I figured out my main problem..would like some help please!!

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I figured out my main problem..would like some help please!!

Postby jrec747 » February 17th, 2014, 2:52 am

Lately I have been doing a lot of improv jams. My goal is to be the most supportive player that I can possibly be. I feel like jams are a good way to practice being extremely supportive...playing with people you don't know/ are less experienced can really help your skills.

But since I've been doing a lot of these jams I've noticed a sticking point of mine, which has hindered me from being extremely supportive. This is that I am a little judgmental of scenes. I will be watching a scene from the sideline, and recognize that the scene is a little flawed. For example, two people will go out and do a Straight/Absurd scene. One person will be the straight man, and the other will be absurd. I immediately recognize how to support this scene as a walk-on, but JUST as I am about to walk on, the straight man will say something that is a kind of absurd, making it no longer a completely straight/absurd scene. As Miles Stroth would say in class..."This is now a double absurd scene" and he would stop the scene to change it. He now sees the scene as a little flawed, and he will stop the two players and change things to bring it back on track. But in a jam, I am not allowed to do this...I have to support as best as possible.

On the sideline, I judge this scene a little...I say to myself " I used to know what the game is, but now I do not, as it now seems there are two unusual characters in this scene. "

When I realize the scene is now 'double absurd' I don't know what to do. I just sit back and don't do anything. What do you guys do?
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby zyrain » February 17th, 2014, 3:49 am

If the scene needs a straight man, why not come on as a straight man? It sounds to me like you're pigeonholing the scenes into only the select few patterns of which you're aware. Improv is unbounded. There can be good scenes with two absurd players. While it may be helpful during instruction to stop these scenes because they might be too challenging for beginners, they are not inherently bad. Try being creative and coming up with ways of yes-anding even these scenes. There won't be a single answer for how, there are infinite ways of doing this.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby happywaffle » February 17th, 2014, 10:59 am

Being a straight man is exactly what I'd do in a double-absurd scenario. The audience needs someone to identify with. One of my standard gimmicks in these types of scenes is to act like a scientist observing the action and taking notes. It's a bit of a soft block and it's not always the "right" move for a given scene, but it gives the two crazy characters a safe space to be crazy in (literally; I've established that they're in a controlled testing environment).

Option B is to go balls-deep and come in as a THIRD absurd character. But there's not much variety possible if you're taking the train to Crazytown. I just mention that because "fixing" a scene is not the only solution.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby jrec747 » February 17th, 2014, 3:55 pm

zyrain wrote:If the scene needs a straight man, why not come on as a straight man? It sounds to me like you're pigeonholing the scenes into only the select few patterns of which you're aware. Improv is unbounded. There can be good scenes with two absurd players. While it may be helpful during instruction to stop these scenes because they might be too challenging for beginners, they are not inherently bad. Try being creative and coming up with ways of yes-anding even these scenes. There won't be a single answer for how, there are infinite ways of doing this.


I agree with that. The scene can definitely have two absurds...it can have anything. I also agree that if the scene needs a straight man than I could come on as a straight man. But what I am seeing is that the scene DOES have a straight man...for the majority of the scene. And then the improviser playing the straight man will say one thing that makes him/her a little absurd, and I immediately get confused. The game has now changed to something different.

It essentially comes down to this: I recognize what the game of the scene is (or essentially what the scene is about), I then have an idea for a walk-on to support/heighten the scene, but then the game changes,and my walk-on no longer supports the scene, so I don't do it. This happens A LOT.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby zyrain » February 17th, 2014, 5:12 pm

jrec747 wrote:so I don't do it. This happens A LOT.


Try doing it anyway. If the scene needed support, step out. If you have something, great, if not, that's fine too. Maybe your two scene partners will be thankful to have a new entity to react to? Just be bold about whatever choice you make. If you think the scene is 'broken' you can't make it worse, so why not? Maybe your idea should be pressed, maybe something different will happen. But you're not going to learn what's possible by sitting on the sidelines judging the merits of your aborted support.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby jrec747 » February 17th, 2014, 7:36 pm

zyrain wrote:
jrec747 wrote:so I don't do it. This happens A LOT.


Try doing it anyway. If the scene needed support, step out. If you have something, great, if not, that's fine too. Maybe your two scene partners will be thankful to have a new entity to react to? Just be bold about whatever choice you make. If you think the scene is 'broken' you can't make it worse, so why not? Maybe your idea should be pressed, maybe something different will happen. But you're not going to learn what's possible by sitting on the sidelines judging the merits of your aborted support.


