Tag Archives: improv

Occam’s Razor and Improv

When performing improv, every improviser has a desire to seem intelligent. If you are like me you’ve probably looked up to improvisers with lots of experience who seem to wow audiences with subtlety which turns into high spots of the scenes they are in. Perhaps, you think you need to be subtle, on purpose, in scenes to do the same thing. Improv doesn’t work that way and Occam’s Razor explains why.

Occam’s Razor is a principle that implies that a simple explanation is better than a more complex one. Whether or not this is true is somewhat debatable. However, when you are trying to play to an audience that is trying to understand what you are doing it’s best to keep things obvious. That way, things come across loud and clear to both your audience and your fellow improvisers.

But how can you be like that improviser you look up to? How can you turn that earlier subtlety into something witty? You can do it by paying attention. Those improvisers you look up to are just great at seeing what happens in a scene and putting those pieces together in the moment. They didn’t plan it. They made this witty story line, attribute or joke obvious to the audience when they noticed a pattern that fit the scene. Sure, they may be good at subtlety but that comes from experience. The experience of turning ideas up to 11 and making it clear what they are doing. Then, over the years, feeling out the best times to turn it down to 10, then 9, then 8, etc. More importantly, they learned to make strong choices, in the moment and at the moment they come up with them.

So the next time you have a great idea for a place to take an improv scene, make it obvious right then and there. If you don’t know how to do that, just make any strong choice and stick with it. It’s the strong, obvious choices in the moment that the audience (and your fellow improvisers) can understand which make for a less confusing (read as more enjoyable) show.

Now, I just need to practice writing in a way that is simpler to understand and this blog would go a lot better too.
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My ‘Journal’ Entry

A postcard for 'The Journal' and a white russian.Here I am, with less than a week until my first performance in a long form improvisational comedy show. The show I’m in is called The Journal and parodies the tragic romances of Nicholas Sparks. I’ve had a weird experience with this show so I thought I would share it.

Warning: Logic does not apply

My experience with The Journal is based in my subconscious and the inner workings of my brain working against me. It is easy to apply logic and wonder why I had any issues. Shush! Logic does not apply here! Though it did finally lead me to the proper solution I was not being conscious of the way my emotions were leading me around.

Finding out about The Journal

Since moving back to Seattle I had decided to really focus on performing improv, rather than just taking classes, a reality. This led me to auditioning for Jet City Improv and ComedySportz Seattle. I had a lot of fun at the auditions but I didn’t even make callbacks for either. I talked a positive game afterward but, especially for ComedySportz Seattle I felt really bummed. I learned my improv chops through ComedySportz San Jose and really wanted to be a part of it here in Seattle.

Near the end of my Long Form Essentials class that I was taking through Jet City Improv, our teacher Mandy, sent out an email telling us all about upcoming auditions for The Journal. Also, she sent me a follow up email telling me that she put in a good word about me with the producer. This made me feel good because I think she is an awesome improviser who’s style I’d like to emulate in many ways. So I was riding high knowing I had made an impression with someone who I respect. That is, I was riding high until auditions.

Auditions

For Jet City Improv and ComedySportz Seattle auditions I felt that I had done pretty good. I had a feeling I wouldn’t make the cut but I still felt I had done well overall. For the first audition to The Journal I had actually studied Nicholas Sparks movies and even watched The Notebook right before the audition. It seemed like a more serious piece so I was doing the serious thing of studying (something I never did much before). After the first audition I went home thinking I was in over my head. I felt some of the other improvisers did much better at long form theatrical improv and I had no chance.

To my surprise, I got called back! That good word from Mandy must’ve paid off, either that or they could tell, and appreciated, that I had recently watched The Notebook. In my mind, “Thank You Mandy!” There was no way I had made the difference there. I was there and I felt I had done a really poor job.

