Happy, Healthy, Sexy

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Happy, Healthy, Sexy

Postby Gloria » July 5th, 2011, 4:10 pm

Here is a rookie question for ya! I was taught to keep it happy, healthy, sexy in our improv classes and I feel uncertain how to do this. I get confused on keeping it hhs and still introducing conflict or other negative things. When I watch improv I see plenty of conflict and display of negative emotions or situations, and it seems just fine to me. I would love to hear your thoughts.
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Postby PyroDan » July 5th, 2011, 4:34 pm

There is always going to be some degree of conflict whenever two or more humans are in the same vicinity, just human nature.

I like to tell my students, if you are gonna fight, there has to be love, there has to be a reason to stay in that area and be abused, otherwise, if you do not love the other character in the scene; coldcock them, or run.

Making the fight mean something greater than, "you didn't do the dishes again, roomate!" What is really at stake? Some dirty dishes, or is it the very fragile relationship.

I am doing a very clunky job of explaining this....

point being, always have love at stake, underlying the conflict, rather than something superficial.
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Re: Happy, Healthy, Sexy

Postby Roy Janik » July 5th, 2011, 4:49 pm

Gloria wrote:Here is a rookie question for ya! I was taught to keep it happy, healthy, sexy in our improv classes and I feel uncertain how to do this. I get confused on keeping it hhs and still introducing conflict or other negative things. When I watch improv I see plenty of conflict and display of negative emotions or situations, and it seems just fine to me. I would love to hear your thoughts.


Gloria,

The reason such an emphasis is placed on being happy, healthy, and/or sexy is to counteract most people's tendencies to be none of those things. So often a scene starts with everyone immediately hating or putting down each other. Starting with some normalcy, or a place of love, gives you somewhere to go.

Conflict is going to arise in most scenes, and that's totally fine. But it doesn't have to start out that way. If you always start negative, then you have nowhere to go except even more negative.

Does every scene have to start happy, healthy, and sexy? Of course not. There are no absolutes.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » July 5th, 2011, 5:01 pm

especially in the beginning, our inclinations tend towards the negative. because we think conflict is automatically drama or cynicism is automatically clever. because anger and sarcasm are easier to access and less vulnerable to play than joy or love or people just relating to each other in a totally normal way. because we tend to look out for ourselves more than our partners. because being aggressively negative about something puts us in control of the scene.

but then where do you go? and who's going to care while you're going there? start out positive, start out in love, start out not only portraying something happy/healthy/sexy but actively endowing your partner as the same, and we can't help but root for you...so that when trouble and conflict inevitably come (things tend towards entropy), we are engaged and invested in what's going on. it gives us the platform to tilt. it gives us the opening circumstances to escalate from. then the conflict isn't just two assholes yelling at each other over shit we don't care about...it's friends or lovers falling apart or facing horrible odds that we want to see TRIUMPH!

also...it just FEELS really good! who doesn't want to be happy, healthy and sexy? who doesn't want other people to tell them the same? who doesn't want to be a rock star, superhero, demigod, idol of millions? you abandon that attachment, that ego, and you will feel a million times more confident than the most arrogant SOB you know. ;)
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Postby AmyA » July 5th, 2011, 6:05 pm

I love Jill Bernard's theory on this--People don't want to pay money to see you sit and bicker onstage. They want to see you go off on a grand adventure together.

She also says that people gravitate towards conflict onstage because they are seeking a strong connection with the other players, but are afraid to be intimate onstage.

Right Jill? That's what you say, right?
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Postby Spots » July 5th, 2011, 8:09 pm

I believe our tendency toward conflict comes from a much simpler place. Conflict was once a very necessary part of life.

We are constantly looking for threats. "Where's the threat? Where's the threat? Where's the threat?" is a common mantra. For instance, my family prefers to sit in the corner booth at restaurants. I estimate that we feel a sense of comfort knowing that if there's a threat, it could only come from one direction. [no, we are not the Sopranos]

Conflict is very natural in improv scenes. I agree with Roy that we should try to curb it from happening to some degree, or at least be aware of it.

Milo Smith once told me, "Try to never have conflict in your scenes. Because if you do that, your scene partner will probably cause conflict and you will end up with 50 percent scenes about conflict & 50 percent scenes without conflict. Which is a really good ratio." [this is probably from a workshop he took, I'm thinking Joe Bill]

That's the way I like to think about it. Obviously there's a semantic breakdown where conflict actually means "argument scene" in this context. Because there's always something that can be defined as conflict in the scene. Even really subtle conflict. So try not to have argument scenes. Or just make sure it comes from an inspired place. And not a place of fear.
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Postby Alex Gray » July 5th, 2011, 8:56 pm

I have a bit of a tendency to go dark (let the razzing and eye rolling begin). It took me a while to figure out that negativity and conflict come so naturally that even if you tried your level best you would be hard put to keep them out entirely. You don't have to expend any effort in that direction. By starting as positive as possible you have a better chance at achieving a platform that will create sympathetic characters. At least that's what Roy claims ; )
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Postby Spots » July 5th, 2011, 9:49 pm

I think ultimately we're talking about [the scene] maintaining positive energy. Not any individual. A scene with negative energy can get laughs but it is exhausting for everyone involved.


