Did you know that the gigantic Just for Laughs festival in Montreal has a keynote speech? Patton Oswalt just used that forum exactly how you would fantasize that he would (although he was wearing regular cloths and not a Jacobean doublet).
* The Aurora shooting is the kind of thing that makes life almost unbearable. If you are into gun rights, and you don’t mean the kind you make with your curved (not straight!) index finger, it might be a good idea to take a healthy look at what people can do with a powerful tool. Yes, people not guns kill people, its just that they do it so efficiently and that the object in question has no other use. Andy Richter has said this much better than I’m going to.
* The New Yorker has an interesting article/contest that deconstructs a basic rule of comedy using Seinfeld and print comics as illustrations. Read it and see if you agree that one incongruity is genius, several are a mess (Straight/Absurd perhaps?).
*The Just for Laughs “fresh faces” list is up. Do you recognize anybody?
*The biggest news that it is Summer!
“She was playing at the height of her intellect.”
This is something I’ve heard said of improvisers who’ve just executed a show with brilliant wizardry.
“I was in my head.”
This is what many improvisers say when we feel we made the stupidest possible choices, miscommunicated and disengaged during an improv set.
I recently read about one theory of brain organization that may give us a clearer understanding of what happens when I feel I’ve been “in my head.” I’ve got some ideas about how we can get out!
First, let’s take a deep (and brief) look inside our brains.
The Triune Brain Theory contends that the human brain has three parts that evolved from the inside out.
The three layers interact with one another, but each one controls specific brain functions. Let’s start with the newest, most evolutionarily advanced layer of the brain.
The neo-cortex (aka the cerebral cortex, 5/6 of the brain) allows us to communicate with language, move our bodies, use our 5 senses, reason logically, and create plans. All of these sound thought processes are essential for improvisation. When people say they’re playing at the top of their intellect, they literally are. All thoughtful improv happens in the neo-cortex, right there at the top of your brain!
Underneath the neo cortex, we find the limbic system (aka mammalian brain). I like to think of the limbic system as our cave man brain. This part of our brain works in our quest for food and sex. This is where we process our feelings. This is where we attach to other people. If you’re a well-rounded improviser, you’re thinking: I use that part of my brain a lot in improv, too. Yeah, you do! There’s something great about staring deeply into a fellow improviser’s eyes to find a scene-driving connection.
Deep down is a small part of your brain called The Reptilian System (aka R-complex, mostly brainstem). The R-complex controls instinctive, automatic behaviors. These behaviors are geared toward resisting change. One of the instincts that get activated in this part of the brain is a reflex known as fight or flight.
Triune brain theorists don’t think we only use our R-complex when we get scared. They don’t think the neo-cortex and limbic system shut down. However, there is evidence to support the idea that the systems act in support of one another as needed. So when we’re scared, the functions of the R-complex are prioritized. 1
What does all this mean? It means when we feel we’ve been in our heads, we’re actually just in the wrong part of our heads. Or more accurately, we’re trying to use the least improv-friendly part of our head to do improv.
Say this to yourself, and see if it feels true: When I felt stuck in my head, I was not overthinking. I was not being overly introspective. I’m not a shitty improviser. I didn’t just blank out for no reason. I was scared, fearful, anxious or sometimes even terrified.
“Fear is the mind killer.” 2
Let me tell you what some people think happens to the human brain when we get fearful.
Once the fight or flight instinct becomes active, everything we experience is first viewed as a possible threat to survival. Our limbic system and neo cortex are either not as active, or acting in support of the R-Complex. People we encounter are perceived first as possible enemies. We feel like our scene partners are trying to put us in a tough scenario. We focus on that which might threaten our social survival (make us look like foolish failures). Everything is filtered through fear. 3 We throw out random ideas that don’t connect logically. We emotionally disengage from our scene partners. We try to exit the scene. In a worst-case-scenario, we shoot our scene partners with an imaginary handgun.
What are we so afraid of? I made a list. Add your own fears to it if you want.
