott: I haven't read this yet but Alan founded the Crunchy Frog Collective and inspired loads of improvisers in the UK, pretty much kick-starting the UK impro scene. He's now in Vancouver.

The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White: I haven't read this yet but I've heard it's a really practical guide and really useful for performing groups. Tom and Deborah founded The Spontaneity Shop.

The Art of Chicago Improv by Rob Kozlowski: Not so much a learn improv book, more a history of improv book which is useful if you want to see how the Chicago improv scene grew. I read it and then apply it to stuff we do here.

Why is that so Funny? by John Wright: Refreshingly different angle on things. Various topics including impro, clowning, mask, buffoon and more. Lots of clearly described exercises too which are great for workshops.

Additional books, not improv as such but still helpful

Sanford Meisner on Acting by Dennis Longwell: I think Meisner is a really good skill for improv, so if you want an outside point of view this is a good one.

Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler: Great narrative book. Remember it's not the narrative structure, it's just a narrative structure.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell: The original book that Christopher Vogler based his book on. Harder to follow, but goes into greater depth. George Lucas was using this when he put together the orginal Star Wars. Fuck knows what he was reading when he put together the Prequels, go onto YouTube and type in 'Star Wars Red Letter Media' to find out what's wrong with those. 

Commedia dell'Arte by John Rudlin: Best commedia book I've read and the most practical, with hints on how to play each character.

Presence by Patsy Rodenburg: Some impro warm ups seem to come from this.

Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal: Various fun exercises.

The Empty Space by Peter Brook: Great theatre theory book. The Friday Night Hoopla Impro party came out of reading the chapter on 'Rough Theatre' and is actually deliberately set up to be that way.

Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television by Jerry Mander: Apparently one of the late Ken Campbell's favourite books. Makes you hate television.

Self-Reliance and Other Essays by Ralph Waldo Emmerson: Another Ken Campbell recommendation.

So You Want To Be A Theatre Producer? by James Seabright: So much useful and generous information from the producer of Showstopper and other shows.

Improv Classes and Shows

Friday, 13 January 2012

Yes And, new ways to play the exercise

I love the Yes And exercise. It's such a core part of impro that I never regret doing it in a workshop and it's great to always go back to as an exercise with a performing team. 

Yes And is at the heart of impro - I'm going to be on stage, listen and see the other person, accept what they are doing (Yes) AND add a detail/offer back to them. Two people Yes Anding is captivating to watch. Going line by line is great to go back to and is impro in it's purest form - don't worry where you are going, just pick up on what actually just happened, what the other person is actually doing, and add to that. It can take a while to get people to actually deal with what actually just got said, rather than what they think should have been said or where the scene should have been going. 

Yes Anding has loads of positive outcomes - it generates content and the scene, it takes the pressure of the individual and puts the point of attention on the other person. But it's also deeper than that, as it creates a warm and supportive atmosphere. An improviser freezes up when they are fearful of being judged. So when we Yes And another improviser not only do we help the scene, but we give them confidence and support as their ideas are accepted and built upon. 

In its original form the game of Yes Works by having two improvisers on stage, one starts with any offer (simple and obvious/boring is good) and then after that every line has to star with Yes And. For instance:

A: We're in a pub.
B: Yes And there's a beer pump.
A: Yes And let's get some beer. 
B: Yes And here we go, have a pint.
A: Yes And thanks, down in one!
B: Yes And wow that feels good!
A: Yes And yeah I feel amazing!
B: Yes And let's sing about how amazing we're feeling
It looks simple but on the first round it can be really tricky. Funny enough people will think they are playing it but quite often they'll stop saying Yes And after the first line. Other responses to look out for as a teacher are...

Yes And?
Yes And No
Yes And But
Yes But
Yes No

The gaps we put in are thinking spaces we are using to judge/edit our own ideas, rather than having a spontaneous response. 

So next round I get people to concentrate on just saying 'Yes And' quickly, cheerfully and enthusiastically right at the start, and not worry about what they are saying. Yes Anding first, thinking and justifying later. This can take quite a while with people. Don't worry if it generates crazy scenes, on this round it's more an exercise on listening and getting out of your head than on scene work. It seems really simple as an instruction 'just say yes and at the start' but if you listen as a teacher you'll see it's actually quite rare for someone to be able to do it straight away, so work on it and encourage it. 

