Second City Improv Class

Beginning Program
Level A


Beginning Program
Level B



Beginning Program
Level C



Acting for Improvisers








Beginning Program
Level D



Beginning Program
Level E


Conservatory Program
Level 1


Conservatory Program
Level 1a


Conservatory Program
Level 2


Conservatory Program
Level 3


Conservatory Program
Level 4


Conservatory Program
Level 5




Why Improv?

Because I like it!

Okay, I can give a better answer than that.

Looking back, most of the type of humor I do is improvisational. The class clown kind of antics. The street performing as a jester. The entertaining I'm able to do while giving papers at technical conferences. All of these activities require quick thinking and responding to what is going on around you, while being funny - or at least, trying to be funny.

At Pennsic, as part of the Coxcomb Academy, Captain Matthew ran a show called "Whose Line Doth it Be?" Obviously, it was a take on the show "Whose Line is it Anyway" (British version, US version). I had a blast. I seemed to be pretty good: the audience liked me and I got a lot of laughs. But more important, I had a ton of fun, and very much enjoyed myself.

I tried doing improv at home, but it was very hard to get people together. At SCA events, I taught some improv classes, which basically allowed me to play some more, with lots of fun people. I also had a great time performing with a Commedia del Arte troupe with a good friend of mine.

Still, these activities were few and far between. After doing a second year of "Whose Line Doth it Be?" I thought I'd check out the Michigan area and see if there where any improv groups. I found some, but most of those seemed defunct, or at least not very active.

Wait a moment, there is a link to the Second City Comedy Club. Duh. That's right, Second City. They do improv. They are mainly based in Toronto, but now they are all over the place: Chicago, Los Angeles, others, and, go figure, Detroit. I had forgotten about them.

Well then. If I wanted to play, I suppose I could check them out. It took a while to figure out their web page (actually, I couldn't figure it out: it took an artist to show me the correct link), I found out they teach a bunch of classes. Excellent! I could take some, try it out, learn about improv instead of, well, winging it, and see if I actually have any real skill or not.

There are two levels of courses that I would be interested in. The Beginning Program has five levels (A through E) that run for eight weeks each:

Level A: Introduction of Basics, Focus on Environment
Level B: Continuation of Basics
Level C: Improvising Scenes
Level D: Emotion and Character
Level E: Advanced Scenes and Performance Games

Each class is three hours long. You have to fill out a simple application to get in, and let them know what your experience is. Apparently a performance follows levels C, D, and E. I have no idea if that performance is open to the public or not.

The Conservatory Program has five levels (they say five, but I see six so it is a bit confusing to me) that also run eight weeks each:

Level 1: The Basics of Improvisation
Level 1a: An Examination of Character and Relationship
Level 2: Scene Work and Character Building
Level 3: Styles and Games
Level 4: Advanced Scene Work
Level 5: Putting It All Together

You must have previous theater performance experience to enter the Conservatory Program - oh, you also have to audition. This program is "only for those students dedicated to the work." The goal is to build an ensemble that would eventually perform.


Beginning Program for me.

This journal serves two purposes. The first is to help me keep track of what I've learned. The second is for people who might be interested in taking the class and want to know what to expect. Obviously, reading this isn't as good as being there.

Beginning Program, Level A, Week 1 - Monday, 6 October 2003

I obviously got in, or I wouldn't be taking this class. I did everything through email, but eventually I got a letter in the mail. It gave me some basic instructions, useful things like suggesting I wear loose clothing that I don't mind rolling around on the floor in. I also got a parking pass (I still have to pay $2 a class to park) and a ticket, which is mainly my receipt.

My instructor was Tiffany Jones. I decided to google her. The first link was a porn site. Later ones were about soccer. I finally googled "Tiffany Jones" "Second City" and there she was: bottom right. [If you are reading this several years from now, I'm sorry that the link doesn't work anymore.]

It was pretty easy to find the place. Right off of I-75 and I-96 (somewhere near there) in downtown Detroit. Second City is connected to the Hockeytown Cafe. They serve food. That might be important to me in the future.

