Improv: The Big Show!

Tuesday was the big night of our graduation show. I couldn’t help but feel nervous for several hours before we even made it on stage. I actually had to google search and even phone my mom for her opinion to validate what I was going to wear on stage. Like many men, I have little clue on what colours match well with others. I finally went with a tweed gray blazer, a white dress shirt with blue pattern, blue jeans and brown shoes. But that isn’t what people are interested in but rather the show itself.

Prior to going on stage, we were informed another student from the Saturday class would be joining us as she could not attend her graduation show on Friday. The last minute inclusion required some alterations to the roster to ensure equal performance time for everyone. Although one nice benefit was we were now 8 performers and one of the ladies suggested we name our troupe “Snow Dude and the 7 dwarves”. As the only guy and the tallest on stage, I was obviously Snow Dude. There is some preparation ahead of time. Our teacher and host informed us what improv “games” will be played but not who will participate. The exception being the full group games obviously. Beyond that, we were given words of encouragement and assurances we would do great.

When we were finally announced, we stepped through the curtain and into the blinding light. Nevertheless, you could make out a few faces in the first two rows and the silhouettes of many more. The show was a full house which only encouraged the butterflies in the pit of my stomach to go into a frenzy.

I’m bad at no the letter after R.

The introductory game involved dialogue without the letter following R. The theme decided by the audience: detective. My anxiety remained and the crowd eliminated me fairly early after I uttered the number preceding 8 when describing the time of murder. The remainder of the group powered through to look into “hard blood” left at the location of the crime, getting whittled down when they erred. Although one premature elimination happened when an audience member called out “DIE!” to the word “trace.”

Phew… I made it without employing the letter S!

Ah shit.

Sit, Stand and Kneel

The next game was something we didn’t practice as a group but our dancer participated in one scene during a workshop. The premise of the game involves each of the three performers to be either sitting, standing or kneeling but none could match the position. Such that if someone chose to stand from a seated position, the other two would have to react to fill the sitting position. However, the added twist is we must justify why we change positions whether verbally or simply emoting an action or emotion that compelled it.

We were given the location of a cruise ship. I began in the seated position and was offered a martini by one of the girls. Rising to accept the drink from her, the other girls had to cover. The formerly standing girl fell down, drunk while the other went to help her. My next shift came when it was insinuated the martini wasn’t an actual martini but actually mouthwash. I knelt down, pretending to be spitting out and retching.

The scene went on in that manner. I found we were very good at covering the positions and there was only one moment the audience could react to call us to move. Throughout our classes, our exercises were usually conducted in pairs and rarely a trio. As such, there were times I felt a third person was ignored or could not get involved.

Helping Hands

In a nearly all female group, this was more than understandably one I did not participate in. This game involves four people, two acting out the scene while the other two stand behind them serve as their hands by passing their arms around the first two. They were faced with a ticking time bomb. The scene was funny as the time left for the bomb was always way too short for the amount of time they actually acted out. The two eventually got into an argument and began a futile slap-fight.

Imagine this is being conducted by two people standing immediately behind them while in a seated position.

The one weakness of the scene, which they all acknowledged, was their decision to get on their knees to defuse the bomb. It made it more difficult for the helping hands to reach around and for the audience in the back rows to see the action.

BING!

We had 3 very quick shorts in Bing! with everyone involved. The very rapid fire nature of this game can be funny for one liners. Not so much for character development or building towards a punchline. The first short was a group of three runners preparing to run out. The quick gag was the only way to run was as a herd. I’m blanking on what happened for the other two despite participating in one of them. I think I was still facing a few jitters by the time this game rolled around.

Dubbing

I was called up on stage for this game involving four performers.  Two of us would be on stage while the other two would dub in the dialogue. I was given a very high pitched feminine voice while my scene partner was given a bit of a gravelly deep voice. When the inspiration from the crowd came as fashion show, the scene blossomed to life. My partner is more of a tomboy and some of her funniest scenes during practice are whenever she plays as sleazy or misogynist men. I play a more feminine character because the juxtaposition of a 6’2″ stoic guy as a woman or effeminate guy with a significantly shorter woman acting very “manly” is a funny visual gag.

