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Below are the 12 most recent journal entries recorded in Dan's Improv Theory Blog's LiveJournal:

Saturday, June 21st, 2008
1:48 am
Beautiful Improv, Right Attitude
I've been in college for 2 years, so improv has been sparse. Multiply that infrequency by the fact that I only post to this blog when I have a show great enough to reap some revelation worth keeping, and you have my justification for this blog's infrequent updating. That aside:

Tonight was perhaps the single greatest long form of my life. It hurts so bad that it's over, I want to cry that it has died. It was the story I wanted to crawl up in forever and be happy. Through it I achieved all of my highest improv ideals, and I'll try to express a bit of why here.

1. Relevance. The Alphabet-Genre selection was "Alzheimer's Bliss." I have some deep feelings about Alzheimers, having watched two grandparents' minds decay. It must be a current issue, because people have never lived this long before, so elderly conditions are somewhat emergent. In any case, the scene started with me playing an old man, describing the degree to which my mind had decayed and withered away. It was a dark way to start a long-form, with no definite structure, no obvious plot to follow, just a serious condition.

2. Style. After Brandon as an evil-doctor had fed me my Alzheimer's medication, Chris S. entered as another doctor, who offered me a deal: Try a new drug, live forever in your memories instead of your body. The catch, unbeknownst to our old man, is that if he ever kisses someone in his memory-dream, he will die. The entire long-form took the shape of flashing back and forth between different points in the man's life where he nearly fell into a kiss, wiping back to the scientists who were monitoring his dreams and doing things (from slaps to sedatives) to prevent him from reaching the kisses. This raised an unanswered paradox of which came first, his life without kisses, or the doctors preventing him from ever kissing.

3. A Musical Finalé. After the old man as a youth decides to throw caution to the wind and kisses his love, his old man body begins to tremble and tears away from its wall restraints. He exclaims "Life wasn't worth it without love!" and collapses. His childhood sweetheart, now elderly as well, arrives on the scene and shakes him to a final shared moment, where he finally remembers her, they collapse in each other's arms (in some sort of "Notebook" omage). The doctors ask "I wonder what they're dreaming of now." to musical flashback of the two lovers as young again, dancing and singing, with the lines "I can't believe that it's come to this, this mixed-up Alzheimer's Bliss" continuing to echo in my mind still.

Relevance like I don't want to talk about it. Style like an art-house film. An unforgettable, musical finalé. God damnit. Improv sucks, because when you finally think you grabbed that improv-star, when you're as high as it gets, coasting in outer space, you haven't actually moved an inch. Tomorrow you'll have to build that ladder to the sky all over again. But then of course, that isn't unique to improv. I honestly want to cry, because it's been so long since I've felt this good about a creative work, and only 25 people saw it.

I have some notes, too (like negative comments). This was my first show back at CSzSJ in months. And I was very disappointed by some of the unprofessional slumps that have occurred. Talking in the back of the theater during the ref shpiel. There was such a resistance to fresh shtick, at one point I was physically grabbed to prevent me from entering a scene. A scene which in retrospect was a high point of the night, an assist point, and an all-around good time. Another time I was told to shush while bantering with the ref. Seriously, if the show isn't about having a witty fun good time, then why the hell do we do it? If there's any job that requires an open mind and total flexibility it's a good improvisor. Sometimes I think our standards are too low. People think they can get away with sitting obediently, drawing no attention, letting the format do its magic, repeating the same joke twice in the same show. Who cares, right? Someone might have not gotten it the first time. That's practically a quote. I have no interest in stock jokes, stock characters, predictable stories, pre-planned bits, routine suggestions.

I WANT THE FRESH STUFF.

The thing that many players commented on after that great scene tonight was this:
I was scared, we started and there was no concrete plot, no obvious conclusion, it had an irregular presentation, I didn't know where we were going. BUT- It felt good. It was obviously a story. We were having fun with it.

It is easy to give a setup and know where to conclude it. Some improv teachers will suggest the first line should include the grain of the resolution. Hell, in retrospect, this scene DID. But it was NOT because we decided in advace how the story would go. THAT would not be improv. THAT would FEEL stale to perform or watch.

