Craig sends an e-mail to all of his students with information about the class, as well as personal notes.
Bad scenes-The minimum necessary to have a watchable scene is to have fun and to make a choice, and yes, even to choose to be bad is a choice. To make a choice in scene is to narrow your focus and reduce your options (and that’s a good thing, to only have to choose between 3 possible responses as opposed to a million). Sometimes after doing these scenes, people will say “it takes the pressure off”, which prompts the question, “where is the pressure coming from?”. It’s nearly always self-imposed, and based on self-judgment, or fear, or perfectionism, or an effort to do improv “right”. If you’re too hung up on improvising “correctly”, you will be doomed to failure nearly every time.
Thank You Statues is when two people come out, make a pose. Someone titles that scene. The first person who posed says “thank you.” And exits the scene. The person who titled the scene now steps in and creates a new pose with the other person who remained frozen. This repeats.
Thank you statues-One of my favorite warmups. Get in the habit of being unafraid to label, owning your impulses, and assuming that whatever title you give the image is the perfect title. It will only ever get the one title, so you have to assume it’s perfect. Remember, effort is more important than execution when you’re improvising. Energy, confidence, decisiveness are 90% of the battle.
Silent scenes-Focus on each other in the early moments. Try to affect each other, and to be affected. Make something important. Make eye contact and establish object work and environment so that your partner can see it. Get a story going in your head as to who the other person is and how they make you feel. Pay attention to the non-verbal ways of communicating.
Gibberish scenes-As above, but now with the extra factors of emotion and inflection in the voice. If you’re gibberish scenes are feeling flat, it’s probably because you’re overly reliant on words alone when you improvise. When we move from gibberish into dialogue, it should feel easy because you’ve already determined the energy of the scene and the dynamic between the characters, and so you can start in the middle.
The first line in each line of dialogue is, “I know.”
I Know-When presented with new information, you can decide to know it or not know it, and it will nearly always benefit the scene more to know exactly what your partner is talking about. Try responding as if everything’s a statement of fact rather than a matter of opinion. Deal with the thing that was just put on your plate! New information is important, and the audience wants to see how quickly you can incorporate it. Don’t hesitate to go micro…most improvisors are in a hurry to get to the next thing, the great ones can mesmerize you with the tiniest thing. Start general, then move in for the specific. Try not to over-talk, or begin riffing off your own line, or to over-explain yourself…one idea per line of dialogue. Then shut up and see what your partner does with it. Flip side of that: make sure you’re actually adding new info, and not just reiterating things we’ve heard already.
7 Words At A Time-Efficiency. Shorter lines are funnier. Creates a better rhythm between scene partners. There’s laughs to be earned in the spaces between lines…reactions, takes, slow burns. What are the fewest words I can express this idea in? should be your M.O.
For “Scripted” scenes we were given the suggestion of a type of scene from a famous play. We were told we had practiced it. That every line was perfect in our minds. If we talked over each other, it had been written that way. That the scenes had a purpose. My scene was the Crime Scene from the play “Down By The Woodshed.” And yes, I did say “Down by the woodshed” in my scene and I was very happy.
“Scripted” Scenes-All of the above, with the addition of emotional commitment, holding on to your integrity, purposeful movement, etc. Remember that improv is theater and that it’s OK to be theatrical and give over to a style or genre and to make yourself emotional and vulnerable. It’s a great goal for an improv scene to produce not only laughter, but other reactions from the audience as well…fear, sympathy, sadness, anger. These scenes weren’t necessarily nonstop hilarity, but when the laughs came, they were deeper and more substantial. They came not from wit or cleverness, but from commitment, specificity, and accuracy to your genre or style. Assume that everything that happens in your scene is the perfect thing to happen, because it’s only ever going to go that one way. You can’t change what happened, so it might as well be scripted once you’ve said or done it.
Craig also added personal feedback for every student.
Stephen P.-Great job making strong and clear choices to start. I think you can be less adversarial in your choices: choose to like the other person more often, or defer to them by lowering your status. Don’t negotiate to change your circumstances, show me what those circumstances make your character DO.
Should I intertwine notes that I took, and Craig’s e-mail or keep them as two separate posts?