The class was large. I was wondering how big it would be, but I didn't expect 18 students! From what I gathered, I don't think what I wrote on my application mattered - they let everyone who wanted to attend in. That made me feel good, actually. Everyone gets a chance!

Tiffany showed up. She is going to be a ton of fun. She likes to talk, and surprisingly is a bit of an extrovert (for those of you not playing along, that last bit was sarcasm). She explained through the class how this program works, but I'll summarize it here.

There is another Level A on Saturday at Noon, taught by a different teacher. We have to go to at least six classes (out of eight) to go on to Level B, and so on. We can make it up on Saturday if we want to.

There are 10 free tickets to the main show at Second City (Wednesday and Thursday at 8 PM, or Friday at 10 PM). The first 10 students who show ID get free, and then after that is ½ price. Apparently these tickets mostly go unclaimed.

Throughout the program, this will be the class evening. That is, as we go through the levels, we will always be meeting on Monday nights. I guess I'll be missing a lot more Cynnabar meetings.

Oh, and wear aren't allowed to bring guns or large metal weapons to class. Apparently this has happened before and a rule had to be made.

We spent the first ninety minutes sitting around on stage talking about what each of us does.

I forgot to mention that! We were on stage. The stage. The stage where everyone performs. They put you right up there with just the stage lights on and we interact and do improv.

That was so cool.

So we introduced ourselves in random order. Not everyone was from south east Michigan. A couple had come in from New York. A few more were from California.

One of the people there interviewed at Cybernet nine months ago. We didn't hire him.

A woman recognized me from my street performing at the Art Faire a few years ago. She admitted I was funny.

Another guy was a Roman Catholic Priest. I think he has issues. He kept saying how he wasn't going to be one soon, and his gesture (I'll explain later) was removing his collar and throwing it away.

One of the women there was a bartender and dancer. Um ...ballet dancer. As in the Windsor ballet. I don't know why but I was one of the five who first understood what she meant when she said she was a dancer.

Here is the best. I am not making this up. This really adorable woman who was sitting next to me on stage says, "For three years I played Ariel in her grotto at the MGM in Florida." I was in heaven. She even liked my Little Mermaid joke.

Some of the people wanted to be improv performers. Other were the funny guy in a group and wanted to see if they could go farther. Others wanted to learn to be the funny one since they didn't think they could be funny. Others wanted to enhance their acting ability. Others were just trying it out because it sounded interesting.

I wasn't the oldest (the Priest was), but I was one of the older people there. Most were in their twenties.

Tiffany told us about her touring company and how she got her start. She never taught this kind of class before, or even taught one, but from what I could tell she's going to do a great job. She made sure we all had fun, and while teaching us the basics, she is going to do her best to allow us to have a ton of fun.

After a short break we jumped right into improv games. The first was Zip Zap Zoop (a variation of Woosh). It was used to help teach eye-contact. You look at someone, clap your hands at them, and yell, "Zip!" Then they look at someone else, clap their hands at them, and yells "Zap!" That continues through "Zoop!" process repeats. We sped it up as fast as we could, then left out the clapping and just did it with eye contact.

Next we played a variation name game. symbol game. We would slap are legs in a pattern and repeat our name then someone else's. Then that person would repeat the process. Better still was when, instead of knee slapping, we would do a gesture with the name. Associating a name with the gestures really helped people learn everyone's names. I don't know them all, but I know most of them now. My symbol was two juggling throws.

Our next routine was a group exercise. We walked around, exploring the stage and the space. We milled about and went in different directions. Then she called out instructions. We would go faster and faster, then really slow. Then normal speed, but it was getting cold. And colder. Then raining. Then it would warm up, with the sun out. Then it got really hot, with dense foliage to get through, then back to normal.

Following that we walked around normal and one person would make some strange motion (nothing verbal) that we had to mimic. After a while, that person would tap someone else and the new person would make a motion and we'd follow that, and so on. She called this a Space walk with extras, but I can't find a link.

This next one was a ton of fun. It was called "Make a Machine." Nine of us were up there at a time. One person would start making a sound and motion as if they were part of a machine. Another person joins in, continuing the machine. After we all join in, Tiffany would have us go faster and faster, then very slow, then fast, and then stop. Some of the stuff people did was hilarious. It was very difficult to not laugh, and just concentrate on repeating the motion.