The thing that makes improv magical, unbelievable, and truly at the level of fine art, is embracing, and CHARGING THE UNKNOWN. We were not TRYING TO INJECT A MORAL. We played it out. That's how things happen in real life. If there's a conflict to start, IT CAN ONLY PLAY OUT. There is no "natural conclusion." There is only the problem and human creativity. Your characters are only as creative as you. Their story as creative as your wit along the way. We do not want the story of a man with alzheimers who decides to kill himself, or decides it's fun to play pranks because you can play dumb, or who just wants to do drugs to escape his problems, ALTHOUGH those are all fine things to mention or portray along the way!!! A good scene is like a solid conversation, without a conclusion until the end. The fact that the end is IN LIMBO is the entire reason the story is compelling. A story that starts with a fire, and people going to find a hose is not terribly compelling, unless they decide something different along the way. Maybe that house has brought them nothing but trouble. Maybe the journey of finding the hose reminds them that being together on the road means more to them than ever before. Maybe they'll learn to hate each other and split up. These could all be endings, but they could all also be intermediary thoughts. We should not treat these premature conclusions as conclusions for our improvised stories. Instead we should be honest with them, with the audiences, and ourselves. We should explore the topics through the eyes of our character as best we can. We should try to actually solve the problem if possible. But if not, it's just comedy. It's just science. Edison learned hundreds of ways to not make a lightbulb before making one work. A sincere scene should convey this attitude, the dilligent application of creativity to life's situations. It doesn't need to work, because it doesn't always work. It's the process that people appreciate, that's the real lesson. The real lesson has nothing to do with where the story ends. After the credits the characters might change their minds. It doesn't matter. We see a period of life, which is always in flux. It is our job to represent that flux as purely as possible. Fortunately we are the fluxing creative human beings that we happen to be portraying. We can all act like idiots. A scene benefits from some grounding knowledge, but you only need enough of it to let the characters squirm a bit. The drama is watching 'em squirm.

Goodnight world. You cruel thief of my dreams. Thank you for giving them to me, however briefly.

edit: btw, no caffienne, no drugs at all tonight. Fresh foods and a fresh perspective, acquired by massive time spent doing other things.
Thursday, November 1st, 2007
4:03 pm
I'm all excited because I've made my first round of posts on yesand.com. Please, reply to all my comments so it looks like I incite discussion!
4:03 pm
Best Workshop This Year Yet
So the last couple weeks I'd devoted to musical work, which is all great and fun, but I started to think we were forgetting our scenework, so I decided to touch base a bit. After reading several forum threads on yesand.com, I found inspiration for my workshop on the utah improv site. In particular, Just Be On Stage by Kyle Rogan.

He starts his article with "Fuck the Environment." Which offends my liberal tendencies almost as much as it does my ComedySportz training. The thesis is simple: Scenes are about people, so put everything else second.

So I started workshop by mentioning the disturbing article I'd read, assuring my guys "I'm not treating this like gospel, but let's try it out and see where it takes us." If only designer drugs were as harmless as improv philosophies I'm sure I'd try lots of those too. So we agreed that we were going to abandon comedy for the evening, forget about mime and scenework, and try to zero in on the nitty-gritty of relationship craft. Being three of us in the group, I started as the "director" and let Jason and Roger take the stage. I gave them the suggestion "Boat" and they were off.

Little had I considered at the time, a boat is one of the most scene-killingest things you can suggest. Especially if it's in the middle of nowhere, and they are far from land. In CSz this would be a huge note: "Bring the boat to harbor, get the scene moving." But for tonight's experiment, the boat was perfect: A tiny little isolated environment in which these characters can bounce off each other in.

The scene had some trouble at first, both were trying to talk of other things, plans outside the boat, rations, mutual acquaintances, external subjects. But patiently coaching them, "bring the focus on each other, remember your long history," gradually brought the subject of the scene to light. Suddenly what was once literally two guys standing next to each other, stammering for something to say, morphed into an all-but-hopeless sea journey, a philosophical metaphor for determined hope versus enlightened surrender. And it wasn't forced, and it wasn't cliché. It was how these two people felt, and they explored it for damn well 15 minutes, at the end of which I gave a one man standing ovation. Goddamn, god bless those kids. It ended this way. (trying out my .mac video posting. Sorry it's not embedded!)

