My notes on the Annoyance Summer Intensive -- Day 3

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My notes on the Annoyance Summer Intensive -- Day 3

Postby tacotrombone » July 20th, 2011, 2:38 pm

Morning class with Mark Sutton for the 2nd time
He said that taking care of yourself really is black or white—you either are or you aren't. So always take care of yourself.
However, he said that “coming out with something” is not black or white. Sometimes he does come out with something (i.e. I'm going to come out quiet in this scene and see what happens), but in group shows (which he mentioned he hasn't done in a very long time), he admits to using his brain to think about what the show needs. This part of it seems to be sort of a spectrum...

Mark also mentioned that iO practices and preaches playing to the top of your intelligence. However, he said that not everyone is smart, so that's bullshit.
Instead, play to the top your integrity, i.e. what the character really wants.
In this way, we can have integrity as an improvisor and be smart, but we can also play unintelligent people who stick to what they want.

On a different note, he said he doesn't put a lot of importance on object work for the sake of object work. In fact, he really downplays it. However, he said we can be genuinely affected by our environment. If we are being honest about how we feel, a bong, a backpack, or a calendar can take on huge character and relationship significance in scenes.

Mark on committing to a choice: He said he found a quote on a Starbucks cup that read, “The ironic thing about commitment is that it is very freeing. It allows us to get past our head to our heart.”

This is the point where I stopped asking theory questions and started asking the teachers to tell us exactly what is going on in their heads during shows, and I ended up getting much more practical advice. When I asked him to tell me how he takes care of himself and comes out with something in his head, he said the only thing in his head when he plays is
“What is happening right now?”
“How does it make me feel?”
That's it.
Note: when I watched TJ and Dave, they actually struck me as the highest expression of the Annyonace style rather that some of the iO stuff that had come our way. They didn't seem to be concerned with any technical stuff (CROW, high/low status, straight/absurd, etc.). Instead, they just seemed to be totally absorbed in “What is happening right now?” and “How does it make me feel?”


Afternoon class with Susan Messing for the first time
Both her class sessions combined were the Joy of Improv workshop I had taken worth her 8 months prior...almost verbatim. I was kind of bummed about this, but it actually turned out to be really beneficial to revisit all her points after taking more classes and doing a bunch more shows.

Walking exercise where we observe our own walking, then change one part of it and use it to create a character instead of trying to think our way into character. We got to apply this to group interviews where we all sat in chairs 6 at a time. She interviewed us while we stuck with our character and figured out how we all knew each other. Very helpful.

McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts exercise.
During the 8 person McDonald's exercise where everyone has to silently pick an activity and perform that while she talks to other folks, I had a moment where I woke up to how unhappy I was with my choice. I didn't like the attitude I started the scene with and I sure as shit didn't want to be making a lot of french fries.
It really sunk in how often I make “choices” that are really decisions. I often pick things to do or be haphazardly and don't really enjoy what I'm doing (i.e. why the hell did I initiate as an angry character in the last 4 scenes with Troupe A, or what am I always the sad character in Troupe B...).
By staying present and having fun, I will pick something that I would play pretend with for an hour, even if there was no one watching me or onstage playing with me.
This feeling stuck with me for the rest of the trip and made me want to actually play more.
I noticed that it is not something I can just cultivate while I'm improvising—I noticed on the train ride later that I had a scowl on my face for no reason. Why is that my default? I want to be happy, so why not choose to be happy. It's much more fun and doesn't require validation from friends, family, strangers, audiences, etc. Choose something I want to be, and the rest will follow.
Take care of myself first, and I can take care of those around me.

