Monday, December 20, 2010

ToTG Week #5 Show Summaries

Witherlite - Thursday, December 16
Suggestion: Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network)

Young Oxford student Tesla Witherspoon (Michael) didn't have many friends. Numbers meant more to him than people. After suffering one too many humiliations at the hands of his fellow students, he befriends inventor Jeramiah Turnbottom (Christian) and soon Tesla has created his own invention: The Witherlite - the first electric lightbulb. Soon Tesla is the richest most powerful man in London, but along the way he turns his back on Turnbottom and wins then loses the love of his life Ms. Turner (Mandy). Did the ends justify the means? Not even Tesla is certain.

Algae - Friday, December 17
Suggestion: Jaws

The beachside city of Brighton begins drilling special hotsprings to bring in tourists. Problem is, after they start drilling, people start disintegrating and dying in the springs. The mayor, Bartleby St. James (Paul), is hellbent on continuing to drill more springs, no matter the risk. A London journalist Howard Hubbard (Greg), a grizzled ship's captain Barnaby Willkins (Christian), and a discredited hydrologist Edna Sharpedge (Mandy) join forces to fight the true cause of the disintegrations: Ancient Red Algae released by the drilling. Are they going to need a bigger boat?

Filkins - Saturday 3pm, December 18
Suggestion: Dexter

Tom Filkins (Christian) works as a sketch artist at Scotland Yard with Inspector William McGinty (Alan), an Irishman turned London lawman. Tom has a lovely wife (Joy) and two perfect kids, Emma (Mandy) and Nicholas (Alan), but he also has a dark secret: He kills and butchers London's most despicable criminals. As the City lives in terror of "Jack the Ripper," Tom's daughter Emma and his partner McGinty start putting the pieces together, but Tom knows that once something is broken, the pieces can never be made whole again.

Sara in Hatland - Saturday 8pm, December 18
Suggestion: Alice in Wonderland

Poor young Sara Townsend (Melissa) dreams of a wealthier, more colorful life where she can stay a child forever. Then one day she journeys down aisle 47 of the hat shop of Mr. Hatter (Greg) and Mr. Lupine (Scott) and finds herself in a strange and magical world where all the inhabitants are hats. Along the way, she encounters many strange and magical beings, including the imperious and dangerous Queen of Hats (Mandy). Enthralled by the Queen's power and riches, Sara loses track of time, forgetting that if she stays there she will become a hat herself and never be able to return to her family. Will she stay in Hatland forever or return to her simple life with her mother (Joy)?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #17: The Last One

We had our last rehearsal on Monday night. We still have 7 shows to go, but they happen in the next 7 days with no room for a rehearsal in between.

We worked on singing and trying to nail a few things that we've still been searching around for on stage in shows. The opening number was the first thing we tackled. We're experimenting with adding slightly more structure to it than its had. The results were promising; we'll have to see how it works in a show.

Then we worked a little on short crowd scenes to be used as something of a sorbet throughout the show. I guess they don't cleanse the palate so much as serve to remind the audience that there's a larger world in play than just the characters we're following.

Then we worked on having some scenes run into songs and finally we worked on what to do if the musician is playing a type of song that you the improvisor doesn't really want to sing in the moment. The answer is to basically sing the type of song you want to sing and the music he's playing will either contrast it nicely and make everything very dynamic, or the musician will change to match what you're doing. Either way we shouldn't feel trapped by the tone of the song being played. Something that's easy to forget in the moment.

Then we ate lots of cake and went home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ToTG Week #4 Show Summaries

Lord of the Book - Thursday, December 9
Suggestion: Fantasy (Lord of the Rings)

A large red leather book has been passed down through generations to David Atwater (Alan) under strict instructions that it never be opened, but David can't resist cracking the spine. Soon he finds himself and his servant Frederick (Christian) being chased by denizens of the underworld hell-bent on retrieving the book. David must take it to Ayers Rock in Australia and throw it into a bottomless void, while the last remaining descendants of Atlantis pursue him and their lost book of magic. If he fails, all of England will be overrun, but can he succeed without it costing him his life?

The Godmother - Friday, December 10
Suggestion: The Godfather Saga

The Flannery sisters Nan (Merrill) and Colleen (Mandy) leave Ireland and move to London with their younger brother Arn (Alan) in search of a better life. When they open a small watering-hole, they run afoul of Elizabeth Boudicca McGinty (Melissa), a 3rd-generation Irish immigrant who controls everything around the docks. The stubborn sisters try to fight the McGinty clan, but their scuffle erupts into a bloody war with no winners.

Henry Darling and the Lost Jewel of Technocticlan - Saturday 3pm, December 11
Suggestion: Indiana Jones Adventure

Archeologist Henry Darling (Alan) retrieves the lost jewel of Technocticlan only to have it taken from him by his French counterpart Jacques Sinclair (Greg). As Sinclair builds a pyramid under the city of Paris to harness the jewel's power for the vile French, Darling must not only reach the staff of Amun Rah in Eqypt before the French, but he must save the love of his life, Anna Tompkins (Merrill). Can Darling and his trusty side-kick Frederick Hayes (Christian) save the world from the French?

West End Story - Saturday 8pm, December 11
Suggestion: West Side Story / Grease

When Mary Lingshen (Merrill), a flower girl from a violent family, meets Patrick Wilcox (Michael), servant to London's richest man, they instantly fall in love, but in England servants and merchants are sworn enemies. When Mary's brother Frankie (Paul) finds out about the romance, he and his pals beat Patrick up in a bar fight. Mary and Patrick vow to marry anyway, but before they can, Frankie's continued harassment gets Patrick fired. As Patrick despairs that Mary will no longer have him, he runs into Frankie on the street. They fight and Patrick kills Frankie... in front of Mary. She runs away, and Patrick turns himself in to the police only to be sentenced to hang.

His hanging is in the square on a busy market day, but Mary does not come as she cannot stand to look at him. He dies thinking of her, his feelings unchanged.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #16: Arguing, Plots, & Time Jumps

We actually learned a lot from the performances last weekend, and I don't want to gloss over that by jumping right into rehearsal.

We were arguing too much too early in the shows. Characters were trying to convince the hero or villain to do or not do something. Why is that a problem? Well, it's subtle. A horror movie wouldn't be very interesting if a character actually tried to convince the heroine not to go down into the basement in her nightie to check the circuit breaker. Characters need to be allowed to get into trouble. The solution isn't to agree with everything the hero is doing. It's perfectly OK, in fact it's desirable, to have an opposing opinion. Just don't try to convince the hero to agree with you. State your opinion but leave it at that. Instead of saying "you need to not go down into the dark basement because it's dangerous" you say "I would never go down into the basement on a night like this." Then the hero is free to disregard what you said and walk into trouble.

In a few cases, we stuck closer to the original plot line of the suggested story than we ever have in the past, and those shows were some of the more successful ones. Sticking loosely to the plot freed us from having to worry about where the story was going, but at the same time our finished products were very different from the originals. The Star Wars show in Saturday was a good example of this. We basically just translated Star Wars into Victorian England plot-wise, but we accomplished it with just Luke, Ben, Leia, and Vader characters, plus some "Storm Troopers" and various other characters unique to our story. As a result it felt more like the source material that Lucas might have used to base his story on rather than a rip-off. It was very interesting.

But now onto rehearsal...