After a bit of that, we played with a format "I" came up with (by fusing a Dave Razowsky workshop from the Santa Cruz Improv Festival with UCB NY's "Mother" show) that CSz SJ dubbed something like "The iPod Shuffle," although I'd prefer something improvey like "The iProv Shuffle" It goes like: Three chairs on stage. Random song comes on, three players walk around the chairs until the music stops, when they all sit down and the scene begins. The scene ends when the music comes back on, when a player leaves and another comes on, and they get in the mood to the music until it fades out/cuts out again.

After all our character/relationship work, the iPod Shuffle resulted in some severely realistic scenework. Like, there wasn't scenework, there were just characters on stage interacting with each other. At times, it was goddamned hillarious. At others the shit got incredibly real. One scene even accurately depicted a funeral. I think we all still respect that scene. One favorite scene produced the line, "What kind of magicians are we?! We just drink and play tricks on each other!" Here's a bit I caught.

Anyway, some of what happened tonight was fantastic and compelling, but basically none of it had any "story structure." What does the improv community say about that? Fuck story structure? Find a balance? Fuck character relationships? You tell me!
Saturday, September 22nd, 2007
3:02 am
Racing Your Mind
Caffiene is like a demon with a flashlight running around the attic of my mind. When it's late, I just want it to shut up. That's when I post to this blog.

Sometimes improv will slow down, and the players will ask, "Where should we go from here?" The answer is to stop contemplating, and start deciding. Our strength in improv is to roll out of anything. An Aikido master will land any fall, and an improv master will resume any scene.

Let me compare good scene mentality to Donald Rumsfeld's philosophy. I know, where did that come from, right? I don't know, but I'm running with it. Rumsfeld subscribes to the philosophy of the "OODA Loop." (Wiki it.) The concept originated from a fighter jet pilot, who realized he could always outmaneuver his opponent if he could get INSIDE his opponent's head (or "OODA loop") and just think a step ahead, ie staying unpredictable. Improv is exactly the same.

If you were a fighter jet pilot, and you spent a long time trying to decide to fake right or left, the guy behind you would shoot you down. If you're in a scene, and you spend too long deciding where to go next, you've chosen no direction at all. The lack of a decision is itself a decision, a decision for nothing to happen.

The #1 rut I've seen improvisors get into (that I know) is the rut of overthinking to the point of hesitating. People don't want to go out on stage until they "have an idea." People afraid of "destroying the plot" and try to only "complete" it, to "end the story."

While it is true that "the end is in the beginning," the path is not set in stone. In fact, if we draw a straight line, it is not a story, it's an instruction manual. If there's a fire, and the guy gets water and puts it out, it wasn't a story. The story is every single little detail along the way. Especially the unexpected ones. If a story seems impossible to end, my advice will be: FUCK WITH IT.

Most of the time a scene feels stagnant, it's because nobody's making decisions within the scene. I mean, how long can you argue about whether or not you're going to break up? It's not that interesting. Make the rash decision, marry fabio, move to Hearst castle, start a leper colony, get leprosy, invite famous scientists to cure you, whatevER! Each choice you make will "ADVANCE THE PLOT." Yeah, that stupid ass theoretical phrase that just means you did something. Just do something. Something impulsive, because nobody thinks their decisions out far enough anyway. That's where the humor comes in! Unexpected consequences! Just make decisions! Any decisions!

---And scene.---
Thursday, May 3rd, 2007
12:53 am
Onstage Dubbing, and more Reverse.
Onstage Dubbing is the #2 game that I always wanted to play but was rare to find teammates willing to play at CSz. Literally, ask any one of them. If one is reading this, they're probably saying right now, "Goddamn, he's still talking about Scene in Reverse and Onstage Dubbing!" Well yes, I am, because I find them fantastically interesting and a unique challenge.