- The criticism of other improvisers, instructors or coaches
- Looking stupid, lost, confused or afraid in front of the audience
- Being stupid, lost, confused or afraid
- Screwing up a scene with a bad choice
- Running out of ideas
- Breaking character or giggling
- Denying a scene partners endowment
- Breaking out of the show’s predetermined format
- Bodily injury
- Saying/doing something untrue
- Being forced to play characters or scenarios that are against personal moral convictions
- Forgetting everything learned
The good news: we don’t have to stay afraid. Here are some options for ending the fight or flight response:
Option 1: Fight
- Argue with your scene partners.
- Scream a bunch of nonsense.
- Shoot all of your scene partners with your improv gun.
Option 2: Flight
- Run off stage and end the scene.
- Quit doing improv. Stop taking risks. Renew your netflix subscription and order a pizza. Stay home.
Those options suck, right? You want to hear a third option that helps you stay in the scene and be a badass improviser, right? Never fear.
Option 3: Drive out fear.
Good news! The logical and emotional parts of our brain can influence the R-complex.
We drive out our fear by relaxing our bodies and reminding ourselves that we are not, in fact in imminent danger. We remember that our physical and emotional needs are taken care of. We are, in fact in a safe place. Emotionally, we are glad to be doing this performance art we love with people who care about us.
You may be asking, “How the hell do I supposed to stay relaxed when I’m on stage with no script and so few things are in my control?”
This is where we need mantras and litanies against fear. We need constant reminders of some truths about fear, about improv and especailly about ourselves.
Let’s start with the “litany against fear” an interesting one from the sci-fi series, Dune.
Here is one I made up:This is improv. This moment in this space with these people will only happen once. I am a badass co-creating imaginary universes with other badasses. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I can do whatever I want. I love this. This is improv.
Here is a litany against fear from the Bible:“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 4
Your scene partners want you to look like a badass. If everyone is doing their job, there will be no mistakes. We spot one another. Any choice is made to fit into the world we are creating. You may have heard this referred to as the principle of “Yes, and.” At The New Movement, we call it ultimate back having.
“I got your back!” is a litany against fear we often say to one another before shows.
By building trust with one another (on and off stage) we begin to believe that our scene partners really do have our back. Once we believe this, the love and support we feel from our fellow improvisers puts us at ease. We will stay relaxed, we stay in our improviser brains. We stay out of our reptilian brain.
We love ourselves by believing we are badass improvisers. We love our scene partners by believing we are there to make them look like badasses. 5 We love the art form known as improv by believing this mysterious conundrum: Improv, when done correctly is something at which it is impossible to fail.
Love drives out fear. The more perfectly we love, the less our fear will keep us from the amazing improv wizardry of which we are all capable!
- Developer of the triune brain theory, Paul MacLean, used to be the Director for the Laboratory of the Brain and Behavior at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. All information about this theory came from: Caine, Renate Nummela and Geoffrey Caine. Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain. Nashville, TN: Incentive Publications, 1990. ↩
- Herbert, Frank. Dune. Putnam Pub Group, 1965. ↩
- http://www.thebodysoulconnection.com/EducationCenter/fight.html ↩
- 1 John 4:18 ↩
- I must give props to CJ Hunt, Mike Spara and Derek Dupey for leading an amazing Improv Wins workshop called “How to be a worker.” This idea was first introduced to me at said workshop. ↩
Thursday July 19th may have appeared to be just another night at Austin comedy theater, The New Movement, but the energy in the room was so magnetic that we decided to photostream the night. Here’s what went down on our iPhone!
Whoa. We got a new sign! How badass is this? Expect the purty one on the left to change from time to time. Mixin’ it up!
The Austin training camp students opened the show after performing for 6.5 hours straight earlier in the day on their fourth day in a row of camps. This improv intensive group was high energy and playful playful playful. Training Camp director CJ Hunt says:
“There is something pretty indescribable that happens when a group of people spend all day doing improv together and get up every night in front of people to do something wild and experimental. It’s balls. It’s endurance. It’s straight up hustle. And it’s wonderful to watch them take the stage every night, exhausted as hell, and take the leap off the ledge together. ”
In the middle was The Human Aquarium, a new student troupe coached by Austin artistic director Alex Berry. This is them in the green room getting ready to do the damn thing followed by a shot of them FROM the green room IN THE PROCESS OF doing the damn thing!
