David Razowsky: Improvising as an Actor Workshop – Day 3

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.”

David Razowsky: Improvising as an Actor Workshop – Day 2

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:

  • Stop starting your scene, and start continuing your scene.
  • Bring your awareness then call it out!
  • Hold onto your shit – and connect with that.
  • What’s really missing from a scene – this can be used for second beats.
  • “Take everything for its face value – take it literally.” Listen to what the words mean. It’s where the humour appears from. You can’t scoff it off. Play it.
  • “What are you missing because it’s a figure of speech.”
  • Repetition adds emphasis – gives your stuff energy.
  • “We don’t have to do that – we get to do that!”
  • “I wish to free you on the improv you do on stage and the life you live off-stage.”
  • You can listen to tones, weight, shape. You can give words as much weight as the way they are expressed in.
  • We know the scene isn’t over because the breath changes.”
  • “When you are honest you don’t have to remember anything.” – Mark Twain
  • “Once you start thinking, you start weighing shit out.”
  • “I don’t invent, I discover.” – Pablo Picasso
  • Use everything in your enviroment. Your point-of-view is what you just said and what’s adjacent.
  • Point-of-view’s brew from emotional content.
  • “What did you just feel in that moment?”
  • If you are doing something your scene partner enjoys, why stop doing it? Continue giving those gifts!
  • Once you have the epiphany, your scene partner can have it as well.
  • “I don’t know” is just as valid a point of view as anything else. It’s truthful, it’s the actuality of the scene.
  • All improv is a race between two people where it doesn’t matter who wins. You’re watching the chase.
  • Don’t like the lack – like what’s there. Don’t back away.
  • Respond honestly to the last thing that was said.
  • Hold on to your point-of-view and surrender your point-of-view. Don’t let your ego drive your point-of-view or take you out of it.

Group Scenes

  • If doing a group scene – align with someone, connect with someone. Share an opinion.
  • Alliances and allegiances: How we are connected to other people (not characters!)
  • We have to indicate to each other who we are aligned with.
  • Use pronouns – I/Yours/Mine/Me or Ours/Theirs/We/Us or by using shape.
  • If aligned, use names; especially if their back is to you. Little queues and show it fully and wholly!!

Change and Heightening

  • “You’re looking for the turn, the change, for the bubble to pop.” Once it does, you can drop what you had and it changes and affects you.
  • Just because I notice it, doesn’t mean I have to engage with it.
  • “Go for the thing that stirred my soul.”
  • We can’t stay ‘that’s tiny’ – it’s a change anyway you look at it.
  • Heightening is the actor taking information you have already introduced and adding until you find a breaking point in your scene partner.
  • Don’t get married to ‘the scene is about me.’ Surrender. “It’s very likely that this moment is for somebody else”
  • The onus isn’t on when I stop having fun, it’s when your scene partner stops having fun with your offer.
  • If you feel like leaving a scene, leave the scene.
  • “What’s the emotional temperature of the room?”
  • Use that to generate an opening line of dialogue.
  • You can make a small deal out of something big, or a big deal out of something small.
  • Your feeling doesn’t make something true.
  • Be something, then discover why you are playing the scene.
  • “Being nervous is enough. Being nervous about mailboxes is too much.
  • An exit is a line of dialogue. The scene goes from act one to act two.
  • “Make this as uncomfortable as you can!”
  • “A good scene look written but off-book.”

David Razowsky: Improvising as an Actor Workshop – Day 1

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:

  • Once you define it [in a scene], it exists – you can’t take it back. You can’t stop defining it.
  • You have to have mindfulness, awareness when improvising.
  • “All improv is acting”
  • It’s all about the moment. Beling deliberate, listening for the physical.
  • Your scene partner can affect your physical change.
  • “Be eager to respond, not eager to talk”
  • “You [your scene partner, not me] are the most important person on stage”
  • The process of improv is the product of improv. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that.

