Category Archives: Improv

Busy week of Improv

Last week I had two grad shows to the public along with an Improv Summer camp. Originally, I had only signed up for a Narrative form but the theatre manager sent a request for more sign ups to the Harold II class as there weren’t enough people. I felt it would suck for those that wanted to pursue Harold if the class was cancelled so I volunteered to join. Mentally, it was very taxing to have two improv classes every week and having to practice with plenty of stage time. While I did enjoy the classes, it normally takes me a day or two to recharge. Two classes a week was a bit much and I had a tough time motivating myself to get out more this Summer because of it.

Harold

I skipped over detailing my experience in the Harold I class. While I really liked the class, we were 16 class members at times. Our instructor had little time to coach all of us or give sufficient stage time even with an additional 30 minutes he volunteered freely.  The first few classes we had a lot of fun but as time went on, we were tripping over ourselves. I felt our practice performances were getting worse the further we were asked to carry the ideas we originally had into the later stages of the show. To compensate for this, we were instructed to play as mundane as possible from start.

Several of us went to the Sunday workshops to get the stage time we were hoping for to mixed results. We performed two Harolds, one was well received, the other poor. Going into the grad show, everyone I spoke to in the class weren’t confident we’d have a good show. Whether the lack of practice or the mind set going in, we had a mediocre show. I am not blameless either. I felt the same way going in and did not invite any friends or my parents to watch. Harold has a very specific format and we were thrown out of whack by one of the other classmates who screwed up the sequence. This lead to some confusion and we had a hard time getting back on track.

The reduced class number for Harold II was more welcome and we had plenty of opportunity to practice. However, I found a major obstacle in the class because of crazy work hours and being told during the first class we had to start the show as mundane as possible. This led to our scenes not really going anywhere in the first segment, which gave us little to work in the later parts of the show. I experimented with trying to add interesting elements for later in the show but these were not projected well enough for later use by myself or the others.

Nevertheless, I was asked to perform as an opener for the local house team by our Harold II instructor to which I agreed. Again, our show proved mediocre in my view. With the same class mate mixing up the order as during our Harold I grad show. However, the house team had an amazing set with the same format because they did introduce comedic elements from the get go. This hearkened back to the first classes. The next week, I asked for clarification on the “mundane”. Our instructor clarified that we have to leave ourselves room to heighten the absurdity or comedy of our original scene later in the show.

Our grad show was very well received and in many ways the most rewarding of all my performances because of the challenges and initial “failure” of a bad show. Strangely enough, what made the show for me was a screw up by yours truly. I joined someone on stage who was pretending to play with LEGOs. I joined him in doing so. His face turned to the audience, he said “Dad, I really appreciate you helping me build this LEGO tower.” I didn’t hear him say “Dad” and so my response was: “I want to be an architect when I grow up”. He immediately called me out on the mistake saying “But dad, you already are a grown up!” Quickly, I flipped the scene about my character undergoing a mid-life crisis and playing with LEGOs as a way to re-capture my youth. This morphed into the theme of the show. Later scenes had my character wanting to re-live his teenage years while his son was off to his first day of work. A group game involving what to do during a mid-life crisis, a scene about the inability to relate to younger generations, another series of scenes of someone wanting to live forever, “hazing” in prison and university before mixing everything together in a hodge podge of hilarity!

It is definitely a format I enjoy despite the struggle because there are plenty of moving pieces; it feels like playing an improv chess board with every move potentially significant later on.

Narrative

Our narrative class did not face the same struggles. Rather, because of summer vacations and real life our class lost three people by the time the show came around. Nevertheless, we performed a good show with few hiccups. Following the Pixar format, we alternated between hindering and helping our main protagonist Barry Pilkerton and his desire to convert his gas station in his home town of Winnipeg Manitoba to full service. His character was inspired to make the change while vacationing in Oregon.

We had some fantastic scenes and some great lines like “I find tipping morally objectionable.” and “Just get that thing out of me [referring to the gas hose]”. We struggled to raise the stakes and forced a few scenes. One of my scene partners was trying to convince someone to kill Barry and it felt very forced and out of tune with the rest of the story. This led to the story derailing into a far more violent tone than everything preceding it. My favourite scene was one where four of us were pretending to be in our cars waiting to be served with the main character struggling to keep up. We would complain or request service to make Barry feel overwhelmed, argue about how much should we tip, before gradually all of us drove off across the street to the new self-service station.

The show ended when Barry, disgruntled, attempted to blow up his rival but seeing how insane that was, he decided to simply go to Oregon to live out the rest of his days. He left the station to his former assistant who exclaimed. “First policy change, NO TIPPING!”

The show definitely impressed my [first] date. We had a great conversation but sadly, she didn’t feel enough of a spark to envision a long term romantic relationship between us. She did agree to remain friends though. While disappointed, I do feel improv has made me more open and a better conversationalist.

Improv Camp

Over the weekend, I and 35 others attended an improv summer camp. Mixed in between the regular camp activities (kayaking, archery, swimming, etc) we had improv workshops. In many ways, these were more refreshers of lessons from previous levels but with a focus of fine tuning for those of us who were at higher levels. After spending so much time learning formats and how to construct a show, it was a good reminder on scene work.