Closing out the night was another brand new student troupe, Death Metal Banjo (coached by TNM legend Dan Grimm)! All three groups were delightful, all three groups were photogenic (forgive our iPhones, yeah?) and all three groups have peeps with bright, bright futures ahead of them. Bravo!
No one wants to be called a hipster. Or rather, if you want to be called a hipster, you definitely aren’t one. But I secretly use the term “hipster” in my Internet searches a lot more than I want to admit: “hipster summer playlist,” “hipster haircut,” “hipster glasses cheap,” and “hipster restaurants in Richmond” are all in my recent Google history. As much as we all shy away from the apparent shallowness of the up-and-coming, keeping an eye on the guy with a fixed gear bike and an ironic tattoo isn’t a bad idea if you want your life to stay fresh…
So I’m excited to present some guilty pleasure improv reading for those of you in the skinny jeans set. Every month, I’ll bring six quick improv ideas that center around keeping your cool in a trend-obsessed world. They will fall under these subcategories: Play This Hipster – a character to try out based loosely on a hipster stereotype; There’s Some Truth To That – finding something valid in the often-absurd hipster mentality; Up and Coming – cool events, books, Internet phenomena, or cultural references that are excited for the modern improviser; Looking Good – photographs and properties of improvisers who dress for success; Pump Up The Jams – great new music that will impress mixtape lovers far and wide to play before or during shows; and a Wild Card. Without further ado!
1. Play This Hipster: The Bored One.
Nothing is less cool than enthusiasm. If you want to be truly hip, you have to be so disaffected that you don’t want to be anywhere or do anything or engage with anyone. Should an actually cool person have her finger on the pulse of pop culture enough to know who Justin Bieber is? No she should not. Who even isthat? She thought his name was pronounced “Justin Gerber,” as in Gerber baby food. The only words hipsters can be bothered to pronounce correctly are the names of obscure German theorists and Ingmar Bergman characters. Really, the only difference between a hipster and a misanthropic octogenarian is just a few dozen years.1
How would The Bored One interact with friends at a carnival? Or at a surprise party? What would happen if The Bored One got mugged on the streets of Manhattan? There are lots of possibilities if you’re working through the lens of a character like this. The one thing I would caution about here is that there is a possibility of getting too reference-heavy. If no one in the scene brings up Jersey Shore (and let’s be honest: if it’s a good improv scene, no one is going to bring up Jersey Shore), don’t come out of nowhere and say, “Ugh, what is that on that television in that store window? Look at all those orange girls with Italian accents. I don’t even know what that is.” Instead, filter what naturally happens in the scene through the eyes of this character. Yawn a lot. Check your watch sometimes (it’s a Casio. But you don’t even care. You just got it for cheap at a fringe thrift store). Playing The Bored One has infinite possibilities, as long as you are patient and don’t call yourself out.
2. There’s Some Truth To That: Like What You Like
Let’s say you’re going to hang out with a person who you know is cooler than you are. You are excited to hang out, because you look up to this person, but you’re nervous that this person – let’s call her Megan – is going to find out very quickly that you don’t know anything about what’s hot and what’s not. You guys get together at the independently owned corner coffee shop, and Megan starts talking about how passionate she is about camping. You hate camping (too many bugs, not enough Internet). But you want Megan to think you’re cool, so you pretend to like camping because she likes camping. Megan starts talking about her expensive REI tent and swimming around in some river, and you are disgusted, but you pretend like this is the greatest thing in the universe, and you nod vigorously, and before you know it, you have scheduled a weekend camping trip with Megan.
Here’s the big reveal: the only reason Megan is cooler than you is because you think she is, and so you’re letting her preferences influence yours. Hip people are honest about what they like; they own their taste; and they refuse to bend over backward if it doesn’t match everyone else’s.
