We’ve Moved

by Ben Whitehouse.

From the ashes of improvoker.com comes our more tumblier blog.improvoker.com. If you subscribe to the RSS feed you will automatically get the new content. No worries.

The Quest Group Game

by Ben Whitehouse.

Angela Dee, a fellow New York improviser, discusses one of her favorite group games The Quest. Although I spent years performing the KROMPF improv form, the quest was really not something we focussed on when we performed group games. I think it’s a type of group game many improvisers don’t have in their repertoire, or even know exists and one they should think of adding.

One thing to note, Angela explains The Quest group game is “pretty plot-driven which a lot of improvisers worry about” being that most of the times in scenes, we want to stay on game and not follow plot. However, in this context we are talking about plotty in the sense of having a narrative, not in the sense of the absence of game. We still want to follow the game of the scene, although those scenes are part of a greater narrative context.

Last year I was lucky enough to be invited to do the Gator 600/performance class at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade. I don’t know how that happened (I think a little birdy said a little something to a certain someone, but he flat-out denies it). It was one of the best classes I’ve ever taken and it changed the way I played. I wish Ryan Karels and Neil Casey would teach more than they do, dammit!

One of the many great things about The Gator (the “Krompf” form as taught by Ryan and Neil) is a group game called The Quest.

How is it that no one knows about this game? It is frigging excellent!

First off, I should say that group games are a complete mystery to me. Basically, I had a crash-course in them with my 301 class and we touched on them in one of the eight 401 sessions I had, but other than that I’ve basically been winging it ever since. Gavin Speiller used to teach a Group Game 501/ASH which I really wanted to do, but it doesn’t seem like he does those anymore and, other than that, it seems like group games are not really a focus at the UCB (might be a good elective for someone to teach… hint, hint). So, when we set out to learn The Quest in the Gator class, I was excited!

The Quest is an improv take on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey – If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

It is pretty plot-driven which a lot of improvisers worry about, but when it’s done right it is magic. It is a great game to play when a character needs to do something very important – i.e. save someone, find something, get home, etc. There are 7 steps to the game:

Continue Reading: An improv post – The Quest group game

Book: A Funny Thing Happened at Mount Sinai by Matthew Stillman

by Ben Whitehouse.

A Funny Thing Happened at Mount Sinai

Back in 2008, a fellow traveller on the long road of improvisation came to me, or I came to him, probably at McManus Cafe and he or I asked if it would be cool to write some posts on Improvoker. Being the kind-hearted soul he or I am and not wanting to let this labor of love die, he or I agreed. A few weeks later Matthew Stillman created his first post on The Note That Sent Me Further On a Voyage of Discovery.

Feeling the thrill that writing about improvisation can instill, he then came to me (this part I remember) and asked if he could write a 10 posts on the 10 commandments and how they related to improvisation. Being the open-minded man I am, and realizing Matt was the sort of crazy who could flip and cut a bitch, I agreed. Matt quickly wrote 2 posts covering Commandment 1 — I am the Lord your God & Commandment 2 — You shall have no other gods before me. Both fantastic posts, both interesting takes on improvisation.

Then Matt stopped writing his posts and started his turbulent addiction to crystal dolphin figurines. Or so I thought… turns out Matt took all his awesome ideas he was writing for no money or recognition here and instead wrote a book A Funny Thing Happened at Mount Sinai – The Ten Commandments as a Guide to Improvisation.

I know what you’re thinking, what a selfish jerk right? Well, the guy’s got to eat right? More importantly those crystal dolphin figurines don’t grow on trees. I’ve ordered my Kindle version, but it is also available for the iBooksNook, formatted PDF, and in olden-timey printed variety. I will be sure to give my impressions of the book after I read it. It’s not every day you get to have a hand in inspiring another improviser… either him or me.

DCM 13: I went for the hilarity and stayed for the conversation

by Kamikaze Picnic.

Friday

During the press conference, Matt Besser said that the shows that happen before midnight demonstrate the ‘art’ and the shows that happen after are wilder.

Of the primetime shows on Friday that followed the press conference, the ones populated with older gentlemen were played slower and steadier. The monoscenes presented in Bassprov and Nailed Down grew richer as the half hour slot wore on, using the time to effuse the characters like steeping tea bags, and the payoffs were in the nuance and detail that a fast moving montage cannot brake for. They also bore information to ponder: did you know that cigarettes are the most abundant form of pollution wafting through the oceans (Bassprov) and that the head can blush because it has many more blood vessels? According to a character in Nailed Down, our arms do not blush for that reason. While Bassprov was a fishing expedition that kept its four men in chairs with fishing poles and beers as props, Nailed down was set up by having two pairs of shoes nailed to the stage for players to stand in. Those slow, ponderous, and absorbing shows provoked physically immobile players to explore psychological spaces.

