Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Fine Art of an Improvised Bomb: Class Three


Improv 101
The Third Day of Class

Received our named comp tickets for a Wednesday or Thursday show of our choice.

Learned that the 200 level of the Improv Class would commence in October. Discussed the merits of having the class over two weekends instead of tying up four Saturdays in a row. Also learned that regardless of the calendar composition of the classes, we’d first need to get the grade from the 101 class, an assessment that would decree we could proceed or that perhaps we could use another round of 101 before advancing to the next tier of training.

Warmed up with some Yes, lets! and Zoom! Zip! Screech! And some Word Association Zoom! Before moving into new exercises intended to build a sense of narrative, the five parts of a fictional scene:
  • Environment
  • Characters
  • Problem
  • Raise Stakes
  • Solution

Narrator Game: 2 teams form 2 lines, a person from one side endowing a person from the other side with a name, character description, and story that presented a context, an environment, a problem, a compounding element to that problem, and a solution. The recipient of the narrative adapted and acted, perhaps adding lines of dialogue, to support the narrative, and sometimes help shape the narrative, returning offers for the narrator to pick up on and play with.

I narrated scenes wherein a warlock bough a witch’s gingerbread house in the black forest and then had to contend with pesky kids trying to eat it and an astronaut names Major Tom lost contact with ground control but elected to take a space walk anyway and then had to contend with space flatulence. In space no one can hear you toot.

I had to play a midget Elvis impersonator having his bank heist foiled by an RCMP touring security demonstration presentation and a swaybacked cowboy that rides a 15 foot stead and slings a 15 foot long gun facing off with his 15 gallon hat versus a 15 year old nemesis.

5 Parts of a Story Game: teams of 5, each person have to contribute an aspect of a functional scene. The first person sets the environment, the second names the character or characters, the third describes a problem, the fourth finds a way to elevate / raise the stakes / compound the problem, and the last person provides a solution.

  • A hospital
  • A doctor treating a man
  • Man is having a heart attack
  • Man owns hospital
  • Get man to sign papers before surgery
The thing to avoid with solutions is the dues ex machina approach that brings in divine intervention or otherwise miraculously solves the problem.

  • A hospital
  • A doctor treating a man
  • Man is having a heart attack
  • Man owns hospital
  • God / an alien ascot / Chuck Norris steps in and abolishes heart attacks, the people rejoice

Narrator plus Two Actors Exercise: narrator describes the location, characters, problem, stake raising aspect, and solution while actors play it out. The trick is to keep simple, don’t add too much detail.

  • Enchanted forest
  • A unicorn
  • Unicorn is hungry
  • Must eat every 5 hours or dies
  • Satyr has some apples

As folks returned from lunch learned a bit about the process for folks to go from beginner s to rookies to eventually, if they have what it takes, ultimately get onto the Main Stage and perhaps even get paid to perform before live studio audiences. Most of their performers / actors came from having gotten through the 100, 200, and 300 level classes, as well as the Sunday Night Session Classes to get into the Rookie League. Then it’s a matter of earning your stripes, and putting in your time and getting experience.

Tell a Story One Word at a Time: Start with a sense of a Name and a Noun, say Rosie and Ball, then go around the group with each person adding a word to try to tell a story that establishes a location, something about the character context, a problem, perhaps a raising of stakes, and a solution. The story is emergent and has a tone that is something like the old “See Jane Run. Run Jan run!” stories from when we were kids.

2 Person Scene Building: a pair of actors take the stage and build a scene describing an environment, characters, problem, raised stakes, and resolution. The tips were to physically move around in the scene to better bring the environment to life; take time to think; spell out logic to better establish what you’re doing and why for the audience.

2 Person Word Story: After getting a suggestion for an object and a suggested action from the audience, each person alternately says a word, building between them word by word a narrative that presents a problem and presents a solution. Tips were to speed it up, not to think too much, to say the obvious thing, as audience enjoys the natural tension of the risk factor and there is more drama from the incidental unexpected. The resolution of the day had to be a tie between, “The worms had worms!” and “I kicked the basket in the basket!”

During the writing up of my notes I discovered a great resource as well for more detail and information on a myriad variations of the exercises and games I've described, and oodles more besides at The Improv Encyclopedia

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