Saturday, June 16, 2012

Teaching Improv, or, The Children are our Future

When I joined an improv troupe last Spring, it was not my understanding that I would have to put forth effort to teach inexperienced improvisers the ropes. Well, fair warning to all, they don't tell you everything when you join an improv troupe.

Logan Out Loud has been doing shows in Logan (hence the name) for over a year and our crowds have grown from a handful ("The little audience that could," we called them, hoping they didn't take it as an insult) to a consistent group of 70-120 during the school year. But when Summer hits, the comedy goblins pack up and head home for the season and everyone takes a suicidal nosedive in numbers.

David Bowie, King of the Comedy Goblins

To overcome that sudden lull in audiences, we decided that maybe it was time to reach it out in other ways than just posting statuses on Facebook on the day of the show, saying, "Logan Out Loud 2-NITE!!! All Bros and Lady-types invited for some hefty LOLZ!!!1! Seriously, please come to the show."

Because, as effective as that post is (try it, just see how many "likes" you get), personal interaction with those interested in improv turns out to be much more vital to the growth of a strong, rabid, fanatically devoted core audience who would kill for you if needs be. Or darn your socks, whatever, they're yours to command.

"Shall I darn another sock for the masters, or shall I kill members of a rival improv troupe? 
Decisions, decisions."

Our way of reaching out was simple: Get a bunch of people to pay us to teach them improv. It's a foolproof plan! Plus, our self-esteem goes up about a thousand points because people trust us with their comedy education. But we also realized that it would be impolite to teach improv with no working knowledge of the manner in which improv is taught (apparently that's rude, I don't get it). So we set about learning from the finest improve teachers in the land ("the land" is the fifty mile radius around us and Ogden, because going further just seemed like a chore).

The next step in the plan was to teach a three-week course for free and invite only a small, elect, willing, text-message answering group of people to participate. But procrastination (the bane of the Adventuring spirit, fellow Adventurers) became rampant among the group, and what was meant to begin in May was pushed back week after week like a mound of rat corpses being swept away by a snow shovel (I only say that because it is probably the clearest metaphor).

Now, imagine a bunch of these, but dead

Finally I couldn't take the laziness (my laziness, mind you) another week and set up the workshop. I went about inviting people to join and figuring out what I would teach in my first course. Saturday rolled around (like a bulldozer, crushing that same pile of dead rats into a fine, hummus-like paste) and I arrived at the Logan Out Loud Theatre to impart some knowledge onto the unsuspecting (but willing, so it's their fault) participants.

The rat metaphor is really starting to infuriate this guy


I waited for a while.

And, eventually, two people showed up. Two of the nine that we had invited.

And guess what? Screw everybody else, we had a great class.

We focused on creating and sustaining a reality (that sounds much more scientific than it is) within a scene. Two characters have to exist within one another's reality OR THE UNIVERSE ITSELF WILL COLLAPSE (not our universe, the universe of the game, so calm down). So here are the ways that we created that reality:

RULE #1: "Yes, and..."

Whatever your partner gives you, you must accept as existing within this reality, whether it is space aliens, unicorns, or a fair shot for every kid who grew up with no mother, no father, no friends, no prospects, because if he pulls himself up by his bootstraps, that boy can be a star! A star!...From that reality that your partner has created, you must also create. Accept his (or her, anyone can be an Adventurer!) truth and add to it with your own. This not only helps the audience imagine the world of the scene, but it creates the commonalities between scene partners that make the relationships that matter. If I don't care about the relationship, I don't care about the scene.

A perfect example is the movie, Transformers. Sure, we live in a world where alien robots are destroying each other. But the true meat of the movie is the love story between Shia Labeouf and what's-her-name. That's true love, Adventurers.

"I love you...(mumbles her name inaudibly)"

We practice this with a simple game which I refuse to explain to you because I don't give out freebies.

RULE #2: "What? You Think I Give Out Rules Like Taffy at a Parade? Just Be Happy I Gave You One."

Adventurers, this is the moral of this adventure: No matter how much you procrastinate, that first improv class is going to be a huge downer, because only two people show up. But at least you did it. Also, you are me in this scenario.

Adventure Accomplished!