The DCM10 Wrap Up (finally!)

by Ben Whitehouse.

So what does an improviser write about a weekend full of improvisation after it’s all over and it’s months later? (seriously Ben, months?!) There is so much. (Ben, what the hell has taken you so long to write this up?) A weekend full of beer, fist fights, and an overwhelming amount of hilarity. (You can hear me Ben, I can see you wincing) This was by far the most intense DCM I have attended. (HEY BEN! I KNOW YOU CAN HEAR ME) 3 days of non-stop improv, is a lot of improv, even for the heartiest of improv junkies. (Oh, it’s going to be like that huh?) This year, I’ll have to admit, I stayed largely to shows I knew most and while I did explore some of the other theaters, most of my time was spent at the UCB main stage. (Vagina) What? Come on, kids read this! Okay I’ve been really busy at work and haven’t had any time to write. I’m sorry! Okay? (okay)

3 Years of Del Closses

This was my third year of Del Close Marathons and from the 3 I have attended, this year seemed the most sober. Perhaps it was the deaths of both Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, or the missing energy of Amy Poehler, or the introspective press conference, or the vastness of the Marathon now filling 4 theaters, but I got a definite sense of a community looking in on itself. Of course being that the marathon is now 4 theaters wide, I may have only seen one impression of a now huge pool of performances.

UCB is in a strange place at the moment. Their success as both a theater where the best and brightest comedians are trained, with Bobby Moynahan moving to SNL, and also the most successful improv training center in New York, if not the country, has left UCB trying to figure out how to deal with it’s unparalleled popularity. This showed itself during the Friday press conference as the UCB3 – Matt Walsh, Ian Roberts, and Matt Besser – took the stage outlining the UCBs revamped improv curriculum:

  1. “Game is fundamentally important and central to comedic improvisation”
  2. “There is nothing intrinsically better about doing a time-dash to the second beat of your game over analogous beats for your game”
  3. Organically derived scenes are no better than premise based scenes initiations
  4. Having your own “signature” opening is not important – “Bring back the organic opening”
  5. Dress Appropriately for the stage – not too sloppy, too sexy/aristocratic
  6. It screws up people to think about raising stakes when entering second beats – Think equally. “I want to find another scenario equally as funny or funnier than the first one. Thinking funnier will naturally raise the stakes. This will naturally create scenes with both heightening and exploration.”

These should be no shock to anyone who has spent time at the UCB training center. Most of these have been on the lips of instructors since I first started training, but the fact that the UCB is now defining it’s perspective publicly, on long form improvisation, is sign of their new found leadership roll in the improv community. Although, Matt Besser did make it quite clear that these may not be true of all schools, but they are what is true for the UCB.

Lessons Learned this Year

As most of you know each year I try to take away a few things which become apparent after watching hours and hours of improv. I trite them down in a notebook in the dark. I try not to edit them and write them down as I wrote them.

  • Respond to what is happening now
  • Repeating patterns is not game, just a piece of behavior
  • Start in the middle – Make assumptions about who, what, and where you are
  • Remember – not really sure what this meant, but I wrote it down so it’s got to be important
  • Relax – Try not to let your fear as a performer manifest itself in your character and initiations
  • Characters are important and should be used in service of the game – not for a cheap laugh
  • Gay characters don’t have to have campy cliche accents
  • Gay improvisers don’t always have to be a 1950′s housewife
  • Breaking your character to laugh, giggle, or remark about your performance is a cheap trick
  • The most important thing in the scene is your partner – try not to get sidetracked by inanimate objects, because they aren’t going to respond to you in the scene
  • Work with what you have, it’s brilliant – Let’s not add new information half way through
  • Fuck the form – do whatever honors the suggestion
  • Del close doesn’t look like that
  • Respect your audience – Don’t pimp your audience, because when they turn on you, you have nothing
  • Saying funny things will eventually fail you
  • It’s about what’s happening – not the details of what’s happening
  • There are still 10 minutes and 19 seconds – It’s never too late do do something
  • Look calm on the back line – the people on stage need you to yield focus
  • Confidence makes the audience feel like you know what you’re doing – lack of confidence makes the audience panic
  • Do NOT hang off the pipes – Fucking ever!

