Friday, November 28, 2008

Rehearsal #12: Final Dress!

Tuesday night we did a full-on dress rehearsal. Mandy chose a cast of 6 and everyone else watched. Things went very well. I have some work I need to do on the opening and closing. It’s been a long time since I ran a show’s opening and closing. I’ll get it, but it’s a good thing we did a dress rehearsal.

I also had an opportunity to play a villain, which is very satisfying. We haven’t done a show in a while where having a strong villain was appropriate. I’d forgotten how much fun it can be. I even had a chance to do some stage torture on a puppet. Basically I turned my back on the audience and grabbed the puppet, and Pepper made the puppet scream. The people in the audience said they all imagined I was doing some Reservoir Dogs ear cutting or something. The audience’s imagination is far more gruesome and graphic than anything you can actually do on stage.

Pepper has a great attitude that you almost have to have if you’re going to succeed as an improvisor. The best way I can describe it is “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m gonna do it anyway” and then you do it with joy and enthusiasm. I’ve come to really look for those moments and dive into them. They happen sometimes for me at the beginning of musicals. One actually happened at the beginning of the dress rehearsal. We’d all gone off-stage and someone needed to go out and set the chorus for the opening song. But no one was moving. And it got to that moment where too much time had passed and someone just needed to go out there. So even though I didn’t have anything, I went out there and just trusted that I would come up with something. And I did.

That’s really what it’s all about: trusting yourself enough to go out there with nothing and knowing that you’ll come up with something. It’s improv after all. You can’t say the wrong thing.

One of the other things that came during notes was learning how to inhabit a character and do the things your character would do, while still having the detachment to watch the show as an improvisor. Oftentimes your character wants to do this, but the story wants you to do that. You need to be able to see those things and chose the one that’s best for the show. Jeff E was the protagonist in the show and in a few parts he made choices based on what his character would logically want. But as the protagonist, the audience needed to see him be effected by what was happening, so even though his character would probably want to keep a brave face, the story needed him to show his emotions.

But being able to separate what your character wants from what the show wants is just as important for side-characters. After all, a side-character doesn’t know the show isn’t about them, but the improvisor needs to know that or they risk stealing focus and derailing the show.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

"The Set Is So Pretty"

We loaded in for the show last night. The set turned out really beautiful. Mandy just kept walking around at the end saying "the set is so pretty!!"

Here are photos:

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rehearsal #11: Group Mind and Dance

We had rehearsal Wednesday night at the movement studio space at ACT. If you haven’t rehearsed at ACT in a while, they’ve completely re-done the 8th floor. It’s very disorienting if you’re used to the old lay-out.

We started by working on group mind characters. That’s when a group of characters (a group being as small as 2) share a group mind. They may not say exactly the same thing or even have exactly the same personalities, but they are essentially the same character. They have the same opinions and reactions. When you have a lot of characters on stage at the same time, it’s generally useful to gravitate into group minds. It generally keeps scenes from devolving into chaos as everyone tries to get in their ideas. Group minds can also be very fluid. One moment you might be in a group mind with characters A and B and then be an individual in the next moment. As with anything, there are no hard and fast rules.

But it’s a useful skill, recognizing when group mind characters are needed and knowing how to do them.

They often take the form of Character A and their group of followers who are all of a group mind. That’s what we practiced as it’s fairly common in Bollywood (and most stories really); you see Male love interest and his friends (of group mind) and Female love interest and her friends (of group mind).

For some reason, whenever we work on group mind characters, I feel compelled to mention that we at Un-Scripted first started working on group mind when founding member Brian McBride noticed that the cheerleader in Better Off Dead dates the entire basketball team and how the basketball team functions as one character.

But that’s not all we did. As we were in the movement studio, we also worked a lot on dancing. We would start a scene and then Mandy would play a Bollywood song off a CD (as we were sans musician) and we’d dance to it. Because we weren’t also trying to invent lyrics to the song as we went, we found we did much more interesting and fun dance numbers this way.

That got us to thinking, that generally when a song moment hits, we sing and maybe fit some dance in if we can. For this show, we need to think of them as music moments, not song moments, and remember that we can also just start dancing and throw some singing in if we can.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rehearsal #10: Good, Bad, & Ugly

Last weekend, Mandy watched an obscene amount of Bollywood movies and remembered several things about Bollywood that she had forgotten. One such nugget of knowledge involved the general tonal convention of Bollywood comedies. The first half focuses on the hilariously comic and funny situations. Then there’s an intermission. Then something horrible happens as a result of the comic antics in the first half, and everyone cries a lot. Then everything works out in the end.

