So let me do a brain dump…
Last weekend I went through a two-day workshop led by 3 For All, the superstar troupe from San Francisco. I didn’t take many notes in class, but Peter Rgers (Austin improv’s unofficial historian and secretary) did, and I hope to get my hands on them soon. Because there was a lot of information I’m sure I’ve forgotten half of it. Or most of it.
Here is what I do remember…
More than any individual lesson they shared, 3 For All was inspiring. Sure, they’ve been performing together for 20 years, but their professionalism, passion, and playfulness (3 P’s!) inspired me to up my game.
2. Spacework & Physicality
I’ve gotten fat. I’ve indulged my appetite for a couple of months now, and I’m heavier than I’ve been. Ever. It’s a bummer, as it always is, to feel fat and unhealthy and slow. But with improv now such a part of my life I have more cause to be bummed. Because being fat and out of shape is severely impeding my improv. I’m unable to improvise fully because I can’t, or am inclined not to try to, do physical things onstage. I’ll walk around a lot, and I’m good at setting stage pictures. But it’s nothing more than me wandering around. I don’t jump, I don’t duck, I don’t dance, I don’t make physical choices. And it’s because I feel uncomfortable in my body.
Stephen Kearin led the physicality/spacework section of the workshop. He’s a compact man, very lithe. He has a dancer’s way of moving—with flair. He moves in an interesting, watchable manner. And then he talks and it’s … wow. He’s incredibly smart, but in an engaging, anecdotal way. He’s not dumping dry, cliched improv advice. He is performing. He’s telling stories. He’s quoting historical figures. He’s making dirty jokes. And the whole time, he’s moving. I loved it. I’d happily pay twice as much just to watch him talk for 12 hours.
Anyway, he does such great detailed spacework onstage. And he tried to move us toward his way of working. And while I have a long way to go, I’m excited to go. And I’m eager to get back to my healthy, nimble body. Stay tuned.
Both Tim Orr and Rafe Chase spent time on the use of emotion in improv. And their message was clear: emotion will make or break your show. Without it, you’re doomed to a decent, funnyish scene at best. With it, you infuse every bit of the scene with layers, secrets, and curiosity. Emotional responses and emotional offers not only help us “act” more in scenes, but they support our scene partners by offering them something to react to. Emotion begets emotion.
But this is tricky. Because it is not to imply that every line you speak (or look you give, or move you make) should be wildly emotional. Remember, shades of emotion matter. Sometimes you’re really hurt, and other times you’re just annoyed. The degree matters. But some emotion is always better than no emotion.
All three instructors used the word “craft,” which I love for how it summons images of a tinkerer in a little back room, or a carpenter building a big fancy English door, sawdust, sweat, creation. I picture Ben Franklin when I hear “craft.” It appeals to my masculine side, I think. And so that’s the word that keeps bouncing around my head: treating improv like a craft, which has proven best practices and discrete skill sets. Improv is a great illustration of how solid craft can create wonderful art.
So there it is, my quick and dirty data dump. There’s more. And I hope to write about it here. But suffice to say, my paradigm has shifted.