Do you ever wonder if you're getting better?

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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Do you ever wonder if you're getting better?

Postby DollarBill » March 13th, 2006, 3:27 am

I think I am. I know for sure that I am better (at improvising) than when I started. I'm pretty sure I'm getting better all the time. But I'm definately more confident on stage than I used to be. So if I'm more confident maybe I've lost some of that wide-eyed naivity that I think made me watchable in the first place... Is it like that with all art? With all things?

Let me put it this way. When I first learned to play a blues scale on the piano I couldn't physically play it fast. So, I had to use dynamics to make it sound interesting. Then I learned to play it fast, and now my dynamics seem (to me anyway) to suck big pig fingers. I forgot all the sweet tricks I used to do when I sucked at playing the blues. Or did I? I can't remember. See what I mean? Maybe if I master the blues scale, it will become second nature and I'll get my dynamics back. Maybe. But maybe the things I used to do are stupid. Like when a little kid punches a guy in the balls and you say "how cute". But If you saw a grown dude do that at a Wal-Mart you'd stay the hell away from afore mentioned grown dude.

What I mean is... Now that I'm a better improvisor, have I lost some tricks and flare and junk that I used to have? Will I get that stuff back? Do I want it back? Hm... maybe it's time to bust out the old tapes.

Anybody else ever ponder this?
They call me Dollar Bill 'cause I always make sense.
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Postby deroosisonfire » March 13th, 2006, 11:25 am

i once read about this psychology experiment where they had amateur archers and professional archers shoot arrows while hooked up to a machine that recorded which parts of their brain were active. what they found was that professional archers had activity in different parts of the brain, and less activity overall than the amateurs. once you get really good at something, you think about it less while you do it.

so, my thoughts are that perhaps as young improvisers we think really hard about how to be "good" and how to be clever, which can sometimes have good results, but often falls flat. with practice you get out of your head and are more natural onstage. and i think that's more you. and personally, i find that much more engaging to watch.

this reminds me of a question i have been pondering lately: do you ever get to a point where you don't have a fallback? a fallback character or location or relationship or whatever, is it possible to stretch yourself to the point where anything and everything will come naturally to you?
"There's no such thing as extra pepperoni. There's just pepperoni you can transfer to another person."
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Postby sara farr » March 14th, 2006, 12:42 pm

Beginning level skiers are wiped out at the end of their first day of skiing because they don't know which muscles will get them down the hill safely, so they try everything. Add to that the fear of crashing which causes them to tense up, and they get the added risk of hurting themselves trying NOT to fall. Learning to fall safely is vital for skiing.

Experienced skiers have already done the physical and mental problem solving to learn the most efficient way to ski, they've developed the muscle memory, and they are confindent in their skills to stay upright, and they know how to safely fall. Therefore at the start of a new season, they can jump on the slopes, and not be worn out but the things that tire the beginner. Yet if they look for new challenges (blue square, black diamond, snow-board, snow-dogs, mogules, trees, etc.), they can keep building their muscles and keep their brain buzzing.
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Postby Evilpandabear » March 14th, 2006, 5:30 pm

overall i think i've gotten a little better; however, i still think i suck. only a handful of times there were some maestros & ed32 shows & maybe 1 or 2 start trekkin shows where i felt as if i were "in the zone."

it's odd because most of those times i'm not concentrating on anything and simply having fun.

other times i'm trying to do focus on things like:
not licking my fingers,
not smiling,
facial expression,
body movement,
BIG offers,
accepting & reacting BIG,
tilting scenes & story,
holy hell i could go on forever, but yeah, there are nights where ALL of this junk and MORE is running through my mind incessantly... YIKES!
"Anyone can teach improv. It's bullshit." -Andy Crouch on June 4th 11:33pm CST
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Postby phlounderphil » March 14th, 2006, 5:41 pm

Evilpandabear wrote:other times i'm trying to do focus on things like: ...not smiling...

Jay. I've gotta be honest with you here, one of my favorite things about watching improv is watching improvisers crack eachother up onstage. I say, if you've got the urge to smile, just smile. When the audience sees you enjoying everything, they'll only be forced to enjoy everything more.

Some of the worst improv I've seen is when a troupe attempts to take the show way too seriously and fails in the process. Everything is fun, failure is fun! Success is fun! Laughter is fun! Killing a puppy onstage is fun! Blowing out birthday candles onstage is fun! When all of these things are fun for you, then all of these things become funny and enjoyable for the audience.

Seriously, don't hold back your smile. Ever.

And to answer Dolla Bill's question: Yes, I think that happens to artists in a lot of fields. It's a struggle to keep yourself at your own standards, although what I've realized is that this is one of those things that we only notice about ourselves, and people outside of our minds rarely notice this about us. For instance, I haven't seen any of the stuff you're talking about in your own performances. Then again, I cannot measure your entire progression through the form. I've only seen a few select slice and pieces. Of what I've seen, you're amazing, I'm highly envious of your musical improvisation skills. Of course, you probably look at someone else and see them as better than you too, or else, we have nothing to strive for. Always better yourself. Push new boundaries. Find new ground. If you're sick of something, change the perspective.

Here's a little trick that I've used in the past and continue to love. Choose another improviser whose style you know (it could be one of your own troupe members or not) and go into a scene attempting to be that improviser. Make the decisions they would make, say the things they would say. Make Jeremy play Bill for a show and improvise all the songs on the keyboard, while you play Jeremy. I've tried to do this before in rehearsals, and I find myself doing things I would never expect to do, only because I've mentally justified them by pretending to be another performer and not myself.
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Re: Do you ever wonder if you're getting better?

