Tuesday, April 4, 2017
In order to gain an audience's trust you need to help them relax. Watching improv can be nerve wracking. A great way of easing this nervous energy is showcasing that you are a competent performer. To put it simply have to do something well. Or more specifically, you need the crowd to witness you doing something impressive. In good short form shows this happens easily. The troupe hits the nuances of the game; the audience appreciates it.
But in long form improvisation, we often hide the improv mechanisms and ask the audience to suspend their disbelief, like in traditional theatre. We don’t tend to break the fourth wall as often. When improv is completely organic and seamless it can be pleasant to watch, but I fear that the audience can be left out. Chances are, they haven’t taken a few years of improv classes and don’t understand all the sweet moves and edits you’re doing onstage. They want to understand the joke.
So how do we engage audiences without losing any of the magic of long form improv? When I perform, I turn to my real life. Let’s forget improv for a moment. In the real world I’m good at rhyming, cooking and bar-tending. I love travel, science and Shakespeare. If I can create an improv scene which includes some of my passions, I can give the audience that duality of enjoyment. For example, I am a proficient freestyle rapper. If I throw that into an improv scene audiences tend to be impressed. It’s got nothing to do with how good of an improviser I am. It’s a parallel skill. But it can satisfy an audience. And if I apply improv on top of this skill, even more so. It’s like landing a combo in a video game. Freestyle rap plus good storytelling plus Yes And… is worth way more than any of those things on their own.
If you are an actual gymnast an audience would lose their mind if you could keep a scene going while doing cartwheels. If you are a top notch singer and can belt out a beautiful made up song you can wow the crowd. Anytime you can make a big promise and deliver on it, the audience will feel safe, comfortable and ready to laugh.
Here’s my challenge to you: next show take a calculated risk. Pull back the curtain and do something that you love, that you're good at, that you think the audience will enjoy.
Chances are you’re racking your brain right now thinking what skills could I showcase onstage? If you don’t have any immediate answers, ask your friends. Or, the solution might be to take a class. And I’m not just talking about comedy workshops. Take singing lessons. Learn a language. Or at very learn a skill that is outside of your comfort zone like clowning, Shakespeare or solo improv.
If the audience sees you doing one thing well, they will assume you do many things well. Trust is born. And the sooner you win it the better your show will be.
Do you have something you do to spice up your improv shows and challenge yourself as an artist? Have you seen someone do something like this onstage before? Please share your experiences below. I love the dialogue!
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
- I’ll be at the Calgary Fringe performing in A NOTORIOUS Beer Garden. It’s basically the most fun you can have at a NOTORIOUS show. It’s outside, there is delicious local beer and NOTORIOUS runs the stage. Last year was amazing. We even performed in a thunderstorm. If you’re in Calgary, come.
- Two I’m teaching two intensives on Sunday, Aug. 9: Unforgettable Characters from 2-5pm and Stories Worth Telling from 6-9pm at the Lab (112 16 Ave NW). It’s the only time I’ll be teaching in Calgary for the rest of 2015. I’d love to see you there. I’ve learned so much in the last year in Toronto and I’m excited to bring it all home. Both intensives are $50, but I’m doing 20% off ($80) if you book both together. Email me to confirm your spot. I’m only taking ten students in each.
Unforgettable Characters IntensiveSunday, August 9 | Time: 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm |Location: The Lab – 112-16th Ave NW Instant characterization is one of the most important skills a character can have. This intensive will provide the tools you need to create believable, dynamic characters on the spot that last until the scene ends. Learn how to identify who the scene what your character can do to get the most out of any situation.
Stories Worth Telling IntensiveSunday, August 9 | Time: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm |Location: The Lab – 112-16th Ave NW Within about 15 seconds, the audience can tell if a story is worth watching. This intensive examines what we can do to hook an audience right away, and keep them on the edge of their seat until the fat lady sings. Using longform and shortform narrative approaches, this course will breakdown the art of spontaneous storytelling for improvisers of all levels.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
I’m back in Calgary for the month of March producing Fresh Notes: Festival of Musical Comedy. And I gotta say, what an incredible gift it is to come home to such a vibrant improv scene. Having lived in Toronto for the past six months, I have witnessed some incredible performers, formats and tacos. Lest I forget tacos… So coming home I didn’t know how I would feel. Would the improv hold up? Would I get stir crazy with the lack of shows? Rest assured YYC faithful that Calgary, as usual, did not disappoint. March is a packed month, comedy wise. So I thought I’d give everyone a quick rundown of the shows I’m involved in, as well as a few that I’m not.
Fresh Notes: Festival of Musical Comedy
I am so stoked to be producing the innagural year of a brand new, guaranteed-to-be-hilarious-festival. I feel so strongly about this that I need to hyphenate. Anchored by NOTORIOUS, this festival will run four days at three great downtown venues. I’m especially excited about A NOTORIOUS Finale, which will feature a full length NOTORIOUS romp as well as the best of Calgary’s sketch scene at Yuk Yuks. It’s going to be off the hook. And I don’t say that lightly. Check out the festival website for all the details.
