Chicago Improv Summer: Level 2


So now that the car burglarization story is behind us, let's get back to sharing my Improv Olympic experience. This week we got a new teacher and moved up to Level 2, which is all about character.

We said goodbye to Teacher Jessica last week and welcomed Teacher Rachael. She's not quite as cuddly, but maybe we've outgrown the cuddly stage. Rachael is sirrus, yall! And we're learning a lot.

Rachael's Rules



We're spending time this week on tools to develop and create characters. What kind of players are we when we do this? Cerebral thinkers or gut instinct folks? The two-man scene is the best way to explore it. Also being given a genre (e.g. Western, Space Adventure) can inform our movements and dialect.

Rachael's teaching style is pretty different from Jessica last week as I hinted at above. She likes to take a lot of time in lecture and Q&A mode in between the games, exercises and scenes. She also lays down a lotta rules that we'll someday have the skill to break with purpose. Here are the five she threw down today:

  1. Agree. Don't Argue. Two characters arguing is not interesting to watch. With agreement, you can build an actual conversation.

  2. If You Don't Know What to Say, DO Something. We are not just talking heads on stage. We can use the space, our bodies and objects in the environment we've built (e.g. ironing, sharpening a blade whilst (shoutout Jessica) saying "I love you")

  3. If You're Not Having Fun, You're the Asshole. Always, always have fun. This rule is about judgement and avoiding it. Avoid judgement of your own moves in a scene and those of your scene partner. Accept it and move forward. Rachael: "JUDGEMENT IS THE ENEMY OF IMPROV"

  4. You, The Person, is Incredibly Important. Invest in yourself. Read. See movies. Know what books are on the NY Times Bestseller's List. This will contribute to what we can bring to our scenes and characters. I'm so glad she mentioned this one. I've found this helping so much as a comedian who talks about current affairs so much. I will watch crappy TV because I know my audiences do, and I need to relate. Pop Culture is a language (as is Science, Art, Etc)

  5. Don't Beat Yourself Up Over the Last Shitty Improv Scene. Related to #3, the show is much bigger than your last scene. Move forward. Someone else might pick up what you thought was shitty and turn it into something beautiful.


Some other points to highlight



  • Our characters have lives before and after a scene. They have secrets and emotions. Bring this information into the scene. It makes things more interesting. Give yourself the gift of this knowledge or trait

  • Try out accents. It makes things fun.

  • Ask questions about your character: young v. old, Barry White v. Barry Manilow

  • Try not to lock in on your own idea going into a scene because no scene is ever fully your idea since you also have a scene partner who doesn't think like you.

  • Don't play stereotypes or archetypes. Just play types. A scene with two gay men should not be flamboyant. Make it about a real relationship. I'd add that a scene about black folk doesn't have to be about Hip Hop or gangs (stereotypes) but can treat the characters as real people having relationships. Are the gangster's studying for a tough final exam?


Exercises for the day



We did some pretty cool exercises including mirroring our scene partners. We started by just looking them in the eye, then mirroring their movements, then words (first very slow sounds, then regular speed sentences). After this we played a game called, and I'm not kidding, "The Double-Mint Twins Get Fucked Up the Ass." Here we played a two person scene with four people, two folks paired as one. It was great to see how you have to be in sync with your twin in order to present a single character, just as you have to be in sync with your scene partner to present a single, coherent scene! See, I learned from the exercise. GOLD STAR FOR MEEEEEE!!!

We danced. We actually put together a 14-person dance in about five minutes, and for a group with 13 white people, it was hot!! :) Seriously though. Everything we had been learning was building to a point where we could carefully watch and listen to the other team members and present a solid dance number on the friggin fly!

We also revisited the Armando Diaz Experience, which I talked about in one of the blog entries last week. This is the format where one person does a monologue, then the improvisors create several scenes which somehow comment on the monologue, then the monologist returns to tell more, and so on. Our monologue coaching focused on keeping the piece short, deliberate and VERY SPECIFIC. Don't just say, "when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time at home." How about, "From age eight to 16, I spent most of my time in our one bedroom ranch house on the Gulf of Mexico with my five sisters."

One of the things I found interesting was that the monologues we did all referred to a personal childhood experience. The monologist is fed a suggestion from the audience, and each of us got different ones, but we all talked about something in childhood. Rachael said that's normal. One, it's a period of our lives where we can recall a lot of detail and where our minds were very impressionable. It's also most likely to be common across a wider group of people. We aren't limited, however, to a first-person memory as the monologue format. She said some people like to tell stories about their friends, whose lives might be more interesting than that of the monologist.

That's day one of level two. The recap on what we learned: Trust, Listen, Watch, Commitment, Don't Just Act. Fully REACT, Patience/Pacing, Let Go, WE CAN DANCE!!!!