What an inspiring week.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a whole week being taught by Charna Halpern, co-founder of IO in Chicago and author of Truth in Comedy.
Many thanks to Rob Wilson for getting IO over here and doing such a great job on organising everything. Many thanks to Jules Munns too for hosting us at The Nursery.
I found Charna to be a really inspirational person. She runs a huge company across the whole of North America, so I was expecting to meet more of a business woman than an improviser. This assumption couldn't be further from the truth. I was amazed at how well connected she was to the actors, the room, and improv in general. She must have had a million things going on with IO moving venues in Chicago, and yet she was totally concentrated on us the whole week. It was beautiful to see someone still so engrossed in their art as if they'd been doing it for the first time.
Charna co-created the Harold and loads of modern improv, and yet she didn't hold anything on a pedestal and was constantly encouraging us to not worry about structure and find our own way. Whatever we wanted to do, do that. There is no 'right' way because everything is constantly changing, even for Charna, and in fact especially for Charna and IO and that attitude is probably what's kept them at the top for so long.
Someone even asked her "what's a Harold?" and without skipping a beat she said "oh don't worry about that".
Here are some of my notes from the course. I haven't written exercises and structures down as that would be too long, so these are more the underlying lessons and tips from around the exercises. Some of them are what Charna said, some are what I thought there and then. If they repeat it's because I thought they were important, and they are written in order as they appeared in the course, as they appeared in my notebook. I’ve cut out the doodles.
Treat each other as poets, artists and geniuses.
Only way to look good is to make the other person look good.
Listen, remember and recycle each other's ideas.
Give and take and connect ideas together.
Notice connections rather than trying to make them.
Order out of chaos.
Don't worry about trying to be funny or making jokes.
Be as honest as possible.
Just be yourself, honest, be as intelligent as you are, don't dumb yourself down.
NO BULLSHIT - HONEST
TELL THE TRUTH. WHATEVER YOU ARE THINKING OF IN LIFE AND ABOUT LIFE - DO THAT.
The smallest offer - tell the truth about what it makes you think.
Use your own ideas about the world and life.
Share your own life in a scene, be yourself.
What's this really about? Break through the bullshit. So what?
TALK TO REAL PEOPLE FROM YOUR LIFE, BE HONEST.
Be honest and true and you don't have to make anything up.
Aim for an emotional situation.
Make an emotional choice.
How does it make you feel?
Agree and go for it straight away.
Overly accept everything.
Yes And the first idea.
Go forward and have fun right away.
Listen and find depth in every line.
Pick up the game/theme/relationship from one line.
See what is hidden in the first lines.
Talk to each other.
Get to each other. React to each other.
You can find the scene in the first four lines if you really listen to each other.
FIND AGREEMENT ASAP + BE POSITIVE, NOT FIGHTING, BE HAPPY.
LET ONE THING LEAD YOU BY LISTENING.
Make it relentlessly about the other person, see them and connect, eyes, touch, space.
Do a real scene - talk to each other normally without having to be inventive or crazy.
Be real and relaxed.
Don't worry about the outer conflict, make it instead about what is going on between you.
Grab onto early lines that reveal all about the scene.
Let these lines hit you and mean something to you.
You're an ensemble. Everyone's working all the time. If you're not in the scene you're still something. Voiceover, props, dancing.
BUILD AN ENSEMBLE
Give objects weight.
You find the scene in the first 3 lines / moves.
Go on stage with the other person and connect to them. Go into it. Go into them.
AGREE ENTHUSIASTICALLY - GREAT IDEA
YES AND SIMPLE IDEAS AT START LIKE FUCK!
YES AND THE FUCK OUT OF EVERYTHING WITH ENTHUSIASTIC ENERGY.
USE YOUR OWN INTELLIGENCE.
GO INTO PEOPLE
Don't pretend you're stupid
Dig into the opening, explore what it makes you think of
Do real scenes, pretend it is a straight acting class. Relationships.
Set up relationships.
Go into that person.
How do you feel?
Remove conflict/fighting from scenes.
Competent people having an emotional exchange.
Dig into it, give it more meaning.
Keep heightening the suggestion in monologs, not going away from it.
Play it straight, use full intelligence. Not to invent, to live.
Be a real person.
We want to say something to the audience.
See it instantly. Make it happen now.
HAVE THE IMPULSE?
HESITATE = LOOSER
PLAY IT STRAIGHT, ESPECIALLY 1st TWO SCENES.
Go on stage to build a relationship, don't panic
Increase emotion, go to depths
Go for it
Initiate something and trust group will make something of it
EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS PART OF THE PIECE
Be physical, have fun.
Effortless, have fun, flow.
GO FOR IT.
Don't wait for permission, it's up to you.
IT'S POLITE TO BE RUDE. GIVE INTO YOUR IMPULSE.
Don't question why, do.
Audience have a lot of fun watching physical things come to life. Don't worry about story, make it happen now.
One person goes, everyone supports.
When they are doing it, build on it.
Fully unblock unleash and express yourself.
PLAY WITH OTHER PERSON.
If you have an impulse you have to act on it.
BIG ENTHUSIASTIC YES AND AGREEMENT.
Attack the stage.
BIG REAL HUMAN EVENTS.
Go on to make it human.
MAKE IT MORE REAL.
LISTEN REMEMBER RECYCLE.
DON'T THINK, DO.
Get to the point straight away.
Be inspired in wonderful ways with each other.
Don't need jokes. Characters, relationships, be yourself.
YOU CAN DO ANYTHING.
Have and instinct and go for it.
AT START, INSPIRATION, SAY YOUR OWN POINT OF VIEW.
BRING LOTS OF YOUR OWN LIFE.
START SCENES WITH YOUR OWN LIFE / POINT OF VIEW.
WHAT LIMITED KNOWLEDGE DO YOU HAVE.
Be yourself on stage.
Truth in comedy.
Nothing funnier than the truth.
Be inspired by everything else.