Instructors: Neil Casey / Kevin Hines
Date Taken: October 2008

The concept of “game” taught at UCB immediately appealed to my math-mind and helped me find ways to explore funny.  I took 201 as an intensive (8 3-hour days over 2 weeks) hoping to get through it faster, and while it was a fun experience, it was a lot to absorb in a short period of time.

Find out more about UCB’s training program here.

Class #1 – 101 Review & First Unusual Thing

Instructor: Neil Casey

  • Yes And until you find the interesting thing, then move to “If this is true, what else is true.”
  • We play human beings doing real human things.
  • You don’t have to do as much as you think, “save yourself the work”
  • Play it real.  You don’t have to dog pile it on
  • Play it real, your character is as smart as you are
  • For this class, you don’t need to introduce conflict
  • Make it in the present
  • Look for the unusual not the crazy
  • If you start out normal, you’ll discover the unusual thing, you won’t have to invent it.
  • It’s not a denial to react honestly
  • Your “premise” of the scene doesn’t have to be funny, in fact it doesn’t even matter.
  • There should only be 1 unusual thing, everything else is played real.

Class #2 – Pattern Game, Game of the Scene, & Heightening

Instructor: Kevin Hines

  • Pay attention to opinions and reactions, that’s where you’ll find interesting things.
  • Don’t forget to “Yes And” yourself, listen to what you say
  • Your reactions are what helps you identify the unusual thing
  • A fight before your know that game is can ruin a scene.  A fight that serves the game (after you know it) can be great.
  • Answer the key questions to the scene (who? what? where? sometimes why?)
  • Don’t forget to carry your justifications all the way through the scenes
  • You don’t want to fight.  You can disagree, but don’t get “angry”
  • Don’t feel trapped or controlled by your suggestion, feel freed by it.
  • Make sure you play (and heighten) the game, not the plot.
  • Play the active choice.
  • Initiations serve 3 purposes (in order of importance): (1) Generate ideas; (2) Connect w/ your group members; (3) Entertain the audience

Class #3 – Editing & Support

Instructor: Neil Casey

  • We all pledge our allegiance to the show, and we all support what’s already happening.
  • “Karaoke rule” – it doesn’t matter what you’re doing on stage, as long as you sell it.
  • Pattern Game:
  • Generates “half ideas”
  • You want to initiate scenes from it that were memorable, that people laughed at
  • Don’t want to initiate scene off of something you said personally
  • When you find something interesting, riff on that idea a few times
  • Random A->C connections is yes anding, then riffing on interesting thing is “if this, then what”
  • Play the pattern game with energy
  • Cardinal rule of editing is to end on a laugh or high point (even if it’s just a relative maximum)
  • You generally can’t edit “too” early.  If there was something there, you can always come back to it
  • If you think you should’ve edited, you should have.
  • Name people in your scenes.  It’s actually harder to carry out a scene without naming each other.
  • Walk-ons, tag-outs, swinging doors, are not for jokes or one-lines, they are for adding information or heightening the game.

Class #4 – Environmental Support

Instructor: Neil Casey

  • The tone of natural conversation is the way you should always start a scene
  • Play normal
  • You can be entertaining with being laugh out loud hilarious
  • You should be mellow in your character (i.e. not a crazy person), but super aggressive in your pursuit of the game
  • Your character is real.  The improviser is playing the game.
  • Improv is theater, not TV
  • Backline should provide: tag-outs, walk-ons, swinging doors, background characters, sound fx, props, animals, anything with a face.
  • You can just exist on stage to paint the scene (e.g. as a waiter, you enter to heighten a game.  Don’t just walk straight off, go to another “table”, cash out, etc)
  • Enter and exit like a real person
  • Support moves should add specificity and information
  • Be serious and normal at the top of scenes
  • 3 keys to good improv: (1) Start normal (like in non-funny scenes); (2) Play to the top of your intelligence; (3) Aggressively go after the game
  • Personal notes (from Neil):
  • You’re very analytical, don’t be afraid to get out there and just react
  • Play normal, have made some “sillier” choices at times

Class #5 – 2nd Beats

Instructor: Kevin Hines

  • 2nd beats are seeing the game of a scene again.  The game not the plot.
  • Generally your 2nd beats go in the same order as your first scenes
  • Generally have the same 2 people in the 2nd beat (but not necessarily the same characters)
  • Can do 2nd beats two ways:
  • Time-dash: same 1 or 2 characters but at a different period of time (before or after)
  • Analogous: same game but different characters
  • Never worry about the 2nd beat during the first scene
  • Never “hold” something for your 2nd beat, you may never get to it
  • The character always must want to win the argument, the improviser should play the game (and generally not succeed at solving the problem)
  • Generally won’t do tag-outs, etc. in 1st beats (you don’t know the game yet)
  • If you did have a tag-out, you’d likely do an analogous 2nd beat as time-dash would be harder
  • If you didn’t play a specific game in the first beat, think about what was the most interesting thing and play that in the 2nd (even if you didn’t play it in the first one)
  • In 2nd beat, you don’t need to reference what happened in the 1st beat (and probably shouldn’t)
  • Your first beat has to have strong characters so you are able to call them back in the 2nd beat

Class #6 – 2nd Beats

Instructor: Kevin Hines

  • Never be afraid to add information
  • Initiation – get everything important out in the first line, your partner will supply additional information
  • You should build to absurdity (earn it), not make giant leaps to it.
  • There’s a difference between patterns and games.  Games will heighten, patterns just repeat.
  • Beat 2: you’re probably trying too hard if you have to explain what happened in between your 1st and 2nd beats
  • You have to understand why you’re playing that game (your characters’ motivation)
  • Never expect a certain answer or reaction.  Just listen and react to what was actually said.

Class #7 – Putting It Together – Running the Show

Instructor: Kevin Hines

  • Play your scenes actively (don’t just talk about something)
  • Heighten your reactions, play more extreme when picking
  • Dialogue is secondary to your characters (should not be talking heads) but primary to audience
  • Make sure you are using what you hear, not just hearing it
  • Whatever makes your partner react, you want to provide more of that
  • Provide 1 piece of information then stop talking, allow your scene partner to react
  • While waiting between beats, think of a possible first line, then pay attention to other scenes (i.e. don’t think too much or try to plan too much out)
  • Don’t timedash with plot.  Don’t think “what happened next” think “If this, then what”

Class #8 – Putting It All Together – Running the Show

Instructor: Kevin Hines

  • Don’t worry about solving your problems
  • In a scene if your character is presented with something he doesn’t want to do, “fight” it as your character, but actually do it
  • Put it in action
  • Provide support / scene painting quickly
  • As the “weird” make sure you are grounded somewhere in reality and play that as well (it helps to heighten the game and support the straight person)
  • React first, then catch up to what’s happening if you need to
  • Personal notes (from Kevin):
  • You tend to initiate with problems
  • Get to the fun parts quicker
  • Be active in your choices, don’t just talk about the game

Improv 201 Class Show

  • straight man don’t forget to continue to ground it in reality
  • don’t be tepid at the top of your scene, commi make a decision
  • should be a friendly competition to see who can find shame first
  • provide information! (even walkons) if ur on back line and u don’t know where they are, ur responsible for adding that information.
  • avoid scene of bad X (first day as pilot on air force one)

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