The Planning Conundrum

On the first page of his autobiography Born Standing Up, Steve Martin writes:

"My most persistent memory of stand-up is of my mouth being in the present and my mind being in the future: the mouth speaking the line, the body delivering the gesture, while the mind looks back, observing, analyzing, judging, worrying, and then deciding when and what to say next. Enjoyment while performing was rare - enjoyment would have been an indulgent loss of focus that comedy cannot afford."

This set off alarm bells for me.
I hadn't come across this explanation of the mind, the body, and the mouth in different time zones before. Yet, these bells ring true.

It brings to mind a question I've wrestled with for a long time:
How can I be "fully in the moment" and yet still anticipate and make plans for the future? 
I ask this both for when I'm on stage performing in improv shows, and in life.
Can I get my mind, body, and mouth all in the same time zone?

This question may not lead to an answer. But, I believe that dwelling in the question is more valuable than a single answer. I learned from a great professor back in university that this pursuit of dwelling in questions will bring the reward of better questions and realizations.

Where I'm at now in the journey of this question is this - When I set time aside to set intentions, plan, and organize, I can be more fully present in moments that lead me toward my goals. 

For me, this means journaling about my goals, practicing and performing improv to get in the zone, and looking ahead in my calendar to organize my time. These activities allow me to get closer to being present when it counts - creating those purposeful moments. Planning allows you to have purposeful moments that help you to get closer to your goals.

In a recent improv practice I learned that regardless of your great ideas and vision, you must be present and listen to co-create or you'll just live in your plan without flexibility and deny your partner's offer in the scene.

So, plan to get your mind, body, and mouth in the same time zone more often... and then when they are - listen and be flexible with the plan according to what is actually happening.

Tougher than it sounds!

Some photo highlights since my last blog:
Dirty Little Secrets - Second Show, Nov '15
Lots of trash comes from NYC

We took in some improv in Chicago for our 1 year anniversary

My sister's wedding in Jamaica

Dream It, Do it!


Moving to New York, I knew that I wanted to start an improv show here. It was a dream as soon as Jonathan and I found out that we'd be living in the big apple.

And now it's happening... My New York City improv show is about to debut this Saturday night!

Dirty Little Secrets Improv Show

Link for the event HERE
This is the first time I've produced an improv show on my own. In Vancouver, it was always with Queer Prov, The Fictionals, or The Vancouver TheaterSports League (or my secret show with Sarah Dawn Pledge, but that's even more secret than this show). I'm feeling really good about dreaming of this show and now doing it. From concept to booking the venue, it's been seven months.

I'm presenting an evening of short and long form improv around the theme of secrets. It's a limitless resource really -we've all got so many.

The admission to the show is five bucks + a secret that audience members write and submit as they enter. I'll use the secrets to inspire the improv in the show. We'll keep the owners of the secrets hush hush - so there will be relative anonymity as the dirty little tidbits are revealed and explored.

One of my best friends Stephen Sheffer is in the cast and we came up with the concept together, inspired by the first venue that we weren't allowed to publicly advertise. Our cast had been practicing in that secret space and we thought it was a perfect fit. Then life happened and we lost the venue. It was a tough blow, but I held onto the dream and found a new home for the show.  I'm glad that I can now tell the world where this show is - especially since it's in my hood, 30 steps from my apartment in the East Village in our favourite Mexican restaurant.

Nothing is off the table for my amazing cast of improvisors. Stephen and I have met all these talented folks since I arrived and I love all five of them. In the first half I'll host short-form games, and I'll join the players in the second half for a long-form piece, all inspired by secrets from the crowd.

My mom loves the idea and said she'd really be into seeing something like this. Secrets have been a big part of her life. We had a few secrets revealed in my family in 1994 that led to finding a whole other branches of our family tree. I'll have to do one when she visits for Christmas.

The summer was about planting roots and surviving the heat and now we're into my favourite season - autumn. When dreams come true!
Hope you can make it if you're in NYC this weekend.

