IMPROV: No Questions (Out Loud)!

by Ben Whitehouse.

Thank You Robot member Matt Little shares his thoughts on making assumptions over asking question in improv.

It’s a common thing to do – when we’re presented with an idea that’s foreign to us, we request clarification. We ask what the person meant. We ask if we can do a thing. We ask what the rules are. We ask we ask we ask. In life, an inquisitive nature is fantastic, even encouraged (sometimes it even gets you a million dollars).

But when we’re on stage, that’s not the time for questions OUT LOUD. It’s the time for assumptions.

I watch a lot of very talented performers stop scenes dead in their tracks to ask questions. In essence, what we are doing when we ask questions on stage is asking permission to present the idea we have in our heads. But here’s a secret – you already have permission to present that idea by the very fact that you are on stage.

An improv audience is great because they ASSUME that you know what you’re doing when you step up. As such, you should ASSUME that you have the answers to any question you are about to ask. You may sound a little more forceful on stage than in IRL, but hell, if you can be a bit of an asshole anywhere it’s on stage, right? Also, by making an assumption, congratulations! You’ve also made a DECISION.

Continue reading IMPROV: No Questions (Out Loud)!

Del Close Marathon part XI

by Ben Whitehouse.

From melissago

So, I’ve written a few guides on surviving the Del Close Marathon with your dignity in tact which are pretty right on.

I’ve wrapped up my experiences after each Marathon which anyone visiting might like to take a look at.

So this year, I thought I would give you all a wave and say have a great marathon. I really don’t have much more to say regarding all the insanity that goes on. I’m a little bummed Weirdass and Wicked Fuckin’ Queeyah aren’t around this year. They were always the backbone of the DCM for me, but there are still some amazing shows like:

Plus anything I mentioned last times. I know what I’m talking about… usually. Alright. Have fun. Say hi if you see me. laugh a lot.

Commandment 2 – You shall have no other gods before me

by Matthew Stillman.

10 Commandments

Crossposted at stillman says, continuing my ongoing series on the 10 Commandments of Improv.

The text of the commandment from Exodus reads:

Do not have any other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

This, in the Jewish tradition, reduces down to a prohibition of other gods and idol making/worship.

So I have already posited that the God of improv is the present moment and this commandment adds some meat onto that proverbial bone.

Essentially this commandment tells the improviser that everything comes from the present moment. Much is made about “game” and its accurate description from various schools of improv but this commandment points to a unifying factor – whatever your description of game is or isn’t the fuel for that engine is the present moment.

So some may say that interesting choices or finding your where or establishing relationship are all critical the second commandment says before that you have to be fully there. You cant have an idol that represents your full attention and presence – you need the real thing.

But what I find interesting about this commandment is the repercussions. Essentially if you disobey the punishment goes on and on and on for generations. But if you obey you get 1000′s of generations of love.

It seems to me that this plays out on the improv stage. If you aren’t fully present, no faking, no tricks… the following beats and possibly following scenes are in a much worse state. But conversely when you are just there that you could have hundreds of beats playing the variations – and you want to have them. Following this commandment sucks you into following it more because it pays dividends in love.


Any road will take you there

by Ben Whitehouse.

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Unsolicited Advice About Auditions

by Ben Whitehouse.


Here in New York it’s UCB Harold audition time. It’s the time of year when students gather outside of the UCB training center, in the freezing cold, to sign up for a prized audition slot. So it’s been for thousands of years… As someone who has auditioned before I thought I would share some of my experience with all of you and ask for any advice you might have for anybody else. Comments appreciated!

As a word of caution, I have not ever had a successful Harold audition, nor do I know anything you don’t. I just thought this might serve as healthy inspiration for all of you brave enough to audition.

