Day 2: Audience

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

Moderators: happywaffle, arclight, bradisntclever

Day 2: Audience

Postby York99 » June 17th, 2006, 11:01 pm

Justin York’s Philosophy on Improv
Day 2
Today’s Topic: Audience

If you haven’t already, please read my post from Friday June 16 in the Classes section titled “So you think you know more about improv than Del Close, do you?â€
"Every cat dies 9 times, but every cat does not truly live 9 lives."
-Bravecat

Image
User avatar
York99
 
Posts: 1998
Joined: April 12th, 2006, 8:47 am
Location: There

Postby ChrisTrew.Com » June 22nd, 2006, 12:06 am

When I made a life change about 18 months ago to commit to comedy for the long haul and start taking improv classes, doing stand-up, writing more often, etc., I gave myself a treat.

The treat is doing what I feel is funny. I've written scripts before when the only note I got was "Nobody will think is funny." Well. I do. And I'm creating this world. Case closed. And the more I do this, the more I eat and breathe this world, the better and smarter I get. I truly believe most audiences enjoy seeing things from our perspective.

So therefore, audience, you sit down and let me do my thing. I won't say something only because I think you're going to like it, I'm going to say it because I like it and I do what I like. And you trust me enough to sit down in front of me while I do this. Maybe you'll fall in love with me and go home and google me and read more about me. Maybe you'll be turned off completely. I'll take that chance. It's what I do.

I mess up sometimes though, and I pay for it. When I watch a tape of a show and I make a dumb joke because I think it will be funny, I cringe. A million nails on a thousand chalk boards. I wasn't true to myself and I paid for it.

I do care about the audience. I want them to see a good show. However, I believe that they trust me. So when I am on stage I do not think about them.

When I write a song or a script or shoot a video, it's something that makes me laugh. I'm my audience and I trust myself more than I will ever trust any audience member.

That's what makes me tick.
Image
User avatar
ChrisTrew.Com
 
Posts: 1828
Joined: October 31st, 2005, 2:29 pm
Location: Austin/New Orleans

Postby York99 » June 22nd, 2006, 9:26 am

Well put, Chris. That's a great lesson for us all. Let me respond by first saying that if you think it is funny... IT IS FUNNY! And though Chris Trew comedy is some of my personal favorite comedy, this goes for all of you. You wouldn't be here if you didn't have recognition and/or encouragement from friends, family, strangers and, most importantly, yourself. Learning to trust yourself is part of the maturation process. Believe it or not, you are part of the elite.

Before I continue, I want to add a personal note. I have not said nor will I say anything disparaging specifically about ColdTowne or its members. My philosophy on improv has come from my experience with many instructors, improvisers, books, personal taste etc. etc. and continues to evolve. Coldtowne is one of those influences and is, I'm sure, fallable... perhaps on some terrible alternate universe or in the crazy theories of the evil Dr. Kritzer, who is always trying to take us down.

Continuing... trust your instincts about what is funny and what is not. If you HONESTLY believe that what you're doing is funny, then do it. Don't hold back. That goes with stand-up, sketch, and all endeavors of comedy. The one caviat to that rule is improv. Improv is an ensemble work. You should have the filters on of not only "Is this funny to me?" but also "Does this serve the improv piece and my troupe mates?" In improv, you MUST think about "we" and not "I." If an audience member leaves a show and knows a player's name but not the name of his or her troupe, then that player has likely been self-serving. The "magic" of improv is how these people come together without a plan or script and pull off a piece that seems planned or scripted. We all know that wonderful frustration of explaining to an audience member after a show that it wasn't planned. To me, improv is about much more than being funny. It's about making connections and that is accomplished through support, trust and agreement among the players. I would enjoy an improv show completely devoid of laughs if it flows well and honest connections are made.

Another side note is that all of these philosophies are idealistic concepts. Strive for aligning your show with all of them but falling short does not mean that someone has failed. Nothing and nobody is perfect. Also, know when to break the rules.