Here's a look at some photo highlights since I last blogged:

Took an intensive at Annoyance Theatre in Brooklyn and am now performing in their Blind Tiger League!
Hosted improv legend Colin Mochrie in Vancouver
Played with improv legend Joe Bill in Vancouver


Helped close Throne and Games in Vancouver
Hosted a Canadian Thanksgiving in NYC with Jon! 

UCB Improv 101 - The Who, What & Where

I am now an official exchange visitor, the spouse of an "alien physician", living life and loving improv in New York City.

Jonathan and I are settled in our East Village pad. We're in our second month of living in the USA and I'm proud to report that we're doing good. Moving ain't easy... but is sure is exciting.
Getting the keys to our apartment on East 4th

It's been a busy six weeks with lots of emotions: excitement about this new chapter, exhaustion from packing up in Vancouver and setting up in NYC, sadness for being away from my friends and improv home, and eagerness to experience all the art and improv in the big apple. This is a wild city, completely packed with people, alive in it's rhythm of horns and sirens.

This July, I completed my UCB level 100 intensive course. My instructor for the course was Amber Petty and she wore the kind of glasses that you might see in a Far Side cartoon by Gary Lawson. The aim of the week secretly became to try and make Amber laugh because she has a wicked sense of humour and the kind of laugh that makes an improvisor know that they've succeeded.
My instructor Amber Petty 

My take away from the course is with the UCB approach, you establish the WHO, WHAT, and WHERE of the scene in the first three lines. I spent most of the course aiming to get good at this - building solid initiations. Once we practiced initiations, we worked on what makes those first three lines great: Character, Emotional Reaction, Status.

What I noticed that was different the most from the Vancouver style was less emphasis on telling stories and creating relationships using eye contact. This is more about instant rapport to get to the funny.

The course culminated with a 60 minute show on the UCBChelsea stage.

UCB Intensive class show
Our show format was based on a single audience suggestion that inspired impromptu monologues from our fellow improvisors, followed by short scenes inspired by the monologues. (An Armondo style format)

Suggestion
Monologue
Scene 1
Scene 2
Scene 3
Monologue
Scene 4
Scene 5
Scene 6
Monologue
Scene 7
Scene 8
Scene 9

I found it worked really well and the show was funny. Amber edited our scenes using blackouts from the booth.

I like this idea of making a great initiation to an improv scene by establishing the Who, What & Where as soon as possible in first 3 lines.

I'm excited for level 201 where we'll really dive into the concept of UCB's highly revered concept of finding the "Game".

I'll be back in Vancouver at the end of the month, to host the Colin Mochrie & Friends show on Saturday August the 22nd 2015 at 7:30pm.
Join me - Tix are $75-85 and benefit the Colin Mochrie Sponsorship fund.

Available at vtsl.com


You are ready!

In the last post on my blog, I explored the idea that you are enough. 

Today, I follow up on that idea with another assertion - YOU ARE READY! 


In my work as a corporate communications trainer, I often hear clients tell me that their confidence is directly linked to how much preparation they've done.

In other words, they often don't feel confident if they haven't prepared.


I didn't feel nearly ready to leave Vancouver! 

Improv teaches us that you can be confident without being prepared because you are READY.
Your wisdom, experience, intuition, and ability are all available to you to make something up in the moment. To co-create with your audience.

You're ready to listen.
You're ready to contribute based on what you hear.
You're ready to be in the moment.

Of course preparation is essential. Sometimes though, we use preparation as something to hide behind as a way to cheat ourselves of being in the moment. Being prepared sometimes means doing it "like you practiced" or delivering the thinking that you've done previously. It can be comfortable to live in the past. It takes great courage to be in the moment and jump in "unprepared" and aware.


You may be unprepared, but that doesn't mean you're not ready.

You are enough.
You are ready.

Right now.
Met up with some Vancouver Improv pals after my first weekend in NYC!
Jon and I saw the Sunday Service perform at the PIT Theatre

You are enough!

In both my corporate training work and improv teaching I've been exploring a theme: you are enough.

It's the concept that your experience, your wisdom, your approach, and your interpretation are all ENOUGH.


