Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Making FNI Yours:
There seems to be an alarming trend among Friday Nite Improvs audience members and regulars to think of Improvs as a "show". This is completely wrong. As the producer of Friday Nite Improvs, this buggs the living Abe Vagota out of me. You see, my friends, Improvs has never been and indeed cannot be a show. A show is when you go to something and some performers entertain you and you go home. Improvs cannot survive in show format. Improvs is audience participation but it shouldn't even be called that because even calling the crowd an audience implies that there is a show. The "audience" at improvs is the show. There is no one person at improvs more important than the collective whole that assembles there. The regulars may be a little more experienced, but this in no way makes them better. In fact, most of the time a regular-dominated show is just plain boring. So here I sit begging you that if you must refer to Improvs as a show at least make it your show in some way. Don't be intimidated by regulars. Put them in their places. This includes me and Louis. If you don't have the guts to get up on stage, make a suggestion, heckle someone, express yourself from your seat in some way! But please, don't let the so-called regulars control Improvs. It is your place to be a star just as much as it is theirs and really improvs is for you, not for them.
Hoping that I have sparked just one
timid person to get up for World's Worst,
Monday, February 7, 2011
Ultimately, it comes down to taking a deep breath and raising your hand, week after week, but there are steps you can take to push forward.
Be accountable to someone.
In chatting with John Feightner about this topic, we both agreed that what helped us get onstage was knowing that there was someone in the audience judging us if we didn't. At the time, I was taking a workshop taught by Chris Griswold, another FNI alum, along with John and a number of the other people you see consistently on stage. He was an excellent teacher, but while I found myself making progress every class, I still sat in the audience for most shows without volunteering. After a while, Chris gave me a hard time about it, and every week I knew that if I didn't do something onstage, I was going to hear about it. Every game that went by without my hand in the air, I could feel Chris arching his eyebrow higher and higher in my direction. (Real or imagined? I don't know. [Yes I do. It was real.]) It's pretty basic developmental psychology that we crave the approval of the people whose opinions we value and we'll jump through hoops to get it. Pick someone. It can be anyone, but ideally this person is a) comfortable being judgmental and b) someone you want to impress. Promise to get onstage once a week, and be accountable. If none of your friends are judgy enough, come see me, John, or Abby and we'll be your surrogate judger.
Let the Game Do the Heavy Lifting
Games at FNI range widely in the amount of input they require from the players. If you've seen Tag-A-Line, you know it's a game that has two players who only have to day one word at a time when tagged by the other players. That game is a great way to dip your toe in. A game like Minute Fairy Tale is highly structured. You have the skeleton of a plot already and a time limit, so you can feel comfortable not embellishing the story much. The humor is inherent to the time constraint, your job is to play that up and enhance it. Someday you'll be totally comfortable building a scene from the ground up with nothing more than a one-word suggestion, but until then, use the framework of more structured games as a support.
You Already Have Mad Skillz - Highlight Them
As time goes on and you find yourself getting comfortable onstage, you may want to find new challenges by volunteering for games that scare you. But I'm getting ahead of myself! Let's get you onstage in the first place. Different games utilize different amounts of work and skill sets. Try to identify your comfort zones. What do you do in normal life that makes your friends laugh? Are you very physical? Good at charades? Try miming games like Murder Chain and Pledge Break. Do you like word play? Give Jeopardy a shot. Can you write a completely bullshitted research paper for a class you barely attended and pass? Kick ass at the game Balderdash? Challenge might be your game. Starting with games that play to your strengths will make the stage less intimidating.
And what is the everlasting refrain of FNI? Let's say it together, "Failure is Ok!"
Anyone with a story of how you got onstage for the first time - Questions about which game is right for you - Other suggestion? Leave a comment. Let's discuss.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
The Ultimate Improv Book is terrible. It reads like a bad training video, one made by an alien culture that’s attempting to wrap its mind around this thing humans call “improv comedy.” I would love to excuse this book for attempting simplicity, but even high school students don’t deserve such childishness. There is no intelligent conversation to be had here and more than a few bizarre concepts that I find to be destructive.
Take for example the author’s insistence that “adding complications to an already problematic dilemma is a wonderful source of entertainment.” While any good improvisor should know to “up the stakes,” The Ultimate Improv Book thinks all scenes should be a derivative of a waiter stacking too much food on a tray. Keep adding problems, they insist! Keep adding characters! The book also flies in the face of almost everything I’ve ever read on literature, screenwriting, and improv scenework by telling us to never start in the middle. The chapter on Characterization takes only three pages and breathlessly simplifies important concepts to Walk Different, Talk Different, Be Extreme. No time for forming emotions, motivations, relationships. The authors also take a moment to say, “It is up to the player to lie to his audience. If he pretends to be happy and cheerful and smiles and looks like he is enjoying himself, then the audience will like him better.” Are we to assume all improvisors hate their work? There is something to be said about stage presence. This isn’t it.