Don't let the smoothe taste fool you.
"Every cat dies 9 times, but every cat does not truly live 9 lives."
-Bravecat

Image
User avatar
York99
 
Posts: 1998
Joined: April 12th, 2006, 8:47 am
Location: There

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 22nd, 2006, 4:33 pm

i've heard several of my favorite writers say this, and it's something i think is absolutely true. Don't give the audience what they want...give them something they need. That is to say, don't pander or write the story so everything goes smoothly and everyone gets a happy ending. Make the characters suffer, make the road bumpy and interesting, let the audience get emotionally invested and then do something completely awful and tragic to make them FEEL that anger or sadness or disgust.

Some of this comes down to the old distinction of improv as comedy or as theatre. And I've never seen the division because to me comedy IS theatre, so long as it's performed on a stage in front of an audience. Y'know the drama masks? That smiling one? Yeah, that's comedy. It's an integral part of drama and i think it's a mistake to try and completely separate the two. Yeah, the audience is there to laugh, wonderful. But that means they're letting their guard down, they're making themselves vulnerable to us so that we can make them laugh. What an opportunity to make them feel other emotions, to challenge them and make them think. I hate seeing audiences on automatic. Set up, punchline, laughter, repeat. It always makes me uncomfortable onstage when an actor will do something completely silly or absurd and outside of the established tone of the show up to that point to get the laugh. Because you've sacrificed something there that you can't get back. From that point on, you're no longer telling a story. You're telling jokes with a throughline. And they can be incredibly clever jokes and it can be a funny show. But it will never be a great show. If you're already doing a totally silly and absurd show with a yuck a minute, more power to you. That's totally valid. But if you set out to do something else and one person breaks that tone, you're finished. All you can do is coast her in for a hopefully smooth landing.

Part of the problem with that, I think, is that the audience has placed themselves in our hands. Ideally, they have dropped a lot of their defenses and are trusting us to take them on a journey. And they want laughter, of course they do, they want to be tickled. But they're vulnerable and trusting and open to other things as well. The problem is that many times, many of us aren't willing to do the same in return. How many times have you avoided a genuinely emotional and honest moment onstage in an improv show and made a gag out of it instead? How many times have you had the idea to make a bold and daring but not at all comedic choice that would challenge the audience, make them think, take the story up to a whole other level even if there was no joke involved...and swallowed that instinct because it's easier to go out there and get the quick laugh and have that gratification? The best prov i've seen and done has been with performers who let their guards down, who let the audience see them emotionally naked, who aren't afraid to say "okay, we're going to make you laugh...but along the way, we're going to tell an awesome story that's going to challenge and engage you. we're going to create characters you give a damn about and do things with them that will surprise you." And i think the audience is appreciative of that because we're reciprocating that trust. We've shared more than just a night of shtick. We've shared a time honored tradition of storytelling...and we're the only ones who'll ever know that story was told.

None of this applies to my sister, who brought a bunch of her friends to a Well Hung Jury show, proclaiming us to be the funniest people she'd ever known...only to bring them to a show where we were experimenting with doing a full on dramatic improv. It was an amazing show, but she was upset with me afterwards for not being hilarious. Go figure. :P
Sweetness Prevails.

-the Reverend
User avatar
Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell
 
Posts: 4215
Joined: March 17th, 2006, 6:50 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Postby arthursimone » June 23rd, 2006, 12:48 pm

the_reverend wrote:i've heard several of my favorite writers say this, and it's something i think is absolutely true. Don't give the audience what they want...give them something they need.




this spineless gutless country is starved for character. STARVED. We gobble down people magazine and reality shows that feature monsters who, by sheer virtue of a shred of talent and/or beauty, are endowed with the adjective "interesting".

people crave real interaction, real emotion, real real real, and yes, when they get a couple of easy gags instead, they go home unsatisfied. we don't go see rock shows to see our favorite bands lip-synch.

Liz Allen once told me that improvisers are the most interesting, real, amazing people in the history of the world, and to not let ourselves play ourselves and tell with amazing voices these amazing stories we have to tell, then we are cheating the world. something like that.

don't 'please' the audience. blow their goddamn minds.
User avatar
arthursimone
 
Posts: 1898
Joined: December 7th, 2005, 7:48 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 23rd, 2006, 3:43 pm

arthursimone wrote:don't 'please' the audience. blow their goddamn minds.


there is no standing ovation smiley on this site. but you, sir, just earned one...except there isn't one. so that and a quarter'll buy you a gumball. but all the same: huzzah!

to add a further metaphor, ask yourself this: what sexual encounters do you remember more? The ones where you just got off...or the ones that shook the very fabric of your reality, blew your mind out of the back of your skull, through the core of the Earth, out the other side, into the depths of the cosmos, through the gates of Heaven, into the wide open third eye of God Allmighty where all truth, beauty and the hidden wisdom of the universe were laid out before you, permeating your being on every level, then out the back of God's skull, through Heaven's fire exit, into a wormhole and right back through the front of your skull...and THEN you got off?