In Object Work, we each had to mime that we were holding an object. Not a symbol of the object, but the object itself. For instance, a phone is not one hand to your hear with your thumb and pinky out. You would pretend to grip the phone and bring it to your ear.

The last routine was an experiment Tiffany had us try. She gave us a character we had to perform, not in an obvious way, but as if we were all meeting in a town square. Nine of us did it at a time, with the others guessing who we were. Of course, I ended up having to be a Nun.

The goal of this program is to build an ensemble. These are the people who, for the most part, will be in the classes I take every Monday if I continue into the other courses. Some may join us later, but the group should remain the same.

She also told us the three rules of improv. She didn't explain it much, but will in future classes. I'll try my best now.

1. Yes, and. You work with the people in your ensemble. You take what they do and build on it. You don't twist it around or steal the show yourself.
2. Don’t Deny. Again, work with your group. If they are going with an idea, work with it.
3. Don’t ask questions. This is more of keeping the scene moving and the flow, er, flowing.

Okay, so I don't understand it all in an academic level. That is why I'm taking the classes!


Beginning Program, Level A, Week 2 - Monday, 13 October 2003

I arrived about five minutes late. I really need to try to leave the house no later that 6:10 PM. Earlier is better, but things need to get done around the house.

When I arrived, they were all in a circle giving back rubs!! I think I can like this class! I jumped in. We spent the first part talking about our week and getting caught up. Two people were missing. One just couldn’t make it, but the other felt she was far advanced for this class. Oh well.

Tiffany then brought out a big ball of tape, and while in a circle our goal was to hit it around and not let it touch the ground. We needed to do it for more than 20 hits, and it took us quite a while – we kept getting to 19 for some reason. Eventually we broke 20, and got up to 28. The Second City record is 157. This was to help us learn to work together and warm up.

The next game was a ton of fun, called Bippety Boppity Boo. The person in the center is “it” and says that phrase. The person they are looking at has to say “Boo” before they do. If not, they are it. If the center person says something else (like Bippety Flippity foo) then the person they are looking at shouldn’t say anything. If they say “Boo” or finish it or something, then they are it.

Just to make things harder, the person can call out a special routine. The person they are looking at and the two side people have to do that routine within ten counts or the center person is it. The routines we could choose from are:

• Charlie’s Angels: the three people do the gun poses.
• Elvis: the center person sashays a leg and pretends to sing, while the two side people get down on one knee, raise there hands, and scream like adoring fans.
• Truck Driver: the center person mimes driving a truck, while the two sides are wheels.
• Samurai: the center person makes a samurai face with their hands (curl the fingers upside-down on your face, with the thumb and index finger making circles around your eyes – I know, it is also hard to do, too) while the two sides pretend to hold swords.

Like I said, I really enjoyed this game, as did almost everyone else. It was fun trying to trick people and see what would cause people to talk or not. I think we played that for 20 minutes. This game helps you to keep on your toes, maintain eye contact and a sense of your surroundings, as well as working with others. I think it would make an excellent drinking game! Unfortunately, one member of the class got very flusters (and was recovering from a very bad week) and left during this game. It was pretty sad, and I hope that person doesn’t drop the class.

After the break we did the mirror game. We formed up in couples and faced each other. We moved our hands and arms, then eventually the whole body, and we mirrored each other’s movements. No one leads all the time. We switched partners two more times. The second person was the best for me. At times we couldn’t tell who was leading and who was following. She agreed that it was an odd experience. This game helped to teach us how to give and take.

The next exercise was on communication. Without talking, we had to line up in order of height, then alphabetically by name, then age, then birthday, then alphabetically by middle name. It is not as easy as it sounds!

I don’t know the name of this game, but we could do this as an entire group. In a circle, we closed our eyes or looked down, and in a random order we had to count to 28. This was almost impossible. You didn’t know when someone else would join in, and if two people talked at the same time, you had to start over. Eventually I only counted the number 5, 15, 25, and others caught on and we made it, but it took forever.