In contrast, Gausus and Cannon was full of storm and stress. Sincere and swift, that set had some unexpected surprises such as the embodiment of a barren cow’s yearning for children as a means to not be slaughtered unceremoniously while the fertile cow envisioned being eaten by a masseuse in a Whole Foods parking lot.

While that show was more character driven, the Stepfathers show demonstrated how creating patterns and callbacks that tie all strings of a show neatly together can be a cognitive feat for the performers and rewarding exercise for the audience.

Saturday

On Saturday, Bruckheimer carried a show proficiently with only two of its three members present, and even had one player do double duty as a third character to flesh out the monoscene. While delving into the spiraling neurosis of a violent, compulsive liar, Bruckheimer followed an escalating problem that dragged down of all those involved and was a delight to watch.

In his extended time slot, Scott Adsit went it alone by inviting audience members to improvise with him. A language barrier with one visiting audience member made for a fun scene where he was prompted by the ship captain (Adsit) to seduce an iceberg. In cases like that, a seemingly impossible task makes for great entertainment.

Away from the mainstage, a show titled Facebook employed a laptop and a big screen to display the Facebook page of a volunteer from the audience. The technology was integrated seamlessly into the show and begs the question of what other virtual means will work with improv. Is anyone doing Twitterprov?

Sunday

Back on the mainstage, the after midnight sets were opened with The Benson Interruption, which switched gears and invited comics on stage to be interviewed by Doug Benson. Relying on energetic impressions for the first half and comedic songs for the second, the show made for a surprising break from what preceded it. If you haven’t seen Garfunkel and Oates, their songs are fun and bawdy while their appearance is innocuous.

In The Straight Men, seasoned improvisors had fun giving a lesson in what happens when everyone on stage acts like a straight man by calling out what is unusual and grounding everything they do. While one straight character can be a great foil, a stage full of them makes the gears grind and watching this show was like being included in an inside joke. And it only used half of a regular 30 minute slot to get this point across.

Each form, when executed well, leaves the viewer with a different impression. In the montage presented by Kannon and Gausus, it was the pathos of a particular moment that wouldn’t go away after their set ended, while the Stepfathers’ show cued the viewer into the map of the show that only presented itself fully at the end when all pieces were integrated into a whole. In both cases, the mind gets to work towards understanding and engage in the way that the form encourages. In yet another style, the Bassprov show and the Nailed Down set treated each character like a well detailed creation that became more absorbing as time went on, giving first the thrill of knowing a character and eventually the payoff of conflict.

As the DCM expands the idea of what improv is while refining what already exists, the revolving palette of shows makes the experience eventful and stimulating.

Del Close Marathon 13

by Ben Whitehouse.

Ok kids, it’s that time once again. Time to spend 3 days in the sweltering underworlds of long form improvised comedy dungeons; forsaking your family, friends, children, and jobs to find out once and for all if a drug addicted maniac’s vision of art has made the world a better place. In other words…

Del Close Marathon 13!

As I missed last year’s marathon on account of a self enforced –improv sabbatical– I am really looking forward to this years festivities.

Unlike years past when I would give you long lists of things to see and places to go, I’ll deviate and instead say have fun. Experience everything and get sweaty and disgusting.

My one word of advice is treat DCM like a camping trip and get stuck in, forsaking showers and food – your improv will thank you.

I’m planning to be updating throughout the marathon with updates so stay tuned, but for the real story, make sure to check out the official DCM twitter hashtag #DCM13.

Links Elsewhere

Del Close Consierge: forming your Marathon gameplan
Del Close Lives on at the Upright Citizens Brigade Improv Marathon

The Secunda Argument Wheel

by Ben Whitehouse.

Going through my improv notebook today, I found a wonderful description and questionable diagram from an improv 401 class I took with Billy Merritt back in 2007. The illustration depicts what Merritt described as the “Secunda Argument Wheel” lovingly named after his Swarm teammate Andrew Secunda.

What the digram illustrates, rather comically, is the idea of resting the game (point of interest, contention) and exploring something else in the scene. Returning to that point of interest heightens the scene and also rewards the players with a powerful pattern to play with.

I wish I had remembered this diagram last year when I took a class with Secunda, as I have no idea how he would react to anyone naming something the “Secunda Argument Wheel.” Although I do remember that Billy Merritt did preface the SAW as something he admired in Secunda’s playing.

If we hear about a retaliatory “Billy Merritt Wheel”, we’ll let you know.