Viewpoint Techniques

  1. Shape – Body use dictates what the first line of the scene is. “My partner tells me how to breathe.” Once you have your body shape, it’s not yours to change.
  2. Duration – how long behavior happens for before it has a need to change.
  3. Gesture – behaviour (real-world movement) and expressive (movement based on internal feelings).
  4. Kinesthetic response – how you respond to my action, not necessarily with words.
  5. Spacial relationship – When something in the space has changed, we are changed. “Let yourself be in wonder.”
  6. Repetition – movement that is sequenced over and over again. Not redundancy.
  7. Topography – how you move on the floor. What has came before you in the scene dictates whether you have a comfortable stroll, a cocky strut, or a scared step.
  8. Architecture – anything you have a relationship with. We add value to it – it’s either truthful (this is my backpack) or factual (this explains who i am). Smell, light, sound.
  9. Tempo – how fast or slow the scene moves.
  • Zero point: We start scenes at zero. Once we add things, we are taking inventory.
  • Soft focus: Receiving with our entire body. Not seeing with eyes or hearing with our ears.
  • Listening in six directions: top, bottom, front, back, left, right.
  • Exercise: Soft Focus Exercise: Feeling energised and inspired by the movement of others. Only moving when we feel inspired to.
  • If there’s one shape, there’s no scene. All scenes feature pressure, tension, and dynamic.
  • “All improv is ‘I’m not touching you!!'”
  • At every point in a scene, you need to surrender the top of the scene (the initiation). You don’t have to honour everything that came before. The focus has changed, and you should honour that focus.
  • Play with what inspires and what comes before – the last thing!
  • Use your body, your heart, your soul – not just your brain.
  • Compulsion is a straight line – get to the point and just say it. Compulsion trumps what’s come before, but it’s not impulse or instinct.
  • You feel the relationship in the actor’s being, not how they deliver the lines.
  • You have a contract to keep doing what you’re doing so you scene partner can follow. Don’t pull the rug out from under your partner.
  • Say what you feel that you need to say. Don’t dance around it! (no need to add extra dialogue to give the scene more tension. Being direct will get you results.)
  • “If you’re moved by what your partner says, don’t hold on to it!” (react damnit!)
  • “We love a status shift.”
  • “Don’t be a victim. Don’t be passive-aggressive, don’t be polite. Be aggressive, own up, be bold. It adds excitement.” (This changed me as an improviser. I don’t need to worry about the other actor in the scene. They can look after themselves. Because if I’m worrying about them, I’m not focusing myself in the scene.)
  • “We want to see the scene that we’ve never seen!” (another big one for me.)
  • Always have internal soft focus when playing.
  • “You put on a bunch of clothes to take them off. Take off the fucking clothes!”
  • Improvise like a crow, not like a train. Crowds fly to where the shiny objects are. Trains follow tracks.
  • Playing low status has no equality with self.
  • “When you say something cool, shut the fuck up. Or if you feel the need to talk, say the same thing.”
  • Dare to be dull.
  • “Everything I need is in my partner”

Will Hines – Tracers Form Workshop

In preparation for the Del Close Marathon, the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Centre offered a bunch of workshops covering various topics. I attended a workshop with Will Hines covering two ‘harder’ long-forms that he saw many times when starting with the UCB – The Sleepover and Tracers. Below are the notes and impressions from Tracers portion of the workshop.

How It Came About: Tracers was a show that ran at UCBNY in early 2000. It was inspired by the show Close Quarters which ran years earlier in Chicago, and later spawned shows at UCB such as Vantage Point and Retraced.

Form Characteristics:

  • A company of 6 to 8 performers.
  • Take a suggestion at the top of the show.
  • Scenes all happen in the same geographic location. If your location is kitchen, you might see scenes at the dishwashing station, at the bar, at the FBI van in the car park across the street.
  • The first scene establishes the location plus the people.
  • Scenes heighten a lot!! Every scene is a short little play which gets bigger and bigger (like a balloon).
  • Tone can change between scenes. You can have a slow-played dramatic scene in one location, followed by a gamey fun scene in the next.
  • We never go backwards – all the scenes are happening at the same time.
  • Two gimmicks to use in the show: Callbacks and Foreshadowing
    • Callbacks: If something happens in one room, it’s repeated in the next room (eg callbacks – someone screams the word ‘murder’ in scene one. In scene two, you will hear someone scream ‘murder’ in the background). This requires memory, so don’t do it too often.
    • Foreshadowing: Backwards callback. You’re encouraged to do it. People in the backline adding something (via a walk-on) which is used later on in the show. This can include emotion!
  • The show isn’t made by the gimmicks though. It’s made by the scenes.
  • Transitions: French Edit your scenes – walk out in front of the performers and start a new scene.