For our May 11th "Balls Out" (the name of our group) show, I had the thought that instead of a normal short form or long form show, we'd do a bit of both. Nothing too radical there. I figured a Harrold in the first half, and the 2nd half, we could do short form. However, I had an idea, where instead of the short form being pre-determined games that work well on their own accord, I would have a series of feats that eventually stack up and combine to make more complicated improvisational feats, finally climaxing with something really amaxing. Something like:

Harrold
-Intermission
Forward-Reverse
Onstage Dubbing
Scene in Reverse
Forward-Reverse w/ 5th Dimensional Slip
Onstage Dubbing Musical
(and if needed)
Talk Radio (just to finish things off on a good, light note)

Mind you, if the dubbing or the reverse wasn't working, I might stack in a different gimmick entirely, like dimestore novel, scantron, columns, or something else we might think of.

First off, three person onstage dubbing works well. Four person seems to be easier to follow when the dubbing is assigned in reciprocal "pairs." I don't have too much to say about this for now. Although I was going to try Onstage Dubbing in Reverse, we instead tried Normal Dubbing in Reverse, and we hit a snag, which was some people hadn't been at the 2-hour Scene in Reverse workshop. Scene in Reverse is one skill that 2-3 of the above games utilize, and is very difficult. I'm afraid I may have to commit entire extra workshops to the premise to "catch people up," otherwise only allow the "qualified" people to play the certain games.

One thing I noticed when trying to teach some guessing games the other day is that good mime communication is a more useful and difficult skill than scene in reverse. I'm going to be perfectly honest about that, most improv groups don't emphasize mime or guessing too hard, but it allows a whole extra dimension of physicalized nuance in scenes. Physicalized nuance is also an aspect that is being neglected in many of our reverse scenes so far, since each independent line is forwards, actions during that line still follow normal time, for example "thanks a lot" "here you go", in which the 2nd person hands the 1st a package while saying "here you go." In an ideal backwards scene all action would move backwards, keeping a kind of momentum of the clock rolling in reverse.

Perhaps bringing in some movie footage on a laptop that I could simply play backwards would help us imitate this rhythm and style of motion. We'll have to try!
Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007
12:51 pm
Scene in Reverse
I'm not saving the good stuff for later. Here's my master work.

So the number one thing I was excited to try once I left CSz was Scene in Reverse. This game "exists" in the CSz universe, but for some reason, at least in SJ, nobody likes to play it. It even became a joke that I was the only person who liked it. But now with a willing workshop group of brains to play with, I decided to make Scene in Reverse a bigger game in the advance workshop.

First, an unrelated tangent:
The first week I got the team used to a "Truth in Comedy" style Harold (Word Game, Step out Scenes, Tie it up). The biggest problem we encountered was the group was so comfortable transitioning and resuming scenes, that scenes rarely got wiped before the first couple step-outs became the whole harrold. I guess that's good, the step out scenes are really like training wheels on the Long-Form, but they're also funny in their own right. So I'm not sure if that's good or bad yet, and will have to explore it more later.

Scene in Reverse is played in a variety of styles, that typically are just a frame for playing a scene beginning with the end, and line for line, and (ideally) action for action, goes backwards to a "beginning." Variations include then playing the scene forwards, and getting a "first line" and "last line."

Now, I have to repeat something I've said before (not on this blog) that when you do 2 full hours of Scene in Reverse drills, it FUCKS WITH YOUR BRAIN. Literally, you start accidently living your life backwards. We tried doing a normal scene after, and time kept sliding backwards inadvertantly, and the characters would have to then lay down alternate futures. This got me thinking of a concept that I haven't gotten to work yet, involving some sort of "forward-reverse" that doesn't overlap itself but rather slides through alternate realities. We did it accidently once and it was hillarious, but once I tried formalizing it into a set of rules, we realized how impractical it was:

First of all, the question stands of how much do you hold from the last scene? If you hold only the position, you're just playing freeze tag with alternating forwards and reverses. If you hold only a line, you're playing four rooms only alternating forwards and backwards. If you hold the whole scenerio, you'll find the oddest situations "difficult" to set up differently than they did. Our example:

A classroom has a papier-maché bug making contest, where two try to make centipedes and another tries to make a scorpion. While they're mid sculpting, I said "Reverse!" The scene basically froze up and crashed there. The question remaining was "How else would we get HERE?!" I had to confess, it was frustratingly difficult, and so we moved on for the workshop. But in retrospect I can't help but wonder, perhaps THAT QUESTION, in all its frustrating glory, would be the key to this new game.