After that we also did a more fluid Yes And exercises. The one above is more frenetic in energy, which can be good to get people out of their heads, so this one is more fluid. The core idea being that just because you are playing a more gentle energy doesn't mean the rate of yes anding is slowed down. So in this version the actors literally sway like a little happy dance through the scene, and have big warm grins. Encourage them to feel the flow of energy as they fully receive an offer, add to it, and send an offer back in once constant dance. I got them doing a rhythmic clapping game beforehand as this seemed to help. I'd also like to try this where a ball is consistently thrown from one to the other in time with the offers, to keep the rhythm and flow. 

Next one is Physical Yes And, which seems to be a whole new exercise, or at least I haven't heard of it before. Yes And can usually be a bit verbal, so we did one in near silence. First offer is someone saying the Where/Location of the scene, and after that they still say 'Yes And' but then do a physical offer that adds to the last offer without saying anything. For instance:

A: We're in a pub.
B: Yes And starts pouring a beer from beer pump, puts glass on bar. 
A: Yes And picks up beer, hands over money
B: Yes And accepts money, puts it in till, gives back change
A: Yes And accepts change, has a sip, happens to look over B's shoulder
B: Yes And looks behind him, points
A: Yes And points to same thing, gasps
B: Yes And gasps
A: Yes And looks terrified
B: Yes And gets dun down from behind bar, points it at intruder.

Actually saying Yes And out loud before the physical action made it easier to really recognise each person's physical offers in the scene, and moved scenes quickly forward. 

Lots of love,



Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Happy and Excited.

It's 4:43am and I'm still awake from the Hoopla Impro Party/Impro Jam. It made me happy and excited, and made me laugh lots. I loved it, proper love. 

Which got me thinking...

When performing it's probably best to pursue the things that make you happy and excited, 'cos if you don't feel happy and excited, then why the hell should the audience feel happy and excited? So either way you're not going to go very far without feeling happy and excited about things. 

I'm currently planning all my to-dos on a massive notice board I have in my sitting room. One of the pieces of A4 is a meticulously planned career plan into stand-up comedy including a sequence of stand up comedy competitions, Edinburgh and awards. 

I'm ripping it up. The piece of paper doesn't make me happy or excited. In fact it makes me feel bored and bored and fake. 

I am going to at some point though do another show at The Miller involving no plan, a drum kit, and some cream cakes - that makes me happy and excited.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Random things learnt from new shows in development

Hello all,

New Year has been really busy so far. Mainly because I'm now directing or producing a bunch of new shows, including Imagine If You Will (narrative impro inspired by The Hero's Journey), Arthur (new short-form) and Zorbo Ironheart (youtube sketch show). 

Lots of random things being learned rapidly at the moment, in fact so much so that I haven't grouped them into any particular overall theme or anything. A lot of it has accidentally ended up sounding like management speak. So instead here's some things that I've learned recently that may be helpful if you're forming groups:

A team is a group of people working together for a common goal for which they share accountability. So you need everyone in the same place (the group), and you need to know what shared thing you are working towards (common goal) and then need to constantly track progress. So you need to constantly check in with he group, define the goal, and find out how everyone is doing. 

The goal of 'we don't know what we want to do, we just want to play and find something' is still a goal, and a good one.
Stages of putting together a show:

Define – Rehearse – Perform – Learn – Adapt – Define – Rehearse – Perform - Repeat

I've found it essential to have an enforced 1 minute uninterrupted chat at start and end of each rehearsal, with everyone in the group having 1 minute to say anything at all - hopes, dreams, fears, concerns, likes, loves, improvements. Doing it right from the start and every time you are together keeps things out in the open and stops problems building up in secret.
Don’t give feedback or direction to actors unless they have a chance to act on it straight away. Actors learn through doing. For the same reason I tend to repeat each exercise with people in workshops, so they can get feedback but actually do something about it.

Imagine If You Will - Fluid changing of scenes can be achieved with the hero walking off one side of the stage to go forward into his story, and the other side to return to a previous bit of story. The other actors should be on stage already to give the hero something to walk into - they can be characters, props, anything. 