We spend so much time not being as confident as we could be because we're second guessing our worth and inner genius. The performers (and communicators) that I've noticed to be most comfortable in their own skin seem to know that they are enough.

So approach your moments with the confidence that if you listen you'll find the answer, if you're present you'll connect with everyone, and if you be yourself it will be the greatest gift for everyone else.



Because you are enough. Right now. You are enough.

Happy Improvising!

I recently had to remind myself that I'm enough while getting ready for our move to New York! 

Finding the "Button"

I'm writing today about happy endings.

The very last line or beat of a scene is called the "button". The button can be a funny line that sums up the whole story, or a pun that ties everything up in a funny way, or simply the final remark. When you get good at delivering a button, you can dramatically improve the lasting impression of your scene.

The button is hard to master - it's half in the delivery and half in the content. I've seen many terrible scenes (because they were not going anywhere or not clear) vindicate themselves because an improvisor quips in with a clever ending line that makes everyone feel better. The button saved the scene! I've also seen many great scenes seem to fizzle at the end because they couldn't find a neat way to wrap it up.
Thinking of a good button .....

So here's how to master the button: It's a mix of delivery and content.

The delivery: The button has a certain definitive sound. It usually ends on a downward inflection versus an upward inflection that would make it sound like a question and continue the scene. This aurally suggests to the audience that the scene is done. "And that's why I'll never eat cotton candy before going to a bike shop ever again!" Try reading that sentence with a downward inflection at the end. You can make it FEEL like the end of a story by going up on the word "ever" and down on the word "again". The delivery can indicate that it's the final line. Get used to feeling when a scene is coming to a close and experiment in the timing around delivering that button. There will be a window of opportunity when it's clear that the scene needs a good button to end on. Sometimes it can be sooner than you think.

The content: A good button sums up a scene. It can be what a character learned from the situation, what was experienced in the scene, or simply a positive note. This is the time to think back on the suggestion that inspired the scene, what happened to the characters, and what the audience liked about the scene. Ask yourself if there are any loose ends that you could tie up in that final line. Is a pun coming to mind? If none of these options are obvious, you can always end on a positive note "... and that was the best trip to the doctor I've had since she used to give me lollipops." Ending positive will always be a good note to end on, whereas a negative ending can be a drag if your joke doesn't land.

Jon Snow's button is often "winter is coming"
So, pay attention to endings! They often contribute to your overall reaction to a scene. Master buttons, and feel confident that you're going to tie everything up at the right time with the right words.

And, scene!


It's all in the delivery

Mastering delivery can lead to you be great in almost any improv scene. 

I study my funny friends on stage. Like Scott Patey, who was our special guest in Improv Against Humanity at the Vogue Theatre last night. I hosted, so I got to introduce and watch all of the inspired scenes. Scott can reliably delight an audience so I watch his trusted delivery methods. He has tried&true methods of delivering a line so that it produces laughter. Each of his characters is rich and three dimensional and they all know how to deliver a crisp line within the persona. So much of his unique comedic style comes from his delivery. 
That's Scott, delivering the middle finger as a corpse in a windmill full of corpses. Humanity! 

One of my improv teachers said to me "Being funny in improv isn't about saying funny things, it's about saying things funny." 

My advice to new improvisors is to pay attention to the times the audience laughs at your work - when you can feel them on the same page as you. Try and remember the way you delivered the line. That "innocent response", that "last word", that "horny answer".  These can become tools for your characters to use in future work. You'll get the feeling of good delivery, and you'll start getting good at delivery. 

Also, pay close attention to the way that the ending of a scene sounds. You'll often hear that the final sentence completes the scene and wraps up the entire story. So it feels as if you've just swallowed the last delicious morsel of an epic piece of chocolate cake. 

 




What are you leaning on?

Having to lean on a cane showed me what I had been "leaning" on before.

I've been recovering from a back injury the last 6 months. In October, I herniated a disc in my lower spine that caused me to lose feeling and strength in my right leg and foot.

I've made great strides and am still slowly healing week by week. There's been ups and downs, breakthroughs and setbacks, promising days and dismal ones too. There still are. 