General Notes

  • Everyone has their own little issue which comes up in each scene.
  • Not everything needs to be solved.
  • Loads of emotion between scenes.
  • Plot doesn’t matter because it’s easy to get stuck in information established in the previous scenes. We want to see relationships, confessions, moments.
  • Take your time, there’s no need to rush.
  • Show Balance: If you take, you must give – be it confessions, character names, gifts.
  • Use the entire stage to indicate the different spaces you are located in.
  • If you drop a bomb, let it land. Look at the person for a beat to inform your character choice.
  • Make instinctive choices right away.
  • Be comfortable with silent tension.

Will Hines – The Sleepover Form Workshop

In preparation for the Del Close Marathon, the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Centre offered a bunch of workshops covering various topics. I attended a workshop with Will Hines covering two ‘harder’ long-forms that he saw many times when starting with the UCB – The Sleepover and Tracers. Below are the notes and impressions from The Sleepover portion of the workshop.

How It Came About: Mother were a Harold Night team at UCBNY known for their high energy, aggressive playstyle. Sometimes the play was too aggressive – scenes would get tagged out almost immediately, and shows had a tendency to fizzle out on occasion. The name “The Sleepover” came from the team’s tendency to run sleep over themed group games in Harolds.

The new form, workshopped with Armando Diaz was intended to improve the team’s acting chops, while slowing them down and forcing hard commitment to characters. The Sleepover has elements of La Ronde and the Deconstruction – each player starts by playing one character for the initial run of scenes, and later scenes as part of the montage/run start with the characters seen earlier until tag runs/side support commences.

I learned this from watching Mother’s shows. If you end up taking a class with Mother, they’re right.
Will Hines

Opening: After taking a suggestion, each player steps out one by one to announce their mantra. The mantra is a line of vaguely inspiration dialogue inspired by the suggestion such as “go big or go home” or “God is on our side” , and is presented as if the person is talking into a mirror. This is used to inform each player’s emotional character choice, so once you have said your mantra make a decision based on what you said – this will be your character for the show.

Be aware of volume: each player should say their mantra at least three times loudly before fading down, and stage picture: everyone should be standing out of line (north/south rule), using the entire stage.

Once everyone has stepped out and said their mantra, everyone should start repeating their mantras louder and louder and then leave the stage one by one, until only one player is left (Player A). This player is considered “activated” and can then pick a second player to activate and then perform a scene, with the second player (Player B) initiating the scene.

In summary:

  1. Suggestion
  2. Each player announces a mantra, one by one
  3. Each player leaves the stage, leaving one player (activated)
  4. The activated person picks a second person to activate.
  5. The second person initiates a scene.

Opening Scenes: When the scene starts, you develop who you using the mantra as inspiration. In order to start in the middle of a scene (as opposed to “hi, how are you?”) the initiator should be answering a question that was asked off-stage. The scene plays out as normal – remember to name each other and use philosophy, history, specifics, and relationship as keys to helping the scene develop. Characters should have emotional tones – no-one is identical, and give gifts through agreements and confirmation.

You are rewarded for simple choices that are easy to remember.
Will Hines

Scenes are edited by having the non-activated players step out and repeat their mantra. Players A & B leave the stage. Player B then activates another player (Player C) who initiates a scene with Player B. The rest of the players leave the stage, and the scene plays out. As a result, every character in this universe knows each other. USE NAMES.

The opening run of scenes repeats until every player in the team has had at least one scene. In a team of six players, the scenes would run in the following order:

  1. Player A & B
  2. Player B & C
  3. Player C & D
  4. Player D & E
  5. Player E & F

The final scene can be wiped with a sweep edit. Alternatively everyone can step out to repeat their mantras before leaving the stage.

Montage Run: Once everyone has performed a scene, the montage run of the show commences. Anyone can initiate with anyone else, and side supports, tag outs, and edits are performed as normal. The only condition is the scene must begin with the two characters seen in the earlier scenes. This can (should?) be played deconstruction style – bring back all the fun things that came up earlier and mine them for all their worth, getting quicker and quicker until you hit that big bang.

Ending: Blackout on the high point.