Chicago Improv Summer: why day 3 sucked!!


Ouch. Yesterday was crap for several reasons. I didn't sleep nearly enough all week. My feet were killing me because I'd been walking miles in fashionable but poorly fitting shoes. I think I got tired of being "the black guy." And I wasn't having fun. As Rachael said, "if you're not having fun, you're the asshole." Yesterday, I was most certainly that.

We continued our work in building up characters through the use of environments, and we did sets of three-person scenes in which each character finds a movement to define himself. Once we settled on who we were, Rachael played a game called White Elephant in the Room. She tells us where we are and something about the room (in my case it was a dead body hanging from the ceiling). The trick is, we aren't allowed to explicitly talk about the object, but we have to acknowledge it. Its presence must inform our character's decisions.

I was playing a robot, so I went with being a frustrated servant-bot who couldn't fully clean the room's bad smell. The scene I was in was really hard to do. It's hard to throw robots into a room with dead bodies. Eventually, my scene partners and I started finding our way, but it was slow-going.

Another group was told they were sitting in window-facing cubicles where a man was about to jump from the ledge. They did a pretty sweet job with it, with one of the character's concerns being her obstructed view.

I don't know. The whole exercise didn't quite click with me initially. At first I thought we were supposed to ignore the object. Then I thought we were to be inspired by the themes it evoked. But it turns out, the object is REALLY THERE. We just can't talk super directly about it.

The Game



We finally got to what "the game" was, and unfortunately, I can't do a great job of describing it. Within The Harold, The Game follows a set of three scenes. It's shorter than a scene, involves all (or nearly all of the players) and is designed to expound further on the suggestion, opening or even the first three scenes. It's like one piece of an opening. If the original suggestion had been "honey," the first game could be all the players creating a beehive, with a queen, then they all sting a human and die.

The Worst Scene Ever



Rachael noticed that we were all kind of low energy and sucking. She had us go up in two-person scenes and try to pull off the WORST SCENE EVER. This was serious fun. We talked upstage. We talked over each other. We changed characters mid-stream. Still, we committed to these bad characters which itself was a GOOD thing to do. Lesson: it's hard to really suck. Lesson: we showed more energy doing those crappy scenes than we did all morning with the real work.

Racial Fatigue



Improv is incredibly white. Yeah, I know. Big surprise. Boston is really white too. And so is Harvard, and I've worked out fine in those places. Yesterday in class though, I really noticed it. People were making references to all sorts of shit I simply did not get. Mostly, it was music songs from "the 80s." Improv pulls on references from all over the place, but pop culture is a big pot, and it's assumed you're in the know. I can't say it enough. WHITE PEOPLE HAD A DIFFERENT 80s THAN I DID. I can remember 80s parties in college, and I was like, "what the hell is this music? this isn't my 80s."

So folks in class were building some kind of game or lesson around a Pink Floyd song, and I had nothing.

As a group, we've also been dissin each other pretty hard over just about everything. The Canadians get it the worst. No one's really messed with the lesbian too much. The UK folks also take some crap from us Americans. And as "the black guy" I get all sorts of crap about my innate dancing skills (which is not just a stereotype in my case. I'm actually a GREAT dancer :)), my various children, violence, etc. Something about my physical tiredness, hurting foot, frustration with the exercises and this parallel 1980s just got to me.

Back to What We Learned



The whole day wasn't a writeoff, however. We did some cool stuff in the afternoon.

We started with Narrative Fantasy.

One person is a narrator with a group of six or so players on the back line. The narrator gets to tell various fantasy scenes. We had been working on body movement and carrying people, so this was a great chance to test things out. During my fantasy, I called for the world's largest LCD TV. The group created it and even made TV sounds from Fox Sports Net. I had them change the channel to C-SPAN. I made a space shuttle launch and a piece of foam fall from its side. And other people created amazing scenes from their fantasies. This exercise continued pushing down the imagination theme I brought up yesterday. We really created these places!

At some point in the day, we did the one-word story game. I don't know if it has a name, but everyone stands in a circle. Someone starts a sentence, but they are only allowed to say one word. The next person adds a word, and so on until a sentence has been formed. Then the next person after that starts a new sentence. We have to be actively listening to make sure our word doesn't jack up the story. It also helps tremendously to keep things simple. It's gonna be hard for a scene partner to keep up with you if you're blazing away at three hundred miles an hour with a really complex idea that only you understand.

We moved on to Story Theatre



In story theatre, there is no designated narrator, but we combine the idea of narrative fantasy with the one-word circle game. One player on the team narrates what's happening between some characters. The characters act out and extend what they've been given until another player takes over the narration and pushes the story forward. In the end , the story is somehow completed or resolved, perhaps returning to that initial scene. I'm gettin mad long-winded in my posts, so I'm not gonna tell all the stories we created, but they were fascinating.

Give Yourself a Gift



We did "object work," giving our characters something to do, physically during a scene. My favorite was a three-person scene (we did this exercise three at a time) with one person cleaning a gun, another cooking and a third playing solitaire alone. Somehow, the improvisors made those three actions fit in one room with believable characters. The solitaire-playing kid had once again gotten straight As, making her gun-cleaning, non-booksmart father proud and her once-higher-education-pursuing-but-sidetracked-by-her husband mother who is jealous of her own's daughters success. Wow.

The lesson: give yourself something to do.

That's about it.

From class, the lessons were: have fun, be energetic, attack the scene, etc. etc.

From my day, the lessons were

  • GET SLEEP

  • GET NEW SHOES (which I did)

  • don't be angry at white people :) (but apparently i need to watch a bunch of shitty movies and listen to shitty 80s music)


The evening ended great. I saw the most amazing improv show called TJ and Dave. If you're ever in Chicago, you MUST MUST MUST see it.

Teaser:

Day 4 of level 2 was so good, completely making up for shitty day 3. I'll post that one later.