The biggest challenge for me was being surrounded by a large group of people for an extended amount of time. While I am not afraid of crowds, I find it mentally draining to be around more than 3-4 people for long periods of time. However, it never ceases to amaze me how charming and welcoming the community is. The only time I felt uncomfortable was during the dance party where I had a pounding headache from the obnoxious club music, strobe lights and packed crowd. Once about half the crowd cleared out I felt better although some IB profin definitely provided an assist.

Monday hit me like a ton of bricks though. I had resolved to do some household chores but I needed to recharge mentally. I ended up putting it off until today because I was just mentally exhausted. Nevertheless, I want to go back next year! Spending so much time around the other improvisers of the community allowed us to discuss topics more in depth and getting to know one another more than just passing acquaintances. I was still the “odd duck” of the pack but I never felt particularly excluded except of my own doing.

 

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Belated Improv level 6 recap

Several 3 am to 6 pm work weeks have kept me from posting more regularly. During that period, I did have my level 6 grad show. Our class was quite large. We were 15 students at times so we didn’t have as much stage time as a normal class might. Contrary to my level 3 and 5 classes, I felt I didn’t have as great chemistry with several of my scene partners because of that lack of practice. In all, I felt I only had two or three good scenes during class ahead of the show.

On the other hand, this was a more theoretical class than my previous ones. For the first time, I had a repeat teacher. It was the return of my level 1 instructor. He considers himself very much an “improv nerd”. His teaching style reminds me of the high school science teacher who really wants to get his students to know the fundamentals while also introducing new concepts. I found myself questioning my choices even more than usual. Upon reflection, I was very interested in pursuing plot while it was stressed the focus should be “game”. For those unfamiliar with improv, game is essentially the joke or running gag of the scene. For example, a character allergic to cats who works at a pet shop trying to sell a felines to the other person in the scene.

As a result, I began to focus even more on facilitating my scene partners’ schtick rather than contribute on my own to achieve game. It was only by the end of the course when we received the lesson to call out your scene partners’ mistakes or peculiar actions on stage where I began to get into a groove of sorts. I was being far too subtle in my delivery and it would occasionally go over the head of my scene partner while on stage. Boldness was key and a lesson I had somewhat allowed to lapse from level four.

Our level 6 class introduced us to a new format called Armando. Instead of performing a series of scenes based on a single word as inspiration, a performer would give a monologue of two to three minutes. Being an aspiring writer, I was quick to volunteer for the task with short stories inspiring great sets. It was fun seeing what others would focus or extract from an anecdote. In one example, I told the group a story about Reebok Pumps

reebok-pump-omni-zone-2
Yes, this was a thing back in the 90s.

Growing up, my family was lower-middle class and so finances were tight to buy expensive sneakers. Nevertheless, as a kid of 9 I was impressionable and bought into the advertising of the shoes being the best thing since sliced bread. I pleaded with my parents to get a pair. I was so thrilled when my dad finally relented. That summer, we would constantly go outside and play baseball. However, this tale is one of great drama as I went on to explain how the shoes were ruined. We were out playing baseball at the local field the day after it had rained. One of my baseballs had landed into a huge mud patch. In an effort to retrieve the ball, I ended up losing one of the shoes in the mud. Going back to get it, made it worse. When I finally got home, the shoes were filthy. My dad tried hosing them down to clean them but they became waterlogged and later warped while drying. Further, the pumps no longer worked. For the next two years my parents would only get me really cheap velcro sneakers and jogging pants.

For the show itself, we had split the group in two, with a practice show the weekend before. I was asked to give the monologue for the practice. I wrote and memorized three stories of three to four minutes in length. An hour before the show, I was asked to go for two to three minutes. Ten minutes before the show, it was cut further down by another 30 seconds. I scrambled to cut out parts of the story but also adapted to a request by some of my classmates to give lots of details. The lights went out at the two minute mark of my monologue about the time I was 16 working at a convenience store and was offered fellatio by a pair of prostitutes in exchange for a sandwich. The performers did a fantastic job taking the story and adapting it into analogous scenes.

For the show itself, we were the second set. My performance was based on a story about a classmate forced to go to Summer camp every year because his cousins were sent there. As an aside, he explained that was often the case in his family where if it was good for the goose, it was good for the gander. The main story was an anecdote about how one year he almost killed a camper by spraying bug spray into his mouth out of revenge for a prank.

For my initiated scene, I focused on the idea of being forced to go somewhere because someone else had to go. I stepped forward on stage, holding the hand of one of the female classmates. I leaned over a chair and proudly exclaimed: “Thanks for coming to my proctology exam with me. You’re a true friend.” The line was met with widespread laughter to kick us off. The set before us had been great so we managed to maintain the momentum; even earning high praise from the theatre’s owner. Nevertheless, if I had to nitpick, I felt our group could have been faster to cut scenes. All the more aggressive performers were in the first group. Thus, a few scenes went a bit long but otherwise everything turned out for the best.

 

 

Audition Fail

I mentioned in my previous blog post I had applied to audition to join an improv troupe. As the title implies, I did not make the final cut. However, I am not displeased by the result. I didn’t go in with any expectations. This was partly due to the strength of the competition. Early on, the audition was aimed at less experienced performers until they relaxed the restrictions to include individuals who had been in troupes before. I felt this relieved me of much of my nervousness going into it. Instead, I chose to view this as a way to gauge how far I had progressed but also see how much and how I could improve.

