Posts

Congratulations! You’ve finished your first level of improv classes. You have 8 weeks of training under your belt, a new group of improv companions, and a rocking show that you did for friends, family, and strangers.

So, now what?

Here are 5 things you can do after you’ve finished your first improv class:

1. Take Another Improv Class

The most common next step after finishing Level 1 is to take Level 2 at the same school / theater. You’ll pick up right where you left off and start learning more advanced techniques.

Another option is to take a Level 1 class at a different theater. This can give you a different perspective on how to approach improv, as well as give you another chance to work on the basics.

2. Start a Practice Group

Unfortunately you may not be able to jump right into the next level of classes (because of scheduling, availability, or financing), or you might find that you want to improvise more than once a week.

If you’re in either boat, starting or joining a practice group can be a great way to keep practicing improv outside of the classroom. To get started, all you need is a group of people, a rehearsal spot, and a coach.

3. Find a Way to Perform

If your favorite (or least favorite) part of class was the show, then you may want to get on stage more frequently. In NYC there are a number of free jams / mixers around the city where you can show your stuff.

Or, if you do create a practice group, you can find venues where your Indie team can perform. Either way, getting on stage will help you apply the things you learned in class and help improve your confidence on stage.

4. Try Another Art Form

Trying improv might have sparked a passion for comedy or performance that isn’t limited to just making stuff up. You might be interested in taking a sketch class, trying stand-up comedy, or even giving acting a try.

These art forms all benefit from having strong improv skills and can be a great outlet for performance that’s not improv.

5. Take Your Knowledge Out into the World

Whether you continue on formally with improv training or decide to hang up your improvised boxing gloves, you can take the concepts of improv out into your everyday life.

Ideas like Yes And, supporting your scene partner, and really listening have tremendous value in the corporate world, in education, and in day to day life.

Applying these concepts can be as simple as keeping them in mind as you go about life, or may include deliberately using the concepts in what’s called applied improvisation.

Regardless of what you do next, congratulations! You’ve experienced the first level of improvisation; go out and use your new found knowledge for good, humor, and funny.

So you finally decided to sign up for your first improv class? That’s awesome, congratulations.

Over the years I’ve taken a number of classes; some of have been incredible, others not so much. Here are a 10 tips I’ve learned on how to make the most out of your maiden voyage into classes on improvisation.

#1) Have an open mind.

Let’s be honest, some improv exercises are weird. Organic openings, honest emotional monologues, and even Bunny Bunny can seem weird at first. But they all have a purpose in making you a better improviser.

Keep an open mind and allow yourself to truly commit to the exercise.

#2) Don’t try to be “right.”

I like to be right. I also like to do things right. As a result, improv can be a challenge. When doing improv exercises or scenes, I used to have a mentality of “I want to do this exercise correctly” or even figure out the purpose of it and then do it “perfectly” to impress the instructor.

Improv doesn’t work like that. First, the exercises are not meant to be done perfectly. You’re going to forget a word or two when jumping into Hot Spot–that’s more than fine. Second, the beauty of improv is that there is no wrong choice, but that also means there is no right choice either. There’s only the choice you make in the moment and what you do with it afterwards.

#3) Leave your judgment at the door.

You’re going to do bad improv scenes. Your classmates are going to do bad improv scenes. Heck, your instructor may lead you into bad improv scenes (or “stupid” exercises or “dumb” sidecoaching or countless other things you may want to criticize).

In fact, if you aren’t doing any bad scenes or exercises that challenge your style of play, you probably aren’t pushing yourself.

The point is, leave any type of that judgment at the door. If you want to critique your own play later, after class (as I often do as a way to see where I need to make improvements), fine. Just don’t do it in class. It takes you away from the moment and distracts you from what’s important–being present for your other classmates.

#4) Be confident but humble yourself.

Some people enter into an improv class with loads of experience. Maybe they were in an improv group in college or have performed in theater or have done a number of shows as a stand-up comedian. Some people enter class never having done any type of performance before.