So we practiced that. We did a scene where we focused on hilarious comic situations. Then we did another scene from the later in the story after something had gone horribly wrong involving lots of histrionics and weeping.

Bollywood films have a great deal of embedded melodrama, but in our brief little scenes we discovered we were taking things a bit too far. The point is to play the serious consequences with truth and real emotion. Ok, perhaps the point is to dial them up a notch higher than real, but the truer they are, the richer the emotional journey of the characters and the audience.

We also revisited a disturbing (dare I say “ugly”) fact about working with puppets: Puppets, unlike humans, can die on stage. When an actor lies on the ground and plays dead, even from the back row you can still see them breathing if you look close enough. Or maybe they move slightly. In any case, they are unmistakably alive.

When a puppet, removed from the hand of its puppeteer, is placed on the stage, they look truly dead. Because they are. The can’t get up. They can’t move on their own. They can’t talk. They are dead, in a disturbingly real way.

Play Schedule

Here's the play schedule for the show. As always, there may be last minute substitutions, but this is a fairly accurate picture of who will be performing when.

Friday, November 28th:
Alan, Bryce, Clay, Jenny, Larry, Pepper
Musician: Daniel Walling

Saturday, November 29th Matinee:
Bryce, Christian, Jeff C, Mandy, Pepper
Musician: David Norfleet

Saturday, November 29th Evening:
Alan, Christian, Clay, Jeff C, Jeff E, Jenny
Musician: Daniel Walling


Thursday, December 4th:
Christian, Clay, Dave, Jeff E, Jenny, Larry
Musician: David Norfleet

Friday, December 5th:
Alan, Bryce, Jeff C, Jeff E, Mandy
Musician: David Norfleet

Saturday, December 6th Matinee:
Alan, Bryce, Dave, Pepper, Jeff C, Jenny
Musician: David Norfleet

Saturday, December 6th Evening:
Alan, Bryce, Jeff E, Larry, Mandy, Pepper
Musician: David Norfleet


Thursday, December 11th:
Clay, Dave, Jeff C, Jenny, Mandy, Pepper
Musician: David Norfleet

Friday, December 12th:
Dave, Christian, Bryce, Larry, Jeff C, Jeff E
Musician: We need one. You know one? Email me.

Saturday, December 13th Matinee:
Alan, Christian, Jenny, Larry, Mandy, Pepper
Musician: David Norfleet

Saturday December 13th Evening:


Thursday, December 18th:
Bryce, Christian, Dave, Jeff C, Jenny, Pepper
Musician: David Norfleet

Friday, December 19th:
Alan, Clay, Jeff C, Jeff E, Larry, Mandy
Musician: David Norfleet

Saturday, December 20th Matinee:
Christian, Clay, Dave, Jeff E, Jenny, Larry
Musician: David Norfleet

Saturday, December 20th Evening:
Alan, Bryce, Christian, Clay, Dave, Mandy
Musician: We need one. You know one? Email me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rehearsal #9: Improv in Union Square

Photo from

Oftentimes I go to the gym before rehearsal. I get off work around 5. Rehearsal doesn’t start until 7. I have some time to kill and a good workout usually does the trick. Tuesday, however, I was feeling a bit under the weather. I’ve been fighting a head cold pretty much since last week’s rehearsals. So instead of going to the gym, I dawdled at work and then headed over to the theater, arriving about an hour early.

Only to find people holding auditions in the space. Due to a scheduling oversight, someone else was in fact booked in the space until 8pm. A mad dash ensued to attempt to secure another venue. Unfortunately every other theater in the building was booked. As 7 o’clock arrived, with the cast gathered in the first floor hallway, Mandy decided we should all go to Union Square to warm up for a little while and then return to the theatre at 8pm to continue rehearsal.

So that’s what we did. Fortunately Union Square wasn’t that crowded and we didn’t get kicked out by security. We found a nice little corner under an awning near the Half Price Tix booth and played some warm-up games: The Addams Family (invented by Larry and similar to the Dukes of Hazard game we’d played earlier) and I Am a Tree.

When we returned to the theater did a more formal dance and vocal warm-up (David Norfleet was at rehearsal to play music), and then we dove into two short practice long-forms.

I was in the first and in the very first scene, much to my surprise, effortlessly found myself in the role of the protagonist. Frequent readers know that I am a master of deflecting the protagonist role onto someone else and often struggle with becoming the protagonist even if I want to be. But in that first scene I latched on to it right way without even trying. What made that all the more remarkable was that I was playing opposite Christian in that scene. As I am the master of deflecting the protagonist role (even unconsciously), he is the master of becoming the protagonist (even unconsciously). It was like we reversed roles or something. It was amazing.