Imagine If You Will - Experienced improvisers will learn more from just repeatedly doing the show over and over again than they will from me trying to teach them something. Do the show in rehearsal, honestly chat about what was working well for you all. Don't accidentally discuss content ("when you opened the door in the first scene and saw it was the antarctic, I thought it would have been better if it was the Grand Canyon because I was planning to come on as a cowboy"), just deal with what's actually on stage and technique, impro basics. 

Imagine If You Will – We added the step 'flash to bad guy' to the hero's journey structure, so that the audience can see the special world and what threatens the hero. We also added the step 're-state want and dream clearly' just before the innermost cave, so that we remember why it's actually important to the hero.

Imagine If You Will - To improvise the hero's journey it's really objective driven, you're either helping or stopping the hero on their journey. 

Imagine If You Will - Just do something and work out the story later. We're all adding to the story offer by offer, so just do something.

Zorbo Ironheart - open chat is essential.

Zorbo Ironheart - Sketches shoudl keep to the thread, one simple game.

Zorbo Ironheart  - constant process of explorer, artist, judge, warrior.

Zorbo Ironheart  - having a closed cast facebook group has been highly effective at coming up with lots of ideas. Any of the cast can go on it at any time, add an idea, and others can then comment and add to it. It means we have a massive ongoing brainstorm session going on, rather than having to wait until set rehearsal times. 

Zorbo Ironheart - Put in a passenger/straight guy to react to anything that's weird. 

Zorbo Ironheart - Sketches can have couple of simple beats at the start, establishing reality.

Zorbo Ironheart - Whenever I personally start something new (acting, stand-up, sketch) at first I end up reinventing the wheel, and then it always goes back to impro basics. 

Arthur – it’s great working with actors who are willing to jump up and try new games and exercises, have them not work, try them again, and then jump again. It gives the director permission to introduce new things.

More to follow,


Thursday, 5 January 2012

You know you're an improviser when...

You’ve done a rehearsal in someone’s living room. 

You’ve performed in a dusty cold room above a pub to an audience of 3, 2 of which left in the interval. 

You’ve slept in a room with 4 other people in Edinburgh. 

Edgar has forgotten your name at least 8 times, even though you’ve known him for two years. 

You watch films and think ‘that would be a good improv scene’.

Something weird happens to you and you think ‘that would be a good scene’.

You do anything at all and you think ‘that would be a good scene’.

Your non-impro friends refer to impro as ‘that thing’, as in ‘we came to see you in that thing a year ago, do you still do it?’

You tried to learn lines for a play/film once and it annoyed you.

You’ve found yourself saying ‘that’s not how you do a Harold’.

You’ve corrected someone for saying impro or improv.

You’ve typed ‘Chicago improv summer school’ into google.

You know what the Crunchy Frog Collective is, and where the name comes from.

You’ve compiled a list of famous people and films that were born out of impro, and use this list to justify the large amount of time you spend doing impro.

When someone blocks you in real life you feel smug because you know what they're doing, like a God of imagination

You’ve watched the Robin Williams episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway on YouTube.

You’ve found yourself discussing minor points of impro techniques, and life in general, at midnight in a McDonalds after a show.

Everything you do in your spare time seems to be based in a room above a pub.

Your Amazon wish list is made up of obscure improv and drama books.

You see stand-ups on TV and think "if I had been doing stand-up rather than so much impro, I'd be there by now".

Improvisation My Dear Mark Watson made you cry. Everything about it, the title, the producer, even the fucking font. And you actually liked Mark Watson too, how dare they do that to them.

You've been dancing in the Arts Club bar until 4am on a tuesday night.

You always order number 26 at The Miller.

You meet someone new on facebook and find you've already got 46 friends in common.

You watch League of Gentleman and think 'I could improvise that'.

You've made Edinburgh plans in a pub with someone you've known for 5 minutes.

The first time you ever met someone was on stage where you played a goblin, they played a troll, and it ended with a kiss.

Your group has spent 60 quid on food and drink in a pub in order to get the room for free, rather than spend 50 quid renting a proper rehearsal room somewhere else. 
You know the name of the bloke with the beard at The Rag Factory. 

Improv Classes and Shows - now fully operational in 2012.