Improv, Comedy, Women, Melbourne and everything in between.
iO Summer Intensive 2014
Week 1, Day 1
Introduction from Charna Halpern. She talks about iO’s legacy, Del Close, the concept of ‘Yes, And’, and her excitement to share this new theatre with us. She’s also a goddess and I’m fan-girling pretty hard. A student asked if there was a good way to remember all the information we were about to receive over the next 5 weeks. She responded with: “Today we’ll teach you to put your right foot forward. Tomorrow, we’ll teach you to put your left foot forward because that’s how you learn to walk. You can’t do that without your right foot.” The jist of this? You’ll learn ‘Yes, And’ on the first day of improv classes and you’ll carry it with your for the rest of your journey. You can’t not use ‘Yes And’ – so improvisers shouldn’t worry about remembering everything, it should all be instinctual. Yes, And. Listen and react. Support your scene partner. Repeat. Drink a lot.
It’s the first week of five. My level 1 teacher is Matt Higbee, a happy-go-lucky guy with a penchant for swearing and I don’t hate it. We’re in the Harold Cabaret room – possibly my favourite space in the new iO theatre. Our exercises included the cocktail party, creating an ad campaign, monologues, word-at-a-time story, and hotspot. If you don’t know what any of those things are, that’s fine – but you should take a level 1 long-form improv class.
Week 1, Day 2
“Improvise like a stripper – go right up to the faces in the front row and earn those one dollar notes, baby, get in their faces” – Higbee on having fun and getting up close and personal with the audience.
The sense of joy Higbee brings to the space is infectious and it’s a wonderful quality in a level 1 teacher. I note this down for future reference. Today was great because we ran exercises that cleared up concepts I had previously tried to teach back home. My highlight was this Story Sounds game we played – everyone sits in a circle in the dark, and each player makes a sound reacting off the first offer to tell a story. For instance, someone kicked off the story with an owl hoot, then I added some wolf howling. From there, the story became a spooky forest hunt.
Another exercise I loved was fittingly called “I Love…”, where a group of players would stand in a circle, get a suggestion, and begin a series of monologues relating to one another all beginning with “I love…”. Higbee says this exercise is for improvisers to get into the ‘Creation Mentality’ rather than the ‘Editing Mentality’. The ‘Editing Mentality’ is for stand-up comedians – it’s observational, objective, removed, think Louis CK beginning a piece with “you know what’s stupid?” (note: the Editing Mentality has nothing to do with ‘editing’ in improv). Improvisers use the ‘Creation Mentality’ – we’re inside this piece, so we have to go deeper and have a legitimate emotional connection with what we’re doing. Form relationships, don’t judge offers. Just be in it.
Higbee defines himself as a thematic player. On his team, he brings the theme to the Harolds and he firmly believes theme makes Harold an art form. He says “a theme is like an idea, but with perspective attached”. I don’t hate it. In fact, I love it.
After class and many drinks (as usual), we head to The Annoyance Theatre for the first time to see ‘Baby Wants Candy’ (musical theatre improv) and TNT (scenes/montages). ‘Baby Wants Candy’ is a joy, as is most musical improv. TNT was incredible – probably because TJ Jagodowski was guesting and he is just a crazy-good improviser.
Realisation: I can do slow, relaxed scenework. Be more like TJ. Obviously.
Week 1, Day 3
In all honesty, level 1 has been wonderful but I’ve also been a little frustrated. Sometimes I wish I could answer the questions myself. I didn’t realise I wanted more of a challenge, but here I am. What we’re learning here is what we teach back home in Melbourne, but with different exercises. So I’m sitting here noting down all these exercises like a madwoman to take home.
“You’re an actor. When you ‘break’ (laugh) on stage, act through it. Justify it.” – Higbee on staying proffesional even when you’re laughing your ass off during a scene.
We do an invocation. I remember this style of opening from watching an old Improv Conspiracy team ‘The Wrong Shoulder’ do it back when each team did set openings for our Harolds (everyone does organic openings now).
It was different this time, though. Higbee explains its origin with Del Close, who was a wiccan when he wasn’t pioneering modern long-form improvisation (and thus came the realisation that improv really is a cult and I will not accept any spiked kool-aid from here on in). We discuss summoning deities, because that’s the purpose of an invocation. Higbee isn’t a fan of the invocation opening as a method to find theme, but we learn it anyway. Everyone in the class is tense and for the most part, confused. I’m fucking amped up and ready to go. Our suggestion is marker and I run with it.
I got waaaaaaaay into this. Like, waaaaaay into this.
“I. AM. MARKER!!!!” – Hayley Tantau, too loudly.
We then do scenework and it’s a heap of fun. I play a drunk mum, as usual.
Quotes from day 3:
“You didn’t fly with the fucking dogs, guys!” – Higbee on being passive.
“Use the fucking magic fucking box!” – Higbee on exploring the interesting thing in depth (opening the box).
“An opening for a Harold is for you, the improviser. Not the audience. Why would you play for that person in the audience? Play it for yourself.” – Higbee on generating ideas in the opening.
“Get each other off. Get yourself off. Get your teammates off.” – Higbee on having fun and other things my Harold team should anticipate when I get home. I MEAN IT IN AN IMPROV SENSE, GUYS!
Week 1, Day 4
Last day of Level 1. We go over tag-outs and the Harold. I just performed the first beat of the first Harold in the iO’s Harold Cabaret room. COOL. *Weeps with joy*.
Higbee’s 7 important rules of being the greatest scene partner you can be:
Tonight we saw Messing with a Friend at The Annoyance. TJ guested with Susan Messing. Susan Messing hugged me after the show. Obviously this was an incredible, groundbreaking evening of improv. Game-changer. 45 minutes of solid, engaging scenework. HOOOOOO BOY.
I ponder what level 2 will bring in the next week. And then I have another gin and tonic.