THAT is what the audience should experience in a good improv show. blam. :P
Sweetness Prevails.

-the Reverend
User avatar
Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell
 
Posts: 4215
Joined: March 17th, 2006, 6:50 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Postby beardedlamb » June 23rd, 2006, 4:13 pm

the_reverend wrote: what sexual encounters do you remember more?


but we also tend to remember the bad sexual experiences where nobody took direction and some people felt like their input was not received or acted upon.
.............
O O B
.............
User avatar
beardedlamb
 
Posts: 2676
Joined: October 14th, 2005, 1:36 pm
Location: austin

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 23rd, 2006, 4:18 pm

beardedlamb wrote:
the_reverend wrote: what sexual encounters do you remember more?


but we also tend to remember the bad sexual experiences where nobody took direction and some people felt like their input was not received or acted upon.


true...but which are the fonder memories? that's what i want to leave the audience with. a nice afterglow. :P
Sweetness Prevails.

-the Reverend
User avatar
Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell
 
Posts: 4215
Joined: March 17th, 2006, 6:50 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Postby shando » June 23rd, 2006, 4:26 pm

arthursimone wrote:Liz Allen once told me that improvisers are the most interesting, real, amazing people in the history of the world, and to not let ourselves play ourselves and tell with amazing voices these amazing stories we have to tell, then we are cheating the world. something like that.


Come on. Maybe when one is learning to first do improv one needs this kind of schmarm. But please, people, let's get over ourselves. This is not to say treat what we do with anything less than seriousness, but doing what we do doesn't make us special. Ick.

And as far as blowing the audience's minds with our "stories" goes, I still think what is missing in this conversation is, well, how does one do that? When I've been talking about audience in my recent posts, I'm not talking about pandering to them. Anyone except laugh whores who probably shouldn't be improvising anyway can figure this out in a matter of a couple of performances. But when a scene sucks, how many of us sit back and say, well, why did that scene suck, and why did that one kick ass? Suckage is more than likely not becuase you didn't acheive some chimeric group mind with your fellow improvisors, nor becuase you broke some cardinal improv rule. More than likely it sucked becuase it was about trivial shit where the audience didn't see some real human experience enacted. And I'm not talking about some some real human experience described and simulated, I mean enacted. And that's what I mean when I talk about taking the audeince into consideration.

And yes, the voice that you please in your head is also audience, but again, I think one should be careful of lying to oneself. Thinking something is funny/good/whatever doesn't mean that it is. Yes, one needs to trust one's instincts and not second guess, and one needs to find one's own voice as an improvisor, and the way to do that is to figure out what YOU want to see onstage, audience be damned. Again, I think one needs to think this periodically for purposes of confidence, aboslutley. But every fucking hack awful thing that you hate is also performed by someone who thinks it's worthwhile and is funny to them. So is it?
http://getup.austinimprov.com
madeline wrote:i average 40, and like, a billion grains?


"She fascinated me 'cause I like to run my fingers through her money."--Abner Jay
User avatar
shando
 
Posts: 2875
Joined: August 31st, 2005, 5:20 pm

Postby beardedlamb » June 23rd, 2006, 4:45 pm

as usual, i tend to believe in a blend of the two sides of the issue and that pleasing yourself is great at times and pleasing the audience is good at other times.
the best groups and individual performers are ones who can turn those skills on or off and mix things up. very few people want to see a group crack themselves up if they don't feel in on the joke. but it is refreshing if mixed in with other tactics. the audience will give you leniency if they feel like you'll come back to their world and give them more of the stuff they like and since most times the audience is mixed with people who enjoy either, they are both satisfied.

of course, in the end, as with any art, it's all subjective and the goal on these forums is to find the truths that will help us please who we want to please. the subjectivity of art makes that difficult.