We then did the same thing with people’s names starting with a, then b, etc.

More fun was tossing the ball, and when the ball was thrown to you, you had to toss it quickly and say something from the current topic, like girl’s names, cities, fruit, movie stars, etc. If you messed up you were out. It is incredible how hard it is to think of something. I had the hardest time thinking of movie star names for some reasons. I think we’ll be doing this a lot.

Next we did one of my favorite games: What are you doing? One person starts out performing some routing. A new person comes in and asks, “What are you doing?” Person one then says something other then what they are doing, and person two has to mime that activity. The game continues with a new person coming in. Most actions are pretty mundane: shaving, dealing cards, or skipping rope. I like to think of evil things to say, like: giving birth, being shot full of arrows, or getting distressed that my parachute won’t open.

I can’t sing very well, but of course we had to do some singing. This game is called Hot Spot. All of us are on stage, and one person starts to sing a song. At some point (pretty quickly) someone will rescue them and sing a different song. People seemed to follow a theme for a while. When I sang Weird Al’s “I’m Fat,” a woman rescued me by singing the “I Like Big Butts” song. All of us knew lots of songs from musicals. People also started dancing a bit. I did some gyrations (I did some sort of country song at one point). I have to admit though – I can’t dance. At all. People were out there moving their hips and stuff. I have nothing. I need to work on that. I know I can be funny at it, and I am, but still, this bugs me. I can sing good enough, and can belt out “Day-O” like nobody else in that crew.

Like last week, we ended with the Freeze game. I think as a group we did much better than last time, and it was tons of fun.

We still haven’t really learned anything specific in a classroom sense, but these routines are teaching all of us. I’ve never gone through a performance class like environment for more than an hour, so this is turning out great.


Beginning Program, Level A, Week 3 - Monday, 20 October 2003

I got to class this week in plenty of time. I left home at 6 PM, and arrived at around 6:45. I didn’t even have to speed (much).

There was no massage circle this week (and I had positioned myself perfectly for that, arg!). We still sat around in a circle to talk about our week. I am always amazed at the different type of people we have taking this class. Some of them work around 100 hours a week, while others are lucky to get five hours of work. Some have great weeks, others have had horrible ones. Some are parents with many kids and grand kids, while some are not even 21.

During this circle everyone went over their names again, and I think I finally got it down. While people were telling their stories I kept repeating their name, and the people who spoke before them, and visualizing that name above the head. I think it worked – I may finally know all their names. Name memorization is very difficult for me. If that is the only skill I improve here it will still be worth it.

We started off with the black tape ball toss again. We only got up to 27 (where last week we made it to 28). Keeping an odd shaped ball in the air with a large group of people is hard! Either multiple people will go for it, or no one will. Also, the stage lights almost blind you. It is much easier with less people. Later, during a break, with just six of us we got up to 71. I stood up stage and the lights made it quite difficult.

Our next routine was simple but turned out to be a ton of fun. It is called Big Booty. We stood around in a circle. Tiffany, our teacher, was Big Booty (hey, she said it, not me!). Then in a circle everyone is numbered, starting at 1 and going higher. She then started a rhythm with us clapping to it, saying “Awwww yeah, Big Booty awwww yeah, big booty big booty big booty.” We would sing that along with her. She would then start the game by saying her call then a number, like “Big booty number 5” and that person would pass it to another random person by saying something like “number 5 number 2” and so on. We try to go as fast as we can and keep the beat going.

You could pass it back to Tiffany by saying your number then her, like this: “number 6 big booty” and she would have to continue it. If you messed up everyone would yell out “Awww yeah, Big Booty…” and do that opening sentence. The person who lost would go to the highest number, changing everyone else’s number in between.

So, if #4 messed up, #4 becomes #10, #10 becomes #9, #9 becomes #8, and so on. Numbers 3, 2, 1 stay the same. So, many people’s numbers change and you have to concentrate to not mess up.

Only 10 people were up there at a time, so we cycled people in and out. It was almost as fun to watch as play. We all got into the rhythm and even danced a long a bit. That line is just too much fun to say!