  1. Relax – I know it’s stressful to perform in front of all the teachers and higher-ups at the school, but remember they want you to succeed and they are on your side. Think of it like performing in front of your friends — friends you don’t usually talk to.
  2. Perform with friends – I have to say that I’ve performed with strangers and friends and performing with friends has been much easier. Since you get to sign up with anyone already down, check for people you would like to perform with. I know where they are coming from and vaguely their playing style. I know we should be able to play with anybody, but if you get called back, chances are you will play with someone you haven’t.
  3. Get there early – I can’t stress this enough. Get to the training center at least 15 minutes before your auditions slot. This will give you enough time to meet the people you will be performing with and get used to the energy of the day. If you rush, you will come in in a fluster and have flustered scenes. Get there early and relax for a second before blowing everybody’s minds.
  4. Warm up – Once you get to the training center you might want to warm up with your group. I would recommend warm-ups that let you see their performance styles like 3 line scenes, or listening/eye contact exercises like swoosh or knife throw. Avoid things like stretch & share as they burn through time and while allow you to learn more about the other performers, but do not warm performance muscles.
  5. Listen – You are going to be nervous, you are going to have a shit load of adrenaline flowing through your veins, and lets face it most of you will be high on life (PCPs) — remember to listen to what your partner is saying. respond to your partner. Keep in mind, that in panic situations your focus will narrow and you will tend to talk about the things rather than your relationship or behavior. Take a deep breath and respond to the last thing said.
  6. And – One of my favorite teachers Christina Gausas always says “An improviser shows their personal style by ‘anding’.” This is extremely true for auditions situations. remember how you “and” is your signature. Only you “and” the way you do, because let’s face it “Yessing” is just agreeing with your partner’s “and.” Be sure to give really jusicy “ands.”
  7. Support – This is totally related to giving juicy “ands”, but remember to support your fellow scene partners in every thing they do. Remember that everything your partners says or does in a scene is BRILLIANT. Take whatever they give you and treat it like gold, because it is. You make yourself look good when you make your scene partners look good.
  8. Wear comfortable clothes – Hey, know that halter top and mini skirt you’ve been dying to wear… well this may not be the time to wear things that restrict your movement (sorry audition proctors). Guys, keep those balls INSIDE your pants (sorry audition proctors).
  9. Have Fun! – If nothing else follow this rule. Anybody worth their weight in salt wants to see what excites you. If you are having a miserable time, chances are everybody is having a miserable time. Do what you would want to see on stage. Keep it fun.
  10. Remember why you do this – Lastly at the end of the day being on a house team, or any place for that matter, is nothing more than an opportunity to perform regularly and not an indication of your worth. Remember that you started performing improv because you loved it, not because you wanted to be on a house team, and continue doing it because you love it, not because you want to be on a house team. Some people  put a lot of undue pressure on themselves thinking that the opportunity is it — a sign off on how worthy you are as an improviser — well let me assure you it isn’t. This is one theater’s opinion and they have very limited space and opportunity – so at the end of the day remember there are tons of places to continue to hone your skills in performance. You, as a performer, are never defined solely on the places you perform, but on the quality of your work. If it doesn’t work out today, no sweat – there will be many more times you can do quality work. (Ahem… indie community… cough… send me an e-mail… cough…)

So those are my thoughts going into this. You are all wonderful performers in your own right and no matter what happens in that room (watch out for shitting yourself) at the end of the day, you are still the performer you were when you walked in. Remember to be yourself and have fun — you earned it.

Commandment 1 – I am the Lord your God

by Matthew Stillman.

10 Commandments

Okay, fine. I’ll do it. The 10 Commandments have a lot to teach us about improv.

Traditionally in Jewish theology the commandments are divided into the first four – the relationship between God and humans and the last six – the relationship between humans.

That distinction may become relevant shortly.

The first commandment reads

I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.

This is traditionally interpreted as “I am the Lord your God”

So Who or What is the “God” of improv? This is your God after all… you are attempting worship in rehearsals and on stage. Every great mystical/ religious tradition that acknowledges a divine presence makes a critical point in emphasizing the imminence of God. That this God is here, now and can be connected to in a deep way if only you would get out of the way with your dumb old shit. And while certain strains of Christianity say that ultimate union with God happens in heaven even those strains say that you can meet God here on earth even if it isn’t as amazing as God in heaven – but even so, a temporary heaven on earth.

And now is the key part. Each religion has a whole battery of exercises, methods, philosophies and doxologies to simply get individuals into the experience of the unperturbed present moment. And so do we.

The God of improv is simply this – the present moment.

And who can dispute this? Certainly every improviser has had at least a glance through the keyhole of the beautiful and full moment of just being in the present – your personal past is gone, any thoughts of your future have vanished and you are just happily just there in your scene. It is heaven on earth at its best, no?

This actually reflects on the God that brought Jews out of slavery from the verse from the Bible. We have all been in horrible scenes – planning, trying, working, flailing. And it is absolute bondage, right? It’s slavery of a sort.  God, the present moment rescues us from that.

This commandment lets know what you are dealing with and is said to contain the other nine – the way to freedom and reminding you that you were in bondage.

But at its core improv is only about being in the present. Not being funny, but being truthful – now.

The first four commandments will set up the nature of the relationship we need to have with the present moment as improvisers. That established we’ll look at the rules between players in the final six.

Commandment two soon.