She immediately began hitting on my character, which we rapidly established was a model. One of the many funny lines came when we asked the creepy man in the scene if he enjoyed fashion and he said a flat no. I looked her over and my voice reinforced this by saying “Yeah, I guess not.” Visually, she was wearing a plaid shirt and jeans which contrasted with my attire (see how I tied that in from earlier?). This scene, perhaps more than any others, involved more a visual aspect because of our appearances and the two of us on stage were divorced from concentrating on dialogue and rather focus on our movements and body language. I began to hit my groove.

Speak as One

One of the contenders for best scene of the night was this three person scene where two of the girls would play one person, forced to speak at the same time trying to match what each other was saying while the other person was performing an interview. After dismissing the audience suggestion of gynecologist for the pair, ornithologist was chosen by our hostess. So it was a morning talk show where “Howard”, a renowned ornithologist, was being interviewed about tropical birds. Specifically, a rare species of bird named Owen, with a population of 7 million. Written words cannot do the scene justice. But the sight of the two trying to anticipate each other’s enunciation had the crowd in stitches.

Turn and Justify

When I was next on stage, my scene partner and I stood with our backs together. We are then asked to initiate a repetitive action. At the hostess’ prompt, we will then turn around and justify the actions each other is doing within the scene. I was mimicking preparing shaving cream before applying it to my face. As soon as I took the pose, the crowd erupted in laughter. In the moment, I thought perhaps my partner was doing something very silly. When we turned to face one another it was clear my partner was stirring the contents of a large bowl.

I immediately tilted my head as if to look at the difference in our stirring gestures and commented: “Your bowl is bigger than mine.” with a mixture of jealousy and intimidation in my voice. My partner described us baking a cake and that I was making the top layer. Nevertheless, I persisted with the gag and added “I kind of feel inadequate.”

Playing on this theme, our scene developed into a mother and son dynamic, preparing a cake for the son’s birthday party. I continued to exhibit the discomfort which stemmed from the difference in bowl size but my scene partner asked about my character’s friends coming. I was inspired to alter the source and explained I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the party because a bully was going to be there. We couldn’t back down from the invitation because the bully’s dad was the school principal. So we devised a plot where I would distract the bully while he pummeled my face and the mom would serve him a piece of cake with shaving cream in it.

Scene Three Ways

My personal favourite was a scene where two of the women had to repeat the same scene with three different emotional tones. The first was played “normal” as volunteers at a hospital to cuddle babies. The second time around, they were then given the emotion of fear. The scene transformed the volunteers into dreading the babies. The stage technician added the sound of babies crying to add to the effect. The girls picked up on the cue and would cringe slightly with each plaintive cry. One explained her fears about babies due to their crying and vomiting all over anyone who handled one. Thus, during the third iteration with them being hyper, this led to great acting as they were ecstatic and joyous at the prospect of being vomited upon.

This game really demonstrates the nuance and impact emotion can give to a scene. With each version adding a few more lines of dialogue yet not expecting what comes next. The two performers were, to quote Trump: “High Energy”, which only heightened their reaction but also that of the crowd who was lapping it up.

Should’ve Said

One of my favourite improv games, Should’ve Said involves the host or crowd calling for the performers to change their lines. In this, two of the women were pro wrestlers. When forced to alter their lines, they came up with surprise that pro wrestling wasn’t real and disappointment the physical attacks wouldn’t hurt each other. The scene ended on a high note when they finally went to the ring and after two changes turned out there was no one watching them… again.

Four Square

In Four Square, four performers form a square with two in the foreground of the stage and two in the background. The first two are given the parameters of the scene they are to perform together before rotating. This is repeated for each pair so everyone performs two separate short scene. I was too focused on my own to pay much attention to the others unfortunately. I recall a mute being taken to Chucky Cheese; in truth the person playing the mute didn’t know what Chucky Cheese was. When she uttered her ignorance to the crowd, this only pleased them more. The other involved an owner of a rebellious pet hamster who was worried about a stranger handling her pet.

