It’s a pair of notes I’m gonna keep giving until every last improviser knows them in their very soul.
MAKE DECISIONS. BE SPECIFIC.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t look for the “perfect” move. Just do it. Worry about it making sense later. That will come with time and practice and trust and familiarity. But until then, just make a decision.
And when you do, make a specific decision. The more precise and oddly specific you can get, the better. If “Yes, And” is the engine, details are the fuel.
BRRRREEEEAAAAAKFAAAASSST! GROSS! enjoy an Amish paradise at the Dutch Eating Place in Reading Market
Ariel starts the day out right
After a morning of stuffing ourselves with more of the sights and savours of Philadelphia, we were off to the only workshop we took while attending PHIF 2013. Led by Alexis Simpson, Nathan Edmondson and Matt Holmes, the trio of improvisers who make up Rare Bird Show, the workshop focused on how to better your skills while working in duos or small groups.
This theory of how we learn is making the rounds at our theatre and I thought it might be useful to write about it here. It posits that learning happens in four stages and it rings true to me.
1. Unconscious Incompetence
When we are first learning to do something, we are unaware of the difficulty and we simply do it unself-consciously. There’s a pleasure in the doing without self-judgement and the bliss of ignorance is in full effect. We are like children playing for the sake of playing. This is the joyful high of finishing an introductory class. We know we are not “good” but we also have no expectations of excellence.
2. Conscious Incompetence
As we start to learn a skill and wish to improve and master it, we begin to see the gap between our novice skills and what is required to become competent at it. This is where we start to wonder why we are suddenly terrible. But that’s not really the case, we are simply more aware of our failure to meet our newly discovered (and ever-rising) standard. This is where a lot of people quit because it’s not a lot of fun to go through the struggle and it’s a test of one’s self-esteem (especially if you have no peers to share the struggle with).
3. Conscious Competence
After a long period of practise, observation and imitation, we slowly achieve success. At this stage, there’s a lot of focus and conscious effort being put forth to apply the skills we’ve picked up. Success can feel random and elusive and fleeting. Students start to reach the high of doing well but it feels like work and comes inconsistently. There is perhaps a narrow range where the skill can be applied successfully which gives repeated works a “sameness” but the skill is now clearly apparent.
4. Unconscious Competence
This is the ultimate goal. When we’ve mastered a skill, we’ve internalised a hundred smaller foundation skills and can reproduce them without thought or concentration. We simply “do” it without really being able to articulate what it is we’re doing. We can return to a state of childish playfulness; breaking rules and following instincts because we trust our taste and judgment and allowing us to push the skill into new places. Though this can require work to maintain, skills gained at this level never truly fade since to achieve it means to have it imprinted deep in our unconscious.
Saturday, Dec 7 at 12:30pm (3697 St Laurent)
Montreal Improv is not just a theatre; we want it to be a community. So here’s this year’s Town Hall, our annual look back and look ahead.
Want to get your voice heard on our plans for 2014? Want to know what we did in 2013? Want to let us know what worked and what didn’t work? Got some (respectfully-worded) feedback for us? Got a great idea you’d love to see? Want to help us out in some way? Can we help you out in some way? THIS IS YOUR CHANCE!
Bryan, Marc & Vinny will be there to discuss all improv topics, answer your questions and listen to your ideas no matter how big or small. Make this theatre into the one you want to see by participating in and contributing to our future.
We’ll even have coffee! TO KEEP YOU AWAKE!
A highlight from one of the shows on Friday night was during Trike’s set, where it was apparent that paying attention to a shared impulse changed the trajectory of the scene.