But here’s the truly awful part of this book. The Ultimate Improv Book tells you to PLAN IMPROV SCENES! They actually suggest improv teams use a “huddle” to discuss scenes before they are performed and that its OK to agree upon the ending beforehand (though they casually say its OK to just plan the beginning too!). When not using the “huddle,” our teachers also suggest creating pre-planned scenes, or “Flag Scenes,” where audience suggestions are inserted like mad-libs into highly scripted plot lines. This is trash. This is not improv.
The only thing I can recommend about The Ultimate Improv Book is it's Appendix Six. It's a list of other improv books. Good improv books.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Speak up and raise your hand. I cannot stress this enough. The job of the nibber is more complicated than it looks. There are a lot of stimuli to pay attention to, so you have to be loud and easy to spot if you want to grab his focus. Turn up the volume, project with your diaphragm, and once you’ve called (shouted) “Freeze,” keep your hand up high. If you call “Freeze” and get no response, the nibber is not ignoring you. She probably just didn’t hear you. Try again soon.
Pay attention to the scene. A lot of people watch the scene, waiting for an interesting position, not really paying attention to the progression of the scene. Has anything happened in the scene yet? Have they solved the problem they set out to deal with? Does it seem like the players don’t have anywhere else to go (for more than a few seconds. Every player needs some time to think of what to do next). If something dangerous is happening onstage, this may be a good time to call Freeze and save the players from themselves.
Pay attention to the nibber. Did she just nib someone else? Too many interruptions disrupts the flow of the scene and never allows the players to complete their business. Some nibbers will more actively scan the audience when they feel the scene has had enough time to bear fruit (this is not universal, but worth looking for).
If you get nibbed, don’t take it personally, even if it happens a couple of times in a row. Everyone has had a night where they couldn’t get onstage, and it’s just a weird coincidence. 90% of the time, the nibber isn’t even looking at the face of the person who calls Freeze. It’s just a Voice and a Hand in a certain section of the audience at the right time.
Once you are called upon, make your way to stage as quickly as you can. Keeping a brisk pace to the game is key. When you’re on stage, quickly decide who to tag out. If you didn’t have a clear idea of who you wanted to tag out before you called freeze, that’s OK! But don’t dawdle onstage deciding. It’s improv, so whichever position you take has limitless possibilities. Occasionally, a new player thinks it’s clever to purposefully draw out the decision process. Cut that out.
What if you find yourself in the position of Nibber? It’s a rotating position, often filled by a long-time audience member. No one will ever be perfect, but here are a few tips to make it go smoothly:
1. Divide your attention as evenly as you can between the audience and the scene. Listen carefully for quieter people freezing in, and don't be afraid to request that potential players speak up.
2. Don't forget to speak up as well.
3. Be Decisive. As soon as you hear a person yell “Freeze,” either let them in or call “Nib.” Long pauses and “ummmm’s” kill the momentum of the game. If two people freeze in at the same time, just pick one. The other will freeze in again.
4. Freeze in judiciously. As nibber, you have the ability to let yourself into the scene and you are welcome to do so, but use discretion.
5. Scan the whole room. There are dark corners full of eager improvisers who crave your attention.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Reading Impro for Stortellers is a bit like being a fly on the wall of an improv workshop, but the teacher is secretly informing the fly of all his reasonings. This can be a great benfit to new improvisors hungry for lessons but nowhere to learn. Johnstone describes his students' pitfalls (pitfalls a newbie will certainly recognize in himself/herself) and gives straightforward lessons on how to break them free from their constraints. There are copious amounts of exercises described in this book, many familiar to all improvisors and several you may recognize as actual FNI games. Besides some extraneous information on how to handle Theatresports and run your own show, it's all useful information to new performers.
Chapters on "Storytelling" and "Making Things Happen" will be a great boon to those who can't wrap their minds around the ideas in Impro. There are many great lessons on opening up your mind and spicing up your stories. The chapter on "Character" is also very useful. Most improv books have tons to say about scenework but little on character, so Johnstone's discussions here will be great for anyone who wants to break free from themselves on stage. Some people may find these ideas a bit too "theater-y," which is silly considering improv is nothing but theater, but you should take a gander anyway.
Storytellers may be a better start and more digestible than Impro, but I highly recommend both if you wish to pursue improv further.