After all, only a crazy improvisor tries to start a scene by establishing an entire plot in a giant monologue. And nobody mid-sculpting explains the whole reason they are doing it. Perhaps by taking the explanations slowly, the way scenes typically are taken, the pressure would be light enough to bear. This will have to be an experiment for next monday. Makes me want to add more workshop days to the week. But no time this week. It's my gf's birthday, my mom's birthday, my gf's mom's birthday, and my grandpa just died. It's going to be a helluva weekend.

So, as a scientist, I will outline my hypothesis and methodology now:

Hypothesis: "Forward Reverse with 5th Dimensional Slip" (working title) could be achieved through a series of smaller steps away from the general situation. ie Not only should a position or line be held, rather AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE should be held, with the changes gradually building up.

Method: To find the balance of how fast these changes can be achieved, we will start by doing scenes with the smallest possible changes, and gradually challenge the team to make bigger and bigger jumps away from the initial scene, until we find how far out it is possible to go per line while still holding the scene into a comprehendable whole.
3:00 am
My new class
Oddly enough, despite having moved to UCI Irvine, and having started running a series of improv workshops here, I haven't posted anything on what we've done. Some of what I've done I have liked, and some I haven't, but a good deal of it is pushing my comfort zone, and trying new ways of teaching improv. I imagine this as my humble version of "experimentalism." So now, inspired by Don Hall, as I was linked to from Jill Bernard, I will outline a few experiments I have been conducting.

I began teaching workshops in the 2nd quarter of the year, Winter 2007. It is now mid-Spring quarter, and so I have a class that is coming along quite comfortably, and we have scheduled our first show (Friday, May 11th if you'd like to show up at UCI. HH 178, 9pm)

The first quarter I taught much like I'd have taught a high school class for CSz. We went through basics in character, mime, scenework, shortform, and finally a tad of longform for the last workshop.

For the new quarter I wanted to add a new class to my repertoire. Knowing that I had no reputation yet at the school as a theater teacher, I didn't expect a full class of new students (most of my advance class are friends), but instead added a tuesday workshop which is "open to new students."

This week I got 2 new students, which was frightening. I was afraid of having to re-explain too much in front of more-advance folks. I was afraid of them dragging down the team. I was afraid they'd be intimidated and feel out of place.

But in fact, it worked quite well. While I was certainly the "conductor" of the workshop, I consistently invited the advance students to lead activities, choose games, give notes, and I constantly asked everyone how they felt about the current activity, and moved on when it was time to.

In effect, I realized Reagan's vision of trickle-down economics. Only instead of money, it's skill and knowledge. Focusing on simpler warm-ups (and a couple harder ones..) I minimized teaching time and focused on time that the new kids could see how the others improvised, while giving them an equal ammount of time to explore the stage.

This was a good way to teach new students, and reinforce the rest of the class. And this leaves monday nights for the serious down-and-dirty experimentation. I'll write more about that tomorrow. Or in a sec.
Wednesday, January 10th, 2007
11:33 pm
World's Best World's Worst Strategy
A game I often can't stand, is "World's Worst." But I just thought up a strategy that might be the solution to my angst surrounding it.

Typically, when I get a topic (let's say fireman), my thoughts go in this order:
1. Fireman who is bad at fighting fires. "My hose doesn't work."
2. Fireman who aids fires. "Business is slow..."
3. Other meanings of fire-man... "These books are a danger to society."

And right about here I get stumped and frusterated. Here comes the magic of association! Instead of scraping the bucket for outdated fireman analogies, I can just review my recent memory of current news events. Let's say, the death of James Brown. Instantly, I think of how James Brown was a man who seemed to always be on fire. Ta-da, another idea:

4. "Wow, James Brown is really on fire tonight! Where's the nearest hydrant?"

If I want to get political, I can review my memory based on what I might want to address. The THEORY behind this post is that any unrelated idea can be crafted into a joke about anything. So let's take Nancy Pelosi's declaration of 100 partisan hours to start her job as speaker of the house. Note I typed that story here before I had a joke in mind. I still don't. Let's think... She wants to... raise minimum wage... reduce education costs... advance stem cell research... Okay, this was feeling like a dead end. So I'm going to take an association I had from stem cells, which are an issue related to fetus rights, like abortion... and ta-da...