I arrived about a half hour early to the audition. Lateness would disqualify us so I didn’t want to risk a metro interruption spoiling my opportunity. When the first audition exited out (I was part of the second batch), all the performers seemed down on their performance. They were mostly very experienced so I took some of it with a grain of salt as their standards would’ve been higher. I was fortunate enough that my group was a mix of very experienced performers but also a few who I’ve done classes with. The former could fall back on their experiences and with the latter that previously established chemistry played well on stage.

All in all, I think it was my best showing as a performer even though I was hardly the best there. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I often come off as stoic and there were times I could barely contain my laughter during a scene. The highlight was between a woman I had been in level 4 and level 5 with (although she had repeated both classes multiple times) and I. Our inspiration was the word “zoo”. Immediately, she latched on to me tightly and commented how she was looking forward to going to the zoo with me in a very affectionate tone. We played this up as we were slowly getting aroused at watching the different animals. The whole scene culminated when I compared her to a sloth’s ability to hang on trees while at opposite ends of the stage in a vain attempt to calm our hormones. Instead, we rushed to the center of the stage and I went to embrace her and she chose to jump into my arms and wrap her legs around me. I think that was the first time I’ve ever blushed.

I felt everyone was very positive about the show coming out and we had a great time chatting briefly. It was a stark contrast to the first group’s exit. Talking to some of my other classmates who went later, they had mixed feelings about their auditions. I was able to ground myself though so while I had some hope I might get in, I still felt it was a long shot. Rather than feel disappointed about not being retained, I sent thanks to the judges for the opportunity. Others may come later. There are still several classes I’d like/need to take to continue to improve.

When I first signed up, it was more an exercise in personal development. My first teacher created a very welcoming environment and it was enjoyable to be part of something where everyone was friendly and clearly wanted to be there. By level two, I learned there was a graduation class for level three. Ever the ambitious type, I set my next goal for that show. Along the way, our third instructor really made me enjoy the experience; enough to pursue it further. The audition though crystallized this interest into a hobby I prioritize in my life. I’ve been signing up for practice shows and the like. Even failure is a blessing in disguise.

Improv level 5 complete

On February 22nd, I performed at my improv level five grad show. From my initial impressions, I felt it was the second best of my three grad shows so far. Over the course of my classes, I have become more critical of my own performance. From a technical standpoint, the show was probably the best because of the lessons and skills I’ve learned over the course of the past few months. This was confirmed when I watched a level four grad show the following night. I was seated with three women who were part of our level three show. One of whom has continued on with me up to level six.  The other two dropped out but might restart again. The two who dropped out were highly entertained. I on the other hand felt there were only two good scenes. My classmate also concurred with my opinion.

Prior to the show, I was nervous (as always). However, it wasn’t so much the anxiety of performing in front of a crowd but rather concern for the quality of the show. Up until level four inclusively, the framework of the shows were always self-contained scenes with their own parameters. As I described during my first show, level three culminated into “games”. These games are defined by their own rules and tropes. Level four opened up somewhat with open scenes ruled by the inspiration given to us by the audience, our scene partner(s) and our whims. If you bomb on stage, the teacher could mercifully cut it short or give direction. At level five, we had to learn to self-edit.

Long Form

A long form improv show involves all the performers on stage who will weave a series of scenes based on a single inspiration rather than resetting to query the crowd. Long form involves a narrative structure, cutting away into non-sequitur à la Family Guy, an event in the past or following our inspiration for a concept introduced during the performance which could yield fruit. It is we the performers who had to make our own decisions when a particular scene would segue into another and how. The task of the instructor was to give us the proper techniques to judge when to do so and the most elegant tools to accomplish our transitions from one scene to the next.

Unlike most classes, as per our instructor, we were a very aggressive group when it came to scene edits during class. Our show was to be a twenty minute set. From our practice runs we easily made it into double digits where other groups might struggle to get eight (we regularly hit 14). While this isn’t an issue in itself, problems did occur when some scenes didn’t have sufficient time to even establish platform (who, what, where) before changing into something else entirely. One egregious example involved a scene edit before the performers had even uttered a single word. For the most part, the same individuals took up the lion’s share of the edits. Out of a group of seven performers, we had three very aggressive editors, two were about average in number, one was very timid and finally myself.

Our instructor pointed out I was very prone to make a quick or subtle joke instead of playing the character on stage. I feel the aggressive nature of the edits reinforced this tendency somewhat as I was half-expecting to be edited out at any moment. Improv was about comedy, I reasoned, so I should get in a joke. One scene midway through the session, I found myself glancing towards the others to see if anyone was moving to edit after most of my own lines. Strangely enough, during practice I was usually involved in the longest scenes or series of scenes. Most often, these were when I was playing the situation a bit more straight. I haven’t found the correct balance yet but the criticism is well-deserved and I continue to try to practice on it. Instead, I do feel I was laying the groundwork for others. On the other hand, he did compliment my timing on my edits, particularly with “palette cleansers” set to end a series of scenes or begin a new series. As the classes went on, I took a back seat for the editing and looked more to bookend our performances into “chapters” or “acts” and leaving the twists and turns to the others. I felt this would serve the troupe best.

With an audience of one (our instructor), it was more difficult to gauge when to finish a scene on a high note. We had to judge for ourselves while paying very close attention to each detail should we wish to re-use elements of that scene for a transition or to revisit later. Nevertheless, he was very good at pointing out when a scene ran its course.