I was paired first to perform a scene with one of the regular women in the class. We were to share the emotion of sadness. In one of the rare moments I did not take the lead, she huddled up pretending to cry. So, I went to comfort her and acted as though we were at a funeral. I attempted pitifully to cheer her up by reminding her of her deceased mother’s final words: “OH NO, A CAR!” The crowd applauded at my exclamation.

I was paired next with the added classmate. We were given a hobby of “ice cream”. When we pulled up, I looked up towards the lights and rubbed my chin pensively for a few moments as if looking over a menu. I then turned to her slightly and asked: “So what will you be ordering?”. She went on to say “I think I’ll go with a thousand and one flavours.” The scene implied we were sort of foodies specialized in ice cream, but this solidified it for me. I opted to play the snobbish stereotype of a foodie. I told her it was an “ok choice”. When she asked what I was going to have, I said I craved something with more substance. I questioned her credentials as an ice cream aficionado and accused her of being a poser. She then claimed a personal relationship with Ben and Jerry.

Later, at the funeral, I explained I knew her mother wasn’t a nice person. My partner then proceeded to cry very loudly before the bell rung to transition to the next scene.

Returning back to the ice cream parlour, I one upped my partner and stated I was on a first name basis with Haagen-Daas. To emphasize the point, I gently tugged at my blazer to express my pride. She tried to belittle that connection by saying it was because I paid them. My character did not deny the charge. She then went on to elaborate she was golfing buddies with B and J. Undeterred, I then leaned in close to her and whispered loudly enough for everyone in the crowd to hear: “I made love to Québon!” Which turned out to be the line of the night by many accounts.

Besides screwing up in No S, my only regret for the show was we couldn’t get a third (or more) turns to continue these scenes. The quick rotations where others are performing affords those in the back a few moments to plan out their next line which plays to my strengths as a wannabe writer. Lines like: “I was the vanilla in a Ben and Jerry neapolitan.” and “I sprinkled nuts all over the Dairy Queen.” while insinuating sexual acts did not see the stage sadly as we were pressed for time. The next funeral line I had prepared was a litany of terribly things the character’s mother had done. “Think on the special moments we shared with her. Like the time you applied to medical school. She reached out to your cheek and then slapped you as hard as she could and said ‘You’re too dumb to be a doctor.’ And now look at you, you’re the third best dentist in Laval!”

Open scene

With a new member added, our instructor included an open scene to allow her to show her stuff. In all honesty, she was at a disadvantage having never performed with us and her teacher didn’t appear to have covered many of the games we had practiced. My best friend did not shy away from his opinion she was the weakest performer when I asked him what he thought of the show.

In this instance, one of our regulars was given a series of physical ticks: picking her nose when nervous, playing with her hair, and possessing a feather in her pocket. The inspiration word for the scene was “bag pipes”. Our regular took over the scene with having to act out all these ticks while attending bag pipe lessons mandated by her character’s mother. From a physical comedy perspective, it was the most outrageous. It also spawned the line: “So I suck on to this? No you blow.”

The finale

Lines of dialogue plays out with crowd suggestions of lines written on pieces of paper before the show. These pieces of paper are strewn about the stage without our knowledge of what is written on them. The performers would whenever it struck their fancy to pick up these lines and read them aloud. So a vacation to Paris turned out to have a visiting Batman and his pet poodle fighting off an escaped tiger at one of the shops on the Champs-Élysées.


Level 3 Complete

I cannot help but feel a great sense of accomplishment having overcome my initial trepidation but also to see how far along I’ve come throughout these three classes. The group has been extremely welcoming to each other and in a very brief amount of time, we’ve established bonds of friendship with one another even outside of class. Sadly, some have decided to repeat level 3 or vacations will prohibit them from taking a class so close to the Holidays. However, I embarked on a personal journey and wish to see this through. I’ve met people who have become fond companions through levels 1 through 3 but it’s time to go on and perhaps meet a few more.

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