In improv, there are a lot of avenues to pursue. There are two-person scenes, group scenes, Harolds, Armandos, monoscenes, device-heavy scenes, sketch-improv combos, big groups, tiny groups, prop comedy, short form, and on and on. If you’ve tried a monoscene and it’s not your thing, you don’t have to do it. Find the thing you love about improv and do that! There are plenty of principles and ideas people have about what makes good improv; spend some time figuring out what you love, and then love it with all your heart. If a Harold is too structured for you, don’t do Harolds! There are enough people out there doing Harolds. No one will think less of you.
3. Up And Coming:
Improv Everywhere, the New York-based group of flash mob pranksters, have had more than a few great moments in their eleven years of organized mischief (my personal favorite was when they transformed the carousel in Central Park into a full-fledged makeshift Kentucky Derby). They’ve recently developed an iPhone app (available for free through the iTunes app store) that allows users to browse past “missions” in a variety of ways; and italso brings the facilitation of upcoming events into the digital age. On the most recent version of the app, you simply push a button to indicate you’re participating in an upcoming mission, and when the time comes, your phone will play an MP3 file at exactly the right time to smooth the progress of July’s giant “MP3 Night Experiment.” Cool.
4. Looking Good:
First things first, ladies: opaque tights are never going to go out of style. They’re called tights for a reason (and that reason is that they contain the word “tight,” which is a synonym for “cool.”) Pairing black tights with a black shirt is a brilliant move, because it allows you to be matchy without being overly matchy; and Kelly softens the whole thing by throwing in some preppy (but not too preppy) khaki. No wonder she’s standing on that chair: I would want to show off that outfit too!
5. Pump Up The Jams:
Artist: The Rizzle Kicks Album: Stereo Typical Blast This At: A high-energy, fast-paced show – something with lots of games and quick edits.
It’s Hip Because: Hailing from the UK, this duo of rappers rule at playing party-heavy hip-hop, with a strong, hook-heavy pop undercurrent that keeps everything sounding fresh and danceable. They often throw trumpets and wacky percussion into the mix, which lends nicely to a fun, quirky, under-the-radar show that kicks with high energy. Try “Mama Do The Hump” and “Down With The Trumpets” to start out – power plays that will get the audience psyched for the show.
6. Wild Card:
Hot: Doing an improv show where everyone finds creative ways to edit.
Not: Doing an improv show where everyone finds creative ways to edit – and they involve slow dancing across the stage and chanting a non-sequitor 100% of the time.
The second day of the Megaphone Marathons in Houston went off without a hitch. Earlier in the day, improvisers got together at the St. Arnold Brewery to try a beer or two from their wide array of selections. Little did I know this is a place where people took their lawn chairs and their kids and play skip-bo. You know, a typical Saturday for these folks. The fatigue of watching so many improv shows is always a factor, so bear with me. Anyways, here is the day two recap from this past weekend:
Starting off the night tonight was Checkbook (Austin) who recently traveled to New York for the Del Close Marathons. These five lovely young ladies start off with the suggestion of a compliment somebody received was “You remind me of Matilda from the books”. Immediately I knew this was going to be great. Everybody did a monologue of a character they would introduce throughout the set and of course it was an all-womens english boarding school. “Dildo person”, who wasn’t even a member of the school, has to take her clothes off to fix things, but Rose the Red Barton the school bully abused this fact by constantly breaking things. Not cool, Rosie.
Next up was superteam Ideal Boy (Houston) who just blew me away seeing them for the first time. These guys OPENED THEIR SET WITH A CD RELEASE. How badass is that? Scenes included stereotypes against lesbians (played by two dudes), a stellar good cop/bad cop played by both the accusers and Shyla, who denied offing her mom’s head. A bear did it instead. Also, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for endowing people to not have certain limbs. Buy their cd (don’t think it’s online yet).
Lucy (Austin) had an intriguing set highlighted by Atticus Rowe blowing everyone away by playing somebody just back from the war and singing a great impromptu “Proud to be an American.” Riding that post 4th of July power, Lucy pulled away.