b
.............
O O B
.............
User avatar
beardedlamb
 
Posts: 2676
Joined: October 14th, 2005, 1:36 pm
Location: austin

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 23rd, 2006, 5:07 pm

shando wrote:
Come on. Maybe when one is learning to first do improv one needs this kind of schmarm. But please, people, let's get over ourselves. This is not to say treat what we do with anything less than seriousness, but doing what we do doesn't make us special. Ick.


i disagree. i mean, yeah, i don't think we should take ourselves too seriously. that kind of pretention just poisons a performer and a community, and is why i don't like hanging out with most theatre people. but i think that what we do DOES make us special. Because not everyone can do it (regardless of what the advertisements say). The crucial difference to me is between understanding that and thinking that somehow elevates you above other people who don't do that. Because no, of course it doesn't. This is my gift, my talent. It makes me special. But no moreso than someone else is special because they have a talent for carpentry or astrophysics or raising children (and no, i'm not pandering to you there Papa McCormick, i'm just speaking the truth. :wink: ) The audience is paying to see us, giving us their money, time and attention...three valuable commodities. And if we give them something worthwhile, they'll come back and give us more. If we don't, they probably won't. But if they think we're worth that...if we ARE in fact worth that, then what's wrong with acknowledging it? Not letting it go to our heads or thinking it makes us better than other people (so no, i don't totally agree with the quote Arthur used there), but understanding that we DO have this gift...and with that comes a certain trust, a certain responsibility to use it. To entertain, to engage, to challenge, to tell stories, to make people laugh, feel and think. Has anyone ever asked you after a show "how do you do that?" Because i hear it all the time. Whether it's improv, sketch, Shakespeare, a musical or a play with no frills, bells or whistles. And it's humbling to me when they ask me that. Because we are a part of a sacred tradition that is bigger and more immense than all of us. We are contributing to that and acting as stewards. Storytellers, clowns, performers...whatever you want to call it. It makes us special.

But we also need to understand that without the audience, we are nothing. They are the ones who endow us with our worth on that stage. And we OWE them a great show. They DESERVE to be taken into consideration. But i think we serve them best not by constantly worrying about "are they going to like this?", but by taking risks and genuinely engaging them in the characters and story rather than just giving them something to laugh at. Yeah, escapism is all well and good and it definitely has its place. If that's all you want to do, then that is worthwhile too. But some of us should be striving for something beyond that. Remember, when we say things like "don't give the audience what they want, give them what they need" or "don't please the audience, blow their goddamn minds," we ARE still taking the audience into consideration. we're not saying it's ourselves we should be serving, it's not ourselves we should be blowing...um, anyway, moving on...

In the end, i don't think what any of us is saying is really all that different. We all want to serve the audience. I mean, there's no way to know an audience is going to think something is funny or engaging until you go out there and do it. So Chris' notion that it should be funny to him and worthwhile to him first isn't really all that antithetical to the idea of serving the audience because the only gauge you have before doing it for an audience in improv is in your own head. The only real danger i see in that philosophy is if you try something you think is funny, but the audience doesn't...and then you continue to do things like that because then you're not learning, you're not growing. You're no longer taking a risk because you know on some level that THEY are not going to enjoy it. At that point, you're doing worse than pandering to an audience. You're pandering to yourself. But i don't think that's what Chris is saying, and i don't think anyone is accusing Shannon of wanting to pander to the audience (i've seen him perform, and i know that's not the case).

We serve the audience, always. But we have nothing to serve them with beyond our own skills and instincts so we need to trust those and not constantly be second guessing whether the audience will like what we're doing or not. Is that a fair middleground? Because really, i don't see a whole lot of difference in what we're all saying here. It's like we're staring at the same tree from opposite sides and saying "this tree is facing north." "no, this tree is facing south." Both are true, but only together do they draw a fuller picture...the tree is also facing east and west as well, so it's not like there aren't more ideas that can fit into this little reality matrix we're building. 8)
Sweetness Prevails.

-the Reverend
User avatar
Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell
 
Posts: 4215
Joined: March 17th, 2006, 6:50 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Postby Jastroch » June 23rd, 2006, 5:42 pm

I had a terrific response to this thread, all crafted out and shit last night. But the forum wouldn't let me post it.