5. "Forget planned parenthood, I have a freaking firehose!"

One more example, because three's the charm. This time I took a new strategy to find a topical issue that would be easier to link to the theme of Fire-fighters. I thought of things we WANT that are hot (things easily destroyed by a man with a hose)... fire fighters use a lot of water...

6. "I'll teach Aquafina to charge two bucks for a bottle of water!"

---TWEEEEEEEEET--------
And that's time!

Now it's your turn! See if you can make a joke about the world's worst... BLENDER, related to the following issues:
e. coli infected spinach.
Steve Irwin's death.
Ethiopia invading Somolia.

Good luck!
Wednesday, August 9th, 2006
12:43 am
Trust, Physicality, Initiation and Conflict.
There are a lot of things I'd like to work on within my group: These include the title three words: Trust, Physicality, and Initiation.

First of all, Trust can never be understated within a team. From the basic trust of sharing focus to build a scene, to extreme trust examples like catching a diving team-mate, trust can not be over-stated.

Here's a workshop game I made up tonight: Two lines of performers (just like in "layups," but I'll explain in case). First line initiates the scene with a simple choice, that need not be vocalized. The second player come in, and begin the scene (ie have a character, a relationship, know the where, and make a choice about the scene while keeping an open mind to the next line). The ENTIRE TIME, every other player on the team, is SUPPORTING THE SCENE. In ANY WAY POSSIBLE. I'm talking everything from internal monologue, to sound effects, to holding up a guy for a slow mo dive, to physicalizing spurting blood, playing furniture, background characters, ANYTHING YOU CAN THINK OF. I think too often there is an over-emphasis on MAIN CHARACTERS, and players FIGHT for primary focus. This exercise is designed to emphasize SUPPORTING THE SCENE, no matter WHO the "main character" is PLAYED by. We as the players should be holding up the story like a crowd holds up a stage diver, trying to give that crazy kid the best ride he can get, with as many twists and turns as possible, without actually letting them fall to the ground.

My point is too often we act like we're just writers standing on stage. Take a note from Todd Stashwick, and embrace the PERFORMANCE ART of it. The scene is only limited by your personal (physical/mental) ability. DIVE IN! Let's see what we can build our group up to being comfortable doing!

In CSz, or a two-team setup, this could be a short-form game in that one team "plays" a scene, while the other team "fills in" all the called-for details. The "playing" team could try to throw them off by making huge demands, (ie "let's try out this new rocket pack!") and the other team gets points based on the quality of their assisting... it's a work in progress.

One more note on accepting information: You do NOT have to know where a scene is going at the beginning. By accepting initiations and making bold additions, characters will reveal themselves, ways to test the character will reveal themselves, and a natural progression of events will unfold. No forcing is necessary. Just challenge the information given, the way a scientist tests away at his hypothesis.

A note on "conflict" versus "story." Too often I see people try to make a scene's "Conflict" about resisting a decision. People don't know what a story is about, and are afraid to dive into foreign waters. If I say "let's go climb that mountain," don't make it a scene about your character's deep rooted fear of heights, and refusing to go. If you have a fear, that's fine, hold on to it, but let's explore WHERE we'll go. If we just keep saying YES, we'll find ourselves somewhere unexpected and spectacular. No need to know where you're going. Just know what matters to your character. Know WHY you're going, and the answers will reveal themselves.
12:28 am
CSz Tournament Overview and Thanks
For what was really only around four days, I had the most improv educational stimulation since last year's Tournament. The degree of performances that moved me was so high in quality and common in number, that I was not only taught, but COMPELLED, and thus re-inspired, in the very core motive of my being that keeps me doing improv: To share the joy that I am given.

Thank you to all of the Inter-National ComedySportz community for creating such a large, diverse, and skilled network of improv experience, and utilizing this opportunity to share so much skill and knowledge. So much has passed my eyes this week, that I feel completely stupid, which I know as a sign of the best kind of learning. I have so much work ahead of me, and I am so thrilled to attack it. I have a year's worth of workshops in my head ready to practice and continue growth in new daring ways, to respect the audience and never let habit or impulse interrupt the seed of a good bit. A bit with hope and a reason to go forward.

