Long-time Second City cast member, director, and teacher David Razowsky visited Australia in July 2015, and I was lucky enough to be apart of a three day workshop focused on his various techniques and approaches to improvisation. Here are my notes and lessons from that weekend:
- No-one ever wants to start. You want to continue.”
- Specificity: Add something to what you already have. It’s not just a pair of glasses, it’s a beat up shitty pair of plastic reading glasses.
- “Either say the line and shut the fuck up, or say the line, repeat it, and shut the fuck up.” (Be efficient with your dialogue! We’re watching a finish product, not a first draft. Trust yourself, say less.)
- “Dare to leave me dangling.”
- Unfolded, unfurled, and evolved: How we treat a point of view. “And we don’t do anything but keep going.”
- Listen to the exact words that are said.
- “Funny trumps logic.”
- “it’s not my obligation to explain what the scene is about.” We are acting in the scene, so act in it.
- Exercise: Solo Exercise: Inspired by music, deliver a monologue.
- Once you bring in the past, you have to keep creating it. That’s when you get stuck.
- Be aware of the words you are saying, and be aware of the emotional content of the words. (This will inspire what comes next, as opposed to getting stuck and inventing what comes next).
- “We have to go forwards with what we say and do. Don’t go several steps back.”
- Being positive is work – unless it’s your inspiration.
- The first line of dialogue doesn’t set the scene, the second line does.
- “Specifics beget specifics. Once you have a few, it’s easy to find the rest.”
- “We’re writing using the ink of our voice onto the paper of our partners ears.”
- “You can say a lie, as long as you say the truth later.”
- Listen to yourself. You don’t just say things, you say them for a reason.
- Observe the scene. Don’t just “go forward.” Be mindful. The only time we say that we’re done is when we’re done. We don’t call it ourselves.
- “Don’t be in a hurry to get there, because it doesn’t get you there any faster.”
- If you fight it, no-one wins.
- If it feels different to everything else, play with it.
- Statement of truth – When you announce it, it’s done! (A statement of truth marks the end of a scene – good cue for an edit).
- Don’t leave out the middle parts – we need to know details.
- The audience can pick up subtext.
- Your scene partner ends where they want you to begin!!!
- “If you say one thing that doesn’t make sense, you can continue not making sense.”
- It’s not about finding the first thing interesting. It’s about weighing up everything and choosing the most interesting thing.
- When responding to your scene partner – is the answer yes or no? Then you will know how to respond to them. The obvious choices become clearer every time.
- Object Work: Easier to do things, then define rather than vice versa?
- “If you hold on to point-of-view – it can be written.”
- “A major part of what I’m asking you to do is have permission to be silly.”
Here are some notes and interpretations I took while listening to Austin improv podcast Got Your Back. This is from Episode 39: Eat the Whole Pizza. Click the links on the times to be taken to an audio version of the note.
3:24 – Working way harder then you have to – aka eat the whole pizza, use the whole buffalo. Slow down, be more efficient, use what we have to create more stuff.
4:39 – Why does it happen? Judgement (of what’s happening on stage), a lack of trust.
6:16 – “If it feels weird, do it more.” – Liz Allen. If it feels weird, you’re not 100% committing.
8:02 – “The minute you start judging from inside the scene that what you’ve put out isn’t enough, you start being at that 80%. You’re not committing, and all that judgement can rush in and you’re stepping away.”
9:12 – “This idea that if you’re going to keep worrying and being in your head and trying to control stuff, it’s going to be so much more work for you.”
10:30 – “It’s improv – to get something going someone is going to have to buy into someone else’s thing at some point. If we’re not going to do more of this thing, then maybe you could give the next thing, but are people going to buy into that thing? Or are people going to be people putting out next thing after next thing after next thing and we never get anything going. So it’s that idea of going deep versus broad. It’s not about doing the next thing after the next thing after the next thing. It’s about doing a thing and then doing the next thing specifically affected by it. And that requires awareness of the moment.”
16:45 – “Looking at the offers that happen not just as throwaway lines, but every offer we could go deeper into.”
19:16 – The ideas you pull from the opening of a Harold is like a stool. “The further apart those three worlds are, it’s going to hold up that stool so you can sit on it.”
23:41 – “A scene starts, you have something, and I’m like “this is great, it’s real, I believe it, I’m into it”, and someone will get scared or fearful or otherwise self-aware in a negative way and then try to force something or they’ll invent, they invent rather than mining or inferring from already established information. Or even backing away from it is another thing that happens.”
28:43 – Be patient in our exploration of each move. It requires really listening to and reacting to each move, and not being in such a hurry. You’re not really soaking in the implications of what is being said and using that verses getting too carried away in what you thought was happening.
33:40 – Heightening without exploration – if it’s heighten/heighten/heighten/heighten/move/move/move/move, and we’re not taking the time to use any of these, it takes you out of reality. You have to explore/deal with the consequences/react and respond, otherwise it’s replication/ignoring – it’s crazy town, people making game moves.
Think I am a Tree – because of the last thing, we have the next thing; not a new thing. If we have the tree, we have bark, if we have bark, we have a carving.
37:20 – If we have an idea in the first beat, we want to explore the specifics in the second beat. If people’s butts are poison in the first beat, we can explore that reality – people’s butts are poisoned due to incompetence at the boron factory – let’s explore incompetence at the boron factory.
38:42 – “On a big scale, what are we doing here? Element: butt poisoning, how can we do more of that?”
39:20 – On callbacks: Callbacks are like steak. It’s really great, but five bites of steak really fast is gross. But if you put a little space, it’s incredible.
44:42 – “Keep it simple – it doesn’t always have to be two guys hanging out and one of them’s a vampire! The fun will happen if you trust the process. […] There’s going to be some fun thing that we can do, either implicit or explicit, if we’re listening and being efficient. That’s going to be less work than creating something from scratch.”
45:20 – How to use this. Person A starts a scene, Person B’s response must contain some of Person A’s line in their response. Person A’s response must contain some of Person’s B line in their response. Repeat.
47:07 – “Let’s get more specific on the specifics.” Using some of the last line will get you that emotion of that out that makes you continue
51:00 – As an audience member, simple = satisfying. If you do that and it happens organically, it looks amazing. The laughs that you generate are of a different quality too – they are more staying, and will stick around longer.