Sucking At Improv | SIC Workshop Level II

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”


Jeremy Piven as Dean Kansky, quoting Epictetus
(Serendipity, 2001)

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“You gotta commit. You’ve gotta go out there and improvise and you’ve gotta be completely unafraid to die. You’ve got to be able to take a chance to die. And you have to die lots. You have to die all the time. You’re goin’ out there with just a whisper of an idea. The fear will make you clench up. That’s the fear of dying. When you start and the first few lines don’t grab and people are going like, ‘What’s this? I’m not laughing and I’m not interested,’ then you just put your arms out like this and open way up and that allows your stuff to go out. Otherwise it’s just stuck inside you.”

– Bill Murray on improv

I.  “We Suck, and We Love to Fail.”

Mantras and dedication are simply two things that motivate us, keeping us on the right track.  The Epictetus quote highlighted by the movie Serendipity helped me out my freshman year of college, the latter part, because college life was quite the transition.  I abandoned the pipedream of a quote, because there were thoughts that this was absolutely ridiculous to base your life on.  There were plenty of awkward moments to define what is the first year of college life.  However, sticking with it then helped me realize, especially for this guy, awkwardness is a significant part of life that has to be accepted.
Acting foolish and welcoming mistakes, as much as you don’t want those inevitabilities to happen, is part of life and critical learning experiences.  Embrace your stupidity and your mistakes.

Quotes are more significant to me now, and they have been for the past few years.  It isn’t just the quote itself, which people seem to adhere to, sharing and posting, gloating about this phrase which somehow pertains to their lives, but–for me and for others that I know dearly–it’s about the author or actor or philosopher or any other inspiring individual that the quote comes from.  Sure, I will post some quote by Hemingway or Twain or Poe, but these individuals are writers who inspire me. People may throw out quotes just because, which irks me to a degree.  I admire them greatly and read their work, and I would love to incorporate their style into my writing.  Never could I emulate them, but the appreciation goes a long way.

Our improv instructor, Mike, a different Mike from our first instructor, clued us into this mantra before getting into the nitty gritty of this workshop.  The point is to screw up and fail as terribly as you can.  It’s best to fall, and that’s to preferably fall on one’s face.  If you’re going to fall, you may as well break something.  Don’t just damage your body, but damage your mind as well. 

Level II is priming us for longer improv, and we are learning the importance of details.  This is a gauntlet of exercises and critiques to drive one insane.  To help us along, Mike sent us a link to Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling, which is a great learning tool.  I threw out Joseph Campbell’s path of a hero, which is loosely related, but it compliments the concept of storytelling. 

II.  The Return of the “Yes, and…”

There is no reason to deny the “Yes, and…” mantra introduced to us at the very beginning of Level I.  It still applies to both improv and life.

Take whatever we know, and build off of it.  The goal is to build characters and build story. 

Improv is helps out in all realms of life.  Not only am I learning things about myself, communication skills are being finely tuned, and these experiences are helping me with writing.  I am writing with more detail and paying close attention to my characters.  If I come up with an idea, I’ll contemplate if it is the right route; however, if there are no further ideas after a night’s rest, I will work with it until a seemingly better thought comes around. 

The scenes are to our own discression; when it comes time for a show, we will not have someone stop us if we’re doing poorly or dragging on or rushing though the scene.

There are nine of us now.  From six we were four, but we gained five.  That’s awesome.  We all have had various ranges of improv or acting experience behind us.  I think Performing and practicing with every person in the workshop is fantastic, but it’s just as great sitting on the sideline watching my peers go at it.  We have scene building and character battles, winning and losing some.  Stef got the upper hand with the damn granite countertops, but I put Eric in his place at the DMV.

The beauty of this is being hard on oneself again.

III.  Appropriate Names

Our next performance will be the first weekend in April at the Thumbs UpState Improv Festival at CNY Playhouse.  For all the details, check out the website and Facebook page.  Three days of stand-up comedy and improv. 

You’ll need three sets of pants.

We will be settling on a name sooner than later….

IV.  So I Said…

So, we decided on a name:  Identity Crisis.  The runners up were Eye Vomit… yes, that’s what I said… and Ladies and a Tramp. 

We had a fantastic practice session.  Both of my roommates were our audience and gave fantastic feeback, but I am not surprised.  They’re honest guys, and they did let us into what they were liking and weren’t liking. 

One thought on “Sucking At Improv | SIC Workshop Level II

  1. I think that famous people are quoted more often because they are famous and less because they have a unique idea to share. Usually, however, authors thinkers, actors, musicians, talks show hosts, and unfortunately even reality tv stars have a more eloquent way of saying what most of us "smart" people already know. They are quoted because we want to hear them talk. They are not more profound than you or I.

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