The two-person Opposites (Austin) opens their sets in avant garde fashion playing trippy music and exclaiming why they are opposite of each other in every aspect. What ensued was an entertaining story wherein Patrick Knisely’s problem with oversized shirts and shoes and belts at Old Navy because they were cheap was remedied. Also, watch out for duck people and resumes.
Blink (Houston) met the Beatles, who weren’t the actual band, but something sexual. Apparently the secret service doesn’t like you instagramming the White House. Yeah for instagram for making it into a scene and yeah for blink for having a really good set.
It was getting a little late and people were a little tired, but surprise group Brown Like Me (Austin, New Orleans) came on stage and blew everybody away. Their opener made fun of the stereotypical racial scenes you might expect from two people with a much lesser level of intelligence than C.J. Hunt and Vanessa Gonzalez who help run the New Orleans and Austin theaters respectively. They both claim to be from Brown University, which is close to be being completely true. Scenes included a mailman and a woman with big popeye muscles both dreaming big dreams about moving to Hollywood. Another awesome scene involved C.J. picking up Vanessa at a coffee shop by knowing what her typical, very odd, orders were while she couldn’t make choices for the life of her.
BirkRich (Houston) were a two-girl troupe who played a couple people in a bandito gang. We also learned that people become vegan by watching the Walking Dead and that you can be traumatized by the game Mousetrap growing up.
The Bat (Austin, Houston, New Orleans) was formed during the Improv Wins conference this past January and is comprised of people from all three cities. The opening suggestion of a pleasant sounding word was “orgasm”, which is a bit dangerous if you think about it. You either have to go all the way with that suggestion or be completely clean. This was a mix of both, but always coming back to a sweet porno scene.
Juicebox (Austin, New Orleans) were Reagan, Allen, and Chris Trew and they had a tough time painting Allen for a still painting because he wouldn’t stop opening his mouth. Don’t people understand how portraits work?
Butchershop Quartet (Austin) had one of the best sets of the night. Justin Strackany gave a great intro talking the team down, when they would actually really step it up. The four men were all rocket scientists working on a love potion, but also dealing with the realities of it being a dangerous thing you don’t want to mess with. Harsh past relationships were had to be dealt with, including a “science prom” gone completely wrong and a floozy servant of a mad scientist turning out to actually be a man.
Then the weird short one-off shows started…
DOA (Houston) must have done well considering it’s members, but I can’t read anything in my notes at this point.
Bird Dog (Houston, Austin) was an incredible group of Shyla and Megan Simon, who started off their set with a beautiful conversation talking about cute things like what their favorite movies were. Then the first scene starts with the line “Well this baby isn’t going to abort itself!” Megan also lied about wanting to fuck a cat and a broom closet conversation entailed the question “Have you ever let a guy eat you out while on your period?” by Shyla. I almost gave this set a standing ovation.
To close out the night was Vaudeprov (Houston), the vaudeville improv team. The mainstay in these super weird night cappers is Matt Gawloski who was born for this role as a vaudeville improviser. Things got crazy on a blimp and he got hit by a pie. Also, pants were coming off for some reason. Couldn’t end the night better.
Houston was great. Austin and New Orleans have a high rope to jump
The first leg of the 2012 Megaphone Marathons took place July 13-14 at the Frenetic Theater in Houston, TX. The importance of this weekend is not to be understated. Houston is the newest member of the New Movement flag, which has already established themselves in Austin and New Orleans. In arguably the biggest improv festival that Houston has ever seen up to this point, Houston impressed with an array of performers looking to take their comedy to the next level. 28 troupes from all three cities. Two days. Ten hours of improv. Totally worth it. Here is my recap of day one of the marathons, which was anything but unlucky for taking place on Friday the 13th (no jokes were made about this, thank you.)To start off the night was the troupe Heroes of Milkton (Houston), which happened to be the first graduating class of TNM Houston. They started off with eight different monologues to gain information to form scenes with1. It definitely was a smart way to open a show broadcasting Houston talent. The scenes ranged from people trying to buy balls at Walmart early in the morning and Ripley himself re-thinking his “believe it or not” campaign.