Trike are a duo from New York City, Nick Kanellis and Peter McNerney, who are affiliated with Magnet Theatre Company. In the scene, Nick and Peter were playing classmates applauding from the back row for characters they had already established. the clapping took on a double rhythm, but Nick turned to speak to the character in the front row of the classroom, while Peter was inspired by the clap syncopation to assume that they were rehearsing for their presentation of “Stomp.” It seemed like one wanted to advance the scene while the other wanted to expand, but by holding onto that split-second instinct where a change in rhythm occurred, and accentuating it, this resulted in both advancement and expansion coming together in a full-on “Stomp” improvisation, with Nick and Peter playing both the guys in the back and front rows, where one jumped in front of the other to be unseated by the back row Stomper, who was simultaneously stealing his chair for percussion. By connecting and then committing to the discovery of a change, it inspired a joyously playful scene, all just by embracing what they had and exploring what could be. Much fun had!
- GROSS! loves taking risks
- Hotel room selife
- 'It's this guy again'
- capturing the beauty of the landscape on our way to philly
- happy & exhausted after our set
- Pizza-talk after the show
Our Improv group GROSS! has been founded in the beginning of this summer as part of the Montréal Improv ‘Threepio’ contest. Since then, we already performed in the Improv Festivals in Montreal and Toronto. Last weekend, we were super-excited to go to the United States in order to perform in the 9th annual Philadelphia Improv Festival.
Our show was scheduled for Thursday evening, 10pm. The 7, 8:30 and 10pm show started pretty much back to back, so we were able to catch the last set of the 7 o’clock show after we picked up our performer’s passes and T-shirts. When it got towards 10pm, we realized how thrilled we were despite our fatigue after the 9-hour-car-ride to perform in front of a completely unknown audience. A couple of people stuck around for the late show and we started of the block that featured two more groups after us.
Our set was based on the audience suggestion ‘cannibalism’ and covered topics such as aging and death, but also romantic feelings, family and growing up. The stage was very big and offered opportunities to play around and get wild. We had lots of fun and time passed in a flash. When the lights went down, we left the stage almost in trance and had a very intense moment of ‘it is something we did and not something we did not do’.
Luckily, we stayed for the last set, which turned out to be my favourite of the whole festival. Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger is a male duo from Los Angeles, featuring the two real life best friends Drew and Luis. Their suggestion for a location that could fit on the stage was ‘time machine’, a suggestion challenging enough to worry the audience for a little bit. Luis told me later that they actually love to give the audience some time to worry before they start their set, instead of jumping into it right away. This seemed to be contrary to what I have learned and perceived so far, but it did work for them. Their journey in a time machine that was run by coal and squirrels was one of the most hilarious improv sets I have ever seen. Their piece wasn’t exclusively narrative though, sometimes a conversation between two characters would inspire a totally different scene in another environment, like the death of the protestant pope. They were extremely quick thinkers and played at the height of their intelligence at all times, which became obvious when they showed a quick conclusion of every decade while travelling back and forth in time. They also called each other out on every little mistake they made, which often inspired a new scene. Finally, I was impressed by their extremely precise physicality. Every part of the time machine was always in the exact same position, I have never seen an improviser holding a mimed baby in such a loving way and when Drew missed a step of the ladder when he climbed back into the time machine, Luis called him out on it.
At the party on Saturday we had the chance to talk to Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger. Both of them have been doing improv for more than 10 years now and have been doing this format together for 4 years. They are best friends (matching tattoos!) and used to live together. Luis told me that he knows Drew so well that he can hear in his voice when he is done talking about something in a scene. When I asked them about advice for a newly founded improv group, like GROSS!, he told me that it is important to stop trying to invent stuff and pushing your own ideas, but to listen and support your partner instead. In fact, he said that only the very first thing someone says in a scene is invented – everything that follows is logic. Also, it is important to be patient with a group that just met – you have to figure each other out. And as important as coaching is, you should also workshop alone with your group in order to find out what you really like to do. Another helpful thing I learned from them is that they videotape every set and talk through it afterwards while watching it. In the beginning it might be frightening to see yourself on video, but it certainly helps you improve.
Thus, despite the tiring 9-hour drive, Thursday night was a successful start into an exciting weekend of Philly and Improv.
- Be attentive. Listen. Watch. Feel.
- Be responsive. React. Move. Support.