Tag Archives: Jet Eveleth

Snapshots and Group Mind

Due to a string of crazy life changes this summer, I’ve had something of a summer hiatus from playing and coaching. I miss it. I hope to dive back in soon. In the mean time, I’ve been taking pictures at Open Source shows.

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This was the opening scene from a show by the Unwritten Works of William Shakespeare. They snapped into this stage picture before anyone said a full line.

Watching a show through a camera lens makes it obvious why I like the troupes I like: They make the stage look interesting. When I look through the snapshots later, I never wonder, “Which scene was that?” because the scenes had distinct looks. The snapshots would make interesting fodder for caption contests.

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I love it when players use that back wall with some intentionality, not just because they’re tired of standing up straight.

If all of my pictures from the troupe are of two people, standing or sitting a comfortable arm’s length apart from one another, cheated out slightly, I probably won’t remember much about the show. It won’t have made any kind of impression on me. The players were talking heads who might as well not have had bodies at all.

If you get a chance to see a show at the i.O Cabaret, notice the stage floor. There are two worn out spots right in the middle from people always standing/sitting in the same safe spot.

This isn’t just about keeping someone like me interested in the show; how the show looks is usually indicative of how well a troupe works together. I’ve heard Jet Eveleth say that she doesn’t know which comes first, interesting stage pictures or good group mind. But group mind seems amorphous and vague, and stage pictures are concrete and manageable.

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I am also happy when I end up with lots of blurry pictures, because that means there was so much movement!

So instead of making your goal, “I want to experience amazing group mind in my troupe tonight,” try, “I want to help the stage look interesting tonight.” That gives you something practical to DO instead of a feeling to chase after.

 

On the hook

I’ve said before that Jet Eveleth is one of my favorite teachers. Here she is, talking about nerves and fear:

There are at least 19 wonderful things in this video, but I want to highlight this comment:

“I purposely do things that scare me all the time to learn how to manage my adrenaline so that I can be more authentic onstage. … Especially because I teach, I think it’s really important for me to constantly be scared so I’m empathetic with my students.”

Sometimes, after a Jet workshop, I’d ask, “I’d never done that exercise before; what is it from? Where can I learn more things like this? How can I get better at this?”

Jet’s answer was usually along the lines of, “I learned it from clowning. Paola Colletto is the best clowning teacher around. Take classes from her if you can.”

So I Googled Paola Colletto and found out that her classes were way out of my budget, in terms of both time and money. And I felt a little relieved. Well, that scary thing isn’t an option for me. I’m off the hook.

Until last week, when I heard through the Facebook grapevine that Paola was offering a class called “Physical Theater for Improvisers.” It’s in my schedule and my budget. That puts me back on the hook. I’ve talked with Paola, sent my registration check, put it on my calendar.

I’m purposely doing a thing that scares me. And now it’s time to panic.*

*My friend Steve asked when the class was, and I told him it doesn’t start for another 3 weeks. “So now is not actually time to panic. You cannot possibly panic for 3 weeks straight.” Watch me.

Playing with an open heart.

Meet Jet Eveleth, one of my favorite improv teachers in the world. In her words, this is what it takes to be a good team:

A key here is shared goals. A troupe that lasts is a troupe that is making progress together toward an agreed-upon end. And — guess what! — the same goes for church congregations.

Not long ago, I took a workshop with Jet called “Loving the Harold,” which emphasized quirky organic games and grounded scenes. At the end of the three weeks, one classmate spoke up, “Ok, so now I love the Harold. I love this kind of Harold. But I’m afraid if I start playing like this with my team, they’ll eat me alive.

Jet said something like:

They very well might eat you alive. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Start daydreaming about your perfect team. How would they treat you? How would you play with them? Go ahead and start playing like that now. And expect to get your heart broken.

Some people find their soul mate early on, but some people have to go through relationship after relationship before something clicks. If you were vulnerable and open and you got broken up with anyway, you still have to pick yourself back up and be vulnerable and open again. Don’t be so busy protecting yourself from being hurt that your soul mate can’t recognize you.

You have to keep playing the way you want to play deep inside, and you have to let yourself be seen. You have to believe that there are people out there who want to play with someone like you, but they will never find you if you’re not playing with an open heart.