That helps. Thanks!
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby bradisntclever » February 17th, 2014, 8:19 pm

I think Neal has the right idea. Jams are low-risk settings to play with people you don't normally play with, as you mentioned. As long as you're staying true to the spirit behind supporting the people on stage (only entering to support when the scene clearly needs it), it's better to get out there to help as soon as you can tell they need it. Trust that you're making the right move to go out there and offer support, even if you don't have that support move 100% planned and triple-checked for accuracy. You'll figure it out because you're a smart improviser. Maybe the two people on stage don't agree on what the game is and need a third person to come in and help frame or label it. Any help you can offer them is better than none.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby booksherpa » February 18th, 2014, 12:01 am

bradisntclever wrote: Maybe the two people on stage don't agree on what the game is and need a third person to come in and help frame or label it.


That reminds me of a warmup we do, whose name I don't recall. One person steps out and makes a descriptive statement, for instance "A small child playing in the front yard with a broken toy." The next person comes out and adds another statement that relates to the first, without naming the "thing", so, "A rusted car up on blocks in the driveway." and not "A poor family in a rundown neighborhood." The third person comes in and cements the pattern with the third statement, so they might say "An empty lot next door filled with broken needles" if they're thinking urban blight, or maybe "A dirty still with no moonshine in it" if they're going for hillbilly. It could also be as simple as "Comet" "Cupid" "Vixen" or "Comet" "Moon" "Asteroid" or "Comet" "Scrub Brush" "Mop" Maybe see yourself as cementing the pattern in the scene?

I also had the thought that the game of the scene might be that the originally absurd character is so absurd that they convert the straight man, so if you come in as straight and transition to absurd, that would fit too.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby TexasImprovMassacre » February 18th, 2014, 2:46 pm

I think that other people have offered some great advice.

I agree that the "double absurd" scene isn't inherently bad, and perhaps Miles was just stopping them in that exercise to keep the scenes focused and illustrate a point...he advocates double absurd scenes in his form for the deconstruction. So, I don't think that there's anything wrong with that straight/absurd dynamic in the scene.

I have a couple of thoughts on your questions, and pieces of advice if I may.

I think that part of the issue may be from viewing the characters as limited to being just straight or just absurd in general once they have set their role in the scene. I think if both the straight and absurd person are playing their role believably, then there can be a switch from issue to issue in the scene. Michael Jastroch describes this as Reasonable vs Unreasonable...and in that sense, someone could be reasonable about one thing but unreasonable about the other...and if the first absurd person wasn't being so unbelievable as a human being that we don't think they are real, then the audience will go along with that person saying "I didn't think it was crazy to walk home alone, but I do think you're crazy for being a *specific sports team* fan" and then probably "..because...".

I think that is a switch the audience would be willing to follow, and that the scene could then continue to work under. Its true that the original game might switch, or that perhaps in some cases the straight person might switch their p.o.v. on the issue at hand and not to a new issue, to which you could still justify and react to...likely with a "I'm with you now because".

So, I think that the straight/absurd roles throughout a scene can switch, particularly from issue to issue if both improvisers are acting believably and the absurd person isn't just batshit crazy.


To the question about having the scene change by the time your idea is formed I would also agree with the sentiment that perhaps you could strike sooner when you have the impulse to go, and not wait to have the idea perfectly formed...I think that with practice you get better at forming the idea on the fly. A jam is great place to work that out and get that practice...

once the scene has changed though, your window may have closed and you could perhaps do your idea as a second beat...though its possible the moment is lost. So, that's why I like the advice to strike while the iron is hot, and trust your impulse to go. Jump and learn to fly on the way down, build the airplane in flight, and so on...