We worked on allowing the narrator to not only time jump over things we don't need to see "and then they traveled to England" as well as to substitute narration for action. The narrator can say "and then he swore up a blue streak that would have made a sailer gouge out his ears," but then we don't have to see it. This is a big change from traditional improvised narration. Normally saying something like that would be pimping the actor on stage to do something hard/funny/impossible. In a normal story, however, we don't need to see what the narrator just said. This can be very liberating, but tricky to navigate and actually do.

We also worked on making bigger physical gestures and making better use of the physical space.

I feel like there were many many other very useful things we worked on, but as usual once I get a few days on from rehearsal the specifics start to leak out my brain. I think we will just leave it at that and rush headlong into Week 4.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ToTG Week #3 Show Summaries

Week Three of A Tale of Two Genres sported a science fiction theme. If only Dickens had joined his contemporaries H.G. Wells and Jules Verne in the early days of sci-fi, we might have studied some of the following tales in English class:

Fine Young Cannibals - Thursday, December 2
Suggestion: Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park)

In an effort to save his dying mother Priscilla (Joy), Dr. Clenchface (Greg) works tirelessly to develop an anti-aging serum. He tests it on the poor vagrant population of London and succeeds in reversing the aging process! Unfortunately the serum also robs people of their senses, turning them into mindless cannibal zombies. When Priscilla tells her son that she does not wish to live forever, he must confront his own fears and find a way to save London.

The Soot - Friday, December 3
Suggestion: Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix)

James Abernathy (Christian) has a simple life, but everything to him seems covered in a layer of soot. Then a mysterious Duchess (Mandy) who claims to be his mother frees him from the soot and makes him the aristocrat he was born to be. Soon he finds he's being trained for more than just a place in the aristocracy. The Duchess is waging a war on the industrial revolution and he has been chosen to lead the charge. When she is kidnapped by Agents from Scotland Yard (Alan & Michael), Mr. Abernathy must penetrate their inner sanctum and rescue her.

Professor Who? - Saturday 3pm, December 4
Suggestion: Time Travel (Doctor Who)

Professor Evangelus (Scott) creates a clock that allows him to travel through time and space. Modesty Greene (Merrill), the daughter of Aloyisius Greene (Greg), famous sea captain and friend to Prof. Evangelus, longs for adventure and excitement, but gets more than she bargained for when she meets up with Prof. Evangelus and travels to ancient Egypt. Soon Modesty is kidnapped by the Sleepers of Eldritch who are trapped in time and more or less imprisoned in Big Ben. With Modesty in danger and all of London stuck at eternal midnight, the Professor has no time to lose.

Tower Wars - Saturday 8pm, December 4
Suggestion: Star Wars

Peter Gillowsby (Michael) lives in the small rural town of Ardenshire, miles away from the power struggles in London where the King was securing his totalitarian power. Then on his 21st birthday his boss, Mephisto Haverford (Christian), gives him his father's sword and reveals to him that he, Mr. Haverford, is the last of the Queen's Special Guard. He offers to train Peter in the ways of the Samurai. Meanwhile Lord Grimsby (Alan), head of the King's Secret Service and a Samurai himself captures Emma Whitefield (Merrill) and tortures her for information on the resistance. Peter and Mr. Haverford rush to the Tower of London to save her, but Mephisto is slain by his old pupil Grimsby. Peter attacks Grimsby in a fit of rage only to find out that Grimsby is really William Gillowsby, Peter's father. As the dark lord is thrown into the moat, Peter and Emma barely escape before the Tower burns to the ground.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #15: Ready For Your Solo?

We started Monday night by doing an exercise in exaggeration. In pairs, one person would say an adjective, and the other would describe a character using that adjective but in an exaggerated way. "Dudley Longshanks was so tall that his his top hat scraped the clouds and caused lighting." The point is, he's not really that tall, but we can use metaphors like that in our descriptions as narrators.

Then we worked on solo songs. We'd have six people go up. One person would narrate us into a scene. The scene would play out a little, and we'd have a solo song. We tried to cycle through everyone, but do to time constraints towards the end we sang some duets.

From a vocal perspective, I find myself getting more comfortable singing higher in my range. I'm not sure where that's coming from. My problem for years was trying to sing too high in my range, or singing above it a I guess. Then I started deliberately singing lower, which helped a lot. Now I open my mouth and higher notes are coming out, but they sound good so I'm going with them. Maybe now I'm actually singing in my range instead of above or below it.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

ToTG Week #2 Show Summaries

Play it Again, Jonah - Friday, November 26
Suggestion: Wartime Romance (Casablanca)

Persephone Sweetbottum (Melissa) wanders the seedy streets of London searching for news from the front of her fiancée, Jonah Whitehouse (Greg), but he is trapped behind enemy lines in France. As he struggles to survive, he becomes tempted by the sweet farmer's daughter Sophie (Merrill), but when he is betrayed by the local resistance, he manages to escape back to England. Can he find Persephone before the mean streets consume her?

The Trouble with Sarah Appleton- Saturday matinée, November 27
Suggestion: Alfred Hitchcock(Vertigo)

There's a new pastor in town. When Sarah Appleton (Merrill), the troubled wife of the local inventor (Paul), comes to him for help, Pastor Dartel (Michael) becomes embroiled in a chess match he never quite understands. Then Sarah's twin sister Dora (Merrill) comes to town and changes the game. Can the pastor hold on to his sanity--let alone his life?

The Spice Who Loved Me - Saturday evening, November 27
Suggestion: James Bond (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)

Only one man can stop Godric Nobchomper's (Michael's) plot to seize control of the spice trade: White. Jeremiah White (Paul). The Victorian superspy returns from assignment in India to tackle the case, only to find Nobchomper's real ambition is to control the world's food supply! The fate of the world rests in his ability to rescue the sweet ingénue accountant Melissa Etheridge (Mandy) from Nobchomper. Will White stop the poisoned cinnamon from infiltrating England's shores? Will he save Miss Etheridge? What side is Paprika Forkworthy (Joy), England's only female naval captain, really on?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #14: Who am I?

Again, I missed a couple rehearsals. One was mandatory, but I was out of town. The other was optional, but I was previously engaged. As a result, I didn't play preview weekend, but I did take notes on Friday night.

Monday's rehearsal we focused on singing and some of the different types of songs we might need to sing during the show. We also wanted to make sure, while practicing, that we were hitting the genre. During the shows last weekend we tended to get a little side-tracked by Dickens and the genre didn't creep in until a few scenes into the show. Even though Dickens' pace is very slow, we need to hit the genre running because we don't have 1000 pages to play around in.

We started with environment songs. We've worked on these a lot because we're starting the show with an environment song. We generally find it handy to pick a type of song for the opening number just to get the show moving.

What we've discovered is that environment songs are really the opposite of the narration. The Narrator starts with broad platitudes about the world and focuses in to the scene. People in the environment songs need to start with something specific ("beer for sale") and then generally broaden to a platitude ("drink cures all ills"). Our environment songs have had trouble when we get stuck in the specific and just sing "Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub. Pub." over and over again.

Then we attempted to move on to "the way the world works" songs. I say "attempted" because we had trouble nailing them. Not because we were getting the song wrong, but because we were attempting to do scenes into songs and the scenes we were doing weren't naturally lending themselves to that type of song. Merrill, for instance, sang a lovely "who am I?" song because that's what the scene called for.

We did discover, as a result, that you can pretty much pull out a "who am I?" song at any point and they're fairly easy to sing. You don't need to come up with any new information, you just articulate who you are, doubt whether you want to be that, and then conclude one way or another.

As a side-note, Les Miz has come up a lot during this rehearsal process. Partially because it takes place in a similar era, but also because you can find an example of just about every type of song in Les Miz. For instance, a "who am I?" song is like "Who am I (24601)?" Just about every character has a "need" song, even ones that die a few scenes later. It's just full of examples.

