© 2011 Timmy Tamisiea. All rights reserved. No!  Don't tell me your suggestion . . . think me your suggestion.

42/465 – Respect for Improv

I understand that, sometimes, there’s nothing worse than a bad improv show.  Who wants to sit through a 45 minutes performance where the ensemble is fighting an uphill battle?  Where that hill is basically a Slip ‘N Slide and there’s no chance in hell they’re ever going to recover from the opening suggestion of “dildo.”  Oh, ha ha, you in the audience, you sure came up with an original suggestion – you must be just as funny as the actors.  Get on up there funny man/woman.  Show what you can do with a dildo . . . no, you can stop now.  Gross, please stop . . .

You can only imagine what the suggestion was for this show . . .

At the very same time, there is nothing more exhilarating and enjoyable than watching an improv show where the actors are on the ball.  Where every move, line and action facilitate an interwoven story that awes you and makes you laugh till tears come out.  Where the suggestion wasn’t “dildo.”  Trust me, they exist: see TJ and Dave.  When my first improv group, Very Real Cops, was at its prime, there wasn’t a rehearsal or show that wasn’t pure magic.  I WILL brag about that because we were on a level where there was a strange form of telepathy – we could read each other’s moves, know exactly where we needed to go in the story and tighten the shit out every twist and turn.  Man, those were great days.

No! Don’t tell me your suggestion . . . think me your suggestion.

Megan and I met through improv and we both come from very a strong acting/improv background.  We know the time, patience and work it takes to find a proficiency in the art.  So, when I’m working tonight at the DeMatt Theatre Box Office at Second City, and some jack-ass starts spewing out his version of improv irony, it only infuriates me.  Here’s the conversation:

Irony Pete:  Do we have to just wait out here (the lobby)?  Why can’t we just go into the theatre?  It doesn’t make any sense.

Timmy:        The doors open 10 minutes before the performance.  The actors are rehearsing in the space.

Irony Pete:  (Smarmy and condescending) They’re improvisers.  What do they need to rehearse for?

Timmy:        (Losing patience)  . . . It’s like football.  Football players have to “rehearse” before an actual game.  The drills they do in a practice aren’t                       actually done in a game, but they need to exercise those muscles and get their rythem down so they can perform right in the actual game.                       Same with improvisors.

Irony Pete:  (Disbelief and more “I’m right” condescension)  Yeah, but football players know what’s going to happen.

Timmy:        Oh, so football players know exactly how a game will be played out.

Irony Pete:  Well, no.  But . . .

Timmy:        An improvisator needs to walk the space, work the musicals and warm up like any athlete.

Irony Pete:  (Trying to change the subject) . . . Improvisers just have to get a funny suggestion . . .

Timmy:        My suggestion, don’t try to be funnier than the improvisers when prompted for a suggestion.  It’s funnier to see them make a story and a                        joke from a mundane, everyday suggestion.  They get supposedly “funny” suggestions all the time.

Irony Pete:  (Looks at a pamphlet and slowly walks away.)

Timmy:        Doors open in 10 minutes.

We eventually gave him a front row seat to the show . . .

I’m detailing this conversation for a reason.  Megan and I have always understood that to be a great improvisor you must submit to consistent practice.  That’s why you see bad improv shows all the time – too many people think hits all about getting up on stage and winging it.   There’s a certain amount of respect you must have for the art and the rules behind it – oh yes, there are rules.

How not to do impov.

The idea that anyone can just get on stage and “make shit up” is why there are so many bad improv shows.  Chicago is saturated with improvisors because every Tom, Dick and Harry who just graduated college was told by their frat brothers, “You’re funny, dude,” as they finished their 3rd keg stand.  Save that for stand-up (which I have an immese amount of fear of and respect for).  Improv is not about jokes and bits.  It’s about connecting with your fellow improviser, listening and cooperation.  Jokes, bits and spotlighting yourself is for stand up.

Okay. Maybe there is some college training appropriate for an improv career.

Imrpov is why I feel I’m a better actor – much more than any Meisner class ever taught me.  And let me make this clear, just because you are an improviser does NOT mean you are an actor.  And vice versa.  Most improvisers could learn a trick or two from taking a traditional acting class.  In fact, improv has mad me a better writer, director and producer.  Just today I had a Hollywood pitch session with a writer/producer.  He was at Columbia doing pitching workshop.  After I finished my 22 minute pitch of a feature script, The Biggest Little Park In The World, he said, “Well, there you go.  That’s pretty much a Hollywood pitch.  You could go out to any producer in California and pitch that script and get some interest.”  I mean, my script is good, but I think the trust I have in my impov skills gave me the confidence I needed to get past any hiccups in the pitch.

Okay, Mr. Spielberg. For my pitch I just need a suggestion of anything at all.

When  you get down to it, there is a reason why there’s a growing interest in corporate workshops being led by improv troupes.  There’s a reason why more and more improv performers are being cast in major TV shows and films.  There’s a reason why improv classes are practically bursting at the seams here in Chicago.  So, Irony Pete, remember, the theatre will open when the performers are warmed up enough that they can give you an excellent performance – no sooner, no later . . . Or when the house manager is done picking up the trash from the last show.

2 Comments

  1. Posted 26 Jun ’12 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Interestingly, the same goes for teaching. I acautlly don’t do long-term planning, or really, short term planning. What I do, however, is remarkably similar to this! 1. The first five minutes of any class is an attempt to connect with the people in that room, that day, that minute. What is going on? What can we accomplish? 2. It’s easy as a teacher to forget that while you may be at the helm, there’s acautlly 18-33 of you crewing the boat. Taking suggestions and listening to students’ ideas of what we should do that day have not only saved my butt when I’ve been uninspired, but also made sure that the class is more meaningful for more people than just me. 3. It’s funny how much you can do anything and MAKE it successful, where it’s much more difficult to making NOTHING successful. I don’t even panic anymore when I don’t know what my plan is for teaching the class that I’m five minutes into. It’s the good kind of scary. Hmm maybe this can be my master’s in like, 10 years. When I’ve got it down to an artform. Improvising your lesson or something wait, that sounds like a self-help book. Will they give me an MEd for a self-help book?

  2. Ann etienne
    Posted 14 Nov ’11 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Excellent writing

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