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Entering Improv: The Forum Blog

PostPosted: August 27th, 2012, 8:38 am
by Paul
So, September 5th (in just over a week), I will be taking my first ever improv class at the Hideout Theatre. It'll be the initial free demo class, at which point I'll evaluate and decide if I want to take the first level classes. (The answer will be yes.)

Basically, this thread will be myself documenting my process through the beginnings of my journey into improv. It seems like by and large, the people on this forum have quite a bit of experience with improv as it is; I'm hoping that through this thread, I'll be able to tap into some of the beginnings that all of you had in improv, as well as maybe have you guys impart some of your wisdom(?) upon me, as well as possibly be entertained in the process????? I will very likely have a lot of questions as I go, so don't think by any means that this is just a massive self-serving thing just for me. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think you guys could have fun with it too!

So, what do you say? Shall we do this thing???????

Re: Entering Improv: The Forum Blog

PostPosted: August 27th, 2012, 8:53 am
by thedward
Paul wrote:So, what do you say? Shall we do this thing???????


PostPosted: August 27th, 2012, 2:46 pm
by jillybee72
Go Paul!

P.S. listen to your teacher first, there's a reason they're doing what they're doing.

PostPosted: August 27th, 2012, 2:50 pm
by Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell
jillybee72 wrote:Go Paul!

P.S. listen to your teacher first, there's a reason they're doing what they're doing.

...and more than a few why the rest of us aren't. :? so, yes, what Jill said (usually, as a good rule of thumb, just go with "what Jill said." but listen to your teacher first. cuz Jill said.).

PostPosted: August 28th, 2012, 6:15 am
by Paul

PostPosted: August 28th, 2012, 8:35 am
by happywaffle
That's basically pretty much it.

PostPosted: August 28th, 2012, 1:51 pm
by jillybee72
That will be $200 please.

PostPosted: August 28th, 2012, 9:14 pm
by Paul

PostPosted: August 29th, 2012, 9:42 am
by Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell
Paul wrote:

I expect change.

Obama 2012.

PostPosted: August 29th, 2012, 11:13 am
by ratliff
Paul --

Welcome, mazel tov, congratulations, etc. You're gonna have a blast.

One thing I would mention that's not immediately obvious to beginners: Austin is unusual (if not unique) in that it's home to several very distinct schools of improv, which spring from different traditions and therefore approach the work differently. Each of these traditions is home to a number of extremely talented and articulate performers and teachers who have strong and well-thought-out opinions about improv.

In the larger picture, this is one of the best things about the scene here, and we all benefit from it. But it can be confusing when you're first starting out and you start hearing improv concepts that seem to contradict what you've already learned.

As Jill always says, we are each our own improv schools, so as you progress you'll start learning how to find which approaches you're drawn to and what styles work for you. But it can be really daunting trying to assimilate all those points of view when you're first beginning.

So by all means solicit input from the community. (By the way, I think this thread is a GREAT idea; thank you for thinking of it) You'll get some really useful stuff that way.

But I also would also urge you to focus on what your teachers at the Hideout are telling you and concentrate on the style that they're teaching. For one thing, they're good at what they do, and there's a lot you can learn from them. But just as important, it's very difficult and potentially frustrating to try to learn all the different kinds of improv at once.

Think about learning music. There's an abstract category called music, but it's impossible to learn music in the abstract: you have to start by learning a particular type of music. You might start learning bluegrass, but once you have a handle on bluegrass, maybe you gravitate to a different form (jazz, say) and start to learn that, and in doing so you start becoming aware of what's universal about music and what's specific to the individual form. Maybe you switch to playing jazz all the time, or maybe you divide your time between them and segregate them rigorously, or maybe you start playing a uniquely jazzy kind of bluegrass.

In the meantime, take it easy on yourself. For most of us, it takes years to get anywhere close to where we want to be with improv, and that's just learning the basics. So by all means acquaint yourself with all the different kinds of improv, but maybe try to concentrate on one aspect at a time.

(And then when you're done at the Hideout, come on over to ColdTowne and we'll mess you up all over again.)

PostPosted: August 29th, 2012, 8:23 pm
by Paul
Wow validation and really great advice

you can have the other 300$

No, but seriously, thanks a massive amount! I'm not gonna lie, I didn't expect this much of a response before I even took my first class! I kinda thought it would take a while to get the ball rolling on this.

