Bill Arnett workshop notes on character→

  • In the info of a line, what’s important in that line?
    • What’s conveyed?
  • Character > situation
    • The character is what’s important
  • If your worst scene is still a realistic depiction of life, you’re golden.
    • Gagging is unrealistic.
    • Frequent direction:  “This is really happening, <x>!”
  • Don’t play the action, play the person.
    • Again, character > situation.
  • You can always disclose your opinions/knowledge about the other character.
    • This lets you ‘check in’.

Loads of good stuff in these notes.

I got a note: when you’re playing a married couple, act more like you’re married. What are some actionable ways to do this?→

Well, you’ve known each other for forever, so every argument you’ve had is a rehashing of an old one. Nothing much fazes you when you’re fighting–unless it takes a turn and gets really, really bad, at which point you get confused, then deeply hurt (this is someone who you didn’t think’d be like this, and you bet half your stuff you wouldn’t).

If it’s a healthy marriage, your body language and speaking language is also really relaxed–what haven’t you done in front of the other person? You’re not aiming to impress, you’re aiming to coexist. This isn’t a first date. If things are well (if the couple is healthy) you talk smoothly. If things aren’t (the couple is unhealthy), then the inverse of all this. You want out of the situation ASAP and the other person is right there keeping you from doing that, and that’s a major source of stress.

If the marriage is going well, reflect that. If it’s going poorly, reflect that. You’ve likely seen both and know how to replicate the social conditions if you think like a reductionist about it.

Creating inclusive improv→

Improv theatre is about saying yes. It is about accepting offers. It should be a place where all people are accepted and tolerance is practiced. But it’s not always. Often racial, cultural and gender stereotypes and cheap jokes at the expense of those with less privilege get rewarded. It can be very hard for people affected by this to confront those who are making jokes without being told they are being ‘over-sensitive’ or ‘it’s just a joke’. But for many people, those ‘jokes’ aren’t funny and they’re the same thing they’ve heard time and time again and they may go to the very heart of their identity. Why would such a person stick around to perform with people who perpetuate the shittier aspects of an oppressive society? Why would an audience want to stay and watch stories that play out the oppression they see and experience everyday when they could be watching something that transcends it?

Great post, read it.

I like improv because you can present your worldview (or perhaps how you’d like to see the world) to an audience in a non-preachy manner – it can be done in stand-up but it’s much more noticeable when it’s done badly. The downside is that unlike most stand-up, improvisers are making it up on the spot, which mean more factors come into it – performer experience levels, the nervousness of performers, or whether the show has been getting a response from the audience (laughter, total silence, etc). It’s a theory, but I believe that those factors dictate certain choices and when they’re made by performers.

Ultimately, what you do on stage as an improviser is a presentation of yourself to the world, even if it’s masked by the character you’re playing. I have a bit of hesitance playing the opposite gender on stage at the moment. I fear being on stage playing with my long (and it’s always long) hair, arms bent in the air at the elbow. I fear it twice as much if I’m stirring a pot and/or talking about a male character not in the scene. The reason is two fold. One, by doing that the joke becomes the fact that I’m a man playing a women in an improv scene, and that means that the audience isn’t engaged with what I’m doing on stage. Two, the subtext is that this is how me, the improviser feels about women in the real world.

The strawman argument to that second point usually is “aw nah, I was just playing a character!” But if playing a character means playing the above in order to get a laugh, or to save a show from dying, or because it’s what the show needed and you were working from instinct; it still suggests that the choice is being made so that you can be personally rewarded. And that’s not respect – its entitlement.

Lessons From The Masters, Volume 1: Michael Gellman→

The performers we love let their mouths run ahead of their brains.  They’ll say something without thinking and then let their brains catch up to justify it.  This is an incredibly fun and scary way to play.  It will lead you to places you never anticipated.  The best improvisers trust themselves enough to know that they can justify anything.  Try shutting off your brain for a moment in your next scene.  It’s like letting go of the wheel of a car.  Once you say that line that comes from your subconscious, put your hands back on the wheel and keep driving in your new direction.  It will take you to wild new discoveries that will amuse the audience and you.