Fear is the mind killer

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Fear is the mind killer

Postby vine311 » April 16th, 2006, 1:30 pm

I'm a novice improviser, and because of that I tend to fall back on bad habits when I get on stage in front of an audience and start to run out of things to say. I feel the pressure to "make something happen" and I stop listening and start to do things like offer surf, gagging, and trying to be too damn clever. I know all of these things can and do kill a scene but I'm not sure of how to stop it once it starts. Any of you experienced imps out there got any advice for a newbie that would like to step up his game and not panic on stage?
"Have you ever scrapped high?" Jon Bolden "Stabby" - After School Improv

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Postby kbadr » April 16th, 2006, 2:19 pm

I'm not very experienced, but the best advice I can give is to allow yourself to be ok with silence. And work on strong scene starts. If everyone in a scene has strong opening offers, you can slow down and look backwards and focus on the early offers and make them the crux of the scene.

Easier said than done, of course...

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Postby fbillac » April 16th, 2006, 2:33 pm

I wish there was that one piece of advice that, once mentioned, lifted the cloud that looms over all of us. The sad and simple truth is that it takes time and lots of failure to overcome that fear. Even the most seasoned improvisor will make the occasional mistake. The difference is, they know as soon as it happens and quickly work to correct it. All I can say is welcome each failure as an opportunity to grow and learn. Coming from a strong sales background I can attest to the fact that if you knock on 100 doors you will get at least one sale. The point being, you have to try and fail before you can do and succeed.

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Postby Brian Boyko » April 16th, 2006, 3:34 pm

Here's a little secret that helps me.

Everyone in the audience is just an improviser.

There's no need to fear being clever or witty - we're mostly playing for ourselves. So, if you're funny, you're funny, if you're not - it's no pressure.
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Postby valetoile » April 16th, 2006, 3:50 pm

Try to concentrate only on what is happening. As Jason Chin, put it, the characters we play should be the most paranoid people on earth. Everything your scene partner does or says in meaningful. Every gesture, every inflection, every word. What those little things mean is determined by your emotional filter. So now things are a little easier--you don't have to figure what to make the scene about, you just have to come on with an emotion and choose how to react.
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Postby Evilpandabear » April 16th, 2006, 4:40 pm

Here's some advice Jason. Don't rip off lines from DUNE!!! You damn phoney.
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Postby sara farr » April 16th, 2006, 6:05 pm

Chris Trew and some other good imps have told me to LOOK INTO THE EYES OF YOUR SCENE PARTNER when you get lost. That usually makes me calm down, or at least lets my scene partner see how spooked I am so they can save me. (wink)

I also took a workshop from Shana Merlin -- "How to Save a Scene that Sucks" -- and got some great advice. You might want to talk to her about that during your next Wednesday "Scene Study" thingy.
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Postby Wesley » April 17th, 2006, 12:36 am

Like everyone has said, you have to just do it to get over it, but here're some things I've kept in mind that I think help me.
As Dav said, merely hearing it and knowing it and thinking it won't make it immediately so, but with time, you'll get there.

--Be OK with silence (as Kareem said). If it helps, you can fill the space with a physical action. You can always return to it to kill a few seconds. Or, show your emotion through that action instead of feeling the need to say it. "Show, don't tell" is very powerful.
--Stick your shit, as they say. This is what I'm working on now, myself. Heighten what you already have and stick to your characters and objectives. EVEN WHEN IT ISN"T WORKING. Normally, once you give up on what you have and start throwing mud at the wall to find something else, the audience can tell and it looks even worse. Just look for the edit, the next level, maybe seem to give in and then return to your initial stance, etc. Normally, the scene will resolve itself if you don't give up on it.
--Filter through the character. Loose a good bit of yourself as an improviser and BE your character. Filter everything through the character and not through your personal funny engine. Not only does this make it harder for you to panic (because you aren't you), but the audience likes, respects, and enjoys truth (or apparent truth). Do what is true for your character.
--Be OK with silence--not with you and your partner--but with the audience. Not laughing is NOT always a sign of not enjoying. Some of the best scenes only get laughed at 2 or 3 times, but the quality of those laughs is worth 50 gag jokes. Sometimes the crowd is so into what you are doing that they will stay silent. I've seen several magickal scenes go south when the player panicked from a lack of laughter without need.
--Just have fun. You'll get to a point where you think about what is good for the show and all that, but let that come with time. Don't force it. Just have fun. When you have fun, you can say the worst, most insane, inane shit and the audience will eat it up.
--Don't try to win (if it is Maestro)! It is easy to say, harder to do, but don't try to win. When you try, you tend to fail. Just enjoy the show and what time you get. Treat every scene as if it will be your last in the show and go into it with energy and try to wow them.
"I do."
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Postby vine311 » April 17th, 2006, 12:51 am

Thanks guys, this is all very good advice. I'm looking forward to failing my way to success, and I'm gonna have a fucking blast doing it.
"Have you ever scrapped high?" Jon Bolden "Stabby" - After School Improv

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Postby Wesley » April 17th, 2006, 1:22 am

Oh, another one is to learn the technicals of how a given game works.

Some games, despite being improv, really and truly work best if the game is played to the max. The structure sells it, so, until you know what structures you can break and to what effect, if you start to panic, revert and stick to the game structure. Some of our bad scenes happen when good players abandon the game rules/ format and then can't get back on track. Yes, you should play around and learn how to expand, manipulate, break the game, etc., but in a panic situation, know how to get back to the structure.

