My notes on the Annoyance Summer Intensive -- Conclusion

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My notes on the Annoyance Summer Intensive -- Conclusion

Postby tacotrombone » July 20th, 2011, 2:40 pm

rt Institute of Chicago by myself. So amazing (see Facebook for photos).
Cheap sushi
Weiner Circle Hotdogs
Hookah bar with Steve, Krilov, and Danny

Sunday:
left at 5:30 am
Missed my flight (funny story)
Spent 6 ½ hours in O'Hare
Left at 2
Back in Austin at 5

Annoyance Theater:
By the end of the intensive, our mantra was
Physicalize
Vocalize
Check in
React

Conclusions:
1. Experience
My favorite shows of the week were 3033, Messing with a Friend, and TJ & Dave. The most comforting thing I felt during the week was a sense of relief after I watched these shows. It's true that those three shows were high water marks for improv for me (3033 = group work; Messing with a Friend = two person show using improv to be funny instead of trying to be funny; TJ & Dave = just being real, breaking every “rule” and transcending what improv can be while doing it better than anyone else); however, I realized that the shortest amount of time any of the players on these troupes has been improvising is 20 years. I've been doing it 15 months. As long as I stay hungry to get better and actively choose to have fun every time I do it, I'm going to be all right.

2. Talent
[Disclaimer: TJ & Dave are special. The way they do improv shows that they've taken it to another level—it's almost like something spiritual is going on while they're connecting. I had a hard time remembering that it was improv. If that happens, I would love it; however, I can't try to copy that. They are just so comfortable with themselves and each other that they can be completely real onstage and make you feel like something special is happening in front of you (and they've been together since '02 working to get there). I don't have to be TJ & Dave. I can just be the most honest and fully realized version of myself and know that is enough.]
With the exception of TJ & Dave, there was not anyone in Chicago that I thought, “Oh wow, that person would never be in ColdTowne—they are just way too talented.” For the most part, everyone I'm playing with right now is talented enough to be on a house troupe in Chicago. The only differences are time, experience, and dedication. If the folks at ColdTowne dedicate themselves to tightening up those three areas and seek out good shows like those we caught in Chicago to keep themselves motivated and inspired, there is no reason why we can't see shows on the same level as 3033, Messing with a Friend, Middle Aged Comeback, or Cook County Social Club.
I've surrounded myself with people I want to play with and who have the potential to be high-level players.
Note: my incessant talk about Roger Bannister's 4 minute mile applies here—if the same folks in Austin were to see the shows I saw, they would step their game up next week. Just by knowing what is possible with improv allows us to push the boundaries, i.e. I'm perfectly fine if I never see another training wheels Harold again; however, I really want to do a modern Harold troupe now where the suggestion becomes the show because I watched 3033 do just that.
Also, I really don't like narrative/genre improv at all, but I gave a standing ovation at the end of Improvised Shakespeare—narrative/genre doesn't have to be a gimmick. Those guys were amazing.

3. Teachers
Right now, I'm being coached/taught by David Hess, John Ratliff, Michael Jastroch, Josh Krilov, and now Stephanie Russo. With the exception of Mick's insanely accurate diagnosis during the first day, there was not really another moment during the intensive where I thought, “Shit. Why am I staying in Austin? My coaches and teachers have no idea what they are talking about.” Instead, I am really proud of the fact that I am being taught and coached by the people I'm working with now—they are having the same “aha” moments as the teachers in Chicago. The only difference is that the folks in Chicago have been teaching and watching high caliber shows for two or three times longer, so they have their diagnoses down to a quicker spiel. That's it.
I've made peace with the fact that I'm going to keep growing and so are my teachers. It's going to be a wild ride.