The Big Show

Unlike the previous two shows I was involved in, my class shared stage with another class. The show itself was split into three groups, our class performed the second half. The first group was still too large for a single set, and they made two groups although with two members pulling double duty.

As the other class’ performance went on, I felt my anxieties for the show had taken life on stage. To be polite, they struggled. One individual in particular seemed intent to dominate the show through her performance and her editing. I feared something similar might transpire as nerves would get the best of us. My best friend summed it up with a single look of mild disdain when he congratulated me on the success of our part of the show.

We started with three open scenes to warm ourselves up on stage. I was on stage for the third, but did get involved in the second. The scene began with two bar owners lamenting the failure of their bar. When the third performer, a barfly, went to play a song on the jukebox to commemorate the good times, I yelled out “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?” to a good reaction from the crowd. The women on stage rolled with it and ended the scene with the line: “You really know how to pick the appropriate song.”

For my scene, our instructor gave the audience the choice of location between a church or a strip club. Surprisingly, they voted for the church. We both knelt into a praying position once the lights came up. My scene partner endowed us as an engaged couple. Her character was not religious and was trying to share my character’s faith. I initially blocked the proposal in favour of a quick joke but when she reworded the request to say “I pray and pray and get no answers to my questions.” I caught on. At that point, I decided to have my character offer to pretend to be god and try to answer said questions. In a booming voice, I asked her to ask away and we played a game of her criticizing my character’s habits while I, pretending to be god, was trying to excuse himself. The scene was a big success and got us ready for the long form set.

Our inspiration for the set was “Scrabble”. Each of us then yelled out a word inspired “algebraically”. By algebraically, our instructor explained it as a word association in two steps. So A (Scrabble) to B to C. Mine was “Operation”.

scrabble
I prefer the Battlestar Galactica board game myself, but still a fun game.

I stepped forward, mimicking a surgeon scrubbing his hands before surgery. One of the women stepped forward, and I endowed her as a nurse, asking her about the surgery. Once she responded, I told her I needed her help; she had to drive me back home as my wife recently left me. One of the other women tapped the nurse out and then played the ex-wife who lamented that I was too intent on scrubbing my hands she feared I’d be left only with bloody stumps. I replied it was a fear I shared since my hands were so important. Off stage, the teacher went to give a queue to talk about the hands although I already planned to do so. I began to explain how as a surgeon my hands were a gift and had power over life and death. I then wanted to tell the wife my character had already explained why he would make love to her wearing mittens, but I mispoke and said “muffins”. The crowd erupted in laughter as I caught myself a half-second too late. Before I could recover, the nurse came back on stage, spread her arms wide and exclaimed: “Make love to me with your muffin mittens!”

We had won over the crowd after the slow start. My confidence on stage grew and I found myself occasionally taking the lead as the crowd feedback was always positive to my performance. It was the only time I was on stage where I didn’t feel any anxiety or nervousness.

I won’t go into too many details on the entirety of the show, but I really liked the contributions of my scene partners in the final scene I initiated to end the show. I grabbed a chair and sat at the fore of the stage. I pretended eating something, moaning loudly in enjoyment. When the first scene partner stepped forward, I did not hesitate and told her: “This birthday cake is soooooo goooooood.” My ex-coworkers, had they attended, would have recognized I was imitating one of them. Pleased at my reception, she endowed herself as a caterer or waitress at a fancy restaurant. When I asked what was in it, she listed out an overly complex list of ingredients for a mild crowd laugh. I extended my compliments to chef Henri for having outdid himself but she chose to endow the role to another person had someone wanted to come in as such. She followed by asking if everything was satisfactory. As she didn’t quite get the hint of me wanting to bring in a third person to end the show, I then added: “Well, I think this cake would be excellent for my 4 year old daughter’s birthday party.” A call back to the extravagant ingredients, but then expressed hesitation. “I think I need a second opinion.” The timid woman did not miss a beat and stepped forward. “I got your text.” I offered her to taste the cake, resulting in:

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I began wiping her face she continued to be on a roll with her lines: “No daddy, I’m saving that for later.” When asked if she liked the cake, she wanted it to have ketchup to the horror of the caterer. I stood up from my seat assertively and proclaimed: “If my daughter wants ketchup on her birthday cake, she’s going to get ketchup!” In reaction to the bold move, the caterer cowered in fear and the daughter sweetly uttered her appreciation with a “Yay, daddy!” to close the show.

After thoughts

All in all, I was largely satisfied with my performance except for blocking my partner initially in the open scene in the church and another scene which was cut just before I had the opportunity to build something with it. The moment lost, I chose not to revisit it. After class, three of us went out for drinks. After some discussion, I considered my options for the next session whether or not to move on to level 6. The woman who had watched my ex-troupe’s level 4 show was far more critical of the show than I was. Although, I  agree with her assessment on some parts of the show which could have been better, I was disappointed she was “stuck” in bad scenes either because of over eager edits from the other performers. She never got a chance to shine and I think she felt discouraged as the night show went on. After a lengthy discussion, I chose to move forward and to audition for some of the house teams at the theater. The latter will be addressed in my next blog post.

 

Building Characters #3: Goals

One of the challenges I face writing my murder mystery (besides my old computer hard drive crashing with it) was trying to give the characters varied motives to murder the victim or motives and goals outside of the deed itself. One of the RPG campaigns I am involved with more or less died over the holidays as one player decided to tear up his character sheet. He lost interest as the game master is very poor at planning his schedule and so we had long periods between sessions. The rest of the group had a discussion on the topic of the future of the campaign. This in turn spun into a discussion on what we were looking for in the game from both a player and character perspective.