Whichever group you fall into, be confident in your ideas (they’re already awesome, they may just need to be tweaked as you go), but also be humble about your skill.

This second point is especially true for people who have improv experience. You may start to think “I’m too good for this” or “I already know all this.” Sure you might already know concepts like “Yes And,” but it can be hugely beneficial to take a step back and review the basics from time-to-time.

Use a return to basic improv as an opportunity to work on a new style or challenge yourself in a new way. Be confident in your abilities but humble yourself and do all of the exercises with 100% commitment.

#5) Get to know your classmates.

In all the classes I’ve taken the one thing more important than the instructor has been my classmates. And I don’t mean who the people are, but what’s my relationship to them, how well do I get to know them.

The classes that I’ve hated or were ambivalent about were the ones where I didn’t get to know the 15 other people who I’d be spending 8 weeks with. They were just acquaintances I saw once a week.

The classes that I’ve loved have been the ones where I got to know the people I was learning with. We would go out together after class, see shows together, or even just do bits over email. Not only does it make the class more fun, it also makes the improv scenes better.

And a bit of forecasting for you: it’s the people you stay connected to that will likely make up your first Indie team (an important next step after your first few levels of classes).

Note: The first 5 tips were more on the mindset and attitude to have while in class. The next 5 are more practical in nature.

#6) Bring a notebook (and pen).

You don’t have to take extensive notes (like I did), but write down key phrases or ideas that your teacher says that you like. Some of my favorite improv quotes include:

  • “Treat your fellow players like geniuses and poets.”
  • “Be more brave than impressive.”
  • “We want to see the t-rex with the backpack.”

#7) Bring a bottle of water.

It’s always good to stay hydrated and you’ll likely be talking and/or moving around a lot.

#8) Eat something before class.

You don’t want to be distracted by hunger while you’re focusing on becoming a better improviser.

#9) Wear appropriate clothing.

While you may look great in that suit or stunning in that dress, it will likely restrict your choices as an improviser. You want to wear comfortable clothing that you would be fine rolling around in–you never know when your improv scene is going to require demonstrating “stop, drop, and roll” or re-enacting an army “crawl-through-the-trenches” scene.

If you’re coming directly from work (as I so often did), either bring a change of clothes or be willing to spend a little more on dry-cleaning in case you get dirt on your business attire.

#10) Most importantly, have fun.

No matter what your reason for taking an improv class, you should have fun. Not just because, “yay, fun!” but because it will make your improv scenes better. When you’re enjoying your time on stage with your classmates, you’ll make moves that excite you and your fellow players. And isn’t the whole point of improv to have fun? I think so.

Instructor: Armando Diaz
Date Taken: July 2011

The final class of the Magnet Improv Conservatory is a Team Performance Workshop. You get 6-weeks of classes and then 8-weeks of shows with the same team. The team-specific nature of the class didn’t lend itself to taking too many general improv notes, but there were a few gems that stood out.

To learn more about the Magnet Training program, go here

Class Notes

  • you dont want your pieces to be monotonous. if youre noticing a lot of verbal initiations, mix it up with physicality.
  • there is no retreat. victory is all we have. once you commit keep going until you are edited. you dont go into an opening or a scene thinking its going to last for X seconds or minute.
  • heightening leads to discovery. its what earns the edit.
  • dont reduce your vocabulary to just words.
  • explore the consequences of your characters’ behavior.
  • We don’t want more object work, we want specific object work.
  • Look to expand on things, instead of just repeating something from the opening. It keeps you from feeling locked into what was said/done initially.

Instructor: Armando Diaz
Date Taken: October 2010

Level 5 at the Magnet focuses on creating an improv revue—four shows that your team does together. I went back to my normal heavy note-taking ways for this class, but can you blame me? It was Armando Diaz teaching!

To learn more about the Magnet training program, go here.