Next to step it up early in the night were the Sticky Boys (Austin), who put on a montage while also trying to bring in information from the previous scene to the next. Scenes included dueling dinosaur exhibits heightened to a Live Nudes exhibit and a jump rope competition gone seriously wrong. Jump roping evolved to ribbon twirling and then to stick and hoop games. Towards the end of the show Andy DeVoe was calling Rob Gagnon from in jail. Kevin Jacobson yelled in a voice that could have been Rob’s mom, but Andy claimed it as one of the people in jail waiting to use the phone. Eventually, the voice became synonymous for both people which made for a delightful scene.
Laser Heart (Austin) had a super absurd set talking about sherbert, while also playing characters with brand names like “North Face” as their actual names. The ending scene featured two split scenes of awkward exchanges, leaving Reagan Ward to play two characters having a profoundly awkward conversation with a former sex hookup.
Rogue (Houston) did a speed Harold, which is a type of Harold more accessible to a general audience. It went smoothly with scenes about cowboys hitting on each other and Antoine trying to abduct people, which seems to be a theme recently.
Chris and Tami (New Orleans) are the dang founders of The New Movement so their shows are always a must-watch. Chris started off as an abusive grandfather that only gave his granddaughter goldfish crackers in water (eww) to eat and had a video of grandma and him doing it ready to show at any moment. The next scene was a daycare sequence where the kids sent letters cut and pasted from magazines (like serial killers do) to a wife being cheated on by a dental-obsessed person. Various love scenes occurred, the backwards N in the Nine Inch Nails was referenced. This show was definitely more fulfilling than beating Mario 2.
Up to bat next was the TNM Training Camp (Houston) and they had some solid scenes after working extremely hard on their crafts the past few days. Highlights included running dog obstacles for humans, Jim Meyers purposely mixing up “I like Predator, too” with “I like Predator 2″ (horrible movie), and Evan O’Neil wishing he wasn’t awkward or ugly just so that aliens would abduct him.
One half of Disco Box (Austin), Ariel Greenspoon and Christina Parrish, injected the crowd with a shot of adrenaline with their opener; they affected an air of badassness in front of the audience and called their other two troupe members ‘pussies’ for not showing up to the Houston marathons. These two rising stars out of TNM Austin started off with a very serious crime scene and every scene elevated leading to a lab scene chock full of sexual tension while trying to deal with evidence.
Veteran performers Handbomb (Austin) brought the craziness with an opening scene about collecting diabetes and synesthesia, so you could catch them all?? Cool. Eating coconuts and bananas? Check. There was also something about a kitten god? Got it. Oh and there was a pretty sweet good cop bad cop scene in there somewhere.
Wolf Cry (Houston) started off with a ‘Would You Rather’ game to start the scene, which is a really fun way to do it. This was actually the (soon to be) 2nd graduating class of Houston and there was a lot of energy and tumbling around during a circus scene these guys really put their body on the line for their craft.
Fematoma (Houston) was the first team to win a Main Event in Houston. Lisa Friedrich was a child medium that drew very creepy pictures that were all true. There was also the most disgusting scene I’ve seen that has taken place at a catering business. I’ve worked in catering before, so this hit lose to home. Awesome all-girl troupe.
Spirit Desire (Austin) is on their last month farewell tour after being one of Austin’s premiere troupes for years. These guys just have fun on stage. The opening took place all over the stage and space available in the theater. This set included: shadow puppets, penguin slides, ninja turtles slides and ninja turtle weapon use. Being one step past meta about scenes and actually entering the audience at one point, Spirit Desire continues to push the envelope of what improv can be every time you see them.
Three groups at the end had about 10 minutes each closed out the night.
Tin Hats (Houston) opened their scenes with musical sequences, which I found amazing. Great set.
Dress (Houston, Austin) dressed their scenes, calling out the environment before starting, every scene. Matt Graham was using some fancy words in odd ways and Brady James chimed in with the best line of the night: “Did you get that from the word of the day calendar you got at the Denny’s Christmas party?”
Jousting Bieber (Houston) closed out the night2 in fashion wearing fancy jackets and hats and talking in British accents. I had no idea what was going on at this point of the night, but it really worked.
