My notes on the Annoyance Summer Intensive -- Day 4

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My notes on the Annoyance Summer Intensive -- Day 4

Postby tacotrombone » July 20th, 2011, 2:39 pm

Thursday:
Morning class with Susan Messing again.
We did a cool exercise where she wanted to prove to us that as long as you take care of yourself, you can do group scenes.
The exercise was three chairs onstage. The improvisors sat in the chairs and then she gave each of them a trait. Then, she said this was an airplane and that none of them knew each other.
It was amazing to watch the scenes where people stuck with their deal. Those scenes created CROW fast as hell just by the players being absorbed in their POV. So cool.
To illustrate this further, she gave me and two others guys different drugs that we were on (mine was coke, which I've never done), and then told us to talk over each other for 5 minutes. Afterwards, everyone came up to us and said that it was really interesting to watch not because of CROW, but because we all committed to our trait.

We had a smoke break, and we talked to her for a while. She talked about the 25th iO anniversary when she played with the UCB guys. She said that she kept noticing how everyone from UCB was vomiting CROW at the top of every scene so they could control it. She said they were all scared and were making fear based choices, so they would go out of their ways to try to define what the scene was about as soon as possible instead of making a choice for themselves and letting the scene come together as a group.
She said that this pisses her off. It's not improvising—it's writing out loud.
Susan said that people who are afraid of honest emotional reactions and actual connections with their scene partners do this and that it sucks to play with (I agree).
To fuck with the UCB guys, she initiated a scene by screaming “Everyone get in the van.” And then let them all figure out who they were to each other organically.

I was sad that we were done with Susan after this.

One last thing about her:
She kept saying that the one thing that kills improv and fun is the attitude of “I suck/you suck/this sucks.” So, after more discussions, I sent this email to her (waiting to hear back):
“Hi Susan!

I hope I have your email address right.

I wanted to ask you once more about the attitude of "I suck/you suck/this sucks."

This stuff is by memory, so please correct me if I heard/remembered it wrong:
You said this kind of attitude is the one thing that kills improv and fun, and when I asked you how to play with this, you said that you can't; however, when I asked you what to do if you're on a troupe with people like this, you said that you keep trying to play with them so you can learn how to play around it.
These two points seem to contradict each other.
I understand that if I'm not having fun, I'm the asshole, but is there a limit?
Or can someone who refuses to let the other asshole turn them into an asshole as well still have fun, do good work, AND stay on a troupe with them?

I asked Mick the same two questions (how do you play with someone like this and why stay on a troupe with them), and he said that you can't play with people like this.
I then asked him why should someone stay on a troupe with people like this, and he said, "Exactly."
He let that sink in, and then he said that he only surrounds himself with people who are a. good improvisors and b. people with good attitudes. Everyone will get him down.

Can you help reconcile this for me?

Thanks,”

Lunch

Rebecca Sohn for the 2nd time
She said there are 5 basic emotions to play onstage:
Love
Anger
Fear
Sadness
Joy
We did an exercise that I will call the Emotional Spectrum.

I had a really tough time with this exercise.
The plan was for two improvisors to stand on opposite sides of the stage at a level 1 and then walk closer to each other on a scale of 1-10 (10 being where the two players met in the middle) while demonstrating the emotion assigned to them.
At the top of the class, she made a point to say we didn't necessarily have to feel the emotion, but we could find other ways to express it.
I disagree with this—I think humans immediately know whether or not someone is truly showing vs. telling an emotion. More on this later.

The exercise made me feel so uncomfortable because it was like an emotional stripclub. I didn't like people being told to be angry or sad or happy and then manufacture it in an objective way. It made me get in touch with the part of myself that laughs at improv shows where everyone is hammy and full of schtick, and then I don't know why I was laughing and want to take a shower afterwards.

The worst part for me was when someone was really playing the emotion but their partner was not. For some reason, I got really angry watching those pairings. I just wanted to give them each a hug and let them know they weren't up there by themselves and that the other person was an asshole for not commiting, too.
After this exercise, it occurred to me that the kind of improv and comedy I want to do is the kind that feels real and makes people feel better afterward.
I'm done playing with people who don't play real or who can only interact with me via bits, whether that's onstage or off.

After the exercise, I asked her if her point about “just finding other ways to express the emotion (i.e. physicality)” was just for the exercise or for improv in general.
She said that we are both actors and improvisors, so we want to have access to as many tools as possible. Actually feeling the emotions and letting them guide our character choices is the best tool we can have.

Note: she did say that it can work backwards—by “indicating” sadness on our face and body long enough, we will start to feel the emotions. So that is a trick to use when trying to access the “tool belt” of emotions.

My dilemma: if I go with the TJ & Dave method of picking choices that I really want to play, then I can see myself really feeling (“showing”)
1. love
2. joy
but only indicating (“telling”)
3. sadness
4. fear
5. anger
because, deep down, who really wants to be sad, scared, or angry?