4. Chicago
I really liked the city.
Chicago is great because there is so much to see and do, the food is great, and the people are nicer than I expected.
However, the only real reason I would move up there is to see MAC, 3033, Messing with a Friend, The Reckoning, Cook County Social Club, and TJ & Dave every week.
I work from home. I'm single, unmarried, and childless. If I were going to live in Chicago to play, this would be the time to do just that.
Instead of moving toward that decision, I came to peace with the fact that I want to grow with the Austin improv scene. I love Dharma Yoga, the Greenbelt, Barton Springs, all the dogs I see everywhere, tacos, friendly strangers, etc.
Plus, I really hate winter (I wore jeans and a hoodie twice. It was freakin' July).
Chicago is going to be a place I go to hopefully once a year for improv vacations. I want to romanticize it a bit and keep it on a pedestal.

Austin is my home. I still may move for a bit (i.e. Costa Rica for a couple months), but it will be a temporary move to somewhere more grounded with even friendlier people, better weather, and, if possible, tastier food.
"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 Terry » July 20th, 2011, 3:12 pm

All of this is amazing. Thank you so, so much for sharing it.
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Postby Spots » July 20th, 2011, 3:22 pm

Even though you don't directly address it, sounds like you've been wrestling with the idea of whether to stay in Austin or move to Chicago? Or maybe that was just for the summary. Anyways, I like reading about your comparisons and thoughts along the way.


Awesome notes. But why not make all the separate days be replies in ONE single thread? That way they will stay together and archive better over time. Just a thought.
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Postby Pdyx » July 20th, 2011, 3:59 pm

I just read this whole thing, thanks for sharing.
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Postby PyroDan » July 20th, 2011, 4:09 pm

With the exception of Mick's insanely accurate diagnosis during the first day


He's freaky awesome.
- I was a member of the club and i felt like a f*cking fool- Bukowski
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Postby dancrumb » July 20th, 2011, 6:45 pm

Thanks so much for all of this.

I'm moving to Chicago in about a month's time for other reasons than improv, but this reinstilled my excitement at the prospect of performing and learning there after, what feels like, and extremely blessed and spoiled few years learning and performing in Austin.
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Postby Nicole Beckley » July 20th, 2011, 10:44 pm

I've really enjoyed these posts. I've been continually amazed at how encouraging the Austin improv community is, and how generous people are at sharing the things they're talented at. When we cross-pollinate and share ideas and insight the bar gets raised for the whole community. It's really interesting to get a sense of someone's thought process during a workshop.
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Postby Alex B » July 21st, 2011, 2:30 am

Thanks for sharing all of that--it was really engaging.

Brought back a lot of memories of being in Chicago last summer and loving the hell out of all of those good troupes (and kind of also hating the relentless training wheels harolds being done by all of the opening house troupes.)

I kind of now want to start a troupe called "Training Wheels Harold"; it would be like a love song to Chicago.
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Postby kbadr » July 21st, 2011, 9:31 am

Don't want to open a can of worms here, but this sentence is really poking at me

Also, I really don't like narrative/genre improv at all, but I gave a standing ovation at the end of Improvised Shakespeare—narrative/genre doesn't have to be a gimmick


Equating narrative and genre-based improv with "gimmicks" is something I've heard multiple times and it really makes me sad. The straighter a genre is played, the more truthful and fulfilling it is for all involved. Please don't confuse "tropes" with "gimmicks". We stress this over and over in the PGraph Narrative Intensive (talk to Ratliff about it!)

For me, and I speak for The Hideout as well, I have no interest in using genre as a way of producing parody.

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You're only killing yourself to live

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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » July 21st, 2011, 10:12 am

kbadr wrote:Don't want to open a can of worms here, but this sentence is really poking at me

Also, I really don't like narrative/genre improv at all, but I gave a standing ovation at the end of Improvised Shakespeare—narrative/genre doesn't have to be a gimmick


Equating narrative and genre-based improv with "gimmicks" is something I've heard multiple times and it really makes me sad. The straighter a genre is played, the more truthful and fulfilling it is for all involved. Please don't confuse "tropes" with "gimmicks". We stress this over and over in the PGraph Narrative Intensive (talk to Ratliff about it!)

For me, and I speak for The Hideout as well, I have no interest in using genre as a way of producing parody.