In fact, here's the 2nd Encore from the 10th Anniversary Concert special featuring 17 Jean Valjeans from around the world. See if you recognize the Japanese Valjean:

ToTG Week #1 Show Summaries

Jasper's Lot - Thursday, November 18
Suggestion: Stephen King

Trouble is brewing. Young Cecilia Holmes (Joy) has reached marrying age and her father, James (Michael), has not yet chosen a suitable husband for her. So, in an act of rebellion, she has set her sights on the opium-smoking, servant-killing, secretly vampiric tanner, Jasper Diehl (Gregg). What she doesn't know is that her father and his friends Muriel, Dudley, and Pamela (Mandy, Paul and Merrill) are members of the Mystical Order of Immortals. As the waring sides battle, James is turned into a vampire. Cecilia must find her own inner strength in order to stand up to Jasper and defeat him once and for all.

A New Dawn - Friday, November 19
Suggestion: Stephenie Meyer (Twilight)

Young Jason Watson (Michael) hopes to start his life afresh at the Twitchwit Boarding School, but soon finds he is tormented by the closed minded students and people of the town who do not accept him because he is a poor orphan. Still, the haughty Dardanella Pickwick (Melissa) finds something about him irresistible and takes him under her wing, but Jason is more than just an orphan: he is a vampire. Can their budding romance survive his true self or the werewolves that hunt him? With a little help from Miss Modesty (Joy) and the visions that she needlepoints, anything is possible.

Friday, November 19, 2010

ToTG Stephen King & When I'm Playing

The first performance of A Tale of Two Genres was last night! I did not see it, but I hear tell the genre gotten was Stephen King. (Last night's backstage white-board pictured above.) This resulted in: "Edwin Drood if Jasper was a vampire and Rosa's dad was the Highlander." Sounds pretty awesome to me. I will be at the show tonight, but as I was unable to attend any of this week's rehearsals, I am not performing.

If you want to know when I'm performing, without having to slog through the entire play schedule, here you go:

November 26, Friday
November 27, Saturday 3pm
December 2, Thursday
December 3, Friday
December 4, Saturday 8pm
December 9, Thursday
December 10, Friday
December 11, Saturday 3pm
December 16, Thursday
December 18, Saturday 3pm
December 20, Monday

Thursday, November 11, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #11: Going Long

No, you didn't miss anything, or rather I did. There were no posts on rehearsals 9 and 10 because I did not attend them. Rehearsal #9 was an optional rehearsal and I had a prior commitment that night. I stayed home from rehearsal #10 to try and nip "malingering low-grade cold" in the bud, which I did to questionable success.

So, rehearsal #11. This was also an optional rehearsal, but all but 2 people were present. After warming up we dove into doing the first half hour of a show, without music.

Frequently, in shows past, when getting a genre from the audience, we ask the audience to think of a story they like, but then rather than shout out the story, we have them say what type of story it is. For this show, we're experimenting with actually having them say the story they're thinking about. Last night we got "Big". Then we discuss with the audience what type of story that is. What about that story do they want to see? What other stories are similar? We got "Freaky Friday", "13 going on 30", but we also got "My Fair Lady". The crux of the genre was someone being transformed and forced to be something they're not. The "magical" element was not the most important part.

I'm really excited about this path to a suggestion. I think it will give us a better idea what the audience really wants to see, while giving us concrete examples to build on or incorporate (without having to recreate "Big" specifically in Victorian England).

We told a very fun story of an inventor who's daughter's brain gets swapped with an orphan's in an accident in his lab. Along the way, we discovered a few things about narration and tag-team narration. I also did not play a single character in any scene, but because I spent various chunks of time as the narrator, I did not feel I had been "shut-out of the story".

Then we did another one. This time we got "Much Ado About Nothing", but the important aspect was not Shakespeare, but the love/hate romantic comedy of Beatrice and Benedict. Other examples were "Taming of the Shrew", "10 Things I Hate About You", "Moonlighting".

Then we tried it. Somehow, perhaps because of the original Shakespearean suggestion, we ended up with a main character who was a woman pretending to be a boy at an all-male boarding school. This did not leave much opportunity for a Love/Hate RomCom. I tried, highly unsuccessfully, to shoe-horn a love interest into the story (a man pretending to be a woman teacher). While, the whole thing was very messed up, we laughed a lot at our mistakes and the giant holes we kept digging for ourselves.

We also learned, from both runs, that we can name people ridiculous things, and while everyone off-stage and in the house is dying from laughter, the cast and narrator can play it straight and hold it together. (We accidentally named characters "Thurston Howell" and "Hamburglar" last night.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

ToTG Play Schedule

Here's the current play schedule for A Tale of Two Genres:

November 18, Thursday – Greg, Joy, Mandy, Merrill, Michael, Paul
November 19, Friday – Christian, Greg, Joy, Melissa, Michael, Scott

November 26, Friday – Alan, Greg, Joy, Melissa, Merrill, Scott
November 27, Saturday 3pm – Alan, Joy, Melissa, Merrill, Michael, Paul
November 27, Saturday 8pm – Christian, Joy, Mandy, Michael, Paul, Scott

December 2, Thursday – Alan, Greg, Joy, Merrill, Michael, Scott
December 3, Friday – Alan, Christian, Mandy, Melissa, Michael, Paul
December 4, Saturday 3pm – Christian, Greg, Joy, Mandy, Merrill, Scott
December 4, Saturday 8pm – Alan, Christian, Greg, Merrill, Michael, Scott

December 9, Thursday – Alan, Christian, Greg, Joy, Merrill, Michael
December 10, Friday – Alan, Mandy, Melissa, Merrill, Paul, Scott
December 11, Saturday 3pm – Alan, Christian, Greg, Michael, Paul, Scott
December 11, Saturday 8pm –Joy, Mandy, Melissa, Merrill, Michael, Paul

December 16, Thursday – Alan, Christian, Mandy, Merrill, Michael, Paul Scott
December 17, Friday – Christian, Greg, Joy, Melissa, Michael, Paul
December 18, Saturday 3pm – Alan, Christian, Greg, Joy, Mandy, Melissa
December 18, Saturday 8pm – Greg, Joy, Mandy, Melissa, Paul, Scott

December 20, Monday – Alan, Christian, Mandy, Melissa, Merrill, Scott
December 21, Tuesday – Greg, Mandy, Melissa, Merrill, Michael, Paul
December 22, Wednesday – Christian, Mandy, Melissa, Merrill, Paul, Scott

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #8: Focusing on Dickens

Monday night we started a little late as a few of us huddled in the lobby of Off-Market listening to the Giants win the World Series on the radio.

In rehearsal, we revisited some of the narrator exercises we did last Wednesday as a warm-up and then moved into doing straight Dickens scenes. We didn't worry about another genre. We just tried to get the Dickens right.

This allowed us to not only improve our Dickens chops, but really fine tune some of the narration technique. Mandy keeps saying the narrator in Dickens is there to heckle. They point out the absurdities and the amusing bits. They give us backstory. They tell us how the actions of the characters make them feel but only to a degree. This was one of the subtle points we got into last night. The Dickensian Narrator doesn't give us piercingly deep insights into the character's inner psyche. Remember, this was the world before Freud. A world where it's hard for us to imagine the Victorian sense of the mind. The feelings the Narrator relates are largely observable (but are perhaps missed by the other characters).

