(note: Archived Painhole essays can be found at the bottom of thispage)
I have never participated in a workshop other than as a teacher, but I know that good things can come of them. I also know that Improvs is a difficult place to improve one's skills being that stage time is so limited and in demand. So what to do? Well you tell me. I am the producer of this hack thing so it is my job to accommodate the wishes of our audience. If there is enough interest in this thing, I have the connections and pull to provide you with both a space and a qualified instructor. I want to see everyone improving and if I can be of any service, I will. Tell me if you are interested. I will do the rest. I know that Tom seems very interested in teaching some classes and that Steve and Dean have taught some workshops in the past. I, unfortunately, am woefully unqualified to teach a workshop, but if there is enough interest, I promise to see to it that those who are interested will have an outlet.
And SO, as a Great and Horny Man once said (I think it was John Holmesor John Mitz), On to the Hole!
Ok. Pop Quiz.
When you are on stage at Improvs, what should be your number one concern?
Think carefully. I'll give you a moment. Here's a brief musical interlude:
So tell me what you want, what you really, really want. I'll tell you whatI want, what I really, really want. I wanna... I wanna... I wanna... I wanna...I really, really, really wanna zig-a-zig ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Ok, got it?
If you answered (A), you are already an ass. There is nothing to make.How many times do we have to tell you that failure is Ok? You know, Louisand I don't work all day over a hot stove just to have you come home anddisobey our rules. Do you think improv rules grow on trees? Go to your room.
If you answered (B), I kind of understand. People like funny people.Funny is entertaining. Funny is attractive. Improvs should be funny. Guesswhat though. You're wrong. That isn't the important thing.
If you answered (C), you are a survivor. I respect your instincts forsafety and sanity and hope that you will join my new support group, P.A.S.T.(People Against a Shirtless Tom). You are not, however, cut out to be agood improver. A good improver rolls with any and all jabs at his/her sanity,including giant jiggling masses of white flesh. I have been faced with muchmore taxing situations on stage including male-on-male foot mastication,male-on-male kissing, scary women with random piercings mounting me on stage,and many others I don't care to recall. I rolled with it and gained therespect of my peers. You too, can survive these trials.
If you answered (D), and are a women, come by my house anytime aftermidnight with a can of whipped cream and an egg beater. I'll do the rest.
Finally, if you answered (E), give yourself a pat on the back becauseyou are half-way there in becoming a better improver because you have recognizedthe problem and are willing to deal with it. Now repeat after me, "Lord,give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change and change thethings I can and give me the wisdom to know the difference." Oh wait...That's wrong. I gotta get to a meeting. Anyway, know that you have seenthe light of improvs.
Well, I'll tell you. I watch you guys every week. I know your strengthsand weaknesses as performers. I also know what will make you better. Hereis something to work on. In most games, you are given a situation and arelationship and/or a task to complete. You willingly accept these suggestions,and, depending on the game, completely forget about them and the scene youwere doing in a matter of minutes. This is incorrect improving. As I havesaid before, too many of you are worried about being funny when you geton stage. While it should be your goal to make the audience laugh and beentertained, you may be going about it the wrong way. I'll give you an example.The most glaring way people make this mistake is in the game Producers,Directors, & Playwrights (or Genre Jump which is basically the samegame). When the scene starts off neutrally in this game, you as playersbegin to tell a story. You set up characters and an environment and maybesome conflict. So far, so good. Now, when Louis and the audience begin toFuck with you by switching things up, you lose your focus. You start toconcentrate on the suggestion rather than keeping the scene going. Finally,it ends up that the original plan you and your partner set up for your sceneis completely gone and you find yourself just acting out scenes you knowfrom a play or movie instead of the original suggestion. This is wrong.You might get some laughs this way, but you will never improve as an improveruntil you learn to take these distractions and work them into your originalplan for the scene and continue the action you had set up before you wereso rudely interrupted. Here is a little hint to make this easier: Whenyou are coming out of a pause for a suggestion in a scene game (like P's,D's, & PW's, Genre Jump, Emotion Game, Occupation Game, etc.), don'timmediately change what you were doing to accommodate the suggestion unlessyou can find a way to work it in to the continuation of what you were doingbefore. Your foremost goal is to get across the beginning, middle, and endof your story. The suggestions are just funny little bumps in the road onyour way. Find a way to work them in, but don't let them distract you fromyour overall goal of telling a story based on the original suggestion. Itis much more impressive to an audience for an improver to be able to tella complete story based on a tough suggestion than to be able to recall acouple of funny lines from a movie. In other words, keep the scene goingfirst, then make your funny lines. As you get better at telling a completestory through your scene, you will find that the references to the secondarysuggestions will become easier. Another example: You are playing the EmotionGame and have begun a story about two nuns digging for buried treasure.The action is stopped and you are given the emotion Lust. An inexperiencedimprover will forget what he/she was doing prior to the freeze and immediatelygo for the cheap joke and attack his/her partner. A good improver will continueexactly what they were doing before the freeze and find something in thestory line, environment, or in his/her partner to make them lustful. Seethe difference?
Also, this isn't just important to your success in scene games. Everygame at improvs becomes much more interesting to watch if a scene is performedwell within it (with the possible exception of World's Worst). If you arethe host of Surprise Party or the Guesser in Excuses or Good Cop/ Bad Cop,it is not only your job to guess the quirks or adjectives or excuse, butto keep a scene going. This means that if you are the host of surprise party,you must find a reason you are having a party and keep that up through yourconversations with your "guests". Anything else becomes just aglorified game of charades and will not pass for good improving, even ifyou guess all of the suggestions. Keeping a scene going is probably themost important thing you can do as an improver to keep the audience interested.If you are just funny, you will get boring pretty quickly if you say a linethat just don't cut the mustard. If you are adept at keeping the scene goingand throw in a funny line or two during the scene, you will quickly becomean audience favorite because they will know that every time you are on stage,they are going to at least see something interesting and fresh. Plus, theadded respect that you will gain as someone able to carry and continue ascene in the face of adversity will make other, more experienced improverswant to perform with you because you will have the ability to make you bothlook good. Remember, it is not the funniest scenes that are remembered bythe audience, but the ones that told the best stories.
Write back and tell me if I just
confused the hell out of you or
if you have any suggestions or