Tag Archives: Circus Police

Extracurricular Reading

I took a break from most improv things for the past 6 weeks because first I was too pregnant to move, and now I have a 1 month old baby who doesn’t like to be set down for very long at a time. Luckily for my sanity, Circus Police practices at my house, so I’ve been able to play a little bit (and have some grown-up human interaction) most weeks. While I was in the hospital, they left all of this at my house, because they are the best.

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A banner for our kid!

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And snacks and flowers for us!

While I haven’t had the mobility or energy to teach classes or see shows lately, I have been stuck in one spot holding a kid who will get very upset if I move even a little. And I’ve been stuck in that spot with a phone, so I’ve been catching up on articles that have been sitting in Pocket for awhile. (I really like Pocket. They are not sponsoring this post, but if they WANTED to sponsor an irregularly updated improv blog, they would be welcome.) Here are the improv-related articles that have stuck out to me, in case you need some extracurricular reading:

 

Why People Get Obsessed: The Religion of Improv

The most popular improv advice sounds like spiritual challenges. “Follow the fear” — without even considering if that’s actually practical advice for an improvised comedy scene, you want to believe that. You’ve been hungry to have someone tell you to follow the fear. You find a way to make that advice true.

You may come to improv because you like comedy, but if you stay, it’s because all this advice challenges you in a way that you’ve been hungry for. You want this to be a more interesting world, and you want to be a braver person, and then in a dingy improv classroom someone is saying it to you.

Going Clear: Improv and the Prison of Yes And-ing (parody! Improv is great!)

6 Ways to Be the Most Annoying Person in Your Improv Class

Another great way to alienate yourself from your improv class is to be the person who is too cool to do improv. Roll your eyes during the warm games and mutter “This is stupid” under your breath. … Make it clear you don’t want to be there and that you are obviously above all of this. This will give your classmates plenty to talk about at the bar after class.

We Asked an Improv Coach to Rate the Republicans’ Debate Performances

Gethard … quickly realized that the debate had two broad things in common with improv: “Way too many white dudes, and sycophantic cheering.” But, more important, he deduced that each of the men fell into a specific archetype of improv performer and was even able to determine which candidates would be good at improv, and which would be terrible.

Why Isn’t Your Improv Theater Diverse?

If you are a white male, you might be getting defensive right now. I know I have in the past when confronting this issue. We think that all we have to do is be fair. We think if we have open auditions and cast “the best people” then eventually our ensembles will get more diverse. We think if we recruit people of color to be in our classes that eventually they will become a part of shows. And maybe they will. But it’s not enough. If your performers are mostly young, white, straight men, I bet that in 10 years, they will still mostly be white, straight men, only the median age will have changed.

If you really want change, you have to do more.

Improvising a Better World (Tedx Napa Valley talk by Dan O’Connor)

Not about improv, but relevant anyway: “Hamilton” and the End of Irony

It is unabashedly dorky. It’s not a “nerd” in quotes. In fact, it never wears air-quotes at all. …

This is new.

If the success of “Hamilton” signals anything, it is that irony is dead. We have exhausted its creative potential. Making things with quotation marks around them is exhausting. Standing at one remove is over. Put your air-quotes away. You won’t need them anymore.

This Friday, I’ll shake off the rust and jump back onto the stage at Westside. I’ve never performed or taught at Westside without also being pregnant. Next week, I’ll resume teaching the Free Class. (Man, I love the Free Class. You should drop by.)

Westside’s Soft Open

Westside Improv had a soft open this weekend, and my team, Circus Police, got to be the first group ever to perform on the new shiny* stage.

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The view from the tech booth: Dignan’s first Westside show! Click the picture to see when they’re scheduled to play again.

In college, my teams played for Extremely Full houses, because we were the only show in town for a student body that mostly doesn’t have cars or money. And it was an absolute blast! The venue, however, was a science lecture hall. It seated around 200, and while it was lovely that we regularly packed it out, I know the people in the back couldn’t see our faces. Subtlety didn’t carry to the back of the house, so we couldn’t play subtly.

Too big.

Since college, my team Circus Police has played in — well, in some odd places. We’ve done plenty of shows for audiences made mostly of our spouses and other groups of improvisers waiting for their turn on stage. We’ve also played for lots of empty chairs. And that’s totally fine; every time we play, we get a little tighter or a little braver. It was time well spent, but it can be disheartening to see 40 chairs and 5 audience members.

Too small.

But playing for a full house was a totally different experience. Westside seats around 60, and this weekend, it was full of the friends and family who had supported the launch of the theater in some way. The room itself isn’t huge, so that the back row and the players can see one another.

My husband said, “I hate to use this word, because it’s vague and I don’t know what it means, but the room had so much energy!” That’s the energy from the venue being small enough that the audience can see, and a big enough audience that the performers feel like all the practice is worth it.

Just right.

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The view from the tech booth of our Goldilocks venue and beautiful audience.

I’m looking forward to many more shows at Westside in the coming months. At the moment, Circus Police is scheduled for Friday evenings. We open to the public this Friday (12/12), and we’d love to see you there!

 

*It is not in the least bit shiny. It shows every footprint. I think this is awesome.

Westside Improv!

