250 Improv: Passion, Precision and Enthusiasm

A friend of mine said he couldn’t dance. Nonsense. Everyone can dance. Qualifying it he said “I’m a bad dancer.” The optimist in me gets annoyed when someone says they’re “bad” at something. Why not say, “I’m not very good at that thing.”? Or better, “I’m not good at that, yet.”

If there’s a scale of “good to bad” can’t we, with similar meaning, have a scale of “good to not good yet.”?

Or maybe, “good to better.”

With dancing, if you’re attempting anything at all, I’ll give you a “good”

There are, of course, better dancers. Art is subjective. Maybe we can’t agree on what’s best, or even what should be in the top ten. But, we can clearly discern when something is “better” than something else.

So what’s the difference between good and better?  

Passion, Precision and Enthusiasm.

To be better at something you need all three. Two you can fake. (It’s difficult to fake passion.)

You’ve heard that the way to get better at anything is through practice. If you’re passionate about something you’ll make the time and dedicate yourself to practice. You’ll be precise in the skills you’re learning. You’ll approach the act of doing with enthusiasm.

Think of anything that you’re “not good at.” You’re missing one of those three elements.

Let’s look at dancing. That phrase “dance like no one’s watching,” is trying pump up your enthusiasm. “Practice practice practice,” is honing your precision. “Feel the beat and let it move you,” that’s passion.

 

250 Improv: Lessons from 80’s Video Games

Improv 250:  1980’s Video Game Life Lessons

 

I was born in 1971, so when video arcades hit in the 1980s I was a prime demographic. There was a short window of time before home consoles hit where the video arcade was a social place to go.

The benefits of going to a place and socializing with other kids is, I believe, a big deal.

Today there is the option of playing games with people you don’t know, which is great. But, they are people you never come into direct contact with. We need and crave human contact.

This isn’t a cranky post from a front porch about how things were better in the good ol’ days. Things are different. Things are always different. But in the 80’s  video games taught some hard valuable life lessons.

For instance:

  • Many of the games didn’t have instructions. You just dove in and had to figure things out; What to do. What was going on in the world. Who or what was harmless. Who or what meant you harm. You had to figure it out on your own. Or talk to someone who knew.
  • It cost a quarter a shot to learn these hard lessons.
    Sure, you’d get three lives, but after that you were back to the start. It didn’t matter how rich you were. Start over.
  • Sometimes you had powers and solutions you didn’t know about. They needed to be discovered.
  • The game just got faster and more difficult until you died.
  • You could never “win.”

Valuable life lessons.

 

250 Improv: Don’t Call Yourself Stupid

There are a couple of phrases that I’ve heard people say when working on improv. Variations on the theme of not being good enough. Phrases like; “I don’t know how.” “I can’t think of anything.” “I’m so dumb when it comes to…” “I can’t do that.” etc. etc.

 

Certainly these phrases have a place in real life, and probably in improv too. We all start out not knowing anything and sometimes you have to tell people you need help so they’ll help you. However, I’ve found that when this comes up in improv it’s not that they don’t know what to do next, but they’re afraid their answer won’t be “good enough”

 

Which isn’t true. In improv every idea is “good enough.” Sure, some ideas are better than others, but every idea has some merit. Once we get an idea out there the rest of the group will “yes, and” the idea and we’re rolling.

 

The phrase I say often is “Do something rather than nothing.”

 

Don’t call yourself stupid, or dumb, or any other put down. Especially don’t say it out loud. Here’s what happens: 1. You think the thought. 2. Your brain makes your mouth move and say the thought. 3. You hear the thought spoke out loud (even though it’s your thought, you still hear it.) 4. Your brain hears the information and re-thinks it again. So, something that’s not even true (“I’m stupid” ) has now been re-enforced four times!  
No wonder people lack self-confidence. Trust yourself.

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Hey, if you’re on this site, and you haven’t bought my novel “Cards with the Devil” yet… what are you waiting for??  A written invitation?… oh, you are? Okay, I personally invite you to buy it here. Thanks!