Class #1

  • the goal of the class is to learn how to put on an entire show (from start to finish)
  • the attitude you want to have is that anyone off the street should be able to come in and enjoy themselves (not just other improvisers)
  • if you have a bad show, dont give an excuse as to why
  • nobody is so good that they should be an asshole to people
  • key focus of forms:
  • montage—fast paced, higher energy
  • monoscene—pov and committed character
  • time-dash—how time affects characters
  • freeze tag—trust your instincts, visual, commitment
  • initiations are a reaction to something that happens in a scene that we dont see (start in the middle)
  • simplicity is always appreciated
  • good improvisers trust in just being… (no need to always talk)
  • concept alone isnt theater. concept with an attitude is
  • great players are calm and patient and wait for inspiration
  • listen well, internalize and think about how you can connect to the other person
  • the goal of the first beat of the monoscene is to create the world the scene will take place in
  • the difference between a monoscene and group game in a harold is that you have more time for different characters to play varied povs (wheras in a group game a lot of times youll all have the same attitude)
  • your object work should be specific enough that it tells the audience who you are without you needing to speak
  • every scene is about one truthful thing

 Class #2

  • often times the funniest thing to do is be vulnerable
  • be affected by what people say
  • be your experience, dont state it
  • most premises have been done. it’s the specifics that differentiate them. take the idea and personalize it
  • WHO you are is so much more important than the premise of a scene
  • Del’s “the third thought”—get past the trivial, go to the deeper thought
  • when on stage, you shouldnt be thinking as an improviser, you should be thinking as the characters youre playing
  • discovery in a scene is an awesome thing
  • monoscenes feel counter-intuitive because each character should have their own thing. especially as a walk-on, dont give in to the feeling you should be a character to heighten someone elses game, have your own character and then youll help others play their game while youre playing yours
  • its like a potluck—everyone has to bring something different in order for it to stay lively

Class #3

  • every character has a pov and it’s often defined in the first thing you say or do. if you get lost, go back to what you did first in a scene
  • actions speak louder than words, dont forget your object work
  • EXPERIENCE THINGS ON STAGE
  • spontaneity (discovery) is the drug of improv
  • star trek—orignal series was fun because they experienced what was happening. later generations were just people logically thinking about it and coming up with a resolution. be Kirk, not Picard? Screw it or kill it.

Class #4

  • follow your character’s pov and motivation
  • the real genius players remember how they started and stay committed to it
  • there are different “sized” ways of playing a game. sometimes youll need a sledge hammer, sometimes youll need a paint brush.
  • theres a difference between heightening and increasing. increasing just adds more stuff; heightening is specific to your character and pov and playing more of that
  • in a good scene, both characters have a pov (and game)
  • specifics are very important when it comes to heightening or additional game moves. e.g. language that was used is very important
  • if you know how you feel, you dont have to analyze as much
  • pov is one of the most important things to make sure you understand—it will take you the furthest and make your scenes easier
  • if you arent sure how you should be reacting, get specific and that will help inform you

Class #5

  • emotion can be a pov.
  • each action your scene partner makes heightens your emotion. you know that is the case so the only “work” you have to do is justifying your emotional reactions
  • play for competence (have your characters be smart). to play “bad” is harder than “trying” but “fail”
  • the more truthful we are the easier things will be
  • dont play in the middle
  • a scene is initiation -> reaction -> justification

Class #6

Guest Instructor: Christian Capozzoli

  • physicality is king, emotion is queen – joe bill
  • every gift should be treated as such, have a reaction to it, state what is, give specifics
  • characters should be hypersensitive to their pov
  • if you have a really talky first scene, then you gotta play the 2nd beat even more actively

Class #7

  • play game harder. dont wait for other people to help you play game, make the moves yourself more
  • physicality is king and can buy you some time to speak

Show #1

  • be ready on the edits
  • each character had a sense of history which is really good
  • whenever someone comes out, make sure you react to that person

Class #8

  • dont be so concerned with plot moves, allow yourself to play in the emotion you give yourself
  • remember CROW—character, relationship, objective, where
  • dont forget to express your philosophy and circumstances in between game moves to heighten each move
  • two behaviors overlapped is the relationship.
  • even when you have strong game scenes, there should be a strong relationship. all scenes are relationship-based regardless of how strong the game is.