The Narrator also doesn't relate actions, unless adding context to them. It's not just "he walked up the stairs." It's "he walked up the stairs, barely able to keep his feet after such a fright."

I also had opportunity to play a 4 year-old boy in one scene. Dickensian children are generally just little adults, because Victorians treated children like little adults. They worked as servants or in factories after all. It was good to practice that.

We ended by practicing scenes from different places in a longer story. A first scene, a scene from the end of the half, and a scene from the end of the show. In between we talked through the rest of the show by having the actors stand in a line and step forward to relate a short sentence describing what happened next. This worked quite well. While we didn't choose a genre, we let it naturally become a supernatural story that became something like a Dickensian version of the Little Mermaid with demons.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #7: Narrating Giants

As I did not take a picture at last night's rehearsal, here is a link to an image revealing how to explain the internet to a 19th century British street urchin, i.e. Oliver Twist.

Last night, while everyone else in the Bay Area was watching the World Series, we had rehearsal!

We started with a very useful exercise wherein we moved around as upper-class Dickensian characters and introduced ourselves to each other and talked as if at some sort of gathering. Not only did this allows to practice creating names but remembering them, as well as upper class social mores, accents, and posture.

Then we repeated the exercise as merchants or "middle-class", and finally as lower class.

This was a great way to sink into the different social strata, and reminded us all how difficult it is to remember a name you just said or heard.

Then we moved into some narration practice. Mandy's broken down Dickensian narration into three levels: What's going on in the larger world; What's going on in the story; and What's going on in this particular scene. The idea is to start broad and slowly narrow down to what's actually happening on stage.

We practiced this in tag-team pairs where one person would say the first bit, the other the second and the first the third, or some people went back and forth even more times adding in even more subtle gradations.

A couple of interesting things came out of this. One, we discovered how hard it is to not only remember names, but to remember place names you've just made up. We had the idea of having a book in the narrator spot where he/she can actually write down names they've just said. We're not sure if this will work or not. When writing, it's nearly impossible to clock anything else that's going on, but in theory it's a good idea.

Some people found the tag-team approach harder, some easier, and we realized that there's no reason we couldn't do that in an actual show.

Then we split into two groups and took turns with one person improvising a monologue, on person serving as the narrator, and the other person serving as the audience. The narrator then provides any necessary backstory, reveals the actors emotions, or just reinforces what's going on by repeating things.

We discovered we have a long way to go working out the give and take. It was hard not to talk over each other. In the most successful won that I did in that regard, Paul and I were trying so hard to not talk over each other, that we ended up with lots of very long dramatic pauses. I'm not sure how well that played.

We also learned, that the narrator can foreshadow future events by pointing out that a character would live to regret some decision or another. For minor characters you can even go so far as to tell the audience their ultimate fate when we first meet them ("so-and-so would die of consumption in 3 years time" etc).

Finally we moved into full-on scenes with a narrator, again with the narrator not only setting the scene but revealing backstory and emotion. It works very well. As an improvisor, you have a lot less work to do because the narrator is telling you your subtext. As the narrator all your doing is watching what's going on and pointing out the obvious subtext. After all, subtext is always easier to see from the outside.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

ToTG Rehearsals #5 and #6

I didn't have time to write about last week's rehearsal, and it's always hard to write about a rehearsal after too much time has passed. We mostly worked on singing "Environment" and "I Am" songs. An "I Am" song is a variation on a "Need/Want" song wherein you sing about how your life is and then at the bridge imagine what your life could be like. We've discovered this is an easier way to get at a need or want because if you just try to sing about what you want, you always end up wanting love or something clichéd and general.

This Monday, we worked on scenes that lead into songs and then ran a couple 30 minute show starts. We learned that its hard to do an underdog-style training montage under a song when not everyone knows what an underdog-style training montage is. I learned that even if there is a method to my narration madness, I can't forget to pay attention to what's happening on stage and make my fellow improvisors look good.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #4: Narration Across Scenes

For this week's rehearsal, we focused on trying out some of Mandy's crazy Dickensian Narrator ideas across multiple scenes. The idea is that a spot will light one area of the stage constantly, and performers will move in and out of the spot and thus in and out of the Narrator role throughout the show. The stage will never go completely dark, and the gaps between every scene will be filled in by someone narrating. This, in theory, should give the show more of a "literary" or "presentational storytelling" feel.

Now, the type of narrating we're doing is already difficult. What we discovered traveling from one scene to the next is that it's also extremely difficult for the other improvisors. The natural inclination is to stand back off-stage listening to the Narrator, not only because we're trained to always be listening, but because you naturally assume because the Narrator is talking that they have a hit for the next scene. Alas, that may be furthest from the truth. The Narrator is really just saying anything to fill the time and very well may have no idea where the story should go next.

The other improvisors need to be ready to jump out on stage and "start" a scene underneath the Narrator. Their job then becomes wrapping whatever their saying around to what's happening on stage. The next problem is that once you get onstage and "start" your scene, it's nearly impossible to clock what the narrator is saying.

So there's a lot of working against traditional improv training here:

-The Narrator is narrating the story, not the scene. The Narrator shouldn't be saying what's happening in the scene ("Then Nancy slapped Bob across the face") and the improvisors shouldn't be trying to do what the Narrator is saying (if the Narrator is giving backstory, we shouldn't see a dumb-show flashback).

-The Narrator is not in control of the story. Just because they're talking, doesn't mean they know what the fuck is going on. You can start a scene without them. You can also tag them out of the Narrator role.

-While listening to Narrator while on stage doesn't run counter to traditional improv training, it does seem to be really hard if you're focused something else. This one, I guess, more reinforces traditional improv training.

It was one of those rehearsals that made your brain hurt, which was the point I suppose. Hopefully by showtime it will be second nature.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #3: Translate

For this rehearsal, we started working on translating other genres into Dickens. We started with a simple exercise in pairs where one person would say something modern and the other person would translate that thing into the Dickensian equivalent. Such as SWAT Team = The Queen's Special Tactical Bobbies. (My favorite was "ebonics" = "Gaelic".)

Then we did a few scenes combining genres with Dickens, including Tarantino, Mamet, Romantic Comedy, and WWII Submarine Drama. (It's been a long time since I heard a Crimean War reference in an improv scene.) These were all largely successful and quite fun. I can't wait to do it for a whole show.

We finished off by practicing more environment songs, only this time we added the second genre layer to them. We did Horror, Post-Apocalyptic, 50's Over-Sized Animal Monster Movie, Sci-Fi, and Pirate. We experimented with adding a verse to the environment song, sung by someone who was an actual character in the story as opposed to a throw-away character.

I think the take-aways were:
-Leave room for other singers
-If you're singing a verse, don't sing a verse that's too far away from what's happening on stage
-You can find a traditional chorus, or returning to the phrase patter from the verse can serve as a chorus

Thursday, September 30, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #2: Singing in the Living Room

In a long tradition of occasionally rehearsing in Scott's living room, we rehearsed in Scott's living room this week. While it's amply large for a living room, it does make for a cramped rehearsal space, so we focused mostly on singing.

We started with Point-of-View Songs (the Un-Scripted version of which is explained in some detail here). We experimented with having a narrator do a lead-in to the scene/song. By employing the Screaming Caterpillar tactic discussed previously, I did a rather successful narration intro to a song wherein a recounted a long series of events that resulted in one of the characters in the scene having a limp. I did not start off with no idea where I was headed however. I thought to myself, what is the point I'm trying to convey? It could be something about the location or a character or a circumstance. I know, I thought. I'll give a character a limp. That caused a loose idea to pop into my head, and I started as far away as I could, figuring I could wrap it around to the cause of the limp. Which I did.

