In about forty-five minutes I need to leave my room and head to our rehearsal space to begin the third week of the iO summer intensive program but first I want to reflect a bit on week two.
Our teacher was Jet Eveleth who prefaced her teachings with telling us that this was just what works for her and that she is unlike any other improv teacher. While I can not comment on all improv teachers, she is certainly unique to the improv teachers that I’ve had and I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to work with her. Jet also described herself as a “huge hippie” and I must agree with that, using “hippie” in the least derogatory way imaginable.
She began by teaching us about tapping into our inner “clown” and finding the face that we project when we are at an absolute neutral. She talked a lot about clown-theory and other ways that we could build on what was naturally within us to create comic highs. The terminology that Jet used was often unlike any that I’ve ever heard before. She talked a lot about how we need to keep our “charge” up because that’s the energy between people that’s interesting to watch. She encouraged using “breath noises” to inform character because it reveals so much when you let out a sound as you exhale.
Rather than who-what-where, Jet encouraged us to look to our partner, our character and our environment. She said that anytime we were in our heads we should go to one of those things. She also discouraged trying to “get everything out” immediately because often that comes across as one player trying to direct the scene instead of allowing everyone to discover it together.
We did not work much on scene work. Jet described the improv program with an analogy to quilting. She said that the scenes are fabric and everything that was non-scenic was the stitching. To work on stitching, you need fabric but in level two that isn’t the focus.
In working on the non-scenic elements of improv we got to play a lot with ideas that verged on performance art. We worked a lot with transitions and allowing transitions to dictate the next scene. Often the performers who would start the next scene would just be whoever was left on stage after a transition finished. This felt a lot more collaborative and supportive than what I normally see in improv shows (a sweep edit followed by a fight to get on stage and get your idea out, or worse, nobody wanting to go out because they don’t have an idea). Rather than focusing on premise or game, we focused on presence and listening and reacting to our scene partners. Another trio of things to balance (or plates to spin) comes out of heightening, tension and risk. Jet talked a lot about not staying in places that are safe. Sometimes we would exit our safe zones by going after our wants whole heartedly. We must surrender our egos and allow ourselves to look dumb. This came out the most prominently during our last day when we focused on dancing to music and allowing that to spit us out into scenes. Using music as a transition (not unlike Mother’s Soundtrack Harolds) forces the improvisers to surrender to an outside power and trust that it will work out.
One more things I really liked was Jet’s insistence that a Harold doesn’t have to be a formulaic procedure. Things will naturally come back (sometimes in threes) and we should just surrender our trust to the improv Gods that this will happen. Focusing more on the form instead of the scene work will lead to some shitty improv. As far as “game” in relation to improv goes, at UCB game was often defined as a pattern of behavior. Humans naturally produce patterns, so if we are just listening and reacting in a scene, game will come out.
Looking at my notes, these are a few sentences or phrases I really like
- A scene with legs has truth and tension.
- Your body can recognize the end of a beat.
- Pursue 50% gold (things that will be good) and 50% shit (real risks that might suck) at all times.
- Sometimes we overcomplicate things because we don’t think what we have is enough. You are enough.
- Be cool with the physicality that the piece spits you into.
- Physical position gives you everything.
- Unless your walk on really helps the scene, don’t do it.
- It’s all about balance and time. Something can be awesome but not for eight minutes. If you let something go on too long, no one will want it to come back.
- Play the way you want to ten years from now.
- Comedic Tools: Recognition of truth and Tension dance
- Beingness -> Emotion -> Impulse. It must be in that order or else the impulse will be fake.
For whatever it’s worth, a classmate of mine has been posting day by day records of his notes. They are much more comprehensive than mine. Here are links to them.
Week 1, Class 1
Week 1, Class 2
Week 1, Class 3
Week 1, Class 4
Week 2, Class 1
Week 2, Class 2
Week 2, Class 3
Week 2, Class 4