Friday, May 18, 2007

Notes from Mark Chalfant and Molly Woods

We had a great workshop from Mark Chalfant and Molly Woods of WIT where we asked them to teach us the key ingredients of what makes improv good. Below are the notes that I took.

  • What makes improv good?

    • Believability
    • Playfulness
    • Fearlessness

  • Helpful Exercises

    • Cosby warmup: we all did short two-person scenes where everyone had to do their worst Bill Cosby impression. You could do this with any impression, the point of it was to get everyone used to taking risks and embracing failure.

    • Two person scenes, focusing on whether players kept whatever big choice they started with

    • Do a scene that is not funny but is realistic: focus on believability. Other players sit in audience and raise their hand when they see something that is not believable. Then pause the action to ask players what was not believable. [as when Nick Johne had us do a similar exercise, these scenes actually became incredibly funny]

  • Audience enjoys great emotional commitment/interplay, not clever text or circumstances. Without emotional interchange, we have nothing but people being clever. This can work but you can't rely on being clever every night because that will fail you.

  • Characters can ask each other to give up things or to leave, but each character has to fight for what's important to them -- you can't just give in right away.

  • To move a scene forward/get yourself out trouble, ask yourself "What behavior have I created, and how can I create more?"

  • At the top of scenes, each player "takes out a toy" (each 'choice' is a toy). You should play with each toy as much as possible before you throw it out. Find a way to embrace that first choice -- you don't have to 100% logically understand your choice, and you definitely don't have to explain everything to the audience, as long as there are real human emotions. Audience wants to recognize themselves on stage -- "I've been that guy or that girl" -- no matter the circumstance.

  • Improvise in "the of course": assume as much as possible about your circumstances. Don't be polite or "check-in" with others.

  • Let information in the scene go through you, change your character.

  • On stage, we don't want to solve problems, we want to heighten them.

  • Pop culture references are fine, but we need them to resonate with the scene. Don't just play clever games with your references.

  • At its best, improv combines the whackiness of improvisation with the emotional commitment of theater leads.

  • It's always easy to find conflict, so no need to frontload it. Explore other things in your scene, and if conflict doesn't emerge organically, you can always find it later.

  • Good Challenges:

    • Start every sentence with "I" or "you"

    • Ask each player to state in one or two sentence what defines their character's viewpoint. Then only allow them to use those lines for dialogue for the rest of the scene.

    • Only use emotional noises, no text or words (shows that you don't have to advance the plot all the time, can have a good scene just by being emotional)


Azya said...

Thanks Mike. These are good tips.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Just stumbled across your journal by chance.
Am really enjoying the workshop notes.


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