I've been practicing this Dickens Narration idea (and reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood). I've found when I really start with nothing, I tend to ramble nonsensically, but when I deliberately start far away from a place I know I'm trying to get to, I'm more successful.

Our singing was pretty solid. I am out of practice and will need some time to find my range again. Fortunately I feel rather confident I will find it in time.

Then we worked on the elusive Environment Song. We've attempted these many times and never really gotten one to work in a show. The idea is for minor throw-away characters to sing a short phrase or mantra over and over related to their character in a sort of medley. The point is to set the environment, not try to establish characters or emotional content. Lots of musicals have them. It just so happens, that one of the best examples of this type of song comes from the musical version of a Dickens book. It's the song "Who Will Buy?" from Oliver!

The ones we did in rehearsal went well. It remains to be seen whether or not we can pull one off in a show.

Friday, September 24, 2010

ToTG Rehearsal #1: Narrating

Rehearsal! Rehearsal! Rehearsal!

Rehearsals for our next show A Tale of Two Genres, an Improvised Dickens Musical started last Monday. I’ve been looking forward to this show for a long time, and not just because I haven’t done a show since Un-Scripted: unscripted closed back in March. This is a pretty unique show in the history of Un-Scripted and, in general concept, one we’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Over the years, while selecting our seasons, we’ve longed to do a “genre combo” show. I’m not sure how it happened, or when it happened, but at some point, Un-Scripted developed a proficiency and an affinity for genre work. When we started getting “good” at genre work, we added an extra layer of complexity by doing “genre combos”. In truth, if I really wanted to trace the origins, it would go back to ideas Brian and Christian championed back in their days at BATS about having strong Theatresports personas that did entire shows in character.

In any case, genre combos became something of a specialty of ours. At first we’d combine two genres. Then we started adding more. Anything to keep things just harder than we were used to. But we could never figure out exactly how to turn the concept into an entire show. They just came up a lot in short-form shows or for “medium form” one-offs at festivals.

Now enter into the picture another show format that had been bandied about for years but never made the cut: Supertrain 1870. The idea was to do the Supertrain format set in the 1870’s. Why? Well, it would be an excuse to do something of a steampunk show without trying to market a steampunk show to people who don’t like steampunk. Or without wanting to label things as steampunk to avoid the inevitable backlash against steampunk as a genre.

Then a chance one-off show at a festival last year brought all of these elements together. One of the genres we (and I use “we” in the royal sense as I was not in this particular show) got was Dickens along with John Hughes and a few others I don’t remember. We had so much fun translating John Hughes into the Dickens era, the seed of a new format was born.

We’d do a show where we got a genre from the audience, and combine it with Dickens. It would scratch some of our steampunk itch (because after all steampunk is mostly translating modern technology backwards into Victorian England) and it would scratch our genre combo itch in a marketable form. Then we made it a musical to keep things just harder than we’re used to.

That’s what makes the show unique. Near as I can figure, this is the first full-on 3 hoop show we’ve ever done. (Ok, Bollywood seemed like it had a million hoops, but because Bollywood is inherently a musical genre, it was really just 2 hoops: Bollywood and puppets.)

After one rehearsal, the vast potential for fun only seems to be growing, but we’ve also seen how many challenges we have ahead of us. Our cast is solid, and I’m looking forward to playing with everyone. The first rehearsal involved a good amount of getting to know each other, warming up our brains and our voices, and ultimately tackling one of the first tools in our tool box: narration.

Dickens had a strong narrative voice. (I must confess my first-hand experiences reading Dickens are sorely lacking, especially considering I have a degree in Literature and performed at Dickens Faire for a season. I will have to correct that immediately.) Generally, narrated improv scenes involve a narrator telling the actors what to do and the actors doing it, with some push-back to create a semblance of give-and-take. This is completely different. This is backstory, physical description, commentary, and round-about metaphorical descriptions.

Eee gads, it was hard. I got up there for my first stab as a narrator and my brain froze. Immediately I did all of the things we had just been told not to do. Instead of talking for a long time, I barely talked at all. Instead of describing the characters and their relationships, I described what they were doing. I sucked.

The next time I got a little better, mostly by employing by employing what Brian used to call The Simpson’s Screaming Caterpillar Opening. The Simpson’s developed a style (as typified by the Screaming Caterpillar episode) wherein the show would start with some incident that ultimately had nothing to do with the rest of the episode, but in a round-about way set off the events of the episode. So I started rambling on about a tree growing somewhere in Scotland and eventually discovered how it related to the characters on stage and what they were doing. I’m not sure it was entirely Dickensian, but it got a good response.

For me, the challenge is going to be to jump and justify. Let my mouth go off about anything and trust I’ll find a way to loop it back around to what’s going on. It’s also going to be about reading a lot more Dickens very quickly to get a better ear for his prose.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How to use a "Soft Opening" for a Business Meeting

I used a variation on the "soft opening" to start a business meeting yesterday. I'm continually amazed at how well it works. Tell people to clap, and they do!

A "soft opening" is something we use at Un-Scripted to open most of our shows. As I think on it, it's probably been years since we last started a show with anything other than a soft opening. Before the show, at least one performer comes out and talks to the audience. Then they say "the show's about to start, we're all going to go backstage and run back on, and you all are going to clap and cheer". I'm paraphrasing, but that's the idea. Then when you come out to start the show everyone cheers.

But they not only cheer. If you tell them to cheer loudly and make a lot of noise, the will do that too. Now, you can't just demand this off them. You have to present it nicely and often times saying you want them to do it because it will make the performers feel good helps. The point is though, that they do it.

What I used in my meeting today was more a variation on an old street performer trick that's basically the same thing. It was a pretty casual meeting to begin with and people were already in something of a lighthearted mood as they gathered into the room, but then as we were getting started I said something like "Ok, we want everyone who's not here to think this is the most fun and exciting meeting ever, so on the count of three everyone clap". And they did.

It does a couple things. By applauding, it tricks people into thinking they're enjoying themselves. (It's the same idea as smiling to make yourself feel happier than you really are. Once you smile, you start to feel happier because we associate smiling with feeling good.) For the purposes of this meeting (which was really more of an interactive presentation), it also helped train people to speak up and ask questions. It let them know they could participate actively. And hopefully, it does make everyone who's not in the meeting think, "what's going on? That sounds like fun." That's why street performers use it. If they get everyone to clap and cheer before they start, more people will come over to check it out.

Then everyone clapped at the end of the meeting without being prompted, because they'd been trained to by the opening.

The thing to remember when giving a presentation or running a meeting, is that these people are your audience, and they will generally act just like any other audience. Use that to your benefit.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How Improv Cost Me Free Nachos

I went to go see Jaws last night at the Cerrito. They were showing it as part of their "Classics" series, and had a little trivia contest before the show. I knew the answer to the second question before he'd finished reading it, but rather than raise my hand to actually win the free nachos, I just said the answer under my breath with an air of satisfaction.

Why didn't I actually try to win? It hadn't occurred to me at all to actually raise my hand, and I puzzled over why.

The answer: I'm an improvisor.

As an improvisor, when I go see an improv show, I consider myself not really an audience member. Rarely do improvisors want to see the same things from a show that a regular audience does. So, I don't give suggestions or participate really because I don't want to push the show in a direction that my thrill me and the actors but not the rest of the crowd. I'm not representative of the audience, I don't feel.