I had an evil moment. I ended up as Big Booty at one point, and found out that one of the people, Bill (our preacher), was fine in the game unless he was chosen right after Big Booty. At first I kept calling on him “Big Booty number 10!” and he just couldn’t spit out “number 10,” he would constantly say “booty” or something. After that, when someone would mess up and he would become #9, I’d call “Big Booty number 9” and every single time he goofed! It was hilarious. I would then start it off, we’d go for a while, and he’d be fine, but as soon as someone messed up I called on him and brought him right next to me again. This must have happened at least ten times!!

We then did a bunch of silent work. This for me was the hardest. No, not because I had to be quiet and not talk! It is because we had to pay attention to details.

For the first bit, three at a time on stage, we had to do something that we do ritualistically. Again, the point isn’t to be funny, but to try to get all the little details down. I performed “making, pouring, and drinking a cup of coffee.” Since there was one person left at the end, I went up again and did “putting on armor.” The goal was to take our time and savor the details, especially the small details. One guy did a great job driving his car – for example, he put his hand out the window and surfed the wind with it, which is what many people do when driving with the window down.

Next, by ourselves, we did another environmental routine. Tiffany called this “Where we come from, and where we are going.” We would have to totally mime out a routine. Her routine was coming from the bank and then going to the store. She showed this by balancing her checkbook, then cutting out coupons, looking the fridge and making a list, then heading out the door. The goal, again, is to pay attention to all the details. I did eating a meal then loading the dishwasher, discovering there was no detergent, so I went to the store. The best was the guy who discovered his car had a flat tire. His attention to detail was amazing, especially with all the problems of getting the lug nuts off.

I had a tough time with this. I kept wanting to rush through the routines. In mine, I’m sure I left the sink water running. Others had similar difficulties. For example, they’d take the time to create the impression of a table, then a minute later they’d walk through it. However, one fellow did remember his beer when walked off stage!

It also showed that we don’t really pay attention to what we are doing when performing ordinary tasks. How do we open and close a door? How can we mime that without making it look awkward? Many people, for some odd reason, mimed taking off their clothes to shower and stuff: how do you that in a realistic manner? People removed their shoes in many different ways, all of them correct, yet different.

I’ve already started to pay attention to what I’m doing while I’m doing it, even when it is just routine activities, like typing on the computer. It is strange feeling, as if I’m not just a participant in my own actions, but also an observer. I find myself hesitating, like when someone asks you which foot you start walking with, and you stand there trying to figure it out instead of just walking. That is a very odd sensation.

The last routine was Freeze, which was fun as usual.

I have to admit, because I was sick I was way out of it. I don’t think I did well this week. I definitely wasn’t in top form. I missed some easy responses that I could have done, thinking about them during the car ride home. Oh well, that is why this is practice!

Beginning Program, Level A, Week 4 - Monday, 27 October 2003

I think I’ve got the timing down. I made it with around five minutes to spare. Only 12 people were here today. A couple haven’t come for two weeks now, but one guy came back from being gone most of the time – he had been in the far east, and we all felt that was a valid excuse.

This week would be tough for me. I had lost my voice over the weekend – with a ton of effort I could talk at a normal strength, but nothing louder than that. Otherwise I’d talk in a sultry, okay, hoarse whisper. That is just great for doing a night of improve!

We started off with tossing the tape around. This time we actually got up to 39!! Woohoo!! I stood upstage, so the light glared in my eyes. As I recall it now, I dropped the ball at the end, but I also hit it quite a few times during that stretch.

Let’s see. We did our circle week review. My week was kinda boring as no one has really heard the SCA (although one guy, the one with all the piercing's, seems to know Shadowclans quite well!). But everyone else had very fun stories. Since I couldn’t talk much, it was good that I didn’t have much to say.

We did Big Booty again. Bill did an amazing job! He hardly messed up, although I tried very hard to get him too. In fact, I think I messed up more than him.

The next game was Kitty in the Corner. This game was a ton of fun! If I’m ever bored at a party, thanks to improv I’ll have lots of games to play. This is one, which seems to be a kid’s game. Everyone is in a circle with one in the middle. Two people try to make eye contact and switch places. The one in the middle says “Kitty wants a corner” and the person he looks at has to respond “go ask my neighbor.” The person in the middle has to try to beat the people who switch to one of their places. We tried to get a fast pace. I know it sounds silly, but honestly, it was a ton of fun!