It was probably too smart.
--Jastroch

"Racewater dishtrack. Finese red dirt warfs. Media my volumn swiftly" - Arrogant.
User avatar
Jastroch
 
Posts: 1298
Joined: December 3rd, 2005, 3:04 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Postby York99 » June 26th, 2006, 1:54 pm

I am compelled to another point here that has been grating on me. Many statements in this thread allude to the idea that pleasing an audience is the same as pandering and/or selling yourself out. One certainly CAN go for an easy laugh and please the audience, but I feel that this is looking at it the wrong way.

ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS assume that the audience is one step ahead of you. Don't be so arrogant as to think that the audience is a bunch of yokels. [They may very well be yokels, but never assume that.] If you dumb something down for an assumed intelligent audience, you are not giving them what they "want" or "need." They "want" and "need" to be challenged and surprised.

One mantra repeated to me throughout Second City and Improv Olympic was "play to the top of your intelligence." Follow that rule and you never risk selling yourself out.
"Every cat dies 9 times, but every cat does not truly live 9 lives."
-Bravecat

Image
User avatar
York99
 
Posts: 1998
Joined: April 12th, 2006, 8:47 am
Location: There

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 26th, 2006, 2:17 pm

i don't think anyone here is trying to equate the notion of "pleasing" the audience with pandering to them. What I was trying to say, at least (since i can't speak for anyone but myself), is that it's important to think about what is most pleasing and rewarding to an audience...which is NOT to pander to them or going for the easy laugh. The phrase "please the audience" is rather vague. It can mean any number of things. So those of us who have brought up the notion of not pandering and being willing to challenge, confront and provoke an audience as well as entertain them are saying that THAT is the best way to please an audience. We're not saying we shouldn't please an audience because it's pandering, we're clarifying what we think is the best way to please an audience.

And also that we should strive to do a bit more than just please the audience. Yes, that should of course be a goal...but shoot for more than just satisfying them. I'll use another analogy since that seems to be a popular rhetorical method around these here parts. :wink: In martial arts, when we want to break a board or boards, the target should never be the board...it should be a point beyond the board. In this way, you are not punching AT the board, but THROUGH the board. Likewise, in improv and in all things, we should strive for something beyond our main goal. If all we want to do is please the audience (which, as i've said, is a given) and we aim for nothing higher, then sometimes we will please the audience...and sometimes we'll put on a really mediocre show that rewards neither us nor the audience. But if we aim for something beyond just pleasing them, then we'll please them most of the time...and a lot of times, we'll do a lot more too (of course, sometimes you'll still fall short...but that's the risk that makes this whole beautiful thing worth doing).

Shoot for the stars. You might just hit the moon. 8)
Sweetness Prevails.

-the Reverend
User avatar
Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell
 
Posts: 4215
Joined: March 17th, 2006, 6:50 pm
Location: Austin, TX

Postby shando » June 26th, 2006, 2:33 pm

I have been thinking about all my recent talk of 'audience', and I think what I really should be talking about is the nature of the end result, the work, not the process of getting there, nor the audience as participant. I will post more about this as my thinking becomes clearer.

Also, I thought of an analogy last night that I was pretty pleased with. If improv is a tasty flavor of ice cream (in my case mint chocolate chip, or BlueBell's Cookies 'n Cream), then one's training/approach might be thought of as the cone or other container with which one eats said ice cream. The ice cream tastes just as good no matter what holds it. You leaned the Del way, you learned the Mick Napier way, the Johnstone way, the Jeremy Lamb way, whatever, it's still tasty fucking improv ICE CREAM. Okay, I thought it sounded good in my brain last night as I was tryinig to go to sleep and not think of all the stuff I have to do for Out of Bounds.

Also, I want to thank Justin for putting these posts up here. The theory section of these boards have been getting a good workout recently, and I think following these discussions is a good way to raise our games. Well done, sir.
http://getup.austinimprov.com
madeline wrote:i average 40, and like, a billion grains?


"She fascinated me 'cause I like to run my fingers through her money."--Abner Jay
User avatar
shando
 
Posts: 2875
Joined: August 31st, 2005, 5:20 pm

Next

Return to Improv Theory & Practice

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 31 guests

cron