So I've trained myself so well not to interact when interacted with, that I didn't raise my hand. And that cost me nachos.

You owe me nachos, improv.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Beer Theater Tonight

Last fall I performed in Beer Theatre at Impact. Basically a grad student was working on his thesis and needed to do some research on how medieval plays were actually performed (i.e. drunk) and wanted to test how drinking at various levels changed the performance. (I learned that when you're drunk, it's not that you don't remember your lines--because you do--it's that you just don't care.) It was super fun and everyone wanted to do it again.

Since then the student has started his own theatre company and tonight Beer Theatre is happening again as essentially a fundraiser for Front Line Theatre and Impact. 8pm at La Val's. Get there early if you want tickets. It will sell-out fast.

I'm not performing this time. I was asked and agreed to do it, but then when I realized that it no longer had a research purpose, my enthusiasm waned. And then I realized how few weekends are left before the wedding and I started to hyperventilate.

Why did my enthusiasm wane? I'm something of a nerd and the academic angle appealed to my geeky nature. Without that, Beer Theatre becomes Bar-Prov-Sports. Now Bar-Prov-Sports can be a lot of fun for performers and audience alike, it's just not my thing. I mean, Un-Scripted basically exists for the sole purpose of not being Bar-Prov-Sports and we're constantly having to fight people's assumptions that all improv is Bar-Prov-Sports.

I think that was what made the first Beer Theatre so much fun for me. It was an excuse do to that sort of thing with an actual driving reason behind it other than "hey, that would be fun".

It is super-fun though, so if you're in Berkeley tonight, check it out.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In the Middle

In a World… opens in a few weeks. I’m not in it, as I’ve mentioned. That means by the time our holiday show starts rehearsing, I will have gone about 6 months without doing improv. Fortunately, Christian has started teaching classes again, and after several weeks being thwarted, I was finally able to attend on Monday.

I had a great time. It was a small class, which made for lots of personal attention. He’s using a very interesting narrative based approach in an effort to come up with exercises that actually translate to better performance skills. I don’t really want to go too in depth, because they’re his ideas and I wouldn’t do them justice. I just want to point out that he’s not spending a lot of time dwelling on protagonist work, at least not directly.

Now, I want to point out an interesting tidbit that I took a way from class. As usual, it’s something I knew already, but enjoyed hearing so concisely put. Basically, that the protagonist has to start in the middle. By that I mean, they must have hope of moving up towards their goals, while at the same time have room to move further away from them. If the protagonist starts at the bottom with no where to go but up, you’re not going to have a very interesting story.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

It's always election time

You may have noticed I haven't been blogging about the rehearsal's for Un-Scripted's next show. That's because I'm not in it. I know, I know... tragic.

In the meantime, however, voting has started in the SF Bay Guardian's annual best of the bay poll. Lots of local papers have "best of" polls, but the Guardian's was the first and as such is the most prestigious. We actually won it back in 2008. Not too shabby huh?

Here is our "official" pitch, taken from our Facebook event page:

In 2008 the Un-Scripted Theater Company was voted best theater company by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In 2009 ACT, the biggest theater company in San Francisco, took the title. The voting has started for 2010, and we're really going to need your help to overcome ACT's large subscriber base, not to mention every other theater company or comedy troupe pushing to take the highly competitive category of Best Theater Company.

But hey, we don't just want to win the title in name, we actively strive to create the best theater in San Francisco using improvisation as our medium. At the Un-Scripted Theater Company, we try to push the envelope of improvised theater with 2-hour improvised plays, movies, musicals, comedies, and dramas. If you've ever seen one of our shows, you know what I mean. Improv and theater is our lives, and creating amazing live productions worthy of being called the Best of the Bay has always been our goal ever since we started in 2002.

So please take a moment and vote for the Un-Scripted Theater Company as Best Theater Company located in category 3 on the ARTS & NIGHTLIFE page. And when you get to the end of the poll, please feel free to write the Un-Scripted Theater Company in as something you love in the 25 word or less write in category.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Improv and Bad Movies

This article, aside from being hysterically funny, was clearly written by someone with a working knowledge of improv:

The Single Most Ridiculous Movie Premise Ever Made

Read the whole thing to see what I mean. It's about the movie Tiptoes the trailer for which circulated around the interwebs a while back in the "I can't believe this was an actual movie" category. Don't miss Gary Oldman in "the role of a lifetime!"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rehearsal #11: Games and "Middle" Scenes

All Female-Cast this Thursday!

We had our last rehearsal for the show last night, and we made it count.

Lyn returned after two weeks in China, so we spent the beginning of rehearsal going over what we’d learned and worked on over the last couple weeks. Then we moved on to playing games.

In the shows we’ve gotten into something of a rut of playing the same handful games all the time (and even playing them at same points in the show). Our homework was to come in ready to introduce a game within the style of the show that we hadn’t really done yet. I set up the “audience word song” game by pretending to be Clive Anderson hosting a show like Who’s Line Is It Anyway. (I called it What’s My Line Anyway.) That’s an idea I had a few weeks ago, to try and set up a scene as a scene from a different improv show. Let’s see if I can do it in a show.

(Mandy said I did a good Clive Anderson impersonation. I also got good feedback on my George Lucas impersonation in the show last week. Who knew I could do impressions of arcane celebrities?)

After a heated debate on whether or not the game Oxygen Deprivation (a.k.a. Head in a Bucket) could be performed without a set up, we moved on. (Personally, while it could be done without a setup and the audience would catch on, I think it would be stronger with one. An example for the no-setup faction was Spit-Take which we play sans intro. My feeling is that spitting water at a shocking statement is something that could exist in reality. But putting your head in a bucket of water on the side of the stage doesn’t exist in any reality outside of an improv show, unless one is given to it. Another example given was Bell Games that are played without setups. I actually don’t like those either. I think they break from the reality we’re creating and are stronger when set up somehow.)

I took notes a couple times last weekend, once while I was also lighting. I noticed, perhaps only because as the lighting improvisor I was particularly focused on the scene’s endings, that scenes tended to fall into three categories: Sketch or Short-Form Scenes, Slice of a Long-Form Scenes, and Self-Contained “Middle” Scenes. I also noticed that we didn’t know how to end the latter of those. I could see the improvisors getting deep into a “Middle” scene, realize it needed to end, and then search for a Sketch ending, which wouldn’t end the scene.

We spent some time working on these and quantified some of the differences. A Sketch Scene riffs on an idea and ends when it peaks. It doesn’t really matter if the character change or not. They probably don’t. We don’t often know because the scenes are very surfacey.

A Slice of a Long-Form Scene has a lot of backstory. A lot has happened before this moment and a lot will happen after. It’s a tiny piece of a large arc, and as a result the scene’s arc itself is rather flat. The character’s probably don’t change unless this slice happens to be the change moment.

A Self-Contained “Middle” Scene has a beginning, middle, and end. It has a complete arc within itself. One character might go on that arc or all of them, but for the scene to end the arc needs to arc. For that to happen, a character generally needs to change.

That can be the key to saving a scene that’s not going anywhere. Simply allow your character to arc, build emotion and the release it, and that becomes what the scene is about.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rehearsal #10: Dance and Play

We started off last night’s rehearsal by working on dancing. We end up singing a fair amount in this show and anytime there’s singing, there’s likely to be backup dancing. So we worked on movement and basic dance vocabulary a little. Then we took turns leading steps with a couple followers and finally had someone fake sing a lead vocal while three people danced behind them. The point was to be aware of stage picture and style matching so that the dancers all look like they belong from the same show.