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Postby Jastroch » July 21st, 2011, 10:14 am

kbadr wrote:
Also, I really don't like narrative/genre improv at all, but I gave a standing ovation at the end of Improvised Shakespeare—narrative/genre doesn't have to be a gimmick


For me, and I speak for The Hideout as well, I have no interest in using genre as a way of producing parody.


It's a tough running a business and caring about your art and reading posts on the forums slagging on what you do.
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Postby tacotrombone » July 21st, 2011, 10:49 am

This wasn't a critique of the Hideout (or any other theater in Austin).

I've just seen too many genre/narrative shows where the improvisor is winking at the audience and making a point to hit the tropes (which is a gimmick) instead of the character finding them honestly (which is amazing--exactly what happened in the Improvised Shakespeare show).

When Ratliff was coaching Scout on how to do Harold, he made this great example.
He said that there are two (very general) methods of performing Harold.
1. You stand on the sidelines after the organic opening with your fingers in your pocket counting the beats on each hand and naming each scene so you can do specific callbacks.
This comes from fear of doing it wrong and feels tense for both he performer and the audience.
For me, this is the vibe I've gotten from most genre/narrative shows as well--folks are only half invested in the scene they're doing with their scene partner because
a. they are still writing the show in their head
and
b. making sure to do bits to keep the funny afloat.

2. The other method is trusting the collective unconscious to make the callbacks happen honestly and spontaneously.
This feels more organic while it's happening so that both the audience and improvisor are surprised and pleased when the callbacks and connections happen.
David Hess gave me this gem which I think about every week now: "Harold is seen by the audience, not the improvisors."
My guess is that when folks rile against this method, they are probably coming from a place of fear (i.e. "but I might miss an amazing callback that will make me look like the smartest one onstage"...or, worse, "my troupe mates might not remember that thing from the opening if I don't remember").
Note: there was one player in the Improvised Shakespeare troupe who consistently did try to wink at the audience and write the show. The funny thing was that he was originally endowed as being the main character of the show, but we (Krilov, Kristin, Danny, and I) all agreed that it visibly made him feel uncomfortable when this happen, so he started trying to make his scenes fit into certain tropes--and it never worked.
As a result, his character (and himself) got squeezed out of the show by the other folks who just let the play take over...and it was unbelievably amazing.

I'm not a genre/narrative expert--at all.
So, please help me out here:
Can genre/narrative improv lend itself toward those two types of Harold mentioned above?
What is different about genre/narrative in Austin vs. what I saw in Chicago?
"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 B. Tribe » July 21st, 2011, 10:55 am

tacotrombone wrote:I've just seen too many genre/narrative shows where the improvisor is winking at the audience and making a point to hit the tropes (which is a gimmick)....


THIS.

Although if I might dare to clarify, you aren't calling the TROPE a gimmick but calling 'winking at the audience and hitting a trope' a gimmick.

EDIT: "Hey, notice how I said or did something that somebody would typically do in a ___________ (genre/play/movie/tv show)? Didja notice? Didja?" That's working in a gag instead of those moments simply happening because you live in that world.
Last edited by B. Tribe on July 21st, 2011, 11:02 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby beardedlamb » July 21st, 2011, 11:01 am

i think the collective conclusion we are coming to as a community on these forums over the past few years is that any form can be good when done well.

can we make that a sticky in the theory forum titled: Read this before you talk smack


can we please?
.............
O O B
.............
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Postby Jastroch » July 21st, 2011, 11:02 am

Josh,

I would say that PGraph does an exceptional job of telling stories that feel completely organic and accomplished in #2. The reason I like them so much is because I can't predict where the show is going cause it's clear no one is writing the thing (in a good way).

I remember the improvised Shakespeare from OOB (three?) years ago, where the wedding turned into a demon hell party thing. To me, that was the best possible ending because it didn't feel planned. Ironically, after talking to people in the show, it arose because some people were trying to improvise a tragedy and some, a comedy.

I think, and correct me if I'm wrong here, some people were upset by that ending whereas to me that's the juice. That to me is the REASON to do improv rather than just write out a satire -- for those organic comedic moments.
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