Until feeling came back to my foot, I used a cane. It was to help me balance and to be a reminder for myself (and fellow performers) to take it easy with my body. 

For those 4 months, I performed on stage with a cane. I did about 100 shows with that cane. It changed the way that I perform:

The cane meant losing one hand that always had to hold it. 
The cane meant that the audience wondered about me in a different way. 
The cane was a constant prop. 
The cane had to be a part of my every character. 

I suddenly became aware of what I had been leaning on the whole time before the cane:

Being physical at a whim. 
Lifting people and props. 
Doing lots with both arms. 
Fitting in easily and getting a warm reception from the audience. 
Becoming whoever I wanted with relative believability. 

I had to develop a different way of improvising by not leaning on these strengths or options. I've become better at being still and staying interesting without moving too much. I've become better at reacting emotionally instead of physically. I've become better at setting other actors up - especially for physical jokes. I've become better at playing Doctor House.

Having to lean on a cane showed me what I had been "leaning" on before. Now I'm a better improvisor for it.

So, what are you leaning on? 


Rowing with the cane as I whitewater raft with The Fictionals



Hosting in the moment

In my last blog post I promised to write more about how to be in the moment as a host. Here it is!

Hosting is a tough tight rope act.

Why? Because at the same instant, you're thinking of what just happened, watching what is happening currently, planning what happens next, and announcing it.

Hosting Improv Against Humanity in my Seersucker Suit
Like the video game Tetris: you're carefully placing a piece and at the same time planning where to put the next piece that will fall, all in your big game plan of clearing the board.

You can be in the moment as a host when you trust enough in the future (your sense of timing and your plan) to let it go from your mind and enjoy the now, enjoy this moment with the audience.

The more you host, the more you can rely on trusting the moment when you're calling the shots as they happen and saying what you sense needs to be said. It takes practice to get in to this zone and to develop an awareness of the shape and flow of a show.

Sometimes hosts can get "in their head" or they "make it all about them" or  they "don't connect with the crowd" - which causes stuttering, sounding insincere or rehearsed, or talking at the crowd instead of with them ... I see this happening because these hosts have fallen out of the moment. They've forgotten their job of connecting with the audience,  they're analyzing what just happened, or they're planning for what happens next.

As you open and close the show and intro each of the components of the performance, you've got to be in the moment yourself to engage the audience. Great hosts connect to the audience in a charming way as they present the show. This means having a rough idea of what you're going to say - and then being open to inspiration based on what you're getting from the crowd and what the show needs.

To get in the moment as a host, allow yourself to stand still and take breath. Take it in. Smile. Then say one thing to the audience and pause to watch them react. Tell them what is about to happen. Ask them to support the show. Then, enjoy!

Happy Hosting!

D
One of the best posters for a show I've hosted - I got cartooned!



Awesome hosts "frame" a show


This golden frame is like an awesome improv host because it
is beautiful in a complimentary way to the main attraction. 
It classes up and features the art.
It defines the boundaries of the piece - the beginning and end.


I aim to be like the golden frame when I host shows.

Great hosts react to the performance and to the crowd. They are of the crowd and of the show at the same time. That means framing and then enjoying the moments of the show. I'll write more about being in the moment as a host in my next post.

Happy Framing! 
My Mona Lisa hands help me frame



Why accept offers?

A wonderful performer friend (Conni Smudge) shared this on FaceBook, and it spoke to me about improv:


It hit me because I'm in the middle of a few Wayne Dyer books at the moment (all given to me by my mother), and because it relates to accepting offers.

In improv, I strive to be hyper aware of "offers" - information that the other improvisors are giving me about the environment, characters, relationships, and situations happening in the scene.

Scenes are brilliant when improvisors are listening to each other's offers and accepting them by immediately incorporating the other person's information to co-create a moment.

See your scene "as it is", rather than "as you think it should be" by listening to and accepting offers. Know what is being established, enjoy it, and then add on.

Accepting offers allows you the ability to co-create.
You earn the right to make a new offer that will build on the one you just accepted.