In my opinion, at least one character in any scene should be relatable. You can go as dark as you wish as long as your scene partner is balancing that out.
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Using the principles of improv games to remain h-h-s

Postby Katherine » December 4th, 2011, 3:30 pm

Recently Gloria's question about conflict and remaining happy-healthy-sexy in scenes and popped into my mind.

Learning the happy-healthy-sexy guideline was a real watershed moment for me in my very earliest lessons. Jordan hits the nail on the head when he says,

Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell wrote:especially in the beginning, our inclinations tend towards the negative. because we think conflict is automatically drama or cynicism is automatically clever. because anger and sarcasm are easier to access and less vulnerable to play than joy or love or people just relating to each other in a totally normal way. because we tend to look out for ourselves more than our partners. because being aggressively negative about something puts us in control of the scene.


When I watch improv, if there's something rubbing me the wrong way, I can often chalk it up to some lack of happy-healthy-sexy. Further, the most uncomfortable scenes I've been in could have been saved with a good dose of hhs.

I still quite new to improv, and I still struggle with being happy-healthy-sexy on stage, but I recently had an epiphany about using games to remain happy-healthy-sexy in the midst of a conflict scene. These ideas will probably not be new to the old heads, but it may be useful for some of us newer folks.

Here are a few things that have helped me and that seem to help others when they are on stage.

**Give yourself something when you come on stage - a walk, a sound - and let that be your offer to yourself, or your "thing" - the thing you do no matter what. Lots of teacher have said this, but Ch. 4 of Mick Napier's book has a really salient explanation of this principle. (...In light of the Level 6 Narrative class at The Hideout, perhaps this principle could be amended to: Choose some "thing" to be or do, and let that be your deal "until one day" a change happens that is so drastic you are compelled to stop. Then let THAT be the issue at hand - your drive through the show to get back to a state of being able to do your "thing" again, or your realization that you are better off without your "thing.")

Of courses, you can let anger/disgust/hurt/frustration be your initial offer to yourself (that seems to happen a lot). But maybe, to start off in a happy-healthy-sexy manner, you could play with making your initial offer for yourself be a positive feeling towards the other character. That way, no matter what you are talking about, you are talking about it through the lens of admiration, love, awe, shy interest, or some other positive feeling. It seems like you intensify the emotional weight of a conflict because its imbued with your love/admiration/curiosity for the other character rather than your inherent, unexplainable antagonism. (This reminds me of the party scene game where each character selects other characters to feel love/fear/loathing/curiosity towards.)

**In her elective class several months ago, Kristen Firth taught a game that helped us latch onto character traits rather than conflicts. First we moved around the room like animals. Little by little, we took on more human qualities until we were humans richly endowed with some eccentricity. From that point, those quirky humans did scenes together. This was such a successful exercise. (Having seen the transformation from animal to human, we knew how each improviser was inspired, but had we not seen it, it would not have been obvious that, say, a particular character was inspired by a ferret.)

I remember that Paul Normandin and a woman (I can't remember who) were endowed as a tiger and a mouse. Paul's tiger turned into a growling, brooding, pacing human, and the mouse into a quiet, meticulous human. I don't recall what their scene was about, but Paul's character, which visually took up more space and energy still managed to be low status to the mouse; it may have even ended up that she was his boss. I can't quite remember the plot, but it was a really charming scene between two interesting characters who forged a bond with each other primarily through their personality quirks and not through conflict. Since then, I've seen this game played at Maestro and Fancy Pants, and it's always a hit.

**More often than not, the 30 seconds of silence game fosters the emotional connection between people, especially when those people are maintaining eye contact for much of that time. Even when the scene includes an argument, it's always engaging because the characters are emotionally invested in each other. I really love this game, and I know a lot of others do too. Maybe it allows us the time to think and observe each other at a more natural pace and less like People Who Frantically Make Things Happen On Stage.

**The game where characters must lock eyes when the music is on and look away when it's off is also pretty good for creating an emotional connection.

***
This reminds me that games truly are the foundation for strong, enjoyable, emotionally engaging, non-game improv. If you can do powerful scenes in games called "Act Like and Animal" or "30 Seconds of Silence," or "Look at Each Other When the Music Plays," why not use those same principles in a show that is not, on the surface, a game show?

When our teachers remind us (me?) to slow down and take our time, maybe we would do better at this if we could translate their advice into "play 30 Seconds of Silence in the middle of this scene."

Likewise, if a teacher reminds us to come on with a strong character, we could translate this into "give yourself a 'thing' to be or do, no matter what" or "play Act Like an Animal for this entire show." And if you have a penchant for getting unhappy-unhealthy-unsexy really quickly, why not decide that your quirky animal-inspired character will also have some positive feeling about the other characters on stage?

