Level 101: Intro to Improv - TWO SESSIONS! May 20 - Jul 1, May 21 - Jul 2!
Level 201: Intermediate Characters - May 21 - July 2!
Level 202: Intermediate Scenework - May 21 - July 2!
Level 301: Advanced Improv -May 22 - July 1!
Last month our troupe "Population: Six" got to perform at the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival down in lovely Chapel Hill / Carrboro, NC. NCCAF used to be known as the Dirty South Improv Festival, as it's organized by the Dirty South Comedy Theater.
Anyway, two of our Pop 6 folks sent me their feedback on what they got to do and what they enjoyed about the NCCAF performances and workshops. Here are Mike Moran's thoughts (Mike is pictured there at the left):
My favorite memory of NCCAF was playing Duck Duck Goose in one of the workshops. Our instructor had us do this for two reasons. First, to symbolize the finding of the "goose" (the game) in a scene. The facts, he explained, are the ducks. Once you find the goose, things get crazy. Halfway through the exercise our instructor stopped us and told us that for the rest of the exercise we were to have as much fun as possible. He did this to remind us that performance is about fun. The audience wants to see the performers have fun and having fun is easier than trying to be funny. Also, it was really strange and exciting to do try at a game I hadn’t played since I was very young.
And here is Megan Wills' piece on her experience (Megan is on the right in the picture below, from a Pop 6 show last summer):
This was my third year at NCCAF, and I am definitely going to make a habit of attending. The festival was bigger and more well-planned than ever (at least the part of Improv Week that I attended). Now a huge four-week festival with Stand-Up, Film and Sketch weeks, NCCAF makes me sad that I can't just quit my job and go along for the ride. Carrboro and Chapel Hill are both great little towns (a troupe member remarked that they "couldn't believe it was the South"), and the staff of the DSI Comedy Theater were in their element. They really know how to show visitors a good time, and proved it by stuffing Improv Week with exciting events and shows (not to mention the after-parties every night).
Naturally, the highlights for me were the workshops. Sure, I'm there to have a good time, but I'm also there to learn. The first workshop was on Friday afternoon, and the members of Pop. 6 took it together. Our teacher was the hilarious and amazingly down-to-earth Jill Bernard (who a couple of us had already met and worked with at the last Baltimore Improv Festival). The workshop was 'Truth and Beauty,' which we hoped would be helpful in getting our troupe to bring honesty into our performances. For me, being honest is the most important element in creating relationships -- not only on stage, but in life.
Jill had us do an honesty exercise to begin, in which each person starts with the words, "The truth is..." followed by a statement of truth about their lives. They then take a deep breath, let it out, and dig deeper by restating, "The truth is..." and revealing a little more about their statement. They repeat this as many times as necessary to bring out the 'real truth,' or the core of emotional truth behind their original statement. This valuable exercise allowed us to all get to know each other at a different level, and to shed the natural atmosphere of embarrassment that is inherent when meeting a new group of people.
This exercise was followed by a battery of short scenes in which we were encouraged to show emotion and physical closeness, which helped further break down the barriers between the workshop participants. The scenes were arranged such that one scene partner would be in love with, or obsessed with, the other in the beginning. This created an automatic and immediate relationship that was easily understood by both participants, which also took away the need to create a storyline, and allowed for pure displays of emotion to dominate. What we discovered was that everyone has a different idea of 'crossing the line' emotionally...some people were happy to give freely of their emotions onstage, whereas some were downright uncomfortable with it, particularly with people they didn't know. It turns out that the fear of being rejected pops right back up when improvisers are confronted with having to show 'love' or some other positive emotion, rather than cleverness or humor.
Jill then led us to another wonderful exercise which involved one of my favorite things to do onstage...listening. Listening can be the funniest and most honest thing you can do, and, as we found, a good listener can upstage any actor that tries to steamroll them. Each scene began with one designated 'talker,' and one designated 'listener.' The talker would place the listener where they wanted on stage, and begin a speech which wouldn't require much feedback from the listener. They would do the scene with the listener quietly listening and doing some reacting (Jill discouraged 'over' reacting, and would stop the scene if she felt the listener was being too active), and then move on to the next scene with the listener switching to the 'talker' role with a different scene partner. This allowed for growth in the area of listening, but also heightened the ability of the players to respect a listener by taking pauses, reacting to the listener's reactions, and by creating relationships out of nothing, as the scene partner made no 'offers.'
We ended with a quick exercise in which two people milled about, exploring the levels and areas of the stage for about thirty seconds, before Jill asked them to 'check in' with each other by turning to look one another in the eye, no matter where they were or what they were doing at the moment. The 'check-in' involved Jill asking each person, "What emotion do you see in the other person right now?" Each participant would try to name the emotion as quickly as possible (this is more difficult than you can imagine). This was repeated a few times until she felt you were ready, when she would ask each to start with a line based on the most recent emotion the other had named. For example, my scene partner had mentioned I looked 'freaked out,' and I was asked to create a first line based on this assessment. I chose "I didn't mean to do that." I had named my partner's emotion 'mischievous,' so he chose to use the line, "I did!" We than began a scene where two best friends had made out with each other in a drunken moment. It was a brilliant way to begin a scene on the same page as your partner, as well as a good way to find a catalyst to create a scene with emotion and honesty.
My Performer workshops on Saturday were wonderful too...I was very happy with the teachers I got, Kevin Patrick Robbins from Impatient Theatre in Toronto, and Neil Casey from UCB NY. They each had a laid-back way of teaching which made everyone comfortable, and I was especially happy that they both seemed to share my love of game and of realistic improv (surprisingly, the two don't have to contradict each other). We worked on beginning scenes WITHOUT starting with a problem (allowing for more Yes, And), finding patterns to discover the game, getting around deniers/people who block you, heightening, and finding understanding, even when you are confused. I also picked up some great warmups and exercises that have already been used in our troupe practice. These workshops, along with the awesome shows, were most certainly the highlight of my trip. Oh, and the food. I can't forget the food. NC knows how to do it right!