By day 5, we were all nursing bruises and sore bodies. Rich Sohn didn’t make it any better by having us do more physical work in the morning. Select notes from his session:
- Heightening is exaggerating the thing that’s there.
- Because we often play so fast, we play stereotypes of characters. But you can take the energy of a character into a different context and allow for fun and surprise. Experiment with your second or third choice for playing a character with a contrasting, unexpected energy.
I must say that Rich is really great at thinking outside of the box when it comes to contextualizing scenes. I did a scene where it felt like my scene partner was a frenetic child that was giving me, the babysitter, a hard time. Rich asked me if I had had that idea going into the scene, which I did not. And then he said that to him, it felt like the scene was the moment I was about to do something without my imaginary friend for the first time. Brilliant. It wasn’t a stretch, but it also wasn’t the obvious choice. I want to train my brain to be more open and creative like Rich.
The afternoon session with Mick was a great wrap-up to the week. He spent most of the session having us try initiations with different focuses.
On the topic of initiations, many of us are told to establish the who/what/where at the top of scenes. However, my Annoyance teachers all said that forcing out that information in a wonky, formulaic way is not how you should approach initiations. Mick said that a scene is not successful just because you got out the who/what/where. In fact, thinking about exposition is merely exhibitive. Rebecca showed us how to put us in a direct relationship with our scene partner at the top of scenes through physicality. Mick gave us more verbal tools:
1. Starting with “You…”
- This puts you directly in a relationship with your scene partner. It satisfies the aesthetic establishment of a relationship at the top, if you are harped up on doing so in the first line.
2. Starting with “And…”
- Think about it as starting in the middle of a sentence or a thought or a moment. It takes you to the center of a scene and puts you past the bullshit “best ever” initiations or introducing yourself to your partner (“Hey, how’s it going?”). It also assumes a past history between you and your partner. You can eliminate the actual word “And” and just initiate with the mentality of starting in the middle.
3. Starting with a subject you know a lot about and conversely responding with a degree of confidence to a subject you know nothing or little about
- This is effective if you match your scene partner’s energy. It also works that muscle of speaking with confidence.
4. Starting with the opposite of a belief you have with confidence in your competency as an expert.
- This is usually fun for people to do because they can draw details as easily as if they truly believed in the thing they’re talking about. And it automatically gives you a character that is not yourself to play, so you can have more fun with it.
5. Vary stage position, height, volume and emotional tone
- Mick stressed the importance of this when doing long-form so you can avoid a succession of scenes that all have two people standing center stage and talking. If you vary just one or even many of the variables (stage position, volume, etc.), you will find more creative ways to initiate scenes.
6. Starting with a different rhythm
- This is open to your interpretation, since rhythm can pertain to any number of things: voice, physicality, dialogue, emotion, etc. It’s meant to get you out of your head and start you off with your own deal. (More on the idea of getting out of your head later.)
Mick stressed the important of treating longform improv as first and foremost a performance. He said that the way in which we approach a longform set often devotes way more importance and solemnity than it should have. It puts people into the mindset that what they’re about to do better be good rather than encouraging the players to just play. The name itself, longform improvisation, carries a psychological importance and structure to it. This is more difficult to explain in words and might come off as me shitting on longform. But I want to just convey the attitude that Mick has when doing improv - and that is to treat it as play. He told us to remember that improvisation is the least important thing we’ll ever do in our lives. And for that reason, we should just play and fuck around. That’s probably why he signed all of our books with the message, “Fuck it.”