Wednesday night shows:
Carl and the Passions (free show downstairs at iO)
Opening act was an awkward Harold troupe. Again, it was a bunch of funny people who didn't take care of themselves at the beginning, so they just mirrored each other and it was uncomfortable to watch. When they started doing their 3 beats/game scenes, it was obvious everyone was in their heads trying to bring back specific things from the “organic” opening and started doing bits to cover up their insecurity—not one of them took care of themselves at the beginning of each scene, and it was really wild to watch the Annoyance philosophy play itself out on the iO stage.
The second troupe was Virgin Daquiris, and they f-ing killed. They were a 7 person all-girl troupe who did a musical Harold. It was so badass. Each of them walked out with a character/physicality/vocalization/POV and it rocked. I was so pumped while watching them. Who says women can't do great improv and be absolutely hilarious? I could watch these cats every week.
Carl and the Passions were disappointing. TJ is in this troupe. They did an organic opening where they scene painted onto one character and did cutaways to explore it. The opening was pretty cool.
Then, they started doing scenes. It was so wild to watch TJ because a. he's really good at game (looks like doing all the relationship stuff trumps all the emphasis on game I've been worried about) and b. he was easily the most engaged player I saw on the stage the whole week. I've heard “an interested person is an interesting person,” and TJ is the poster child for this. Half the fun was watching how intensely he watched the shows he played in. TJ and Jet were the only ones who really game me this feeling during all the shows we saw.
Even if I didn't know who he was, I would still be drawn to watch TJ. Definitely a skill I want to cultivate (and one I don't think is that hard to master—drop your ego so you can just be generally interested in the people and events around you...).

TJ & Dave (11:00 downstairs at iO)
Where to start...
This show was amazing for so many reasons.
I was sitting on the second row—it's true that the DVD doesn't do the show justice. There is so much to get from being that close. You can watch TJ look out at the audience, the looks the two of them give each other, and how freakin' weird Dave is setting up the stage and getting in the zone. These guys take what they are doing very seriously just so they can have fun while they're doing it.
The lights came down for them to do there stare down for the “suggestion” and Shawtane, a guy from the intensive, had his fucking iPod go off during the middle of it about 3-4 feet away from the two of them. I was close enough that I could see them both switch and react to the sound of it go off, and as the lights came up the audience was squirming—it felt so goddamned uncomfortable. Shawtane was sitting three seats away from me, and I remember just staring at him wanting him to turn off the sound so badly. He pulled out his phone and turned it off, but the sound kept going. This is when Dave snapped. He said something like “No! I just think it's fucking irresponsible. It makes me so mad. Turn off your goddamned music” completely in character. TJ immediately engaged was trying to talk him down while staying in character. The whole time this is going on, the music is still playing.
Then, finally, Shawtane turned off his iPod and slumped back in his seat totally embarassed.
The scene kept going, and it seemed to me that everyone would just wish that they would start over.
It struck me that they had broken so many rules of improv at the beginning (i.e. no suggestion, starting out angry, no CROW until about 5-7 minutes in).
Then, I realized we were watching Rich Sohn's exercise in practice—they were starting with their own point of view and trying to get a sense of their lines even though they were coming out so quickly. They just stuck with their shit and finally clarity emerged. Around the 5 minute mark we found out that TJ was Dave's son, and Dave later played Anita, the step-mom. Anita was making a roast but she was about to leave the father because he was a negative angry asshole to everyone (again, informed by the top of the show). Later, the happy neighbors came over to visit, and all kinds of cool moves happened (i.e. TJ and Dave playing two characters while two other characters were on the other side of the room and they just stood their listening and reacting to an imaginary conversation that it seemed only the two of them could hear).
I won't be able to capture it all, but there 30-45 second pauses where Dave's angry father character was left on the couch to seethe by himself, and it was some of the most interesting moments in the show, because he was totally absorbed in what he was thinking about. This happened 5 or 6 times in the show, and it built up to this amazing button at the end. So freakin' cool.
Anyway, there was some hilarious moments where the neighbors, TJ's son character, and Dave's portrayal of the father's ex-wife being told Anita walked out that had us all laughing like crazy. They are two funny dudes who rely on improv instead of bits to be funny.
I'm okay with not being the funniest bit-master in the room now. I just want to be good at improv, and by doing so I know that I'll have fun and, as a by-product of that fun, I will be funny.
There was a moment at the end where the son and father shared a laugh over a shitty joke that the son made, and the son felt comfortable enough to finally sit on the couch next to his father. The father (Dave) raised up his hand to pat his son (TJ) on the back, but then held himself back.
I'm positive that only part of the crowd could even have seen that move, and I'm not even sure TJ was aware of it, but it was the most real thing that happened on the stage the whole week, and later, when Krilov, Danny, Kristin, and I talked about it, we all agreed that we all went from laughing to tears in that one second.
It was amazing.
"Music throws you back into your body like organic food or heroine." -- William Matthews

"The consequence of joy is a good show." -- Susan Messing
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