Never look a gift horse in the mouth! ESPECIALLY in #IMPROV

Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

I had some amazing workshops today – 10am this morning includes a handful of teens, 12pm a few more 8-12yos, and then of course I got on stage with the professional company of EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH at 3pm, all at the Broadway Comedy Club, 318 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019 (Classes continue through the end of June then on to Summer Camp).

Never look a gift horse in the mouth!

This week I was harping on scene work. We have some tremendously talents kids and teens in our ranks. I personally don’t usually teach these classes. I am far too intense. I love hyper focusing on my art. That can be a bit much for younger talent. But every so often I take over and go for it. Thanks to the hard week to week in the trenches work of my team, mostly Liz Lord, in Times Square classes, these kids and teens responded well to my direction today.

The imagination of a child so inspiring as a comic and actor. Young minds think of things in ways only a rare few adult creatives would consider; perhaps more so. They do not have the experience on how to handle that imagination and focus it. The youth wasted on the young? Perhaps?

In one scene, with the teens class, in a scene about a party, the young lady said “I just finished reading a dating book by Bill Cosby”. Her scene partner, very possibly uncomfortable with discussing Cosby, understandable so on many levels, completely ignored this GIFT.

A gift in Improv is a little gem offered that potentially will define the scene. Often times, we are so committed to the scene these gifts surprise even the artist that spoke the words. Too often the gifts are ignored by our team mates. Sometimes we ourselves gloss over potential GOLD MINES.

I stopped the scene.

“THAT, my friend, was a gift. I understand shying away from Cosby – not sure I am comfortable hearing kids and teens discuss the subject. BUT “A dating guide by Bill Cosby” is comedy gold.

Continue – by the end of the scene she had a snake named Bill Cosby. (There’s a double meaning in that!”

Skip ahead 2 hours to my class with mostly 9-11yos. Two boys are doing a scene, both with think Irish accents and constantly dancing. About 4-5 lines into the scene we discover they are in a class room, in Czechoslovakia, but had recently immigrated from Siberia. But then ignored all and started to talk about dancing, “What other dances do you like?”

I stopped the scene.

“I really need to more about these two Irish guys from Siberia now living in Prague.”

9yo boys ma or may not know enough to go to deep here, appreciating hit hilarity of the geo-political ramifications of these choices, etc, but I was floored by the prospect of this set-up. I expressed how badly I wanted to join this scene. An Improv artist lives and dies waiting for a GIFT like this.

I told both classes, “There is so much to unpack” If you truly give yourself to that discovery process, both situations could be a 2-hour play, maybe even a TV series.

So today I focused on going a bit deeper. Really talking about the WHO and WHERE of a scene. Beyond some silly ideas. Beyond making friends laugh. I pushed the students to GO FOR IT.

When you focus on the WHO and WHERE you also start to get to the WHY. WHY should we care about this scene/story. Improv by any age often has little meaning. You get a few gems here and there. When you focus on creating strong define relationships and scene, and then play those for real – playing the drama, not the comedy, you start to truly define a scene in very short order with lots of layers.

We also discussed being confident in a scene. To truly be successful at Improv you need to leave ego and insecurity at the door.

SO if you are a 9yo student, getting on stage with 46yo (HEY – 45yo TILL JULY) me, with 15 years of Improv and  25 years of professional experience in acting and singing, and a life time of experience and collected knowledge, you can never worry about not being good enough. Just BE! Nor can you think adults are idiots and stop listening, right?

In that moment I am not your teacher. In that moment I am not your boss, supervisor, producer, director etc. I am your equal. Nor can I treat you like a subordinate. I will get us through rough patches. I have as much experience working with lesser talents as I do greater. I have been the victim and perp behind bad team work and listening.

But in that moment, for a scene to truly be great, ego and insecurity need to go. You cannot become another character when you are busy worrying about you. You cannot listen and be in the moment with ego and insecurity in your way. JUST HAVE FUN!!!

Then you are free. Then you can make some simple choices. Then you can listen and respond. Then you can YES AND.. EVERYTHING you scene partner sends you way.

At the beginning of every scene, make a simple choice. As the first speaker in a scene – WHO are you (More relationship than character names etc) and WHERE are you. NAME the relationship and location clearly. If there is any confusion, the next line form your scene partner should help clarify these simple choices.

Then simply play those choices. With each line, make bigger choices that reveal more about the relationship, location and story. Discover the world in which you live, together, as a team with your scene partners.

As you do, LISTEN and OBSERVE as much, or more, that you speak so you don’t miss the gifts. GIFTS from your scene partner are like a perfect ALLEYOOP in Basket Ball, the perfect set-up in VolleyBall or a lob from across the net in Tennis. If you listen and respond, you will have a slam dunk, you will spike the ball over the net.

YES AND… is all about a series of simple choices. Watch these videos, from some wonderfully talented Improv artists, speaking about the idea of discovering the scene.

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