All posts tagged: theory
  • Posted on May 2, 2016 by Mike Brown

    Craig steps out of the backline and announces to the audience, 'Cheddah'! Jon follows along with 'Tasty!' Sarah is next, 'Swiss!' Jadwiga is fourth in line and says 'Edam!'. We hear from Gouda and Feta and Parmesan. And then Carl steps out. But Carl doesn't name a cheese like the rest. Carl is a rat. He sneaks around, before taking a nibble out of Sarah, then stealing her offstage.

    The rest of the cheeses freak out, running around the stage and changing places in line. Cheddah is suddenly not so proud, announcing itself in a lower volume. Bobby follows with a slightly scared 'Swiss', and the rest follow along until Sarah returns as a rat, chewing on Feta and stealing her away too. The cheeses freak out again, with Craig yelping out a horrified 'Cheddah!". The speed picks up, as cheese after cheese is listed. And I'm there sitting in the audience laughing my ass off, because I know what's coming next.

    Group games are the best part of the Harold. Yeah yeah, there's nothing like a well acted funny two person scene but when a group game is performed well, it sticks with you because you're watching magic play out on stage. Think about it: how on earth do eight or so people play a game when they can't establish the rules ahead of time? Oh, and also make it funny because an audience has paid to see this show and want to laugh.

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  • Posted on February 16, 2016 by Mike Brown

    There’s only so much you can do by yourself in order to develop your improv skills, especially on your lonesome. Try shaking it out in front of a mirror and you’ll see what I mean. Lately, my improv development has been watching episodes of the old sketch show Full Frontal.

    Yeah, I’ve been watching sketch comedy to improve my improv. I must sound crazy - like telling you that I'm learning how to ride a bike by driving a bus. Sure, they are both forms of transportation but they are executed very differently! The same goes for sketch comedy and improv, but there are lessons we can learn from the former to apply to the latter.

    It’s said that a great improvised scene could be written out beat for beat as a scripted sketch. The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre’s approach to scenework is that a scene should have an identifiable pattern that the performers find during the scene, which is then played back and forth. The pattern starts off as something familiar and even relatable, but gets more and more absurd as time goes on. This is known as the game of the scene. The idea is that once we have found this game, we can strip out the specific details from the scene and apply the same game to a different scenario - meaning that we are getting to the funny thing even quicker because we have established rules.

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  • I should probably start this by saying that the following will not apply to every scene, it may not be how you want to play as an improviser, it might be something you vehemently disagree with, and it certainly will not help you choose the perfect Christmas present for your mother (it’s probably something that smells of lavender. Mums love anything that smells like lavender. Get your mum some lavender). 

    All of this has been knocking around in my head recently, and I thought I might share it with you, because it might help your scene work, it might make things easier for you, or it might just lock a little bit more down for you. 

    Along with a sense of play and fun, we’ve been looking a lot at mirroring in Level 1, and there’s a pretty simple reason for that – it’s a really quick and easy way of connecting with you scene partner. 

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  • Posted on February 3, 2014 by Nadia Collins

    I recently read “The Power Of Now”, by Eckhart Tolle, and I’m all over it like a rash. Eckhart is a cute little Swiss gnome that knows everything, and he says that we should aim to be “mindful”, “present”, and “in the now”. Our thoughts, he says, are mostly unhelpful and even harmful, as they take us out of a very precious thing – the “now”. This “now” idea is associated with many spiritual practices like Buddhism as well as being popular with psychologists and cute little self-help gnomes.

    This idea is nothing new to improvisers, who go on a lot about being present and listening, not being in your head. However, in a moment of non-presence, I had a thought: perhaps after the honeymoon stage of improv-love, when we pore over Johnstone and Close and so on, we may forget what being present on stage really means. I want to talk about it here. Though let me be the first to say, who knows if I have ever been truly present on stage?  I don’t have the answers. Nevertheless, for the purposes of discussion, and maybe a free beer, I want to theorise on how the now Tolle talks about, may help us to improvise in a more joyful and rewarding way.

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  • Acting as responder in a scene has been a big topic of conversation recently. Some people asked me my opinion, so I decided to write it down. Hopefully it helps.

    There are three categories of response:

    Complete – Speaks to the question: What am I looking at?

    If someone starts a scene by picking up rubbish and throwing it away, you might mime throwing things on the floor. It doesn't have to be opposing to them, but we complete the picture. Alternatively you could come in as the bin.

    Consolidate – Speaks to the question: What is happening in this scene?

    Join. Think mirroring. You'll join them on whatever train they are on. If someone initiates a scene picking up rubbish, you'll do the same. Major difference from complete is that this move wouldn't necessarily answer the question of what is happening - but it will definitely add weight to the action, and might imply relationship/character dynamic.

    Connect – Speaks to the question: Who are these people to each other?

    Our trusty improviser starts a scene picking up rubbish, and you step out and give him a hug. This move may not add weight to the action, it might not tell us anything about what is happening in the physical world, but it will tell us a lot about the relationship/character dynamic.

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