Postby arclight » March 15th, 2006, 9:59 pm

DollarBill wrote:What I mean is... Now that I'm a better improvisor, have I lost some tricks and flare and junk that I used to have? Will I get that stuff back? Do I want it back? Hm... maybe it's time to bust out the old tapes.

When something becomes familiar, you focus on different aspects than when it was new. Part of being in the moment is to understand that no matter how familiar a situation, it has never happened before and will never happen again; to see the familiar as new every time is a great gift, or a sign of advanced Alzheimer's.
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Postby valetoile » March 15th, 2006, 11:30 pm

It may be that the stuff that seemed like "flare" when you didn't know what you were doing was actually crap. You have to kill your darlings that way. A look at the old tapes would reveal the truth, I think.
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Postby kbadr » March 16th, 2006, 1:19 am

I know I'm getting better. And I'm still very aware of the fact that certain things I used to struggle with are becoming second nature to me. I love it. I thrive on it. I can't wait to see what's become ingrained in me in a year.

You work your life away and what do they give?
You're only killing yourself to live

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Postby Wesley » March 16th, 2006, 11:03 am

I'm with Kareem. Maybe I've just not been doing it long enough to wonder about it, but right now, I simply am getting better.
"I do."
--Christina de Roos . . . Bain . . . Christina Bain

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Postby nadine » March 16th, 2006, 11:22 am

Wesley wrote:I'm with Kareem. Maybe I've just not been doing it long enough to wonder about it, but right now, I simply am getting better.

<squeaking from somewhere at the bottom of the barrel> me too!!! </squeaking>
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Postby HerrHerr » March 17th, 2006, 2:57 pm

I was in a show at The Hideout back in '04 called Reality Improv. We did and hour+ show with five people that was just basically a flowy doughnut kinda thing. The first few shows were decent, but my experience with it was awesome. We used all these tricks new to me (tapping out, callbacks, split screens, monologues, being a living picture for narration).

By the end of the run we were all exhausted and felt like improv had become burdensome. Flash forward one year from to my first experiences with Chicago style improv through Dave, Rachel, Erin, Jen, Bob and Erika. We started doing improv so similar to this stuff that was new a year ago.

So, I look back to tha Reality Improv show and realized that I was playing with wild abandon--risk-taking insanity. That's an edge I've lost in place of trying to ground myself more. Trying to keep that wide-eyed improvisor somewhere inside who knows know rules.
Sometimes it's a form of love just to talk to somebody that you have nothing in common with and still be fascinated by their presence.
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Postby beardedlamb » March 17th, 2006, 6:38 pm

for me, it's a gestalt approach to the craft and what everyone is doing. i take from everything. i try things in rehearsal that i don't understand. if i see a show with a format i'm unfamiliar with, i try it in rehearsal, whether i found the form boring or unneccesary. if they sucked doing it, i want to try it and see if we can make it good.

it's also about constantly augmenting your style. this is best done with a group. shake up your performance formats. experiment. improv is about taking risks and reaping the benefits of success and allowing the failures to be a fun process for the audience and the actors. when the guy juggles 6 balls, you're like damn. when he goes to 7 you're thinking no way. when he drops a couple doing 8 all at once, you don't bust his balls for messing up. you applaud him for trying.

i feel like i get into ruts. it's impossible not to. just be aware of them and do whatever you have to to break out of them. google "improv gods" and see what happens. don't say a word for an entire maestro. go see a high school production of Dining Room if you have to. listen to spice girls really loud while meditating on improv on your roof. do whatever it takes. it will probably inspire you to change something about your current state.

new and awful experiences are what most immediately lead to art happening. good experiences sometimes do, but not if you're familiar with them already.

keep your eyes open.
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Postby sara farr » March 18th, 2006, 3:23 pm

That way you can dodge the trees before they kill you.
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me too.

Postby craigy » March 29th, 2006, 12:20 am

I think back to when I first started performing at the Hideout, last century-ish... I found myself "trying" too hard. I always think about people shooting free throws in basketball.. the harder you try, the less likely you are to make it... this applies to improv as well. The best improv advice I got was "don't try to be funny"... let the funny happen.. by all means continue to think, but ride the scene like a surfer rides a wave... see where it crest and try to be in the right place at the right time...

I still have shows or moments, where I go home and pray people don't remember them.. I forget who said "Perfection is boring."

One of the best shows I had was a Knuckleball Now show after we had a sub par one.. Our group mantra was "lets have fun".... "lets have fun"...."lets have fun".... we were in the green room warming up passing the "lets have fun".. and it was an awesomely fun show... My point is that when I first started, it was "be funny" and "don't get eliminated".. now its have fun... This thought will release the burdon that we all put on ourselves... I promise when you have fun, the audience will too.

As for the cracking up on stage... I am guilty... especially on the sidelines.. though it may seem unprofessional, people love the human side of art... why do dvds put bluppers on them... That also reminds us that we aren't on auto pilot... Scripted shows are way guilty of this dertachment...

Improvement begins with improv.
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Re: me too.

Postby sara farr » March 29th, 2006, 4:12 am

craigy wrote:why do dvds put bluppers on them

i LOVE "bluppers" -- and sometimes, they MAKE the movie worth watching... (see "A Bug's Life" and "Liar, Liar" -- BTW, my favorite quote from "Liar" is in the blooper reel when Swoosie Kurtz gives Carrey a beautiful zinger in a heated argument that crescendos up to her violently calling him an "over actor" (which stuns Carrey speachless and makes the entire cast & crew crack up).
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