Overall, it was about as solid as of a night as you could have had to start the 3rd annual Megaphone Marathons.
July Video Round-Up – A Look At Classic Cinema
We aren’t even done with July and Hollywood has already graced us with numerous Summer blockbusters. These have included such notable titles as Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s prequel to the “Alien” which dared to ask the question “What the crap is happening in this movie?”
Not to mention, “Magic Mike,” the tale of a young boy with magical powers who is accepted into Wizadry School.
In honor of the amazing summer movies we too often take for granted, this video round-up takes a glance at classic cinema.
First up, a piece uncovered by TNM Houston’s Adrian Frimpong and Adrien Pellerin features the classic comedy duo Carl and Jerry detailing a beloved college tradition.
Next, the gripping climax from one of film history’s grittiest gangster films. Brought to you by “The Birthday Boys,” this clip is not for the feint of heart.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Europe’s contribution to the evolution of film. From “The Mighty Boosh,” this clip from Jurgen Haabemaaster’s “A Doctor and Pencil” is an existential exploration of pain and rage.
Check out this rare outtake from the legendary film Casablanca via Milo Smith and Sara Reihani, featuring TNM Austin’s Rob Gagnon and Ariel Greenspoon.
Finally, here’s “Shopping Tarts” a short film from the 1940’s singing group “The Apple Sisters.”
Last month, I was honored to embark on a 2-week tour across the Midwest with 6 other improvisers: Kelly, G-Su, Dan, Mark, Cassie and Allen.
Our troupe, Art Vandelay, was unique in that we hailed from three different cities and had never performed together prior to the tour. This could have gone horribly wrong, but don’t worry, it didn’t.
It was magical! We all grew as improvisers and as people. We put on great shows (each one better than the last, mostly). We didn’t argue. We intentionally got to know one another. We took care of one another. We traveled efficiently. We became close friends.
If you plan to travel with improvisers from your community—on a tour, attending a summer intensives or just taking a vacation together– rest assured. You can (and will) have an experience almost identical to ours.
- Rent a minivan. Splitting your group between multiple cars creates factions. We recommend filling your vehicle with the maximum number of passengers. Physical closeness might not be essential for emotional closeness, but it helps. Get a rotation going so everyone gets a chance to sit in the more comfy seats. Before you know it, everyone will have been next to (on) everyone else.
“Van. Rollin’ tight.” –Allen
- Stop and have an adventure. Throw the Frisbee, pee, eat a vanwich. You will swim in a natural body of water together. You will hike through caves. You will sit in an empty cathedral together in sacred silence. You will erupt in childlike wonder when you detour (veering maybe hundreds or thousands of miles away from your intended route) to visit The City Museum inSt. Louis,Missouri. You’ll look at one another and shout things like, “I would have driven all the way up here just to do this!”
“Doing activities was a great way to pull us out of the van bubble, and get some outside influences. While we were in these fresh environments we were negotiating the day together and learning about each other, but in a different way than conversing in the van.” –Cassie
- Improvise. Put on shows with local troupes. Watch other people and learn. Go to jams at local conservatories. If you find yourself in a town with no theater or troupes or jams, improvise. Put on shows. Improvise in front of gas stations, at Applebees, at the rental car place. Once you get into this habit, you will even improvise when you’re at the hospital for an emergency.
- Value improvisers more than improv. You might be on the road to promote your troupe and build up a national fan-base. You might be on the road to make your mom mad, your friends jealous or your heart proud. You might be on the road to sharpen your improv skills. You might be on the road to make money, have new experiences or escape the reality of your day-to-day. Whichever of these categories you fall into, none of these ends will even come close to distracting you from what this trip is really about: people. You will never even think about using any of your van-mates as a means to these ends because they are a great end in and of themselves. This is part of why you are so great at collaborative performance art. You will return home with the pride of knowing you got in a van with 6 people who are all extremely different from one another and you really made an effort to know each of them. You will feel great about the fact that you can love people with different values and backgrounds truly and deeply. You’ll return home refreshed because for a couple of weeks, you were with people who really valued you. Your contributions to this group will really have mattered.