One thing that struck me was one of the players, who I had been playing with for almost 20 years, expressed criticism for how we create our groups of characters. Often times, when someone starts a campaign the game master (GM) gives a brief context of the setting and everyone creates their character on their own. However, without giving the details of the story or plot the game master would follow, the player ends up with very bland characters or those who are not involved actively in the game. Rather, he spends most of his time flipping through rulebooks and thinking about creating a new character. This certainly explains how in the past, he often would go through dozens of characters in some campaigns. We interpreted this as indecisiveness or fickleness. Instead, his comment was he felt his character didn’t “fit in”. Rather, he wanted to create a new character who would fit into the narrative. Now, the fault can be spread to the GM and other players not integrating him more, but in the end he also has to be pro-active. In this case, he is purely a passive observer.

The other player, who I referred to in the previous post, was purely a tourist. I use the term tourist as the character’s only goal was to meet new people and see new things. Now, there is something to be said about wanderlust or the desire for adventure. This character was just touring the setting and had no intention of creating ties to the area beyond acquaintances and being an attention whore at social gatherings. He further explained what he looks for in a RPG experience is for the world, story, characters to influence his character. Essentially, his character is more or less a blank slate with some basic characteristics: usually a slutty hedonist, with a bit of an innocent streak. However, the player is quite perceptive and pragmatic. He projects these traits onto the character which makes the innocence come off as fake.

Now, both of these approaches are fine. However, these put the responsibility on others to pull them in and get them to invested. These are somewhat passive approaches which works fine for say a story on rails. However, the sand box nature of the campaign itself left them hanging in the wind, waiting for something to happen while I was going about exploring what could be done. The fourth player who tore up his sheet was more or less involved but he had a shared goal with me.

Step 1: Identifying the game

Now, my character creation process is dependent on what type of game we are playing and who is running the game. I adapt to the circumstances ahead of time. I’ll probe and ask questions to better suit the narrative and gameplay. The more complex the game setting or plot, the more likely I try to make a more complex character. Or if it is a game I dislike but play for the benefit of the group, I’ll play something I find interesting for myself. RPGs, unlike many other types of games, possess a more social aspect. Everyone contributes in one way or another be it through the social interaction, the gaming, or just bringing snacks to the table. So the first step is asking:

  • What type of campaign or story will it be?
  • Is this something I want to explore or take part in?
  • How can I (including the character-proxy) contribute or advance the story?

The answers will be different in each case but also mean different things to different individuals. A hack and slash dungeon crawl might mean a tactical challenge to someone while to another it is an opportunity to show off their mastery of game mechanics through power-gaming. Both are perfectly valid styles. These interpretations should then inform the players what role they will play and what type of character could best represent it with their view of the game.

In the example above, the player viewing it as a tactical challenge would likely make a tactical and intelligent character. One who relies on his or her wits to overcome challenges. What factored into this characters’ development to be this way? How will it inform her future actions? What drives her to do so?

Step 2: Group Cohesion

A major pitfall is conflicting interests within a group. This creates conflict between the players and is likely to bog down or slow the game down. In more extreme cases, this can hurt personal relationships between the players. Now, conflicting interests and competing interests are not the same thing. The former are in direct opposition while the others can be compromised upon. The former has to be handled very deftly by the players and the game master.

I find many groups go through different phases of maturity in gaming. The first, often formed through more “simplistic” games like D&D involves a very basic principle. You are a team and need to work together to accomplish the goals as given to you. The GM can steer the group as a whole without too much concern for motivating every single member.

Next comes the backstabbing phase. Often times this expresses itself with players wanting to play an “evil group” or playing more political games like Vampire: the Masquerade. The players want to break out of the initial good vs evil trope of medieval fantasy inspired by Lord of the Rings. This is when several players will begin creating their own goals, even if it is to fuck over their comrades over perceived slights. The challenge is to channel these interests towards the same objective without breaking the group. In my experience, the “evil group” games tend to have a very short shelf-life. The Vampire the Masquerade games tend to have more staying power but often devolve into solo scenes held in secret rather than involve everyone.

Now, our current group failed at the final phase of gaming maturity. This phase has players and their surrogate characters develop goals and work in tandem instead of at cross-purposes. We had little group cohesion not because of character conflicts but we had little to do with one another. In the end, there has to be a unifying quality to the goal(s), even if it is something very personal. You need the help of others to accomplish it as you cannot do it alone suffices. This must be established both in game and out of character to work. I and another player explicitly stated and established what dynamic, goals and roles we would play. The other two players ignored us to varying degrees. The first didn’t take into account the other characters whatsoever, the second played what he wanted and gave only a bit of effort to try to establish a working relationship. Thus, our group never meshed.

Step 3: Goals

Now that we’ve settled the framework, we need to establish what we would like to accomplish within. Simplistic stories of “you must save the world from destruction” are fairly straightforward. You live in said world. It would kind of suck for it to be destroyed while you are still on it. You have a built in investment towards the overarching goal.

You need to establish the motivation your character has towards the overall theme. Taking the example of the group, if you are someone looking to be influenced by the events of the world, this requires for you to get involved in them. Interact with others and the plot and not just sit idly around.