NOTE: Logic doesn’t really pertain here, as I said above, but logic says that when you do an audition you have no idea what the people running the auditions are looking for so do your best and then don’t worry about it

At the callbacks I realized only 1 or 2 others got called back and the rest of the people there knew each other from Seattle Experimental Theater‘s (SET) previous show Where No Man Has Gone Before. I had an inkling of feeling special but then I saw the people work together who knew each other. They were really connected with each other and were funny without even trying. I left that audition feeling worse about my performance than the last time, but hey – at least I made it to callbacks this time.

NOTE: If you’ve never done improv, you may not know that knowing your fellow improvisers helps so, so much.

Funny thing about how I felt about my performance, it didn’t matter. They offered me a part in the show! Thanks again Mandy! I obviously had nothing to do with it.

First Rehearsals

So off to rehearsals I went and this is when stuff really got weird for me. I didn’t act like my improv self at all. I’ll explain by going back in time to my educations at ComedySportz San Jose. I once asked my improv teacher Michael, what he thought I needed to work on to be a better improviser. For the most part, he said I had good instincts and I was never afraid to jump on stage first and try out an idea. The main thing he said I should work on is letting others take the spotlight and learn how to add to their ideas. Jumping back to rehearsals for The Journal, I was definitely attempting to practice giving others the spotlight but now I was timid and afraid of my ideas.

Things all came to a head one day when I was called in early by myself to work on my breathing while talking. Before I got there I was walking with the producer and explaining to her how I was getting something out of being in The Journal because I usually just jump on to stage and don’t do as much support. Her responses, “I really don’t see that from you”. Also, I did the breathing exercises with the Stage Manager and she realized that I was having the problems when I was second guessing myself. A mini lightbulb went off in my head at that point but I was still timid for the rest of that rehearsal. It was later that evening that I did some brooding (my form of soul searching I think) and came to some powerful realizations.

The realizations

The first thing I realized was that I put a lot of pressure on myself because I didn’t want to let down Mandy who had stood up for my talents. I felt that if I did poorly, I wouldn’t just let her down but make her lose credibility as well.

It was then that I remembered something she said in class that I never thought I would need to do myself. She said that when she performs she actually gives herself permission to mess up. I took it a step further and decided to take a bigger risk and have since been saying to myself, “I give myself permission to fuck things up!” Funny thing about improv when you trust your fellow improvisers on stage, you can not break a scene no matter how hard you try.

I also realized something I have been hinting at a bit in this article, I was not giving myself enough credit. The rest of the cast were pretty much set before auditions even happened as they all knew each other from before. However, they asked me to join them and be a part of their show. They had other talented people try out but they chose me. Whatever the reason, they felt I would be an asset to the show and yet there I was acting like I didn’t deserve to be there. No more! I bring a certain energy to the table.

Finally, looking back at my previous auditions for Jet City Improv and ComedySportz Seattle I realized that I hadn’t given myself explicit permission to make any mistakes. Perhaps next time I audition for either I will give myself that permission and see if it helps. I may not make it (there are some amazing improvisers in Seattle) but at least I’ll feel that I put it all out there at an audition.

Now on to the show

I’ve only had a few rehearsals since the revelations, but I have felt so much better about each of them. The first day I was still a bit timid but I kept reminding myself that I give myself permission to fuck things up. Not only have I felt that I have performed better, but I have had more fun and been more connected with the rest of the cast. I’m not completely over the illogical self deprecating thoughts that are in my head, but by being conscious of them I can make choices without listening to them.

Only 2 more rehearsals until a dress rehearsal in front of an audience and then it is opening night. We’ve got 4 shows and I can’t wait to see what the audience brings each time. I know we are going to do great with whatever we are given.

Conclusion

I was thinking of holding off writing this until after the show, but I don’t see why I should. I can’t break the show, there are too many talented people working on it. I just hope that some other entertainer will read these words and get some insight for themselves. At the minimum, I will read it some day in the future and be reminded that I have permission to be bold.

My farewell show at Comedysportz San Jose

As you may have heard, from recent posts, I am moving to Seattle for a new job. They wanted me to start October 31st but I wasn’t having any of it. Not because it is Halloween, though I did love Halloween at Gaia, but because I had an improv show to do November 3rd and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I have had a great time training at Comedysportz San Jose and had a blast with my fellow improvisers so I had to see how we’d all do at a honest to goodness Comedysportz formatted show.