Also, good call mentioning music. I'm a huge music guy. (I've been playing trombone for almost eight years now.) The idea of learning so many different styles honestly excited me a lot! However, I think once I finally get all the actual basic stuff down, I want to focus very heavily on building believable characters. A couple years back, I attempted to take part in NaNoWriMo (for those not in the know, basically: write a 50,000 word novel in a month) and the main thing I got hung up on was trying to make the characters interact in a realistic manner. I could get the words down on paper; the actual actions, however, eluded me.

Man, now I'm even more excited. The class is still a week away, too! Dang.

(Also, I think one of my first shows I ever saw was actually at ColdTowne, so I'll for sure be there at some point.)

PostPosted: September 6th, 2012, 12:22 am
by Paul
I just took my first class tonight.

Needless to say, it was an experience. I went in with no expectations whatsoever. I didn't expect to dislike it (which I didn't), but I was perfectly willing to accept that I would dislike it if it came to that.

Not the case. I've never felt more at ease in my life.

It was strange. I'd never met those thirteen people before, and yet I already feel like I know them better than some of my more on-the-fringe friends. Just playing those simple games did so much for me. I felt so welcome, and everybody was so open and willing to try things out. It was clear to me that everybody there, despite being new to it, was very open and more than willing to bust out of their shell.

There was a defining moment in the night for me, though; the final games. At the end, we played some (what I assume were) simple scene games where we had to act under a certain restriction under a certain scenario. In my case, I had a person standing behind me acting as my arms while I spoke and reacted according to my hands. (Unfortunately we bunged it up a bit and ended up having our hands act according to us, but none-the-less.)

The scenario was a cooking show. We start off pretty good, whipping up a bowl of noodles... when suddenly [Jeff (I think his name was Jeff, may have been Josh, I only caught his name once. Feel free to correct me)] JON IT WAS JON, DANG asks "Do you have any special spices that you use?" Suddenly, my "hands" fly into a cabinet and pull out something small. Quickly, the lady I was in the scene with starts on about the "Zoobooka Pepper" or something along those lines, and I instantly chime in that it's one of the rarest and spiciest peppers in South Africa, and it can only be cut while singing in two part harmony.

My partner also chimes in that the pepper can only be cut with a special knife. My "hands" reach for the knife, which I pantomime to be freaking HUGE, and suddenly here we are, my partner and I, with her "hands" and mine chopping together, while we belt away the Alphabet Song in a dubious harmony.

That was the moment. Everything was very clearly teetering on the edge of disaster from the beginning, but already the lessons we had learned (always say yes, go with whatever your partner says) had begun to sunk in, and through some miracle we were able to keep the train wreck together until Jeff mercifully called it off. However, the moment stuck with me, as I slumped back into my seat. I mean, how could it not? I had done it. I improv'd. We created a story, no matter how tangential and nonsensical, out of nothing but our imaginations and each other's cues, and people were laughing.

I mean, after that, I know I'm done. That's it. Improv's got me, nothing to be done for it.

I got a nice little contrast an hour later, hearing what I would be eventually working my way up to. After the Hideout coffee shop closed up, I had to go up to the rehearsal room, where Roy and a bunch of people I didn't recognize but probably should have were wrapping up rehearsal. While I clearly didn't go in (because the last thing I want to do is suddenly burst in during a run-though, and thank god too because they were timing), what I heard in the room fascinated me. They sounded so... dynamic. Intense.

Now, I've been to a real show before, so it's not like I didn't know what to expect. However, having just had the fresh experience of merely dipping my toes into the pool, I felt a new perspective on exactly the kind of show they were doing. The sound! The lights! (The door was cracked a bit.) It was inspiring, and really gave me a good idea of what to expect in the future.

In any case, this post has rambled on long enough. Let me just finish with this: thank you, thank you, thank you, a million times thank you for the incredible welcome I've gotten from so many of you, largely online but also a couple in person. To see advanced improv'ers such as yourselves be so enthusiastic about just some college student giving it a run for his money means so much to me.