I attended an improv workshop two weekends ago. We had an exercise where we had to enumerate 5 desires a person might have. A one line description of the person was provided to us by someone else. So for example, I was given an office worker assigned to a very small cubicle. The five desires I chose were:

  1. To get an actual office.
  2. Tell off his boss.
  3. Make it to Friday’s “5@7”
  4. Go out on a date with the cute girl in accounting.
  5. His favourite sports team winning the championship.

The first four are very much in line with the person’s occupation. The last one adds depth to the character by showing he isn’t defined solely by his profession. This is often a “trap” we fall when we view our characters as a role or class. Certainly, in a more “adventuring” type game, the primary goal or ambition of the character could be steered towards that path. Adding unrelated or tangential goals adds depth.

4. Motivations

Now that you have defined what your character wishes to accomplish, you need to decide the “why” or motivation behind it. Why does your character want to kill the evil wizard? Fame, fortune, revenge, doing the right thing, etc? The follow-up to that is determine why this is important. If you want revenge; revenge for what? Why does this wrong need to be avenged? You can go quite in depth about a motivation or desire as you peel more and more layers. It’s up to the player or performer to figure out how deep in this process he is willing to go.

A similar exercise we had this past Wednesday in improv class was to play word associations with ourselves in the form of rants. We had to rant about a topic chosen by the audience for as long as we could. We were then asked to define why this was important to us and finally what would happen if the topic was no longer a problem. I’m not a whiner or complainer by nature but rather someone who tries to figure out the root cause and eventually find a solution. Therefore, this exercise was difficult for me to string a rant longer than a few seconds on mundane topics. I often found myself frustrated by the solutions being overlooked or ignored more than the “problem” itself. Nevertheless, it was a fun exercise to discover how far we can go down this line of thought and perhaps find what is at the core of a character. Once found, it helped flesh out how he or she might feel towards other things.

5. Action!

The last part is to act upon these goals but also determine the stakes. What are you prepared to do to accomplish your goals?

l9bun
Singing is on the to do list though.

How much does the character or person value this goal? What are you willing to risk? What is your personal stake? These can certainly change over time. A character might become more passionate or come to the realization the goal was superficial or fleeting. However, character development is another topic for another day. What is important is the individual act upon these rather than wait for them to be handed over. Something we can apply to our own lives.

 

 

Improv Update

As a blogger, I’ve been on hiatus the last 2 months for various reasons: a new relationship which unfortunately ended, work, the holidays, illness and some drama all conspired to take up a significant amount of time. The topic of this post is my progress through improv.

I completed my level 4 class over November and December. While I did have fun, it was not to the same satisfaction as level 3. The schedule did not help. No week night class was offered and so I had to enroll in the Saturday afternoon class. Furthermore, due to an improv festival we had a week off after the third class. It just so happened I fell ill with a nasty man flu just before the fourth class and opted to quarantine myself and my 40C fever. I did not fully recover by the next class and my level of energy and consequently my involvement were very low.

I did not enjoy the same level of chemistry with the other classmates. Only one of my classmates from level 3 opted to come up to level 4. With my level 3 class, I was a sort of improv chameleon as I was able to adjust my performance style to match the others in order to best compliment their skills or range. With this new group and the 2 week interruption, I never built that rapport. As my other level 3 classmate often remarked, she also felt this group would go off on their own to pull the scene in a direction with or without the other scene partners. I certainly admit she has a point to an extent. Nevertheless, it was certainly an experience to try to perform scenes again where I drove the narrative much less and had to react rather than push the story forward.

The main takeaway I have of the class is to try to figure out sooner what is the ambition or desire of the character we end up portraying on stage. Prior to that, I never put much thought of it because I felt they were very much disposable characters. Rather, I took a more “meta” approach, trying to find ways to compliment my scene partners, play for a running gag (or game) or for a later payoff. The other takeaway is I need to be more explicit on what those desires are. The input from my instructor was essentially I was too subtle. “Improv is about bold decisions!” to use his words.

I did not like our level 4 grad show though. However, my mother who saw both shows felt this one was better. As a much larger group, we had fewer turns on stage. I only came in near the middle of the show. Thankfully, it was well-received. We had a smaller crowd and they weren’t very vocal. They “woke up” as my scene partner and I performed a scene without dialogue, using siblings as inspiration and the music chosen by the audio technician. He opted for music typical for dramatic action movie trailers. The subject of our scene had the two siblings fight over a toy, leading to a pretend sword fight before finally reconciling as the music died down.

The next time I was on stage was as a pair of male strippers for their final show. While we had the strongest reaction from the crowd of the night for this scene, our instructor would interrupt to give us instructions which sort of broke my immersion. My scene partner picked up the slack though when my concentration was broken.

This was followed by a scene as a group of garden gnomes who have been collecting dust in the garage over the winter. This was a mirroring scene where everyone had to slowly mimic each other. I really did not enjoy these exercises during class, and I felt it fell flat on scene. The crowd reacted warmly when we tried to escape the garage but the heatwave outside had us all melt into a single body.

The final scene of the night involved myself and two other guys going to the bar for the first time. This was a direct opposite to the stripper scene where everything we were doing was our first experience, from dancing to picking up a cigarette, and ordering a drink. It ended when the first guy ordered a scotch with rocks, the second orders rocks with scotch, and I ordered a rock to raucous applause. I kicked myself internally as I had stumbled on my line and meant to utter “… a Scottish rock”.