I don’t know what to call this game, but basically Tiffany, our teacher, walked into a room and mimed working with an object. In her case it was a hair dryer. Then the next person would have to use the hand dryer and do some other object, and the next person would do those and add one more, and so on. When I came up we had the following objects: hair dryer, shaving razor, toothbrush, blowup doll, lipstick, wig, towel, tweezers, and pieces of paper with a fridge and wall magnets.

Yes, we are an odd bunch of people.

Some of the guys put on the wig and applied the makeup.

I didn’t (I know, everyone is surprised). I did use the tweezers on my nose hairs – eww – and I forgot to use the razor. I applied to lipstick to a first on my thumb and finger, with them making a face, and put the wig on my hand and started to pretend to talk to it. Oh, and when I walked in the room I pretended that the blow up doll was blocking it, so I threw it out of the apartment, getting rid of it right away! I added a television remote control.

Others added a toilet, mascara, and …darn, I think there was one more. I can’t remember it! Afterward, Tiffany went through the apartment, using the toothbrush to clean the toilet. Eww!! She, of course, was amazing.

I was grateful for a long routine where we didn’t have to talk.

This next bit is one my friend Joe would love. We all stood on stage in a line, facing the “audience.” We’d have to tell a joke in the following form. Our teacher would suggested an object, and a person would say:

1001 *objects* walk into a bar.
The bartender says, “We don’t serve your kind here.”
1001 *objects* say “why not?”
The bartender says, *insert punch line here*

The rest of us have to laugh and cheer as loud as possible, no matter how bad or stupid the punch line was – and most of them would be, we were told, and they were. But some were amazing. I don’t remember much of it, because people from Class 4 (that would be the conservatory level) came in to watch us.

Great. An audience.

They suggested items. I remember a really funny bit, when someone used the turkey baster object:

1001 turkey basters walk into a bar.
The bartender says, “We don’t serve your kind here.”
1001 turkey basters say “why not?”
The bartender says, “We don’t take plastic here!”

I thought I had a good one, for ham sandwiches…

1001 ham sandwiches walk into a bar.
The bartender says, “We don’t serve your kind here.”
1001 ham sandwiches say “why not?”
The bartender says, “We are a kosher bar!”

Well, if you were there, you would have had to have laughed.

It was hard, but I was able to be heard. My voice was getting worse though.

For the last half hour we watched the other class perform some skits that they just had written and hardly worked on. It was a vision of things to come if we continued with this next year. I have to admit, they were pretty funny.

So I guess in class 4, they have to write their own routines, work out the blocking, and refine their performances. The thing is, I’ve done that already in the SCA through the Bedlam players. I’ve been involved in writing a good number of comical skits, and some of them were quite well received. I think it would be interesting to do this in a non-SCA setting. At the very least, if I continue with this program, I’ll have a lot of training if I ever decide to start up Bedlam again.

After they left we played Freeze. I’ll say it again, we are an odd bunch of people.

Class ended, and a bunch of us went to the bar nearby. That is a tradition with the classes, and we’ll probably go every week. The other class was there (actually, two classes were there).

I was still sick and hoarse, so I didn’t bother drinking anything. And this bar doesn’t serve decaf coffee, so I was out of luck there too. The thing is, I get buzzed very easily. I hate beer, but I think they have Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

I need to be careful. Back in my college days, when I would have more than half a beer I’d be on the tables singing “Material Girl.” I’d rather people not see that side of me.

Stop laughing.

My real worry is that I do get buzzed easily, and I don’t want to drink and drive. I think if I nurse my drink for an hour I should be okay. We’ll see how it goes.

I hope my voice is back next week!!!

Beginning Program, Level A, Week 5 - Monday, 3 November 2003

Finally, more people are starting to come to class again. We had fourteen this time. I don’t mind the smaller numbers, but, as I’ll discuss later in this entry, I wouldn’t mind if everyone who could show up would.