It's the reason why we say "YES, and..."

I'm not sure if I'm giving or receiving an offer here


The Church of Improv

This week has been crazy in the best way possible. I've spent the last six nights at The Improv Centre hosting and playing in the The Vancouver TheatreSports League's 27th annual Massacre Improv Festival. I also taught Character and Spontaneity this week - the intensive improv introduction courses at our school (the Improv Comedy Institute).
I'm tired, but I'm more pumped than ever.
 The Visiting Teams of Massacre 27 at VTSL

Once again, I've come to this realization - improv forms community. This is our church. This is where we come together to reinforce the principles that we take forward into our lives: Saying yes. Building each other up. Building on offers. Listening. Celebrating.

I welcomed our visiting teams from across North America & I welcomed our new students to VTSL. My message to both groups was the same - you have a place here.

It's what improv is all about. It's what makes it so much fun. We include.

I've made more new friends this week than the whole year so far. That makes this week crazy in the best way possible.

~

Tomorrow, The Fictionals present Improv Against Humanity at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver.
It's our "little show that could" - starting in a restaurant that holds 50 people, moving to an indy theatre for 440 people, now moving to a major events theatre that seats over 1000.

Help us housewarm our new venue by buying a ticket and joining, especially if you haven't been to Improv Church in a while!
I'll probably do this in the show tomorrow.
Tickets:
http://northerntickets.com/events/improv-against-humanity/
www.thefictionals.com





Improvisor's Pre Show Meditation

Here's a meditation I've written to say to yourself before a show.
The aim is to create more awareness before you go on that will lead to great moments on stage.



THIS 

I'm happy to be here doing this. This is a privilege. 

I'm going into this with my eyes and ears open. They are my collaboration tools. 

I'm also going into this with lots to say, so I'll always be ready. 

When I'm in this, I'll listen to the crowd and connect with them. 

When I'm in this, I'll listen to my fellow players and connect with them. 

I'm here to create something completely new when this happens. 

I am going to say "yes" to make this better.

I relieve myself of my fixed perception of my inadequacies. This is where anything can happen. 

I embrace who I am right now and give myself permission to enjoy myself at this.

I'll enjoy the other improvisors too.  In this, I'll turn jealousy and frustration into appreciation and celebration.

This is my moment. 
This is our moment. 
This is fun. 
This is now. 

Chasing those magic moments

I love improv so much because of the endless possibilities that can play out each time we perform.

Down the road of any one of those possibilities lies magic waiting to happen. When you find the magic, it's the best feeling in the world.

I was lucky enough to watch A Midsummer Night's Dream this summer by Vancouver's Bard on the Beach. My favourite part of the play is the performance of the love story and tragic death of Pyramus and Thysbee. In this play-within-a-play, we witness the character Nick Bottom (playing Pyramus) milk the hell out of his "death" scene.
It's a scene where he just won't die and goes on and on for 4-5 minutes. The audience is laughing uncontrollably.

It occurred to me after that great performance, those magical 4-5 minutes happen all the time in improv. We usually get one or two really great scenes like that in a show. Sometimes the stars align and there are a whole bunch of those improv magic scenes. And anyone can play Pyramus. We take turns.

That's what we're chasing. We're chasing those moments when the actors on stage are on the same page, knowing who has the focus, playing out juicy moments and the audience is being surprised and delighted.

I've been treated to a number of these improv magic moments this week already.
The amazing Sarah Dawn Pledge caught me in a magical moment of dropping trousers
to end a scene this Wednesday and shared on Instagram.

They are precious because they are rare.
On my way home from corporate training this afternoon, the cabbie asked me what I do.
"I'm an actor", I said. When he asked what kind, I responded "improv".... he looked puzzled... "improv comedy".
"Ok, comedy!  Ok, be funny, make me laugh" he said.

I tried to explain an alphabet scene. He didn't get it.
I told him a joke about a doctor. He thought doctors might be mad if they heard that joke.
Then it was time to pay and I went back out into the rain.

They won't all be magic improv moments.