The first level 5 class was last week. The overall curriculum is to build a montage where we’ll have to revisit previous scenes. The class makeup is more or less the same although we are fewer. Most of the level 4 class has returned but we have a new teacher. Outside of improv, he is a University professor. So far, I like his style as he is more articulate in his feedback than our level 4 teacher. Although he warned us he can be harsh, but he means well. To which I replied “Is that like how people say ‘I’m not racist but… and then proceed to say something racist?'” It certainly broke the ice for the beginning of what I hope to be a great class.

 

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.

Improv: Practice show

With our public show on the 27th fast approaching, I and several of my classmates attended the Sunday workshop at the school. While most of the class was there, only three of us participated in the public show. I won’t lie and will admit I was reticent to sign up. I’ve performed some – pretty – embarrassing songs at Karaoke, but this was partially different. In Karaoke, everyone is involved and if you pick a popular song there is a sing along element. Plus, there is always that one person who is probably worse than you are.

Unless you’re this guy.

However, the level 4 class participating with us was very supportive and explained to what we had to do. Nevertheless, I was nervous despite showing no outward signs. Once I jumped up on stage with the rest of my scene partners, the bright lights reduced my vision to only the first two rows and the nervousness melted away as our performance went on. We took part in three improv games.

No “S”

Your lines of dialogue must not include the letter “S” in any way. We were given as inspiration the word “canoe”. It was funny to see everyone fumble their lines trying to avoid the dreaded “S” and the crowd’s shouts of “DIE!” eliminating us from the game. By the time, my turn came around, I called out there was a waterfall up ahead and began miming paddling vigorously at counter-current. My scene partner simply replied with a “Yup”. Unfortunately, I accidentally slipped when I asked her “How can you be so unfazed in the face of danger!?!?!” and lost.

Word Restriction

The next game involved my two classmates and I where we were limited in the number of words we could use in our dialogue. I was given a 5 word limit, the others 2 and 3 respectively. Our inspiration from the audience was “cardboard”. I took the lead and mimicked being beneath a box.

As I had the most words permitted in my dialogue, I was largely driving the narrative from a descriptive point of view where as my partners were providing the actions. When the women noticed something in the distance. I cut open a hole at the top of my box and spotted a giant hamster. The beast began charging at us and so we fled to finish the scene.

BING!

No, not the less popular search engine but rather the name of the game. All 7 of us (including the level 4 team) were on stage and would kneel at the center of the stage. Every time the host hit a bell, some of us would stand up and begin performing a scene. Once the host lost interest or felt the scene hit a gag, he’d hit the bell again and those in the scene would kneel back down, and 1 or more of those kneeling would stand up and begin anew.

Our first scene was inspired by the word “Unicorn”. Everyone began to hesitate so I pretended to gallop astride a majestic unicorn across half the stage. Another improviser either didn’t catch it or went for a gag and said “Ok, male kangaroo you can get on the Ark.” For most of the remainder of the scene, I hopped in place as everyone else continued with the dialogue until the 4th and final person in the scene pretended to be a unicorn. It ended when I brought attention to Noah that the Unicorn was a unique being. Despite the protests of the Unicorn, he was not allowed on board.

I was involved in another scene where we were taking a tour of the amazon. The comedy came as my partner, another man, called me “honey”. In response, I moved in close and embraced him to a raucous response from the crowd. Our tour guide continued to describe some of the animals in the rain forest. Sadly, the scene ended before I wanted to say “It’s settled. We’re buying it.”  to spin it as a real estate sale rather than the implied tour guide.

Feedback

Following our performance, we were given feedback by the workshop teacher. Besides stating the audience seemed to enjoy the performance, he only gave us negative feedback which disappointed my fellow classmates. On the other hand, there was only 1 or two elements per person. The feedback I received was I was making too much noise on the scene while I was hopping up and down as a kangaroo. I actually recognized this somewhat as the scene went on and stopped hopping when I was delivering dialogue. Afterwards we spoke to each other and to our classmates who stayed to watch but hadn’t participated in the show. Whatever positive reinforcement we needed, they quickly provided which was much appreciated. Only 8 days to go for the real thing!

Building character(s)

Last night, my friends and I had a discussion about character in role-playing games and specifically character conflict. Our host was talking about starting a new RPG campaign using the Burning Wheel RPG. While I’ve never read or played the game, the selling point he and another friend of mine were touting was a sort of trait system which forced players to hold to a personality trait or belief established at character creation. They buttressed their argument by comparing pen and paper rpgs to a video game. They felt their current group of regulars had a video game player mentality where you are encouraged to seek the best possible outcome rather than act out how your character should or would.

Like the above except repeat for best results.

I can certainly understand where this opinion is coming from. In the group I play with irregularly, there is some crossover of players. I rarely see the other players initiate stories or ideas on their own. They are purely reactionary and only look to see how they can get the ideal result when faced with a dilemma placed before them by the game master. Rarely will the characters act upon their beliefs or personality. Rather, they look at the situation from a more objective outside point of view and then act upon it. This is very much a style of play we see in video games which might present you a choice, sometimes even more than two, but really there is one answer better than the others. As this is a Fading Suns game, one of the ways to earn experience to develop your character is express what you or your character learned from the session. Rarely will these players articulate what their character learned but rather what they as a player did or will refer to facts revealed during the session. The other option is they will state something I personally find quite weak but thrust it upon their character learning this (a laughable one being you need power to be able to do stuff coming from someone who is already a powerful character).