One of the cast members of this show, Dave, is a social dancing instructor. He ran us through a quick 15-minute lesson in partner dancing, and I learned so much in that short period of time! About how to lead. About how to follow (in improv you never know when your character might be a woman). It was amazing!

Then Christian wanted to work on letting one scene inform the next, not necessarily overtly, but through taking some element of the first scene and using it in a different way in the second. Then we added on top of that the desire to perform more theatrical and play-like scenes. That’s accomplished by not looking at each other so much (improvisors are trained to make eye-contact a lot which is necessary for beginners but isn’t necessary in plays), speaking obliquely (characters in plays frequently don’t directly answer questions or they carry on separate conversations concurrently; the key for doing this in improv is to not let the offers drop even though you’re not immediately responding to them), allowing for small parts (you might be onstage the entire scene but only have one line), and only saying as little or as much as the playwright wrote (meaning, some lines can be incomplete thoughts and some lines can be monologues).

After we did that for a while, we added yet another layer: we played arms, moving bodies, audience lines, he said/she said, scene in reverse, etc. The point here was to not let the game’s hoop derail the scene. Instead use the hoop to inform the scene. You’re still doing a committed scene from a play, it just happens to be the forward/reverse version.

This weekend’s shows should be a lot of fun and feature some unique casts. Friday and Saturday’s casts are identical: Christian, Clay, Mandy, and Melissa. Ever wondered if it’s really improvised? Come see the same cast perform two nights in a row and find out!

Thursday’s show features an all-male cast: Alan, Christian, Clay, and Dave. Next Thursday’s show features an all-female cast: Lyn, Mandy, Melissa, Merrill. Come to this week’s show and you can get in to next week’s for just $10!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Rehearsal #9: Tenor Switch

Whoa, what happened? Suddenly it's Friday and I haven't blogged about Tuesday's rehearsal. (Well, our new dog is what happened.) The further away I get from rehearsal, the harder it always is to write about.

We do continue to rehearse throughout the run of the show. That allows us to spot issues during performance and then work on them in rehearsal. I don't know if the production team spotted any specific issues we needed to work on, but we did sit around and talk about our experiences in the shows.

The main thing I remember about rehearsal, aside from having yummy yummy key lime pie for Clay's birthday, was a new game we stumbled into called "Tenor Switch". It started out as a playwrights exercise. We took two similar playwrights with opposite tenors and played Genre Switch with them. We did Tennessee Williams & Beth Henley and Eugene O'Neil & Neil Simon. It was soooo much fun. We soon learned that it didn't really matter if you started with playwrights, what mattered was switching tenors from light to dark when the bell rang. I hope we break it out in the shows this weekend.

We have a couple of last minute discount offers for this weekend. You can still take advantage of them:
- Use the coupon code "CRAZY" when buying tickets online through our website and get 65% off! This offer is only good for this weekend's shows.
- Say "Wish Clay a 'Happy Birthday' for me" at the door and get tix for just $8! This weekend only.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rehearsal #8: Run Through #2

We did another run-through last night, this time with the cast of Friday night’s show: Dave, Mandy, Merrill, and myself.

We were not in the theater itself, but the one across the hall. As always, tonight will be a storm of chaos before the show trying to get everything ready, but I’m trying not to think about that.

Let’s see if I can pull some takeaways from last night out of my sleep deprived mind:
- We mixed a few longer, slower-paced, scenes into the evening last night that felt like they came straight out of a play. The takeaway was that these scenes can exist side-by-side with shorter fast-paced “sketch-like” scenes, and we shouldn’t be afraid of them or their length. (And lighting improvisors should light them as if they’re from a long-form, not from a short-form show.)
- Commit, something, and something else. I can’t remember. Christian had some three word, three point note. It was brilliant.

Special side-note for Merrill who’s not reading this anyway: Don’t worry so much about getting things “right”. The point-of-view song didn’t falter until you started doubting yourself and worrying about doing it correctly.

- Living at Wonderland
- “Gladiolas” on the porch
- Who’s Afraid of Noel Coward
- Selling your script and getting laid
- Interviewing the great actress
- Everyone needs a secretary

Tonight we have an actual show. My voice seems to be holding out ok, but I’m exhausted. Tonight should be fun! Tomorrow should be even more fun, as long as I can stay awake through it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Rehearsal #7: Run Through #1

We did a run-through last night at rehearsal with the cast of Thursday night’s show: Christian, Melissa, Lyn, and myself. I’m glad I got to play with Melissa, because I’m only in the 1 show with her (see the play schedule here).

We were in the actual theater where we’re doing the show, although we didn’t quite have the stage set up how it will be. We still need to put up the doors and wings on the sides of the stage. I’m not sure when that’s happening.

It’s an interesting space to perform in. The stage is larger than we’re used to and it’s raised, which also makes the ceiling shorter than we’re used to. The lights come at you pretty much from eye level, which is always fun.

The run itself went well. The takeaways were:

- Be wary of getting stuck in a “tone rut”.
- Work to vary the number and combination of performers in scenes. It’s easy to get stuck in “2 on / 2 off – 2 on / 2 off” and end up only doing scenes with one person all night (as evidence by the multitude of Christian/Alan scenes).
- Passenger more / fill out background characters.

Some of the highlights of the “show” included:
- “That’s how we did it in Wisconsin!” A Midwestern couple goes swinger speed dating with some cheese.
- Benjamin Franklin, Franz Ferdinand, and Francisco Franco teach children the word “fecundate”.
- Superhero House. The new reality show featuring a very drunk Batman arguing about kitchen cleanliness with Superman.
- “It’s a Meal” and “It’s a Mule”.
- Frankenmime
- Lesbian love in Shakespearean Iowa.
- Room-mate love and existentialist foreign films.

As usual, my “highlights” are probably skewed to scenes I was in, because those are the ones I remember the best. I’m sure other people did brilliant stuff I’m missing. Of course with such a small cast, there weren’t many scenes I wasn’t in.

Tonight we have another run through with Friday night’s cast, which also includes me. I’ll effectively be doing 4 shows this week. Which is great, as long as my voice holds out. Come see me Friday night. My brain should be good and fried by then.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Un-Scripted: unscripted Cast List!

Here is the play schedule for Un-Scripted: unscripted! Note the all-man show on March 4 and the all-woman show on March 11.

Full Cast:
Alan Goy
Merrill Gruver
Melissa Holman
Mandy Khoshnevisan
David Madison
Clay Robeson
Lyn Travis
Christian Utzman

Thursday, February 18: Alan, Christian, Melissa, and Lyn
Friday, February 19: Alan, Dave, Mandy, and Merrill
Saturday, February 20: Christian, Dave, Lyn, and Melissa

Thursday, February 25: Christian, Clay, Melissa, and Merril
Friday, February 26: Alan, Dave, Mandy, and Merrill
Saturday, February 27: Alan, Clay, Dave, and Merrill

Thursday, March 4: Alan, Christian, Clay, and Dave
Friday, March 5: Christian, Clay, Mandy, and Melissa
Saturday, March 6: Christian, Clay, Mandy, and Melissa

Thursday, March 11: Lyn, Mandy, Melissa, and Merrill
Friday, March 12: Alan, Dave, Lyn, and MelissaMerrill*
Saturday, March 13: Alan, Christian, Clay and Mandy

*Transcription error in the original list

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rehearsal #5 and #6: Song and Match

Two more rehearsals, two more to go. After rehearsals Tuesday, I had the strange realization that normally at the point in the process (with 3 rehearsals left at that time) we’d have more than 3 weeks until opening night. Instead, we had a little more than 1.