But with any luck, I'll find some magic with my house team tonight at VTSL, Escalator to Heaven.

Let's keep chasing!

Selling it! The power of confidence

By adopting more confidence when you perform, you'll create more great moments for your fellow performers and for the audience. So... get out there, smile, and Sell It!

Julie Andrews musters her confidence
Last year, I developed a workshop for a Vancouver TheatreSports League drop-in class called Selling It!  In the workshop, we explore ways to be more enthusiastic about characters, choices and ideas.

The objective is to sell your ideas to your fellow actors and to the audience. Make them appealing. Make us all want to buy in!

I posed the question in the workshop - If you sell your ideas with more confidence, will it make for better improv?

The answer? Yes it did.

By purposefully adding confidence, we remembered introductions, laughed more, and created great scenes. Confidence is an amazing ingredient in an improv show and in life.

Playing Harold Hill in The Music Man back in 2001,
I remember learning to Sell It for an entire show.
Although Julie Andrews has a bigger hat than me. 
So try it in your next improv show or presentation - heck, even your next conversation. Collect your courage, and Sell It a bit more. Be more confident about what you say. This helps with having more "attack" in improv shows.

Realize that there is a powerful connection between what you say and how you say it.

Focus on the ability to make the audience believe you by selling your ideas, characters and choices. 

And remember... if you're on stage, someone in the audience is watching you. Sit up and Sell It! 

How to take a note like a pro


I've sat through literally hundreds of "notes" sessions after performing in improv shows.

A "note" is a comment or observation that a colleague or director shares with you after watching you perform, usually in a post-mortem meeting when the show is over.

Notes may be casual, corrective, constructive, or corrosive. A note can enlighten you, infuriate you, inspire you, and discourage you - sometimes all within the same note! Especially when you're coming down from the high of performance. That's why it's a great chance to show what kind of a performer you are - a professional.


To take a note like a pro, here's my two step advice :

1. Say thank you.

2. Stop speaking.


That's it. No arguing, justifying, debating, explaining, reacting, bargaining, re-wording, counter attacking, belittling, yelling, or being sarcastic. 
Just say thank you
It shows that you've heard the note.

Otherwise it turns the note into a little scene between you and that person and the rest of the cast become the jury. You want to stick up for yourself, I get it. You were thinking something during that scene and need to explain, I know. You'd like to ask what to do in that situation again, who wouldn't?

The thing is, the session gets caught up in that dialog and we all start to take a tally of the "good" and "bad" notes being distributed, and stop thinking about the show as a whole.

Say thank you and walk away. Then think to yourself - why did they give me that note? Think of it from their point of view. Think of it from the audience's and your fellow actor's points of view.
Think of it from your experience.
Then either talk about it further once you're calm and have thought about WHAT you'd like to clarify, pledge to try something differently the next time, or toss it out until it comes up again and becomes a theme.

It's something I learned as theatre etiquette from my high school drama teacher, and it's served me well since.

Allow yourself to receive before reacting. Say thank you and then stop speaking.
Your silence will sound professional.

Super Fans - the gasoline of improv

This is a post to say thanks for watching improv.
Fans in the audience are the gasoline of improv and make it all happen. 
Fans witness the moments being created.

Fans at Improv Against Humanity at the Rio


So, thank you for watching improv..... 

You, the new boyfriend/girlfriend. 
You, the befuddled dad.
You, the loyal sister.
You, the interested mom.
You, the too-cool brother. 
You, the visiting cousin. 
You, the enthusiastic new friend. 
You, the trusted old friend. 
You, the old boyfriend/girlfriend. 
You, the odd but friendly person.
You, the odd and unfriendly person.
You, the newbie. 
You, the person who has been to at least half of my shows. 


I am a fan too. I know why you're here. 

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My goal is to "be in the now" when I perform on stage, when I teach, and in the biggest moments of my life. These are the lessons I've learned along the way.

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Thoughts on Improv & Life

Want to do a great thing?

Want to do a great thing? Say YES to a good thing! Or be stuck with no- thing.  Planning, brainstorming, and collaborating are HARD. ...