Show #2

  • specificty of game is important. look to your first scene that gives you the details

Show #3

  • dont change your character in 2nd beats.
  • be careful of adding too much importance to a detail from the previous scene; by talking about it again it makes it more important than it needs to be
  • its about your personality more than anything else.
  • you never want to be an improvisors wanting people to do something. put more focus on reacting
  • edit on an emotion and dont be scared to leave what happens to the audience’s imagination

Show #4

  • be careful of using nondescript gifts, hammer them out in first beats so you can play with them
  • gift your scene partner because that will give you something to react to
  • for second beats dont close the door to discovery, especially if youre first beat established a weirdness. play with the gift you gave yourself for having fun

Instructor: Blaine Swen
Date Taken: August 2010

For DCM 2010, Blaine Swen (founder / performer of Improv Shakespeare and 1-man musical improv show Bash!) offered a 3-hour workshop that focused on 1-person musical improv scenes.

Here are the notes from the workshop.

Class Notes

  • 3 important points of improv: pov, dialog and emotional dialog
  • come out and find a point of concentration. that point will affect you emotionally which create your pov and then drive your dialog.
  • have to rely on the truth that improv is magic.
  • trust that if you react to the moment, moment to moment, and the map (plot) will happen
  • when i dont know what to say in a scene, i think of what my pov is and then say “i feel …”
  • you also have to relax and play
  • the only way you fail in this is if you give into your anxiety to the audience
  • practice patience not panic
  • theres a fine line between pov and projection (dont project on to someone else what they have to be). you give yourself a great gift just by telling your partner how you feel
  • songs should explore your pov and emotion, not the plot of the scene.
  • pov can be expressed through object work and expression
  • improv audiences do a lot of the work for you. they connect the dots for you. you can relieve yourself of the burden of the work
  • singing about your feelings is so much easier than trying to sing a song about story or plot.
  • for songs, boil down your pov into a thesis statement and thats the title and focus of your song
  • emotional reaction is a huge gift to your scene partner.

Instructor: Dave Jadico (CSz Philadelphia)
Date Taken: July 2010

Every year, ComedySportz has a tournament where all of the city teams get together to play, take workshops and hang out. This workshop was part of ComedySportz Tournament 2010 and covers spacework, for both shortform and longform improv.

Workshop Notes

  • Every time you touch an object, the audience has a better visual of it
  • Breaking a pattern with object work can help inform your scene and how your character is feeling
  • Iconic Representation—the one object work movement you do that will tell you the object or the activity
  • The audience likes to feel smart. object work is a great way to help them feel smart through the specificy of the mime
  • Until youve defined what it is, it could be anything to the audience
  • In addition to the object work, where youre looking informs the audience
  • Mime is 60% your object work and 40% focus (where your eyes are)
  • With focus remember the depth of your focus (how far away is it)
  • How fast your eyes move to scan or look at something tells you its size and how close it is to you
  • As things are created, they become reality
  • Where you walk and move also define whats there or not there (car, coffee table, etc)

Instructor: Alex Marino
Date Taken: May 2010

With Level 4, I continued my focus on experiential learning and just trying to incorporate what I heard as opposed to logically thinking about.  Our particular class was about the Evente, which lends itself to creating better improvisers for any form.

I also learned more from the 4 performances than I did from any of the classes (you can’t beat actual experience).  Here’s what I remember.

To find out more about the Magnet training program, go here.

Class Notes

  • Decide who you are.  What are your character’s friends like? Parents? What do they do for fun?  What’s their favorite color?  You don’t have to do scenes about these things, but if you decide them it will inform your decisions.
  • Don’t forget to endow yourself.
  • The way the opening is played and the first scene set the tone for the entire show.
  • Follow the fun.
  • The longer you talk about an event, the more the audience wants to see it and the bigger the letdown if you never get to it. 