There’s a new improv venue opening up in Wheaton, and I couldn’t be more excited. Jeff Ash and Brendon Culhane have leased a space for Westside Improv.

The biggest challenges I’ve encountered doing improv in the Chicago suburbs have been:

  • finding a physical space. I know all you need is people and chairs, but lights sure help, too. So does a neutral wall to play in front of, as well as a location that’s easy for your audience to find. Out of necessity, Open Source has held shows completely in the dark, on the set of Sweeney Todd, under garish fluorescent lights, and in places that are so hard to get to that I’ve gotten texts after the show from audience members who gave up looking and went home.
  • keeping up energy from one show to the next. It was only practical for Open Source to hold shows once a month, but that’s too far apart to use the momentum from one show to feed into coordinating and promoting the next.
  • connecting with new improvisers. Going to The Improv Retreat helped me with that this year, but as a whole, I mostly ended up performing with, coaching, getting coached by, and recruiting the same people I played with in college. I want to broaden my circle.

Westside is solving all of these problems. 123 Front Street is easy to find — it’s walking distance from the Wheaton Metra station and the parking garage. The space itself is something between a black box and a cabaret, seating 60ish people. It’s designed for long form, but the layout is flexible enough that short form, sketch, and plays with minimal sets could work, too.

There will be shows every weekend. Shows every weekend! In the suburbs!

Classes and workshops will be a good entry point for new and new-to-me improvisers.

My team, Circus Police, will expand and become a Westside House team. That means we’ll get an outside coach and have regular performance opportunities we haven’t had before. I’ll also be teaching beginner improv classes — the Tuesday night class will be free! — and helping out around the theater.

In related news, I’ve stepped down from leadership at Open Source Improv. Open Source and Westside look like they’ll have a great relationship, and Open Source getting to use that beautiful new space means it won’t need the same kind of constant administration it needed when it was mobile.

You should click here to get on the Westside Improv mailing list. It is going to be the best.

Pointing at Things

A few months ago, I substituted for my friend Laura, who teaches art at a classical school. Classical education focuses on memorizing facts in elementary school, applying logic in middle school, and speaking and writing persuasively in high school. So when the lesson plan was to play Surrealist games, some students middle school kids were distressed or dismissive. They were Logic students! They’d been trained to be right, and there’s no way to be right in a Surrealist game.

It made me want to play “Pointing at Things,” so we did. Pointing at Things has three stages:

  1. Point to a thing and say its name. (Point to a chair while saying “chair,” then point to the ceiling while saying “ceiling,” etc.) Be excited about it, and treat it like a race. Lots of speed and energy.
  2. Point to a thing while saying the name of last thing you pointed to. (Point to a window and say, “ceiling,” point to the piano and say “window,” point to your foot and say, “piano,” etc.) Do this until you can do it as fluently and energetically as you could do the first step.
  3. Point to a thing while saying anything but the thing’s name. (Point to your teammate and say, “octopus,” point to a table and say, “sonnet,” point to your glasses and say, “apple,” etc.) Do this until you can do it as quickly and energetically as you could the first step.

People tend to prefer either the second game or the third game. The second game is about memory, and the third game is about spontaneity. I have a theory that the best teams are made up of a mixture of Second Game People or Third Game People.

Most of Laura’s middle school students were Second Game people. I am, too; I suspect that’s more common. I am great at remembering what’s already been said and done and weaving it into what’s happening now. I can see the big picture and the little details that make it up, but I’m liable to get stuck if I have to pull an idea out of thin air. I have to force myself to relax enough to play the third game fluently.

So when I’m on a two-person team, I prefer to be with a Third Game person. This works pretty well for Flash Fiction; my teammate, Brendon, is very much a Third Game person. While he’s fast and spontaneous, I make connections that depend on his memory and focus. We balance one another out, and playing with him challenges me to be more fluent and judge myself less.

The same is true on Circus Police, a newer team I’m playing with. One or two of the players are stronger at the Third Game, the others of us are better at the Second. We balance out in the end.

The Improv Handbook (by Tom Salinsky and Deborah Frances-White) has this to say about what’s going on under the surface of this simple game and why it can be so hard:

“You are used to using your brain like a retrieval mechanism — a biological Google. Give it a well-defined question and it will come back with a well-defined answer (or a well-defined ‘I don’t know’). But this exercise is like typing nothing into the Google search box and expecting ten splendid websites to pop up. It won’t happen! To play this game, you have to treat your brain less like Google and more like a lucky dip (grab bag). Stick a hand in and see what you get. …

What’s also surprising about this game is how easy it is to trigger the learning-anxiety response. This is an utterly trivial game; it cannot possibly reflect on your ability to broker stocks, cure diseases, design buildings, program websites or charm the opposite sex, or however else you tell yourself you are marvelous. Yet very few people initially approach it with anything like the relaxed, positive attitude which it requires, and almost everybody punishes themselves bitterly for what they perceive as a failure.”

Jet Eveleth once gave me the note, “You see the game, you’ve got the big picture; now get out there and do some fucking gayballs shit!” [Don’t hold back. Make weird, bold choices without judging yourself.] Remembering that helps; so does remembering that I’m not a middle school student anymore, so there are no grades.

If you’re better at spontaneity, what helps sharpen your memory and focus? And if you’re better at memory (like me), what helps you loosen up?