Miming and Physicality

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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Miming and Physicality

Postby tannerkalina » July 20th, 2013, 12:50 pm

I've been miming random things all week and to an outsider I have to look like a psycho, but I've heard that people judge your improv skills largely based on how your miming skills are. How much does object work take into account the quality of an improviser you are? Obviously if you walk through a table or something in a scene, it can throw the audience way off. I think physicality is the funnest thing to watch in improv, but do you get thrown off when there is too much physicality or is there even such thing as too much physicality? Is there a miming class in Austin someone can take?

Also, because I spend an unhealthy amount of time on YouTube I came across this. Thought it was relevant and you all would enjoy it!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkxFbz1a ... r_embedded
"Don't think." -UCB
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby trabka » July 20th, 2013, 2:37 pm

It's important, but I don't think it's the litmus test for declaring someone a good or bad improviser. Also, the only time I've really seen an audience taken out of a scene due to someone walking through a table or something is because someone else in the scene decided to and call it out to get their laugh at your expense. Good space work will definitely enhance a scene, but bad/no spacework probably isn't going to detract from it, especially to a lay audience.

There are occasional physical comedy/object work workshops do go up occasionally at the various improv theaters around town, and I'm pretty sure the Paramount has on occasion hosted actual miming classes.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby Spots » July 20th, 2013, 4:47 pm

From someone pretty hardcore in the school of "finding the game", I would say that miming serves to heighten the game. This means you are heightening a pattern or relationship or some primal gut funny thing-- you are bringing more credibility to that thing.

Can mime work BE the game? Sure. Just the other day I saw a totally silent & physical improv troupe that mimics Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton. It was incredible and exhausting for the performers. It was totally pure because it was free of the deception that comes with language.

But in your overall improv world-- there are MANY ways to heighten the game. You could be that one guy that simply doesn't do it. And you can be hilarious. Just realize that object work is a pretty epic tool to keep in your toolbox.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby happywaffle » July 22nd, 2013, 10:50 am

trabka wrote:It's important, but I don't think it's the litmus test for declaring someone a good or bad improviser. Also, the only time I've really seen an audience taken out of a scene due to someone walking through a table or something is because someone else in the scene decided to and call it out to get their laugh at your expense. Good space work will definitely enhance a scene, but bad/no spacework probably isn't going to detract from it, especially to a lay audience.


I disagree that the laugh is at the person's expense. I always tell my students about a Thanksgiving-dinner scene I played one time, with an invisible table up the middle of the stage. At one point midway through the scene I lazily crossed the stage right through the table, and practically in unison, everybody else in the scene jumped up and screamed as though I'd just knocked the table over. Then the scene became about that, and I had to justify why I'd wrecked Thanksgiving.

There certainly are at-your-expense jokes, but that's usually when you're blocking (e.g. "Why did you drop your baby?"). I do agree with your first point that it's not likely to make or break a scene. But it's a good thing to aspire to. And as we all know, good space work can be hypnotic.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby Spots » July 22nd, 2013, 11:15 am

happywaffle wrote:At one point midway through the scene I lazily crossed the stage right through the table, and practically in unison, everybody else in the scene jumped up and screamed as though I'd just knocked the table over. Then the scene became about that, and I had to justify why I'd wrecked Thanksgiving.



I think it depends on how prominent that table was. If the scene cannot go on without addressing it, you have to address it. "It's what we all were thinking." But I have seen many scenes-- which were interrupted-- where silently letting the table get walked through would have allowed for stronger choices in the scene.

Keep in mind we've all seen that game time & time again too. Overall I agree with Adam that it's usually a dick move to call it out. Just get a feel for it.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby trabka » July 22nd, 2013, 11:36 am

I agree with Jesse wholeheartedly, and based on your description of that particular scene it sounds like it was probably appropriate since I would imagine a dinner table is going to be the focal point of a Thanksgiving dinner scene. It also probably helped even more that everyone jumped on board with it and made it the focus rather than calling you out for phasing through the table and going back to whatever.

Generally speaking though, I think it's probably best to gloss over things like that in favor of keeping the scene moving in its current direction, same goes for pointing out mispronunciations or inaccurate pop culture references. If anything, I'd say the lesson for your students illustrated that scene is more that "everyone jumping on board with an idea can be fun" rather than "It can be fun to call out when someone forgets what invisible thing is where."
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby happywaffle » July 22nd, 2013, 11:47 am

Yeah, my specific point is how it's good to have awareness of space objects on the stage. When I directed Kosher Bacon (monoscene format) I encouraged them to plant some large obstacle in the middle of the stage that they've continuously have to navigate around. I think it helped them visualize the fictional setting.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby trabka » July 22nd, 2013, 11:55 am

That definitely makes sense and sounds like a great strategy to get them to believe their environment.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby Spots » July 22nd, 2013, 11:59 am

Agreed. Sounds like a great exercise. Added fun would be to have them interact with it but not talk about it.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby happywaffle » July 22nd, 2013, 12:06 pm

Yeah, in one of the run-throughs it was a giant bottomless pit in the middle of a retail store, no railing or anything, and I don't think they ever even explained it.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby Pdyx » July 22nd, 2013, 4:39 pm

I think the distinction here is between "Oh my god, you're knocking over the table!" and "Dude, you just walked through that table."

I think if you can catch a space-work 'mistake' at the exact moment it's happening and deal with it in a realistic fashion, such as, if someone forgets they have a cup in their hand, "Oh great, now we have to clean that up" as opposed to "What happened to that cup you were holding? It disappeared!"

Though often times I think just letting it go and not doing either of those things is a fine choice.
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Re: Miming and Physicality

Postby Asaf » July 23rd, 2013, 9:16 am

For me the miming and physicality is a way to commit strongly to the reality. I like to be very precise, not necessarily to communicate where I am to my scene partner, but it gives me a foothold in where I am. And my commitment to that physicality usually communicates to my scene partner ideas of where we are.

When people let that commitment go limp it's because they rushed through that connection to the space to get to other things that the "scene was about" and then you walk through tables or forget where the fridge was located or whatever.
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