Doesn't help in a scene from nothing, but how often do those happen?
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Postby DollarBill » April 17th, 2006, 9:29 am

When you get the "oh shit" feeling in a scene, instead of trying to gag your way out, try and build the best scene ever. Focus on relationship instead of plot or humor. Focus on listening rather than inventing. Instead of a gag you could just say "I feel...." and then whatever your character feels. Then the scene will instantly be about relationship (if your scene partner is listening).

The scenes that make me laugh the most aren't gaggy. And when I'm in a scene that makes an audience "awwww" or "GASP" I feel way more powerful than when I'm getting laughs.
They call me Dollar Bill 'cause I always make sense.
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Postby chicocarlucci » April 17th, 2006, 3:36 pm

Jason, all you have to do is remember the real rules of improv -- MY rules:

1)_ I'm stuck what do I do?
Two words, buddy: 'fart joke'. Start making as many fart jokes as you can and as quickly as you can. Don't let other people on the stage say anything or interrupt you while you're on a roll, or you'll simply lose momentum. Stick with it and the audience will love it. If this doesn't work for you, it's probably because you didn't stick with it long enough on stage. Try harder next time.

2)_ Good material make the show.
I can't emphasize this enough: Racism is FUNNY. If some dumbass audience member gives you a suggestion you can't do anything with, like 'library', or 'morgue', find some way to make it racial. Use as many racial sterotypes as you can. Don't get fancy. (i.e "Oh, those black people are always washing their intergalactic starships!") Remember, people like familiarity. Stick to the classics.

3)_ Group think.
Remember: if you come up with enough good material (see #2 above), you can pretty much drive the scene whereever you want it to go. Block the hell out of other improvisers if they try to bring something new to the scene that doesn't fit with your vision. ('No you're not. You're crazy', is a really good standby I like to use) Eventually, like rats in a SKinner box, they'll learn to 'think' like you. Don't feel bad about blocking them. They'll thank you for it later. Besides, if those douchebags were doing their job, you wouldn't be in this goddamn crappy scene in the first place, now would you? Just drive drive drive. Gag gag gag.. That's when the really GOOD improv oozes out.

4)_ The audience isn't laughing.
If the audience doesn't 'get' your fart jokes, try insulting them. Break the 4th wall. That's what it's there for. An insult to the audience is like a challenge. You're 'daring them' to laugh. Say something like, "Hey dumbasses. Don't you get it?" They'll laugh just to fit in, because no one wants to be the guy who doesn't 'get the joke'.

5)_ The audience is trying to kill me.
Don't panic. This will happen from time to time. Sometimes after a racist joke (see #2 above) or after you've insulted them, (#4 above) Remember the emergency exits.
Also, know your audience.

And that's all there is to improv.
glad I could help man.. We'll try this in the jam on Tue.
your pal,

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This might already have been said.....

Postby cargill » April 17th, 2006, 3:50 pm

.....but if you make a choice for yourself BEFORE the scene starts (a character, an emotion), you will never be at a loss for words. You are simply responding in the scene with that character choice you have made for yourself. If you choose to be a bitter divorcee, your world is colored by this event in your characters life, as it is in real life. It doesn't matter where the scene is taking place either: You are a Doctor, or in a paint store or driving a car. You can respond to what is happening in the scene AND have a strong point of view that is real and funny. No need to panick. The crap scenes always happen for me when I waltz into a scene with didddley quat for myself and then start inventinig in my scenework. If I knew who I was in the scen, I would never have to resort to fart & dick jokes.
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Postby phlounderphil » April 17th, 2006, 4:44 pm

Fear is, of course, something that comse with the territory in any artform.

Coming from a diverse background of artistic endeavors (some collaborative [live theatre] some much more solo [slam poetry]) I must say that the fear (at least for me) was much more of an issue in solo endeavors.

The reason for this: Group mind and trust. I know it's tough to fully trust all of the players in a show like Maestro, but I firmly believe in the idea of affirming your trust before you begin any scene/game. When I'm called into a game in Maestro, I make it a point to physically touch each of the other players in the game (a handshake, a hug, an arm around a shoulder, a brief tongue kiss)...this does two things, number one, it assures me that this person exists, number two it somehow cements my trust in their skills.

I've seen a lot of negativity aimed at other players (perhaps because styles do not align, or some players have more experience than others and fear having to work with someone less experienced) but I can tell you this...there is nothing more wonderful than trusting the people you work with.

It goes a long way to prevent that fear when you can rely on others to pull you out, as well as yourself. Trust me, it's impossible to save a bad slam poem, there is noone to step in and make that convenient saving offer or whatnot. But I've participated in many improv scenes that were saved by offstage support.

Basically, be paranoid, be a listener, make good offers for YOURSELF and others (before and during the scene), and most importantly, trust whole-heartedly your scene partners. It is very rare for us to fully trust ourselves in any situation (again, maybe this is a personal problem for me!) but it's much easier to trust a group of people we love, support, and enjoy working with. TRUST YOUR PARTNERS, trust your own scene work, and plunge headfirst into sucking.

Also, eventually (when you reach improv Nirvana as few gurus do [me included!], you'll realize that everything comes as secondnature to you, which prevents the need to ever fear anything. hells yeah!)

Your resident guru,
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Postby smerlin » April 17th, 2006, 5:17 pm

19 Tips from my How to Save a Scene That Sucks Workshop:
by Shana Merlin

1. Figure out what information is missing and provide it (From inside the scene or making a cross on stage)
2. Be changed (Make a physical/emotional adjustment)
3. Make things more important to your character (Raise the stakes)
4. Find a physical action (That expresses an emotion or objective)
5. Be honest about how you feel (“I have no idea what’s going on.â€
Shana Merlin
You improvise every day.
Why not get good at it?
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