Instructor: Peter McNierney
Date Taken: March 2010

As I continued further into the Magnet program, I decided to try to learn more experientially (rather than logically), so I took fewer notes and focused on how I was feeling in scenes—what worked / what didn’t.  Still there were some notes that were too good to not write down.

To find out more about the Magnet Training program, go here.

Class Notes

  • Watch the Breakfast Club—its all about statuses
  • Homework: try to recognize what your natural status is and then play with it and do other statuses
  • Your intro in a scene / group game, is your promise to the audience of who you are
  • Order of Importance of Improv Elements: 1) relationships, 2) details, 3) pattern
  • The less you understand about what someone initiates the more you should imitate what they are doiing
  • Take a breath after your initiation and remind yourself that improv is about the relationships not the premises from the opening
  • Make every move matter through your reactions

Instructor: Billy Merritt
Date Taken: January 2010

I took a 3-hour workshop with Billy Merritt and definitely enjoyed it, especially the Ninja, Robot, Pirate metaphor and exercises. Here are the notes from his workshop.

Workshop Notes

  • Improv is 2 things: pattern and rhythm. 
  • Mirroring also means stage picture. 
  • Turn improv technique into story. 
  • If you’re tentative as an improviser, your scene will be too. 
  • When you name someone, you own a piece of them—so name your scene partners. 
  • Surrender yourself to your personal rituals on stage so you don’t have to think about what you’re talking about. 
  • Action is what the scene is about.  Activity is what you’re in doing in the scene. 
  • Going through personal rituals on stage aren’t game, they just ground you in reality. 
  • Don’t wait for class to become a better improviser. 
  • Don’t let fear crash on your couch. 
  • A strong improviser is a pirate, ninja and robot. 
  • Pirate—Attack scenes like a pirate.  No fear, be ruthless. Bathe in the blood of game. 
  • Robot—Analyze scenes like a robot.  Every scene is like a program, find the program and then just follow the logic of it. 
  • Ninja—Edit / Add to scenes like a ninja.  The audience should never notice your moves.

Instructor: Louis Kornfeld
Date Taken: November 2009

After going through the curriculum at UCB, my biggest weakness as an improviser was reacting emotionally.  After great experiences with Shoot from the Hip (full of Magnet people) and the Dynamic Duos class, I decided to go through the Magnet program with an emphasis on improving as an emotional player.

I was able to skip Level 1 and started with Level 2.  Here are the notes.

To find out more about the Magnet training program, go here.

Class Notes

  • Start your scene by reacting to something that has already happened
  • Don’t present your idea, embody or be the idea
  • Take a suggestion and think about the emotions it inspires
  • Deal with your own honesty on stage
  • Your scene partner on stage can be your “suggestion”—take what you notice about each other and personalize it
  • Theres enormous value into trusting your instincts and reactions to what your scene partner is giving
  • Make an offer and then pay attention to their reaction, that’s your new suggestion
  • “How well am I performing” is one of the most worthless questions in improv.  If you are asking that, you aren’t paying attention
  • Scenes shouldn’t be hard. they should have energy, not effort
  • Law of adjacency – given one very specific detail, there is a another specific detail that is related to it.  Improv is communicating those adjancecies
  • You can “sell” anything to the audience if you commit
  • The one thing we don’t want to be on stage is neutral. don’t be the “too cool for school” attitude
  • Take full ownership of what you do on stage
  • Specific thoughts lead to specific action. if you make a decision in your mind as to what’s going on, it will inform your decisions
  • Big truths are made up of a bunch of tiny truths
  • Positive emotion is not a weak one
  • Don’t forget the different shades of an emotion. be specific—gloom is different than depression
  • An emotional reaction gives you another thing to explore. explore how you feel about what’s happening on stage
  • Strong reactions beget strong reactions. when you don’t have them it forces you to have to think instead of reacting
  • Dirty little secret of improv: it doesn’t really matter what your reaction is so long as its committed
  • Heightening = magnifying the behavior
  • Theres a lot more power in exploring what you’ve already created instead of just creating new ideas
  • Improv is not just about making shit up, its about using what you have