“We have 7 bladders, and 7 stomachs, and 7 backs that need to lie-down. No one was too regimented with pre-conceived ideas about the travel situation. I think when you travel with people, and they volunteer to take the floor tonight in bed rotation, you feel that support. You know they have your back, long before you do a scene together onstage.” –Cassie
“We definitely always had shows in mind, but we never intensely focused on improv- no hours upon hours discussing form & theory or anything. We focused on each other and the pursuit of fun, which took any pressure or expectations for the shows away and allowed us just to be in the moment with each other.” –Kelly
- Make lots of van puns or something. You need to get some inside jokes and repeat them relentlessly. Understand that they won’t get old. Nobody on in that van will grow tired of them. If they do, they’ll appreciate them later. Someone will impersonate the sour surly rental car lady or the crazy cave tour guide. It will kill. You will laugh.
You will laugh longer and harder than you have in months (maybe years) and you will not have felt this much a part of a group since summer camp in middle school. You’ll laugh so much that when you get home you’ll feel more rested and restored than you have in months (maybe years).
“Art Vandelay” –Cassie “Van Diesel”—G-Su “Van Diesel”—Kelly “Vanpires”—Mark “Scarlett JoVANsen”—Allen “The Van Before Time”—Matt
- Listen to each other with bold openness. Once you’re all in the van, you’ll get in the mindset that it’s group time. You’ll save that new vanpire book, podcast or music album for later. Phones will die. The fact is, once you resign yourself to knowing and enjoying your van-mates, the group convansation will be too interesting to interrupt with personal entertainment. There are no reasons for you to keep any secrets from these people. You’re in a minivan together! You have a million shared details to subtly bring up on stage (with a wink and a snicker). You know these people have your back because they listened so intently and they hold your secrets in confidence.
“we truly spent a lot of time together. Nobody zoned out on their phone or read or played video games for a ton of time.” –Mark
“We probably all shared things with each other that we would dare not share in our normal day to day lives. “ –Dan
“Never did I feel as though something I said was not heard. There was never a feeling that someone was just waiting for their turn to talk in a conversation. Several times little things I had said throughout the day got thrown into scenes. For me, those were some of the strongest bonding moments knowing that people cared enough to listen to the things I said and remember them.” –Kelly
- Give each other invisible gifts. Have a pre-show ritual where people are honest about fears and things they want to work on as improvisers. As people share, someone will inevitably remember that in the pocket of their jeans is an invisible amulet locket. Inside the locket are 7 invisible magic beans. Once ingested, everyone in the troupe will turn into infinitely courageous incredible hulks (in an assortment of colors.) Oh look, someone else brought an invisible gift for the rest of the group. It’s a symbolic, tactful reminder of things we need to work on as a group. It’s a cure for the specific fear asserted by a specific troupe member. Look, you love each other! Look, you are ready to walk on stage with confidence in yourself and your travel-mates!
“For me it all goes back to the pre-show. It was a fun way to share hesitations and give notes without ever having to put us in the weird place of coaching from the inside.” –Dan
- Freestyle rap or something. Since you’re out on the road with improvisers, just go ahead and constantly live by the codes improvisers follow. Voice your wackiest ideas. Everyone on the van will say yes. It only takes 3 people to make something stylish. You have 7. Do wacky things and own them. Create constantly! By the middle of your trip, you will be so relaxed around each other, so free, so playful that you will accidently make a freestyle rap video in one take. Take every opportunity to be silly and creative together. This WILL have a positive impact on the way you play together onstage.
“The freestyle rap showed us that everyone was UBH [Ultimate Back Having] and I think it created a very good driving force for us.” –G-Su
“I think that willingness to do anything was a big part of the trip…anything we did that felt wrong or embarrassing at the time, but the pressure to do something foolish and the bravery that comes from our numbers made us fearless. The weird/scary/difficult things you experience and get through really bring you closer to the people you do them with.” –Mark
“You know, doin’ stuff. UBH is about doin’ it…not talking about doin’ it or thinkin’ about doin’ it, but actually doin’ it.” –Allen
– Matt Graham