Tuesday we sang. We had a new musician we’d never worked with come in to play so we could get to know each other. Like a first date at a coffee shop that couples argue about later as to whether or not it counted as a date. I suspect you’ll see him play some shows for this run. His name was Jacob.

What did we sing? Well, we warmed up a lot with scales and a Dona Nobis Pacem. We did some simple Chorus/Verse songs and Verse/Chorus songs in a semi-circle. We did the Un-Scripted Theater Company version of a point-of-view song in groups. This is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Three people start a scene, then they each take turns singing a verse about their inner thoughts on the topic at hand, then they all sing at once. When they sing together they’re singing “chorii”, or rather each is singing a simple chorus to the song they sung without trying to unify the choruses or really be heard. When three people sing their own thing all at once:

A. The audience can’t really follow content.
B. It sounds really powerful.

Then generally everyone gets another solo verse and you end on another round of chorii. Ideally the person with the most to say will sing the last solo verse.

Typically in short-form improv shows, a point-of-view song goes like this: One person starts and sings “I love cheese”. The next person, forced to take a different point of view sings “I hate cheese”. The third person also forced to choose a different point of view and feeling pressured by the rule of “Comedy Comes in Threes” to be funny, sings “I am cheese.” We try to avoid this way of playing the game because it’s a lazy shortcut.

Then we did three scenes with songs as if they were snippets from a full-length musical, with an eye towards making out musical scenes more nuanced. The tendency in short-form is to cram an entire story of plot into one 4-minute scene. We’d rather the scene feel like a slice out of a larger work.

We performed one series of these in the time period of “Viking”, which I had never seen before. I wish we’d get that as a suggestion more.

We finished with the “Audience Word Song” Game, wherein you get a list of words from the audience while the singer is out of the room, they start a song and are then shown the words one at a time having to work them into their song as immediately as possible. This does not require singing a brilliant song. The game is impossible. The audience knows it, and roots for you the whole time. As long as the song isn’t a non-sequitorial mess, the audience loves it.

Wednesday. Wednesday. Wednesday. We did more of what we did the Wednesday before, running every cast member through 6 scenes focused on playing with them. We did not finish everyone, but moved on after a while to an exercise in style matching. One person would leave the room. The other three would decide on a genre/playwright/time period/film director to do the scene in. Then the one who doesn’t know just has to follow along and style match as best they can.

The distinction I think, with this exercise, is that it is not a guessing game. You’re not trying to get the other person to guess the genre right. If you know the genre, it’s not your exercise. You just play it as committed as you can and give the other person something to match. That’s their exercise: matching and letting go the need to get it right.

We performed one of these in the genre of “Bronte”, which I’ve also never really seen before. I wish we’d get that one more too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Rehearsal #3 and #4: Doors, Games, & Ensemble

Ah, yes… We had two rehearsals this week, and as they’ve both blended together in my mind, you’re going to get them in one post.

We continued our work on space-objects by working on space-object doors. We had a couple of epiphanies. For one, no one holds on to a door knob the entire time they open and close a door, yet improvisors seem to do that universally for space-object doors. Generally we use the knob to unlatch the door and then swing it open. We grab on to the side of the door to open it further or guide it closed, or we catch it behind us. (I also noticed today that, depending on how heavy the door is, we don’t just use our arm muscles but throw our whole body weight into it.)

And then there’s the twirl.

When opening a door that pulls towards us, we often open it and then do a little twirl as we spin around to pull the door closed. Try it and see.

We also did some work on games and playing games without setting them up. Now, in this format, at any time during any scene someone off stage or on might ring a bell. It could be any bell game in the world or it could just be a bell. The actors in the scene just have to decide how to react to the bell, and that’s the game you’re playing. We discovered that not every actor has to be playing the same bell game at the same time. Oh the possibilities…

I also made some people do an alphabet scene as a half-life scene.

A large part of the success of this show hinges on us building a good ensemble. Part of that involves learning what everyone likes to do. To that end we spent some time talking about what we like to do in shows and what excites us about improv. This is something we’ll probably do at several rehearsals because I already know I forgot stuff I meant to say. There are so many aspects to consider.

Then we started an exercise that will continue through at least one other rehearsal because we didn’t get through everybody. One person is on the “hot seat” and is in every scene for about 6 scenes and every one else rotates in and out getting a chance to play with them and learn what makes them tick. We got through Merrill, Dave, and Lynn last night.

Things are going well, I think. And quickly too. Tickets are on sale now!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Rehearsal #2: Walk Like a Man

We started off our second rehearsal with the photoshoot for the program and flyer. Normally this might not happen so soon, but considering we open three weeks from yesterday, we needed to get it done.

Then we moved into space-object work, which somehow lead us into a discussion about playing cross-gender characters and the difficulties therein. We spent a lot of time walking around trying to look like men or women. Or more specifically, attractive men & women and then unattractive men & women.

The primary difference between the way the sexes walk is how we counter balance. Men, who generally are wider on top and have a higher center of gravity, counter balance with their shoulders. Women, who have lower centers of gravity, counter balance with their hips. A woman's arms swing differently too, as their breasts are in the way.

Attractive men tend to stand up straighter, throw their shoulders back a little, raise their elbows slightly as if they had muscular arms, and lead with their abdomen as if they had a six-pack. The also walk with a little bit a jaunt or swagger.

Attractive women do the same thing, essentially, only they tend to highlight their chest or butt depending on which part they feel looks better.

Unattractive people are more slouchy. They protect themselves by covering up their front sections and tend to walk flat-footed, landing on the middle of their feet. They never look comfortable, even when they're trying to look casual.

Of course those are sweeping generalities and intended to inform the physicality of the characters you're playing, but useful nonetheless.

We also learned that Clay, Christian, and I have all dated at various times in our lives a twin.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rehearsal #1: We're already behind

We had our first rehearsal for our first show of 2010. It’s official: we’re kicking off our 8th season with Un-Scripted: unscripted!

This will be the third year in a row we’ve done this show, each time with a different director. I was at the helm of the previous iteration. I confess it was not a show that played to my strong suits as a director. I’m glad Christian’s in charge this year (and hopefully I’ll come up with a show that fits me better to direct in 2011).

It’s going to be a small cast version of the show. I believe we had 5 people per show last year. This year we will have 4, which will make for a hectic, high energy, no time to stop and think show that should be very fun and challenging to perform. The total ensemble for the show is 8 people large, 4 of whom are regular Un-Scripted members (me, Christian, Mandy, and Clay) and 4 non-members. We have one returning player (Merrill) and three first-timers (Lynn, David, and Melissa), making for a nicely gender balanced cast.

We spent a lot of time last night getting to know each other, which is extremely important for such an ensemble based show. We need to know each other well and know how to make each other happy by the time the show roles around. We need to learn to really play together and have fun.

We worked a lot on the “everything warm-up” which is an extension of Jeff England’s Duke’s of Hazard warm-up that just devolves into playing every circle warm-up game all at once. Then we moved into doing genre based scenes without setting up the genre first. After all, this show is all about starting scenes without explaining them.

I’m not sure what we’ll work on tonight. That’s right: we have rehearsal again tonight. Why? Because the show opens in 3 weeks! We had a bit of a space kurfuggal, so this run which was originally supposed to open in March and run through April is now opening in February and running through March. And we’re not in our usual space at the SF Playhouse. Instead we’ll be returning to Off-Market where we once performed Love at First Sight (only we’ll be in the larger theater across the hall).

So fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a fast ride!