 

Cards with the Devil

It’s finally here. My first novel. Cards with the Devil. You can get it on Amazon for you Kindle, or you can order the Paperback version.

Cards Book Cover 1.0

 

250 Improv: Rock, Paper, Scissors

In improv the game rock paper scissors is not funny. That’s a bold statement, and I stand by it. I’ve seen it many times in performances. Heck, I’ve done it myself in performances. I’ve even written it into a play or two. And, it’s never gotten a laugh.

So why does it seem like such a good idea?

In theory is the juxtaposition of a childish game being played by adults in important situations should be funny.

Unexpected opposites are funny. Like the fat guy who’s really good at ballet.

But it’s not funny. It’s a block, it’s stalling the action. You remember that whole “yes, and” thing that we got going on, right? Well, how have we got to the point of trying to decide who gets to do something via a childish game? Probably because someone didn’t “yes, and.” They either avoided because they were afraid of doing something, or were being polite, allowing their scene partner do something, or they thought a delay in action would build tension.*

Either way, what’s now happening is a delay in action. A delay that we’re going to solve with a child’s game.

Best case scenario, we’ve built tension, but the game has limited endings, so the tension can/won’t be released with any sort of surprise leading to laughter.

Some simple comedy equations: Tension + Release = Action (perhaps small laugh)   Tension + (Release x Surprise) = Big Laugh.

Comedy isn’t an exact science, but you get the idea.

*Also: Fear or Politeness ≠ Comedy.

 

250 Improv: The Smartest Dumb Guy

I’ve heard this advice multiple times; Play to the top of your intelligence. Why? Because you’re doing Improv with a fellow performer, not Make-em-Ups by yourself. When you play “dumb you don’t add anything to the scene. You get laughs, but your scene partner does all the work.

But, what happens if you don’t play to the top of your intelligence? You accidentally say something “dumb” or play “dumb” because… well it’s funny, damnit. To hell with the high-minded “Improv” purity. You did it for the cheap laugh. Cheap laughs are still laughs, right?

You’ve improved sinned. Now what?

Make your dumb guy is really smart at something, and feel strongly about it. Make him the smartest dumb guy.

At a recent performance I played a character who didn’t understand how to “count cards” for BlackJack. He was just counting the actual cards “1… 2… 3…” That’s a dumb guy. However! It did get a laugh.

But, if I continued to be the “dumb guy” I wouldn’t have to do anything more to participate in improv. I could just keep making stupid statements. Misunderstanding things. Reacting in ways unrelated to whatever my scene partner said. So easy. So selfish. More importantly, not Improv.

To fix this, I made him the smartest of dumb guys. He was really good at counting the cards. He’d written a book about it. Chapters 1 – 10 were numbers “1… 2… 3… etc.”

Even the dumbest character can be really smart at something. Focus on that.

 

Improv 250: Move Specifically

Jeff is a tall lanky fella, he says 6’3”, but I believe he’s 6’7”

He’s physically awkward. Knocking a hole in stage drywall, breaking our mailing-list box, and injuring himself on our new stage brick wall.

I asked Jeff how many things he’s broken. The list was shorter than I thought it would be. However, the point is similar to his perceived height. He moves and acts taller, more awkward and more accident prone than he is. He’s not an intimidating guy, but you find yourself flinching if he gestures.

The other night we were practicing dancing. I have a goal for my troupe this year to improve their physicality on stage and I think that dancing is a great way to lay a good foundation for that.

We were creating “new” dances based on random suggestions (“the Toaster!” “the Flamingo!”, etc.)

Jeff got the dance “the Flag.”

He created a simple movement with arms flapping out to the side like a flag. Then a knee bend for the flag to go up and down the pole.

There’s something about having his feet planted as the “pole” that centered the dance. I compared him to a giant lever.

He accomplished more by moving less. Smaller, tighter, specific movements.