If there was one thing I could tell my future self, to remember these new lessons simplest possible:
Slow down, take a breath, absorb every tiny thing there is to observe, relish in it, feel it out, for as long as feels right. And then, don't just jump back to the previous motivation. Feel yourself in the new place, behave naturally, no rush, absorb all, and get lost in it. The scene is bigger than what you wanted to say. It's an infinitely complex interaction of everything, and nothing needs explanation.
Saturday, July 8th, 2006
1:30 am
Absurdity vs. Reality
I just began a full time grocery job, so I have to wake up early, so I'll try to make it brief.
Ever since I started that job, I feel like my touch with mundane reality has been becoming more and more intimate. Reality is a popular concept, but I think it's underplayed in many of the entertainment arts, especially improv.
It's just so much more ZANY to cut off your head, rise from the dead, and beat a cow with a rubber chicken, than to portray a sensitive and sincere father-son relationship, or any kind of realistic relationship, for that matter.
I used to go for the most insane ideas I had. My head was basically a grab bag of pop/internet culture, where the images of our society are stretched to their farthest extreme (dinosaur pirates fighting ninja yeti, anyone?) But lately, I've been toying with a new idea, with very satisfying results.
What if the tragically hopeful, enchantingly depressed, aggressively vulnerable humanity was treated as it really is, as the source of all the drama and emotion that we could ever hope for? Where "scene action" needs not be super heroes pulling out bigger and bigger weapons, but can just be something simple and real, like facing choosing a summer job? It's a hillariously ripe source of comedy, all you have to do is actually consider each job like you're going to work it 40 hours a week, the way you ACTUALLY would, and the drama will write itself. Your observations about the job, reasons to not work it, will become jokes, social critique of our civic infrastructure. Whatever fancy word you want for doing the funny, you got it. Being human in a real situation PAYS OFF. I might dare suggest it to be the biggest paying off kind of improv, because even when it's not funny, it's CAPTIVATING. Who needs funny? Who needs fucking comedy whatever the fuck. Fuck it. Let's cut closer to our human situation. Let's consider it together. Let's EXPERIENCE the parodoxes we're presented with. Life's too fucking interesting to need to jazz it up.
Now one last anecdote, comparing improv to the history of painting:
Dada was a response to everything else being tried, Expressionism was a response to photography being invented, NeoClassism was a response to a revolution on the verge, Romantisism was a response to a revolution being suppressed, Roccoco was the elite rich escaping the dark truth, Baroque was the dark truth of religion underlying the Renaissance, and the Renaissance, along with the CLASSIC Greek art it imitates, strives for VERISIMILITUDE, or life-likeness. No matter how far you stretch in your style, no matter how far out there you stretch, no matter how confusing or mind bogglingly absurd your ideas become, no matter how confused you get with plot theory or trying to make some wonder orb for your hero to chase, the one baseline that is always there to return to, and always requires the most precise craft and attention to detail, is the most reliable, *and yet the most easy to overlook*, is the simplest one, the one that most imitates the reality we are faced with. A Renaissance is the re-birth, or re-membering of this omni-ancient idea. You don't have to stick to it or anything, but it's always there to be remembered.
Sunday, May 14th, 2006
12:30 am
Your Audience Becomes Who You Are
This week a thought struck me, and the statement works in a number of ways: Your Audience Becomes Who You Are.
This specifically applies to a regularly scheduled show, in that: A) Who you are will draw an audience like you, and B) Who you are can effect your audience to become like you.

A few examples:

ComedySportz is a short-form show, catered towards a broad audience. A given show may make reference to any of the following and more:
A Sport, A TV Show, A Movie, A Religious Practice, A Book, A Chore, A Hobby, A Hygienic Act, Etc....
Basically, anything that we share in our lives. The trick is, you can only hold an audience who is like you. The concept is simple:

If I'm a Dungeons and Dragons geek and all I do is play in my lair with my two buddies all day, I might make Druid Lighting Dagger D6 Marshmallow jokes and they might KILL my friends, because we've established such an elaborate CULTURE among ourselves. But to someone who doesn't know what I'm talking about, their thoughts will drift in their head (if they're a captive audience), or if you're in public, they might just walk away.