The Improv Games: Catching Funds
This event was perhaps my 2014 highlight, improv wise. And it is back in 2015, better than ever on April 4 at 8pm. All of Calgary’s best improv troupes come together to battle it out in a Hunger Games style fundraiser where the audience is truly king. No holds are barred as teams fight for survival, representing their districts with pride and ridiculous costumes. And the food spread last year was to die for…
Darling of the Calgary indie scene, the Kinkonauts have been producing these mini festivals five or six times a year for the last few. Each week has a different theme and special guest making these shows incredibly brave and unique. If the only improv you know in Calgary is the Loose Moose, you owe it to yourself to check a Kinks show out. I’ll be performing in the Obviously Improv Showcase on Thursday, March 12 at 8pm and in the Mixtape show on Saturday, March 14 at 10pm.
Rebbaca Northran is back with another show which is getting its world premiere run in Calgary. Blind Date and Legend Has It are two incredible shows and I’ve no doubt this one will follow suit. I have nothing to do with this show, but if Rebbecca is attached to a project you usually can’t go wrong.
Doing Improv Hamlet was the most fun I have ever had onstage. Period. After more than a year’s hiatus, the Improv Guild is back with the Scottish play completely improvised. If it is anything like Hamlet it will be worth checking out. Again, I’m not involved in this project. But it is a rare chance to see a true blend of theatre and improv.
Monday, December 1, 2014
Since moving to Toronto, I have been immersed in the city’s culture of improvisation. As a new member to the community, I’ve been playing in a lot of Micetro shows at Bad Dog. This means that I’ve played with many improvisers who have had little, or no experience in the art form. One of the beautiful things about Micetro, which is well understood by the lovely Gavin Williams who facilitates it, is that anyone can and should be picked for the show. You just need to show up and have the guts to raise your hand when the director asks: “Who is interested in playing tonight?” No previous experience required.
So how does it change improv when your scene partner has less experience than you?
Well, I believe that it doesn’t.
Should you compensate for their lack of skill, make sure you lead the scene in the right direction and generate most of the content to take the pressure off them?
I don’t believe you should.
Let me illustrate by example. A few weeks ago a man named Andres came and did a micetro at Bad Dog. His family have a very popular and funny vine account at ehbeefamily. But he had never done improv in his life. Immediately I thought: how can I take care of this guy? He must be kind of terrified. He was taking a risk; he might fail in front of people. Luckily for him, if you’re failing at improv you are doing it right. But he didn’t know that.
So how do you make a complete beginner feel comfortable making up stories and jokes on the spot? Is it possible to distill improv fundamentals down to ten words of wisdom overtop the music when the lights are down? Well, I tried. I gave Andres two pieces of advice. This first was to be agreeable. Agree with everything your partner says in a positive way. The second occurred when the lights were down before a one minute scene we did together. I simply guided him to the front of the stage and told him this is where we should do the scene.
Each counsel was off the cuff. But upon reflection they both make sense. Basically I tried to convey my two biggest improv values: Say yes and be brave. We began the scene. Now the game changes. New players tend to block, try and be funny and stop listening to their partner. Luckily, Andres had great instincts. As I mentioned, his vine is great. He understood comedic timing innately. But he still fell into the usual improv traps a bit: saying no to ideas, trying to be funny. My approach was simply to set up a strong platform and then value everything he said. I let him drive the scene. He was leader. I was an eager follower. I made the first offer and then he made all the rest. I genuinely believed in him. I tried to play with him the same way with him that I would with any skilled improviser.
How was the scene in the end? Not bad. There were funny moments. I was proud of our work. It wasn’t improv brilliance, but the audience was with us the whole way through.
Andres had a great first improv show. He didn’t win micetro; neither did I. But he proved to me that zero experience and a great attitude can be a wonderful combination, so long as the rest of us with more experience are willing to take care of our new colleagues. Because when the lights are up and the audience is in the house, all improvisers are equal. You sink or swim together. Every improviser is a star if their partner has the capacity to make them shine.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
I'm going to be in Calgary for a couple of days in December. So, on Saturday Dec. 6 from 2-3:30pm I'll be holding a drop in Musical Improv Workshop. It will be $20 and a lot of fun if you can join.
As well, from 3:30 to 4:00 I'm going to be holding an information meeting about Fresh: A Musical Improv Festival that NOTORIOUS is going to run in March. That part is of course free. So please come for one or ideally both. Maybe a troupe will even form out of the drop in. Anything could happen...
Both will take place at The Lab (Kinkonauts Trianing Centre) located at 112 16 Ave NW.
Please email me if you'd like to join either one!
Saturday, November 8, 2014
I’m excited to announce an upcoming NOTORIOUS show Sat. Nov. 22 at Comedy Bar. Critics have literally said nothing about it. So we’re sitting at completely neutral public opinion about it. Which is pretty good in Toronto I hear.
Also, NOTORIOUS launched a website. Which is pretty dope.
Annnnnd we filmed our last show all together in Calgary. Which you can now see if you missed. Or if you were there you can watch it like a live concert you went to and bought the DVD of said concert afterwards online. Except its free.