The advice; Move less, and show more. Later he did a scene involving boxing, which would’ve been a dangerous idea previously, however this time his character was controlled, specific, and hilarious.

I’m not suggesting performers move less. I’m suggesting performers move specifically.

 

Wake up on the wrong side of the bowl, did we?

bad Hair Fish

 

Continuing Adventures Continue

Finished up my other novel, so I now have time to get back to this on-going story. I’ve uploaded chapter 3, it’s about the game Rock Ball! Check out chapters 1 – 3 here at “The Continuing Adventures of Byron & Bing”

I could also use some help from you Grammar Nazis out there. I’d like to open source the editing of this project. If you want to take a cruel cruel look at these pages and submit any edits you’d do, I’ll reward you handsomely… well, probably with a customized Lunch Note, and/or a “Thank You.”

I’ve also figured out how to insert pictures in with the text. This one features Rock Ball equipment.

Rock Ball Uniform

Here’s also an early design of the equipment…

Rock Ball Uniform 1.0

Rock Ball players quickly realized they couldn’t breath with their Bouncer on.

 

Writing Advice E-mail to Dan

I don’t have much reason to believe I know what I’m talking about when it comes to writing. However, almost a year ago now a friend of mine (Dan Van Dellen .. not to name drop or anything) asked me for some advice on writing a novel. I sent him this e-mail. Today, while cleaning out my email inbox (yes, I still have emails older than a year in my inbox. I’ve got one in there that’s going on six years old,… do something!) I found this e-mail exchange.

Since people don’t exchange letters anymore, this writerly advice would just disappear into electrons… and actually probably still will, but posting it here will keep it alive for a little longer anyway.

Oh, and the Ira Glass video I mention IS brilliant, and inspiring… you should watch it too. Here.

Anyway, here it goes:

Dan-

Good to hear from you. Yes, the answer is as simple as you think, just do it. However, there are some bonus tips within that simple statement.
1. While it’s great that you’ve got an outline and notes, don’t feel tied to them. As the story progresses it may change. When you’re doing your first draft don’t worry at all if you stray from your outline… unless you’re OCD, then I have no idea why you’d be asking me for any kind of advice.
2. The first draft is the fun part, so let it be fun. I worked for 2 years on my first draft and it was a lot of fun (some days weren’t, but 90% of the time it was.) Currently I’m at the 2 year mark of the rewrite and it looks like it’s going to be another 3 – 6 months. In other words… the editing and rewriting are the hard part and the actual “work.”
3. Momentum is an amazing thing. I wouldn’t suggest a daily word goal (once again, unless you’re into that sort of thing.) I personally found that when I used a goal of a number of words a day I would tend to ad filler stuff that ended up getting eliminated from the final draft. Be that as it may, it did get me writing. Some sort of goal and rewards system to get the momentum going. That’s the most important part; Momentum. If you get enough of it, you’ll be writing for an hour and won’t even notice the time going by.
4. Definitely write for the first draft for one audience person… you. First draft, fuck everyone else’s opinions. Don’t even bother asking if it’s a good idea. Just do it for yourself. You’ll have plenty of time to try to please everyone else (impossible) in the rewrites.
5. Even if whatever you write absolutely sucks, remember that before you wrote it down it didn’t EXIST IN THE UNIVERSE AT ALL… that’s a fairly amazing idea that often keeps me moving.
If you haven’t seen this Ira Glass thing before, check it out. It’s like 1 1/2 minutes of brilliant help for beginning any art project.
I was going to make a video today discussing this topic, but had some technical problems. Hoping to do one tomorrow. If/when I do, I have you to thank… so, in advance, Thank you.
Let me know how it goes. The other thing I found that helped to no end was to have a fellow adventurer.
Oh, and one huge thing you could do for me, is to share/promote my web-site to anyone and everyone. My marketing is all just word of mouth right now. You’ve got a large mouth… use it.  www.eserkaln.com
Thanks!
Talk to you soon.
Mike