Entry From the Back of One Anonymous Student’s Evaluation, #2

Saturday, February 6, 2010

(A Level One student took it upon themselves to write a list of things I said in class on the back side of their Teacher Evaluation. I have expanded on some of those thoughts. Thank you, anonymous student!)

“Today you will play jazz, tomorrow you will betray your country”
-1930s Soviet propaganda poster

Today, we’re playing with the idea of the “royal we.” It’s a journalistic style that makes one think that this was written by committee.

Now you know the truth. 

Well, what say we pick up where we left off? When last we spoke we were continuing to tell you about one student who had some time on his hands. He wrote down some quips and thoughts that he claims we said in class. Thanks again, anonymous student.

Keep the scene moving. This is also known as forwarding the action. How do we do this? We must listen to the last thing we heard, take it personally, add emotion to your response. We tend to stop a scene when we ask questions, when we talk about something that doesn’t matter, or when we “negotiate.” A truly great way to stop a scene is by using any kind of math. Try it at home or at a party and, once everyone has left you, you’ll understand what we’re talking about: You + Party + Math Conversation + Time = You Alone. Now there’s a math equation we all can learn from!

Be in that place with that thing. Well, how much more specific can we get? We are what we have in our hands, what’s in our environments and in the eyes of our partner. Know where you are and that information will tell you what to do and how to feel. Commit to what you have in your hands and it will lead you to character. Connect with your partner and you will never lack for words or emotions or content or … surprise.

‘Rules’ aren’t ‘rules’; they’re ‘guidelines.’ New improvisors get caught up in concentrating too much on “the rules”—don’t deny, don’t ask questions, know your who, what and where, etc. Teachers and directors want you to “own” these concepts, to make them second nature. It’s a Zen approach—know what you know, then forget it. Once you “own” a concept, we give you permission to break the rules, as long as you still keep forwarding the action of the scene and giving gifts to your partner. And always remember, a gift to your partner is always a gift to both you and your scene.

Don’t invent--discover! Each time you walk on stage, you are entering a place. You might not know it at that moment but that place is there. It’s stage left on a shelf, it’s downstage in the sink, it’s upstage center hanging on the wall. You just have to give yourself the permission to see it, be patient and it’ll open itself up to you. Every time you look at your partner, whether they know it or not they’re giving you information. Open your mind and go with your impulses. What is their body language telling you? How are they standing? What’s the look on their face? It’s subtle but as an artist you need to read into those things, to make assumptions. (By the way, we don’t buy into the old saw about how ”When you assume you make an ass out of...” Assumption is a major tool for us, and the first step in giving gifts.) Those cues and clues help you determine what your partner does for a living and how old they are and if they’re married or if they’re a sailor or in a wheelchair or sporting a bulls eye tattoo on their forehead. Open yourself up for inspiration, and let yourself discover what is already there. It’s a lot less work, and hell, it’s more surprising.

It’s silence, it isn’t mime. Lately we’ve been thinking about the idea of silence, of those moments on stage where nothing is said. Those moments are as rare as Jews named Andersen. Yet the only way that they are going to show their wonderful little faces (the silences, not the Jews) is if we let them. In other words, don’t be in such a hurry to verbally respond. Live in the uncomfortable world of no words. Let your facial expressions express, let your body language speak for you. Trust that the audience wants to put things together for themselves every once in a while. Seldom will they think “Hey, it’s been six seconds since anyone on stage has spoken!  Call the police!!” What they will do is let their imagination answer some questions. It’s “show don’t tell”. Play with it.

And finally, speaking of fun . . .

Play with the fun. Every once in a while we get in the groove, we understand what our partner is telling us, we see what’s in front of us and we are no longer “in charge” because the scene is in charge. When all of the planets line up and you see clearly…enjoy it, let your mind let go of being in charge, let your body tell you what’s to come, let the goddess of improv lead your scene.  Have fun. To paraphrase the wonderful Mick Napier, “it’s called play, not work.”

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David Razowsky

I have a simple approach to improvising: Your present awareness is the only thing you need to create compelling, smart, truthful, and surprising scenes. Period. No games, no preconceived premises, no ideas, no ego. All that matters is now. The actor’s level of improvisation experience doesn’t matter, for all you need to bring to my workshop is your present presence. All you’ll leave with is your joy and excitement and confidence. And after all, what more do you need?