So I started daydreaming about the kind of troupe I wanted.

I like watching witty, stylized shows, (like Whirled News and Improvised Shakespeare). When I have friends in from out of town, that’s often what I take them to see.

I like watching mind-spinningly fast, aggressive improv (like Deep Schwa and Beer Shark Mice). I find it impressive, because that’s not how my brain works.

I could stand to develop more in all of those areas, and maybe the best way for me to do that would be to jump into teams who have those shared goals. Ultimately, though, I have not been happy on teams like that. I like seeing their shows, not playing in them.

My favorite way to play is patient and relational, maybe with some big group non-scenes to shake things up. I thoroughly enjoy Whirled News and Deep Schwa, but TJ and Dave and The Reckoning melt my nerdy little improv heart.

I want to play like the work is important, like I have all the time in the world, like my partners are poets, and like human beings are inherently amazing.

Not everyone wants to play like that. That’s ok. It doesn’t mean they’re bad guys. It just means they have certain goals, and their goals aren’t the same as mine.

This whole idea resonates with my own experience with different churches and denominations.

I didn’t fit in with Southern Baptist churches in my hometown. And, because my hometown was almost entirely Southern Baptist, I thought that meant I didn’t fit in with any church anywhere. I would have to be a rogue, church-less Christian. Love Jesus, hate religion. That sort of thing.*

(For the record, that works just about as well as a being a rogue, troupe-less improviser. Sure, I can say I’ll work on a coach-less solo project, but I can only get so far without critique from veterans and support from other players who are growing along with me. It might be necessary to go solo for a season, but it’s not a long-term solution.)

Am I saying that Southern Baptist churches are bad? No. I’m just not cut out to be a Southern Baptist anymore than I’m cut out to be a ComedySportz regular.

After some trial and error, I discovered I’m most free to be myself in an Anglican church. I need the structure, the liturgy, the sacraments. I need the arts in worship and the theology classes. It’s where I belong.

But it was four years between the time I realized that and the time I let myself use my gifts and make my friends in the congregation. If I had risked being open earlier, it wouldn’t have taken me that long. I missed out on four years of using my gifts for the church and letting the church serve me in turn because I wasn’t willing to risk coming to church with an open heart.

*And by “thing,” I might possibly mean heresy. Maybe. If, by “religion,” you mean “hypocrisy,” I’m totally with you, but please say what you mean.

You can’t be a human in a vacuum.

This video, created by the good folks over at People and Chairs, was a gut check for me.

Part of what makes it so funny is that the woman behaved as though she was putting on a generic, universal sort of lipstick (while we could see the specific color going sloppily all over her face). The man wasn’t answering an actual phone he could picture, just some archetypal phone.

The thing is, nobody owns an archetypal phone or universal lipstick. I own a very specific phone and — well, I don’t wear lipstick, but if I did, it wouldn’t be the Platonic ideal of lipstick, unless that’s what happened to be on sale at Target.

Precise object work may seem like a chore, but it will make your life on stage infinitely easier.

I found the idea of object work intimidating when I thought it was about being an impressive mime. The key mistake here is the word “impressive.” I thought object work was there for show, so the audience would understand that I knew what I was doing.

When someone told me that improv is not about impressing the audience, object work didn’t seem as important, so I didn’t put much energy into it. I put all my energy into being a human being in relationship with other human beings.

Lately, though, I’m realizing that it’s pretty tough to be a human in a vacuum. I’ve got to be someplace, and there are probably things in that place that I can touch.

Jet Eveleth, one of my favorite teachers, doesn’t coach you to “do more object work.” Instead, she says, “Live in your world. Touch your world.”

When I take that note, the whole scene opens up. I don’t have to stress about inventing clever things or coming up with the next plot point; I can discover what’s going on based on what I see in my world.

Object work isn’t mainly about technical precision, but a lack of technical precision is often the result of not really seeing your world. If my coffee mug grows and shrinks with abandon, then sort of disappears sometimes, my scene is likely to be clunky and forced. If I’m only pretending to see my world, you’ll have to watch me work hard to think of the next thing. That kind of effort is tiring and ugly.

I don’t see and touch my world for the sake of the audience. I see and touch my world because I want to give my brain a break, because I want to make my life easier on stage.