I also had no fear at all going into my opening protagonist song. Also something quite new for me, given my historic issues around singing. Those seem to be a thing of the past. I mean, I don’t want to get cocky, and I know I can greatly improve my singing, but at least I’m not terrified of it anymore.

The second long-form included one of the most hysterically funny, and just plain wrong, songs I’ve ever seen improvised. The story involved two competing two companies. A large one that made violent war toys, and a small family company that made peaceful toys. Then came an almost innocent romantic song between a very young puppet character and an inappropriately aged suitor about the peaceful toys of love she was selling. You know, her “love toys”.

If only Clay had been there with his iPhone.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Observation About Improv

Onetime Un-Scripted cast member Molly wrote this in her blog the other day. I found it a very eloquent description of a sliver of improv I'd never heard expressed quite this way:

One of the basic concepts of improv theatre is pattern recognition. What is funny in a scene is when a specific action or theme returns and is played out in a parallel fashion. This is a skill improvisors must work to develop with the understanding that the more they are able to perceive what is unusual or funny about a scene, the better they are able to portray it to the audience. Those improvisors who are seen has being very perceptive, sharp, and funny are the ones who see the patterns easily and are able to play them.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Rehearsal Video

Clay posted a video clip from rehearsal to the Show Blog. Go here to see me and Jeff do our best dance moves.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Rehearsal #8: Opening Numbers

When doing improvised musicals at Un-Scripted, we often decide in advance that we're going to start the show with an opening number. We don't plan out the opening number, we just know we're going to do it and we develop some conventions around how we're going to do it. Someone will come out along and establish the chorus. Everyone will come out behind them in formation and repeat the chorus. The chorus setter will step back into the formation and someone else will step forward to do a verse. Then the chorus setter will return to center to repeat the chorus. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. With maybe a few surprises thrown in.

But we don't know the tune, the words, the subject matter. We just have a framework to hang that first song off of. It gets things started with a lot of energy and it gets everyone in the cast on stage.

Once the song is over, someone, possibly the chorus setter, goes backstage and writes the chorus down on a white board. Then, hopefully, at the end of the show, the closing song reprises the opening chorus. It's really quite amazing.

We don't do this for every musical, for instance Theater The Musical did not feature an opening number. But we do think we will start this show off this way.

So that's what we practiced on Wednesday night.

Again we had David to accompany us, and Mandy ran us through some interesting warm up exercises to try and break us out of traditional melodic patterns (1-3-5). We also practiced sliding around the scale, which is something voice teachers will tell you never to do but is something they do a lot in Bollywood. We also practiced bending notes and ornamenting them in "Bollywoodesque" ways.

The opening numbers themselves went quite well. We relearned some lessons from The Great Puppet Musical:

It's hard for a puppet to lead a dance move.
You can hold the puppets up in the air if they're in the back and can't be seen.
Performers can stand in front of Puppeteers.
Remember to keep looking at your puppet while you're singing (don't sing out Louise).

And many more.

We also did two completely different opening numbers where both choruses started with the words "You can do it". They were so different in fact, we didn't immediately notice the choruses had almost the same words.

Rehearsal #7: Solo Songs

Tuesday night we worked on singing. We had David Norfleet come to rehearsal to play music for us. He's somewhat afraid of Bollywood as a genre, but I think Mandy is pushing and pulling him in the right direction. He will be playing most of our shows, and I'm sure he'll be wonderful. As the producer, I'm in charge of scheduling the musicians, and I still have 2 open nights to fill. If you know someone interested in improvising Bollywood Music, let me know. I also would love to hire a second musician to accompany David for a few of his shows so that David can do percussion. He is, after all, a drummer at heart.

We focused mainly on solo songs, but we didn't just throw everyone up on stage alone one at a time and make everyone sing. Two people went up and started a scene, one as a puppet and one as a person. Then when the moment was right, one character would sing a song.

I sang a song as the puppet Marcel (my favorite puppet) about being in love and air and I don't remember, but it went fairly well. Once I latched on to the air metaphor things went better and I need to remember to sing loud even when I'm not sure of what I'm singing.

One of the new cast members is struggling with the singing portion of the show, but in a very good natured way. He reminds me a lot of how I was early in my improvised singing life, which just serves to remind me how far I've come. Of course I've also worked on it a lot. The very first year we did Let It Snow (4 years ago! Eeep) I spent about 6 months leading up to that show taking voice lessons. I think I'm just now starting to get some of the things she was trying to teach me.

I think Theater The Musical was the first show where I wasn't particularly petrified of singing. Now, I think, I'm actually looking forward to it!