On the other hand, some things are universal, and seem to grip just about anyone, like sex, or bodily functions. That's why this is considered "lowbrow" humor. It comes at a really base level, and if you use too much of it, you'll be considered a cheap comic (unless you use very elaborate rearrangements of base concepts, see The Aristocrats for more.)

All "higher" brain connections relate to shared experience. People cutting you off in traffic, gutting a smelly fish, a familiar political lie, a fun boardgame, a catchy jingle, ANYTHING.(A common problem when speaking in theory is that when listing examples the reader just passively grazes over instead of thinking. To get the most out of my posts, whenever I go off listing things, add a few of your own to the list. What experiences do you share with AT LEAST ONE other person(s)?) All shared experiences are potential fodder for humor, be it standup, in film, or just sitting around with your friends.

Now I'm going to tie it back to my thesis: Your Audience Becomes Who You Are.

When I do nothing but Baseball humor, my audience becomes sports fans, be it through their prior allignment or through my vision. If I persist long enough, I have a sports show, pulling in audiences of sports fans, and repelling people who are not.

What is the easiest way to make a show for Americans right now? Make a show with a lot of film, TV, Pop Music, and celebrity references. That is the easiest way to hold the largest American audience. It's like a notch above low-brow, because for Americans, watching TV and movies is practically a bodily function.

Uh oh! I just took a side! That's dangerous! I'm not serious about that, I swear, I totally watch some TV. What I'm doing is trying to make a point about the responsibility of the performer. Now I feel a well-placed anecdote coming on:

I once took a screenwriting class in college where each student would write a one-act and the class would analyze a different student's screenplay each period. One guy named Marvin wrote a Vietnam war movie. The thing that we noticed as we started reading it together, was that all of the elements of his war movie were stitched out of other war movies. By the end of class, we had broken down HIS ENTIRE SCRIPT into a list of film references: Full Metal Jacket, Thin Red Line, Platoon, Forrest Gump, it was impeccable.

An old writer's motto is: Write What You Know. This doesn't need to be a rule, it's just true: You CAN ONLY write what you know. If you try to write a character in love if you've never been in love, it WILL come out as a collage of cliches clipped out your mental image of love.

Now don't get me wrong, this is a legitimate form of creativity. Watching someone remind you of several of your favorite movies can be a very funny experience, when you see they're on the spot. But it isn't new. It isn't sincere.

I'm even tempted to write a tangent about how the more obscure the reference, the more appreciation you'll get from those who get it. But it's still appreciation for WHAT YOU REFERENCED. You haven't given them anything new, except perhaps a memory aid for a cherished idea.

What do I mean new? I have to admit I throw up a little bit in my throat (what's that called? medically?) every time I say "new." Let me recount my thesis:
Your Audience Becomes Who You Are.

If I reference nothing but TV shows, I may acquire a very diverse audience, of TV watchers, but I haven't given them any better ways to live their lives. In fact, I've REINFORCED their slothish voyeurism by displaying that I, too, have nothing better to do but watch a bunch of untalented idiots sing for the hope of fame and money.

The way you let your characters live represents your hope for humanity. Your characters ARE you, make no mistake about it. If all your scenes are about abusive fathers yelling at their kids, you might scare some Dads into kindness, but in the end you're really just venting about your own screwed up past.

So now I'm getting to the hard part: You're in your head asking about now:
"Alright smart guy, so what SHOULD we be doing?"

And if I were willing to answer that, I could be a cult leader, or at least surely make plenty of money. That's how easy starting a cult is, by the way. Giving people a path that seems hopeful. Instead, I will only say this:

MAKE YOUR OWN MYTHOS. Defie the lines drawn out for you. Exercise your humanity, because within these cold hard walls lies a soft warm beast who is YOU who is COMPLETELY UNPREDICTABLE. FIND THE COMFORT LINES, AND CROSS THEM. CROSS THEM FOR YOURSELVES, CROSS THEM FOR ALL TO SEE. SHOW US OUR LIMITATIONS SO THAT WE MAY EXPLORE BEYOND THEM UNTIL WE HIT THE NEXT ILLUSORY CEILING. Or, if you want, don't. Fuck it. You can do whatever you want. Humans are awesome like that.
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