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Being funny is not easy. I do not say this because of the "sad clown" myth or the tale of Pagliacci or the fact that participation in any comedy circuit is a largely thankless task. I say it because being funny is, on a fundamental level beyond the professional sphere, the product of hours upon hours of effort.
I have heard it said that "you can’t teach funny". I reject this attitude; it begins from a false premise. The question the people that say this should be asking is "can you learn funny?" The answer to that question is undoubtedly yes. It is proven by the fact that funny people exist. If we accept that the way a human being acts is the product of all that they have learnt (a stance that any amount of armchair psychology will vindicate), then it stands to reason that a funny person, at some point, learned how to be funny. How? Simple. Whether they noticed they were doing it or not, they paid attention.Continue Reading
Palms are sweaty.
Arms are heavy.
Something, something, something. (*)
Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is a classic banger about a highly relevant issue: performing despite feeling nervous. It’s true, nerves can be incredibly debilitating. Trust me, I know! Showing up to my first ever workshop at The Improv Conspiracy (TIC) in late 2017, I did so many nervous wees beforehand I was almost late.
As an improviser, actor and acting coach, I am constantly surrounded by nerves: my own and those of others. I have learnt so much about performing under pressure and in doing so have helped many performers push through the nerves and book amazing acting jobs (despite them or I sweating profusely). Before every show I do at the TIC theatre, I still get butterflies. In this blog post I’d like to share with you how I deal with nerves, in the hopes it helps you enter your first improv workshop, or your upcoming audition with ease.Continue Reading
When I started at The Improv Conspiracy Theatre in November 2015, I could count all the performers of colour on one hand… actually one finger… the answer is one. There was exactly one person of colour on the TIC stage (shout out to my improv sifu Kay Chan!). Beyond that, the only other people of colour in the entire student community were my classmates – two of whom joined me to form Yolk Yolk Yolk, the first ever non-white improv team in Australia*.
(* we never fact-checked this but it sounds about right.)Continue Reading
You just did a show! You did it. You did the thing. You were there, with your team, in that moment making something that didn’t exist before. You really did it!
I'd like you to allow yourself to get off stage happy with just the simple fact that you did a thing.
Was it great? Maybe, maybe not. Some people might think so, some might not. You might not. You might, but someone else in your team might not. You know what—who cares!? It’s ethereal and it’s gone now. "If it’s not easy, you're learning and that’s amazing” (Ward, J. 2017). A so-called "bad" show, whether it’s just you or the whole damn theatre who thought it was bad, is no reason to be sad! There will be another one. And another... and another. You’ll get better, and better and better.
I've had shows ruined by getting off stage and hearing someone on my team spitting fire at themselves, or worse, me, for the show being bad. Life is too damn short for that! I want to be great, I really do, I work at it every day, I obsess over improv all the time. I really give a shit about this art form. I truly find beauty in the process of improvisation: two humans interlocking and finding the show together in a moment is up there with my favourite things, ever. However, if I perform some real potent garbage, which I feel like I did as recently as last Saturday, I need to learn from it and I laugh at it. I learn nothing from hating myself for it.
Scott Williams, a master Meisner teacher from the UK put it to me like this:
- Your inner critic is the loudest voice in every room.
- Your inner critic lies to you.
- You believe it.
- You can’t work while it’s talking to you.
(Williams, S 2016)
So you finally did it; you faced your fears and booked an improv class. Good on you, honestly! Most people mull it over, then let their comfort zone win, so they never know what its like to have fun with their fear, and find joy in what scares them.
You're going to have fun, I promise. Along the way you'll also learn some invaluable life lessons just by turning up and paying attention. However, if you really want to get the most out of your class, here are some suggestions:
1. Take notes
Improv class doesn't really have any designated writing time (you'll mostly be on your feet doing fun stuff), but there are quite a few nuggets of wisdom on offer. Bring a notebook and pen, and jot down any sayings, expected learning outcomes, performance dates and things that confuse you. It will help with memory, and it's great to come back to at the end of term to see how far you've come.
2. Do the exercise in front of you
Most of your class time will be spent running different activities. There will be a few exercises and activities that might feel counterintuitive or like they don't fit into your expectations of improv. That's completely normal. I like to tell my students that improv is like playing a sport; in training you might do sprints, bench presses or other activities that train a particular muscle group, but do not appear to have anything to do with the game. The reason for this is that once you've strengthened those muscles, you will be able to execute the movements in the game more easily, and without thinking. As improv is open-ended, we can't teach you how to know what's going to happen in a given scene, but we can work the skills (muscles) that will help you make great choices in the moment on stage.Continue Reading
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