Performance Highlight

Out of all the performances of the marathon, I think the highlight was Code Duello’s saturday night performance off of the suggestion of “rabies.” The performance was based on Aaron Burr killing Hamelton’s cat and having to replace it with a sabertooth tiger. This however was nothing to the incredible playing of both Neil Reynolds and Matt Tucker, whose moves grounded the scenework so much that the idea of entire premise of a dead cat being replaced with a sabertooth tiger seemed totally justified. Out of the 4 times I’ve seen Code Duello, this was by far their most impressive show, so much so that they proved something that I had never seen prior.

We all Know how to get laughs from an audience. It isn’t hard. But I want us to get cheers.
- Del Close

They had cheers, laughs, and a standing ovation at the end of their set.

Other highlights

WeirDass at the FIT auditorium. As usual Stefanie Wier and Bob Dassie produced a show that was incredible to watch. Full of rich characters and incredible scenework their set again reminded me how important listening and responding is to improvisation. They have a bond that one can only imagine can only be made possible by being married to your scene partner. It was so inspiring to see the two of them on stage that the day after the marathon, I formed a 2 person improv group based very roughly on the Weirdass form. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, WeirDass is reeeeeeeeally good.

The always impeccable Baby Wants Candy, performed an incredible set about a speakeasy that had points of shockingly sublime songwork that really highlighted what committing to every part of performance can do.

And so, that’s the wrap up. If you have any questions, or comments feel free to drop a line. I’ll be sure to respond to you early February.

6 Responses to The DCM10 Wrap Up (finally!)

  1. vinnyfrancois says:

    Great to see you post this. Even late, for those of us unable to attend, it’s still one of our few links into the Marathon.

    “I want to find another scenario equally as funny or funnier than the first one. Thinking funnier will naturally raise the stakes.”
    I found this line interesting because it’s essentially “riffing off of an idea”. If you give 3 people a theme, each of them will generate their own idea. Players shouldn’t feel the pressure that the second idea needs to top the first one. Each idea at the start was equally worthy of merit. It’s the implementation of the scene’s premise that gives a scene its weight and humour.

    Ideas are easy, never be scared of them. Implementation is tough but trust your fellow players to help you out!

  2. Ben Whitehouse says:

    Well especially in the context of game, people get overly cerebral about the way they move from beat to beat. Instead of saying, “What do I think would be fun in this situation?” I feel like a lot of us think, “What is the perfect place to bring this beat?” This of course is an impossible question to answer, because there is no perfect choice, and leads to a lot of scenes that just don’t connect with the improvisers doing them.

  3. Doug says:

    I’ve been waiting for you to transcribe your notes for months!

    You hit the nail on the head about what I loved about Code Duello. If you tried to explain what their show was about, it would sound absurd, like the kind of show you’d be embarrassed to bring your friends to. But they made it work! Tigers, rabid cats, time machines…it all seemed so real. I think it’s because their scenes weren’t about those things but they were about the characters’ REACTIONS and FEELINGS about those things. The premise might have been crazy, but the emotions (Hamilton missing his pet cat, for example, Burr getting frustrated that his well-intentioned efforts to help Hamilton weren’t appreciated) were very real. The lesson I took from what they did was to always use the lasso of reality and feeling to pull in the craziness. They did that with aplomb.

  4. milkshake says:

    “There is nothing intrinsically better about doing a time-dash to the second beat of your game over analogous beats for your game”

    What does this mean? This seems important and i have no idea what it means. and thanks for taking notes.

  5. Hal says:

    Time dash – following the same characters in time (usually seeing them later, although it can be in the past).
    Analogues – different characters, but playing the same game of first beat.

    i.e., first beat is frightened boss who gets pushed around by a bullying employee. A time dash second beat shows those characters in a heightened situation. An analogous second beat might be a pack of dogs where the pack leader gets pushed around by a bullying puppy.

    The quote indicates neither way is better.