For your information, we did great. Also, my wife got some shaky video of most of the show. So sit back, relax and have a laugh at my expense.

BTW – 80’s bands should have been my category. Next time I will not falter!

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy my previous show that I posted here during the summer. That is long form improv but still quite fun.

If you enjoyed this please tell all your friends by tweeting, posting to facebook, google plus, tumblr, myspace whatever. If you didn’t enjoy this…shhhhhh…no one likes a whiner. ūüėČ Seriously, I’d love to hear what you think of the show. If you have any samples of your own improv and/or stand up comedy I’d love to see them as well. Good alternatives for the game of 185? 80s bands that I should have said(this could be a long list)? Post them in the comments.

Sunday Funnies – Seattle

Almost Live Space Needle RideSo a few weeks ago I made my way to Seattle on a top secret trip. I went, I saw some sites, met some friends and family and top secretly went to a job interview. I kinda hated the secrecy but things are the way they are in the job world. To make a long story short, I got the job and I’ll very shortly be moving back to my old home of Seattle.

Since I think of Almost Live! when I think of comedy in Seattle (for now anyway) and I need to be reminded about how to live in Seattle the following playlist is my comedy for the week. I thought about breaking this up into several weeks instead of a playlist but the move is coming faster than I think.
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So here it is. Almost Live!’s Guide to Living in Seattle

I am really excited about my move but even more excited to get involved in a new improv scene. Currently, there isn’t a ComedySportz in Seattle so I’ll need to check out Jet City Improv and Unexpected Productions.

Obstacles vs Accessories

Obstacle or accessory?It is not what happens to you that matters but rather how you respond to what happens to you. I could easily get metaphorical about this with the many things that have happened to me (especially in the recent past) but I’ve got two very specific things to bring up regarding this concept.

Parkour, Freerunning and overcoming obstacles

Almost 4 years ago when I first found out about parkour, I was drawn to the concept of training to overcome obstacles physically and using this training to help you overcome all obstacles – mental and physical. Well this year, in my new home of San Jose, I’ve decided to train parkour at a facility called Guardian Art.¬†At Guardian Art they don’t relate the same way to obstacles. In fact, they don’t relate to obstacles at all. Everything is an accessory.

When I look up the word accessory, this is what I get:

1. a subordinate or supplementary part, object, or the like, used mainly for convenience, attractiveness, safety, etc.
2.¬†an¬†article¬†or¬†set¬†of¬†articles¬†of¬†dress,¬†as¬†gloves,¬†earrings,¬†or¬†a scarf,¬†that¬†adds¬†completeness,¬†convenience,¬†attractiveness,etc.,¬†to¬†one’s¬†basic¬†outfit.

For the sake of movement, obstacles can be treated instead like accessories. You can choose to use it or not to help you move through space. Knowing how to use an accessory in your movements makes your arsenal of motion more complete, adds convenience for you in getting from place to place and with practice your movements may even be pretty.

Yes, and…

One other thing I’ve begun training recently is improvisational comedy. I started taking classes out at DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro, NC and am now training at ComedySportz San Jose. First off, I highly recommend everyone take an improv comedy class. There is something for everyone. Second, improv has given me practice in relating to whatever life throws at you as accessories.

When I’m on stage with my teammates doing improv, I have very little idea what is going to happen. However, we have been taught to take whatever each other does or says as a gift to help the scene move along. You’ll often hear improvisers use the term “yes, and…” to describe what they do. This is because you always say yes to the reality someone is bringing into the mix and you add onto it. In other words, they bring something onto the stage and you use it as an accessory to help out the scene.

In conclusion

If you find yourself trying to overcome some sort of obstacle perhaps you could instead try to adjust your point of view. Can that obstacle be an accessory? Have you accepted the reality of your obstacle accessory¬†yet? Can you add to that reality to create something even more amazing? I’d love to hear where these concepts have worked for you in some way. Please comment below to let me know how you can see this in your own life.