Expect to hear more in the future. It'll probably largely be about shows I watch until I'm able to take more classes next semester, but rest assured I'll at the very least keep an eye on this.

--Paul Henderson

PostPosted: October 10th, 2012, 8:13 pm
by Paul
This weekend, I caught The Black Vault at the Hideout with several (very talented and incredible) friends (that I am not worthy of being spoken in the same breath with, holy poop those guys are talented). For those of you living under a rock, The Black Vault is formatted as a sequence of three stories in which a large troupe of improvisers (I believe the number was around eight to ten, not sure) tell tales of supernatural and unspeakable horrors from dimensions we no naught.

The night was powerful. Although the show was fairly comical and did have many laugh out loud moments, I found myself surprised in a couple aspects.

1. There were scenes without laughter. I don't know why this stuck out to me- in my mind, improv had always been about comedy, but I came into this knowing that it wouldn't be a full on 100% laugh fest the whole time. It still came as a shock though; there were some genuine terrifying and upsetting scenes in this show!

2. I felt super involved in the story. The whole thing, by the large, was a very cohesive plot. It all held together very well, and as it went on became more and more intense, snowballing into a mind-blowing climax where everybody ended up going mad and my uncle murdered everybody.

I don't know why I never thought of it before, but I guess it seems pretty obvious. I remember one of my friends who came with us that night telling me that he was genuinely terrified at one point in the show!

I certainly learned a lot about what it means to improv, and it makes me even more excited about starting my Level 1 classes next semester.


Re: Entering Improv: The Forum Blog

PostPosted: February 10th, 2013, 3:22 am
by Paul
I actually didn't expect to make a post until next weekend. I really didn't. But here we are.

Next weekend, I start my first class as a student at the Hideout Theatre. Tonight, I saved a Maestro sketch.

But, let's start from the beginning. Tonight, I started my internship at the theater to get experience for a program I'm trying to get into at Texas State. Everything went well and average for most of the night. I helped out where I could, punching tickets, picking up trash, moving stuff. Y'know, intern stuff. I even got to see most of the Star Wars Fandom show, and participate a bit, asking about the origin of Mace Windu's purple lightsaber.

The high point of the night came during Maestro, however. The show went on about as expected, and plenty of laughs were had. However, right near the end, a volunteer was called for. This fellow named James was the last person on stage, and was going to do a one man Choose Your Own Adventure (except not really because he would have been sued ON THE SPOT), and called for an audience member to select the choices while sitting on the stage. Every so often, the hosts were to stop the show and give the audience member two choices, and they were to pick one of them.

Well, of course, I had to volunteer. I was the only person who raised my hand, so I guess it was gonna happen anyway. So anyway, I went down and sat in a chair on stage, and the guy, James, started to do his thing. He was playing both a dad and a young girl scout who was selling cookies. Well, her dad (who was quite estranged and abusive), answered the door. James, at this point, left an obvious dialogue pause for the hosts to pause the skit.

After about five seconds of awkward silence, he finally came up with something and said a line. The skit on like this for another minute, with James giving pauses for the hosts to try and give me choices, but either the idea of the game was not communicated properly, or they accidently forgot their role, but the hosts didn't pause and give me options. So at first, me kinda freaking out a bit, started calling out "A!" in hopes of 1.) Reminding the hosts that I needed choices, and 2.) Give James something to... possibly work with? Anyway, they didn't pause the skit and give me choices, and at this point it the one-man sketch was starting to flounder.

It was about this point I realized that if I didn't do anything this whole thing was gonna fall apart. The dad was sitting there after turning his daughter away, not buying any cookies, when I realized that I should say something. So I quietly said "Sudden remorse" to James, who was right next to me. I said it so fast, he or anybody else could barely hear me, so I had to repeat it two or three times, louder and slower each time. However, it worked out and he ended up buying some cookies.

The sketch went on, with me giving a few more commands which, on their own and with the help of James' superb acting, won the crowd back and absolutely saved the sketch. (Okay so my saving wasn't so single-handed, but I got it on the right track.)

We got a five. I got to a little on-stage improv early on accident. It was awesome, and has left me even more excited for my classes starting next weekend.

---Paul Henderson

(If you have anything you wanna say, don't be afraid to tack it down there under this post! I love hearin from peeps.)