I thought this was a great question. So, thaaaaank you...shameless plug, come to the ColdTowne jam on Tuesdays at 9:45 for more opportunities to work on this stuff.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby TexasImprovMassacre » February 18th, 2014, 2:51 pm

I also think there are several ways to continue to support a double absurd scene. You can enter as a more straight person and ground it out as mentioned...you could enter as a more reasonable absurd character and go with the absurdity but question it and need some persuasion to offer some voice of reason without adding a fully straight person. You could also play into the absurdity, and I think do so in a way that doesn't necessarily send everything right to crazy town. Again, if you're being believable as an actor you being otherwise normal except for your absurdity can do a sort of "self-grounding"...Again, that's why I like absurd characters that aren't just bat shit crazy but have one thing turned off of neutral, and most other things are normal...
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby jillybee72 » February 18th, 2014, 4:28 pm

When you are an experienced person at an improv jam, part of what you're there to do is allow everyone else to make all the mistakes they need to make to become good improvisors, you don't have to save everything. If it was supposed to be a good show, you would've rehearsed for it. If it was supposed to be a class, there would be a teacher there. It's supposed to be a chance for everyone to get some flight hours on their way to mastery. When you do notice the hiccups that are keeping someone else's scene from being its best, give your brain a high five because you're going to be a really helpful coach, teacher or director when you have the opportunity.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby Spots » February 18th, 2014, 7:03 pm

Judging from the sidelines is easy, especially after getting offstage from your own scene.

Trust your feet! Be the guy who helps his fellow players cement what the game is.


So I would suggest coming up with warmups & exercises that encourage taking more risks specifically geared towards walkons. Maybe it will build up confidence to trust your feet on the issue.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby jrec747 » February 19th, 2014, 5:07 am

TexasImprovMassacre wrote:I think that other people have offered some great advice.

I agree that the "double absurd" scene isn't inherently bad, and perhaps Miles was just stopping them in that exercise to keep the scenes focused and illustrate a point...he advocates double absurd scenes in his form for the deconstruction. So, I don't think that there's anything wrong with that straight/absurd dynamic in the scene.

I have a couple of thoughts on your questions, and pieces of advice if I may.

I think that part of the issue may be from viewing the characters as limited to being just straight or just absurd in general once they have set their role in the scene. I think if both the straight and absurd person are playing their role believably, then there can be a switch from issue to issue in the scene. Michael Jastroch describes this as Reasonable vs Unreasonable...and in that sense, someone could be reasonable about one thing but unreasonable about the other...and if the first absurd person wasn't being so unbelievable as a human being that we don't think they are real, then the audience will go along with that person saying "I didn't think it was crazy to walk home alone, but I do think you're crazy for being a *specific sports team* fan" and then probably "..because...".

I think that is a switch the audience would be willing to follow, and that the scene could then continue to work under. Its true that the original game might switch, or that perhaps in some cases the straight person might switch their p.o.v. on the issue at hand and not to a new issue, to which you could still justify and react to...likely with a "I'm with you now because".

So, I think that the straight/absurd roles throughout a scene can switch, particularly from issue to issue if both improvisers are acting believably and the absurd person isn't just batshit crazy.


To the question about having the scene change by the time your idea is formed I would also agree with the sentiment that perhaps you could strike sooner when you have the impulse to go, and not wait to have the idea perfectly formed...I think that with practice you get better at forming the idea on the fly. A jam is great place to work that out and get that practice...

once the scene has changed though, your window may have closed and you could perhaps do your idea as a second beat...though its possible the moment is lost. So, that's why I like the advice to strike while the iron is hot, and trust your impulse to go. Jump and learn to fly on the way down, build the airplane in flight, and so on...

I thought this was a great question. So, thaaaaank you...shameless plug, come to the ColdTowne jam on Tuesdays at 9:45 for more opportunities to work on this stuff.


Thanks for all of the advice. This was really helpful.

To clarify, I have no problem with double absurd scenes (or any types of scenes for that matter). I guess I just recognize that the scene has changed from straight/absurd to absurd/absurd three-fourths the way into it and I kind of get confused on how to support. You're right...It probably comes down to the fact that I am over-analyzing. I am on the sidelines trying to form an idea and by the time I have it, the scene has changed. I should just step out right away and trust my instincts because it's never gonna be 100% perfect...if it were I'd be writing it as a sketch.

I guess my main problem is I am afraid of messing up. I need to be ok with doing a poor walk-on or a poor scene, etc. Just jumping out with no fear. That's why I am trying to do more jams.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby jillybee72 » February 19th, 2014, 3:35 pm

Editing the scene is always an option as well.
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Re: I figured out my main problem..would like some help plea

Postby bradisntclever » February 19th, 2014, 4:13 pm

jillybee72 wrote:Editing the scene is always an option as well.


Agreed. This is often the best kind of support you can do from off-stage.
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