Now, this is not to say there is a good or bad way to play pen and paper RPGs or video games. These are simply subjective critiques. We can each derive our own sense of amusement from these experiences. So long as everyone is having fun the purpose of the game is achieved. The players I referenced earlier do have fun witnessing the story. They are not the protagonists but rather sidekicks or supporting characters. These are roles they feel comfortable with. I often become the de facto leader and main protagonist because I am more assertive or ambitious than my fellows. When we play games where I don’t play this role, the campaign tends to lack direction and eventually get abandoned. In my professional role, I am often more a mediator than a leader. I also feel more comfortable in that role from a personality perspective. Interestingly enough, the first few sessions of any RPG, I try to be the one who builds consensus until even my patience is exhausted before I just take charge in the face of paralysis.

Sandbox video games do offer more freedom. While most have a main plot which is more or less on rails, it is often actually secondary to the freedom the player has to explore or make whatever fun they want. This is accomplished through side quests, persistent worlds, or tools to be a total sociopath and just cause untold destruction and murder.

Or the main plot can be cliche and poorly written such so you don’t feel any investment in it and prefer doing anything else.

GTA IV is a good example of this. Despite lackluster driving controls, there is plenty to do in the game when you aren’t pursuing the story missions. You do have choices, even if a video game is significantly limited when compared to the possibilities offered by the imagination. The designers certainly made many memorable characters with personality which gave a certain vibrant nature to the world. This is the least of what a good pen and paper rpg can offer.

Now how this ties to improv, comes as we have begun to explore characters more and more in our classes. Last class, we took part in an exercise where we were crafting a character to take part in a scene. At first we began by walking around the room and were instructed to now walk like our character. Following up on this, we got home, and then had to prepare for a night out. Throughout, continuously acting as our character would in the various situations. We were then instructed to pick a name for a character and say it aloud. The instructor handed us a piece of paper giving us each an additional trait or quality we had to exhibit. In a normally heavily female dominated class, I decided to play a female character. I drew inspiration from an ex-coworker who was very status conscious and materialistic when it came to fashion and a lesser extent men. I was Tina Martinez. When I received the piece of paper describing my character as rich, I chose to have her wealth be through her husband. However, as we were then ushered into a facsimile of toastmasters and through the conversations with the other participants, I found myself adding more depth to Tina. She was largely lonely with her husband Ricky constantly away on business trips. She had one of those purse pooches she named Fluffy to keep her company.

In my writing or my rpg characters, I never really considered the character’s movement. Although lately, I have noticed while DMing our D&D 5th edition game, I am adding a more physical element than in the past. The players have largely responded positively to this. As an introvert, I often internalize or keep my feelings to myself. I have a very neutral or deliberate posture. Even touching others or being touched was a source of discomfort. With age, improv and my own dating experiences have made me more at ease. Often, my characters will be the stoic or reserved kind with an unflappable will once a course of action was decided. More a follow by example than by speech type of character.

The only character I am playing right now is very far out of my regular range. A fairly rambunctious young woman of slight build and height who is the boss of a group of mercenaries/ex-soldiers and a pretentious noble. She’s street smart but also very approachable and prefers to make friends or defuse tense situations with humour. I’m going to have to consider what kind of physicality to bring to the table when next I play her.

Improv 3: The Big Show

I’ve been fairly busy of late, combined with my personal computer dying, I haven’t had a chance to update lately. Level 3 improv classes started back the 2nd week of September. Unlike the previous classes, there is a graduation requirement beyond attendance: a public show.

Unlike previous classes, I am the only man, So while the group has been amazing, I still occasionally find myself feeling awkward as I do not want to mistakenly offend anyone during scenes by being too over the top either. Luckily, one of the other classmates is good at playing the really overbearing douche/alpha male which makes things easier 🙂

That said, so far we’ve mostly retread similar exercises we’ve performed in level 2 except our new instructor really delves deeper into the subject. Her style differs in I would compare our level 2 instructor to be a masters teacher who expects you to figure it out on your own while in level 3, she is more like a cool high school teacher. An example of a more advanced exercise might have us have to pass multiple word patterns to multiple people at once to heighten our awareness of what is going on around us.

One of the new concepts introduced to us was “the Game”.

No, not him.

Games in improv, at least how this was presented to us, was akin to a sort of running gag or escalating joke in a performance. For example, in one scene I was working on repairing a door with rusty hinges. My partners were giving me various lubricants to fix it. Each time, they would offer me oil in increasingly bulkier containers. Meanwhile, I was voicing over the sounds of the door differently with each one. In this instance, there were 2 games. The changing sounds of the door and the ever growing size of the containers and how we interacted with them.

Other lessons focused on becoming more aware of the different “offers” our scene partners might be projecting either physically (body language or actions) or verbally (the words or tone). One such exercise had us repeat the dialogue of our partners so we might have more time to reflect on what was said. Another had us purely begin with very mundane conversations without trying to be funny. The latter made the conversations feel more natural and less stilted. So if we were to then introduce a funny element, it would have more impact to the audience.

While I understood the lessons in level 2, I feel the group as a whole is more comfortable and mastering these concepts in level 3 which makes for a better back and forth between us all. Our big show will be October 27th. So wish me luck!