***
Ok, now I'm just thinking out loud, so this is going to be tangential to the above information, and it's quite possible I'll change my mind in a few minutes...

Discussing the use of games in non-game shows reminds me of conversations I've had about gamey versus realistic or grounded improv. I've long thought this was a non-issue and that games and grounded improv were two sides of the same coin. I like them both.

Ultimately, I prefer engaging montage and narrative shows over pure game shows, but I love, love, love montage and narrative shows that are strongly rooted in game principles. I love being able to see a game being played successfully in the middle of a non-game show. At Dickens last night, for example, eight or nine characters on stage worked together to name all of their siblings in order from oldest to youngest. This was just "Talk in One Voice" put to use in a narrative show. Nice, nice!
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Postby mpbrockman » December 4th, 2011, 3:48 pm

Related question. What if you're aiming at a darker show? And your character, such as it is, is a little self-absorbed and cranky to begin with?
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Great Timing

Postby Ryan Hill » December 5th, 2011, 12:58 am

Man am I glad this got bumped. This is something I'm working on right now.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » December 5th, 2011, 1:58 am

mpbrockman wrote:Related question. What if you're aiming at a darker show? And your character, such as it is, is a little self-absorbed and cranky to begin with?


i would say it depends on the KIND of dark you're aiming for. either way, i'd say there needs to be a strong element of counter balance. another character who is very light and giving (Pinky and the Brain come to mind). or give that character some element of happy, healthy or sexy...no one wants to see a character be a dick for no reason. but if he really ENJOYS being a dick, it gives you something to latch on to. suddenly he's engaging. think of House, or any good antihero. whatever misanthropic traits they're carrying around, there's still some lightness...they take joy in undermining those around them, they're the smartest person in the room or are particularly good at SOMETHING, they hate people but love animals, they want to be a better person they just don't know how, etc. i would say ESPECIALLY for those kinds of characters, those kinds of shows, you need some good happy/healthy/sexy mixed in there.
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Postby mpbrockman » December 5th, 2011, 2:24 am

Well Jordan, obviously that was a specific question phrased in general terms. I'm thinking abut Monkirk. I should probably move this over to the IShift group, but I see what you mean. Monkirk can be slightly addled, more interested in machines than people, cranky and even sarcastic; but finding some things for the audience to like about him is important. It isn't even that hard now that I think about it. It's just harder (for me) to convey.

I think I need to write some short stories about or as him. That's how I get into characters' heads before I write songs from their viewpoint. The same technique might be useful here.

Anybody else ever do that when their trying to flesh out a character? I know this is improv; but if you're playing the same general person in a series of shows, do you backstory him/her in your own head? If so, how?
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » December 5th, 2011, 9:31 am

mpbrockman wrote:Well Jordan, obviously that was a specific question phrased in general terms. I'm thinking abut Monkirk. I should probably move this over to the IShift group, but I see what you mean. Monkirk can be slightly addled, more interested in machines than people, cranky and even sarcastic; but finding some things for the audience to like about him is important. It isn't even that hard now that I think about it. It's just harder (for me) to convey.

I think I need to write some short stories about or as him. That's how I get into characters' heads before I write songs from their viewpoint. The same technique might be useful here.

Anybody else ever do that when their trying to flesh out a character? I know this is improv; but if you're playing the same general person in a series of shows, do you backstory him/her in your own head? If so, how?


well, it's a rare circumstance, but i've done two serialized improv shows now. Showdown was a very different experience than The Great Mundane, but in both instances once i had a character established in the show i'd have a bit of a loose bio in my head...essentially establishing my own personal circle of expectations for what he would/would not do. and still, for all that, there were incredible moments of surprise and discovery in the moment..."I HAD NO IDEA I WAS GOING TO DO THAT!" that's the beauty of improv. so even if you're building a character over several shows, playing a stock character or doing persona work, it's best not to overthink it too much. because your brain's only going to get in the way.

to tie this back into the topic (and somewhat reiterate my last post), i think it's vital at any point to find something positive in a character to latch on to, whether they're only appearing in one Maestro scene or over the course of six or seven episodes. our brains are conditioned to think negative traits are interesting. and they can be, but they have to be balanced. and positive traits give you more places to go. :)
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Postby DollarBill » December 5th, 2011, 11:49 am

mpbrockman wrote:Related question. What if you're aiming at a darker show? And your character, such as it is, is a little self-absorbed and cranky to begin with?


It's also easy to forget that there are two things going on in improv: the acting of the scene and the writing of the scene. So there are the character's motivations and the players motivations.

What I'm trying to say is that I believe an IMPROVISER (the on-the-fly writer) can play the essence of "happy, healthy, sexy" while the CHARACTER can be very dark indeed.

Also, I know plenty of people who aren't happy unless they are arguing about something.
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