Pre-order the Improv Wins book!

UPDATE: Success!

Improv Wins (the book!) is being independently published through Kickstarter – that means pre-ordering the book right now helps fund the initial printing costs! We’ve got great rewards available including show dedications, festival passes and visits from the authors. Funding ends April 26th (right smack in the middle of Hell Yes Fest at Moontower!).

Megaphone Marathons 3: Day One

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.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. ed note: Heroes of Milkton performs The Eric Hungerford
  2. Nearly 2:00 in the morning

July Vids

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.”

-Roger Anderson

Live Like an Improviser

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • 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.

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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 opennessOnce 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

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– Matt Graham

The Potter’s Wheel

invisiblescripts

Kind reader, I get so frustrated sometimes! I want to sit down with the shamans of creation and find out how to revolutionize this thing we do already! You see, I’ve done improv for a medium amount of time. I’m not a lifer yet, but I’m headed that way and the shock of surprise and awe stops after you’ve seen all the scenes there are (sorry darling, there are only so many scenes) a couple dozen times. Is this something bad to reveal to you reader? No, you are worldly-wise and filled with the delight of the universe: revelations like this neither alarm or disenchant you.

So what do we do? Well, seeing improv stay on the same worn pathways – circling and circling the track like a horse who has only just realized that running as fast as he can will not open up any new territory—makes me get an itch in the belly. Surely we can dress improv up, make it riskier, make it more specific, have shows that pop with fresh life and evolve beyond the strictures we’ve set! If anything can be done on stage, there is no excuse for a sense of stagnation.

And yet.

And yet have I, or anyone for that matter, nailed it yet?

Does anyone get up on a stage and churn out flawless scenes that always enchant and are as elegant as Russian ballet.

No.

Even the best practitioners of this art, those who have decades under their belt, simply have a higher batting average: no one is all home runs every show.

My father in law is a potter. He makes cups, bowls, and plates, and every once in a while something that isn’t one of those things. But he has hundreds and hundreds of cups. I’ve seen him work all day at cups. Trying to get one shape. He says that in China they’d teach pottery by having a student throw a cup on the potter’s wheel, let it dry to see its shape fully, and how close it came to perfection, then smash the cup, and put the dry clay of the cup back in water to make fresh clay. Over and over again the student wouldn’t bake or finish a piece of their pottery for years. Just sculpt, smash, sculpt again. Trying to make their hands know the shape of the pottery. Trying to teach their bodies & minds perfection of form.

The lesson of this has always been hard for me. I am an idea person. You say “I have an idea” and I say “let’s do it right now!” I’ve always thrown cool parties. I have adventures. But I can’t play an instrument. I can’t draw well. I can’t sew or cook a giant meal off the cuff. I didn’t learn to practice things aspiring to mastery until recently. Academia started polishing a skill set for me, but improv was the first fully creative pursuit that I was able to practice long enough to see real results – to start on the pathway to mastery.

In our society innovation is prized above mastery. It is the charming part of a youthful country and a child-like culture. There are of course, disadvantages too. Improv is such a balm to a person like me: we can fool ourselves for a long time in to thinking that we’re being spontaneous and inventive in the moment. That what is happening in a show “has never happened before & will never happened again” and yet we hold on to no part of it. Our shows, our scenes, smash themselves the moment they’re over — preventing us from making an example or idol of an imperfect vessel.

One of the secrets of life is that originality is a myth. The most innovative artists have merely pulled off an engaging synthesis or revival. Don’t let that spook you gentle reader: mastery is exciting and forever a challenge, unique work is work done proficiently enough that the potter’s hands disappear: the shamans of creation are more patient than you give them credit for.