I realize I may really want to play fear, anger, and sadness in absurd situations, but I think I would probably go with the outward physical gestures to “tell” those in the first place.
I can't see myself rubbing my hands together getting excited to do a show real, honest sadness onstage in front of strangers and peers.

I asked a bunch of questions about this, because I had a hard time with it. Mike Sullivan (who's the shit—I wish I had known him before he moved) talked to me about taking Meisner classes with Laurel Vouvray. This is the only other class I might take a little later on.
Again, I don't need anymore information right now (I'm way too far into my own head), just experience.

Rebecca took the “show, don't tell” mantra a step further and said, “Do. Don't show.” Slightly different meaning.

Vocalization does not mean words.
Just make a sound and it will inform everything else.

She said when the Annoyance is talking about taking care of yourself by making active choices at the top of the scene, they are simply talking about:
1. Emotion/attitude/POV
2. Physicality
3. Vocalization
Gem—She said “making an emotional, physical, or vocal choice is the single most important choice you can make as an improvisor.”

Group scenes that were initiated this way were all off to great starts. The key to maintain that start is committing to choices.

She said that if you are learning to take care of yourself via physicality (like I am), do everything at an 8 or 9.

Note: After a show, Krilov and I were geeking out about TJ & Dave again, and said that the difference between us now and where those two are is that over 20 years of improvising, they've been able to dial it back down from an 8 or 9 to 0.3.
The more and more I thought about it, this made sense.

Thursday Night Shows:
Michael Pizza and The Scene (downstairs at iO)
Michael Pizza—these guys were really playful and funny, and someone said they were the only iO house troupe to come up without having been iO students. You could tell they did play a bit differently, but they still seemed to do bits at times and weren't as tight as the Medieval Times show I saw online. Still fun.

The Scene—another TJ troupe.
The four of them came out in a straight line, smiled and waited until the audience quieted down, and then in unison said something like, “Hello, We are the Scene. We are also the Actors, as well as the Directors. To get us started, we just need a suggestion of anything at all.” They got “petting zoo.”
Their format was cool in that one of them would pause a scene and then direct the players to do the scene again in a better different way, or they would do to cut-tos while explaining and setting them up better (it really added a lot to the depth of each scene. Cool stuff).
The interesting thing about this was we got to watch the directing side of each improvisor, which I had never thought of. It was neat to see the moves each of them made.
One thing that stood out to me was that someone had ordered a Coke and the other one had a diet Coke, and in the context of the scene, one of the players had to demolish a sea turtle. The player handed both drinks to TJ and went on to kill this sea turtle.
TJ was off to the side and was definitely not the focus of the scene—this was the climax of the show and the guy in the center was really fucking this sea turtle up. TJ went to try one of the drinks, made a genuinely grossed out face, and then drank the other soda in a really realistic way. He was in no way the focus of that scene, but he played out exactly the problem I had in the McDonald's exercise—he stuck to his shit and really played with it the way I would imagine someone would do in real life.
He wasn't standing there as an improvsor laughing at his friend destroy an imaginary sea turtle, and he wasn't trying to figure out how to further the scene or do some crazy call back. He just did what anybody would do if someone handed him two drinks.
He wasn't making french fries hoping he would get called on so that he could stop doing his stupid object work. Instead, he was totally enthralled in what he was doing.
"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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Re: My notes on the Annoyance Summer Intensive -- Day 4

Postby Spots » July 20th, 2011, 3:38 pm

tacotrombone wrote:the difference between us now and where those two are is that over 20 years of improvising, they've been able to dial it back down from an 8 or 9 to 0.3.

The more and more I thought about it, this made sense.



True, but this accounts for the external. Their delivery is by no means over the top. But what about the parts of their show you cannot see & detect? I don't feel their listening & connecting is dialed down one bit.
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Postby Roy Janik » July 21st, 2011, 5:02 pm

I can't see myself rubbing my hands together getting excited to do a show real, honest sadness onstage in front of strangers and peers.


What've I've found for myself is that if I'm letting the story, or the scene, or the moment carry me, that there is some amount of glee and excitement in expressing honest sadness... because it fits the moment so perfectly, that it feels right. I don't know if that makes any sense. I guess it's like, if it feels honest, I get the same enjoyment out of any emotion.
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Postby tacotrombone » July 21st, 2011, 5:18 pm

I guess it's like, if it feels honest, I get the same enjoyment out of any emotion.


Man, I really like this...
"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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Postby Roy Janik » July 21st, 2011, 6:06 pm

Vocalization does not mean words.


It is *crazy* how strongly an audience will react to an emotional noise.
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Postby Spots » July 21st, 2011, 6:29 pm

Honesty is incredibly cathartic.
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Postby B. Tribe » July 22nd, 2011, 8:20 am

Roy Janik wrote:
Vocalization does not mean words.


It is *crazy* how strongly an audience will react to an emotional noise.


I fear I'm getting self indulgent with this exact thing.
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