We started once again with the toss tape. Last time we reached 39, and Tiffany insisted we had to reach 50 this time. We made it to 48…and were stuck there for a while. Ugh. But, we broke 50, and reached 56! Woohoo!!!

This class was going to be about movement. Our first routine was a dance bit.

And we all know how well I can dance. You know, as well as William Shatner can sing. That level. One day I’ll find my hips.

I’m not sure what this routine is called. We stood around in a circle, facing each other. Tiffany started off with a four beat dance move, something she made up. (By the way, don’t expect me to even explain the dance moves – I can’t even dance and you want me to write it out?) It was a simple move, and we would all do it together.

The person to her right would then add another four beat step and then we’d do both in sequence. The third person would make up another move, and we’d repeat all three, and so on.

So by the end we were doing 15 dance moves. Some were kinda tough. I did the two fingers going across your eyes.

As with all these odd games, it was fun. We got to move, work with our memories, etc. After we went through all of them, we reordered ourselves and did the dance again (in the same order). We did it right the first time, even without keying off of a person!

Next was an odd routine. We paired up in twos, and were given an emotion or idea. We would then, silently, have to interact. We had to use the space, and just see what happens. The person who is leading should shift. It was to teach us how we could work in someone else’s space. At first we thought we were doing an actual dance (and the first couple, two women, looked great!!), but we figured it out. The concepts were

• Giddy
• Worry
• Annoyance
• Repulsion
• Eagerness
• Intelligence
• Sad (mine)
• Moody (the first group went again)

I kind of cheated for sad. I just thought of Little Arbeau, and using that I was on the verge of tears. I think some of the people watching were really affective. It was really tough, and I liked how I interacted with my partner, Scott. He, I think, is more of an extrovert than I am! But we gave and took very well from each other. I had an idea for an ending, but he took it somewhere else that was better and really work.

After that was an evaluation of each of us individually. Tiffany would take us into a back room, tie us to a chair, and have her way with us for about five or so minutes.

Okay. There was no chair. And it was off to the side. And she was gentle.

But everything else was true!

My evaluation wasn’t a surprise. I’m too…big.

Get your minds out of the gutter.

I need to tone it down, I don’t have to be “on” all the time, be myself and relax.

Well, she’s right. It is odd; I don’t feel like I’m trying to be funny. I’ve seen people do that, and while I have that to a degree, I don’t think I’m that bad.

Still, I know that I do have a hard time doing the basic and mundane routines, and that is where you can have a ton of fun and be really funny.

So, I’ll try.

It was a good evaluation.

We did the 1001 objects bit to close out the evening.

The three hours go by really fast. I honestly don’t notice it passing, and wish we could it for five or six even.

Unfortunately, we didn’t go out drinking afterwards. I don’t mind getting home by 11 PM, but this week I did bring and old jacket, and I had my voice back so I could have been good company.

I do want to add something here, something that surprised me. Everyone in this class seems to be really good at this improve stuff. I expected a few to not do well, but that isn’t the case.

Now, we aren’t all the same. We have, for the most part, different strengths and attitudes. But that is even better, and that also means that as a whole we have a great range of talent and can do a lot. I’ve also discovered I can learn something from everyone there.

I watch them very carefully when I’m in the audience and they are performing. I like seeing their strengths shine and how they move, talk, and work the environment.

Maybe, eventually, I’ll even learn how to move my hips.

Beginning Program, Level A, Week 6 - Monday, 10 November 2003

This was kind of a sparse class today – only eleven people! It was mostly guys today, actually. I hope more people show up next week. Only two more weeks left!

The tape toss went quite well today. It must have been because Tiffany joined us. In less than five minutes we tossed it 66 times! Woo hoo! We quit while we were ahead and went into Big Booty. I like that game. It is fun to move and sort of sing and see who will mess up. It is funny. No matter how hard one tries, something will mess that person up.

The next game was extremely cathartic: Conductive Griping. Half of us were on stage and Tiffany was below moving her arms…well, conducting. She would point at each of us, and when she did that we would complain about a subject previously determined by the rest of the class. Each person had a different topic. Tiffany could have us go individually, or bring more people in. She would also control the volume. At the end she’d have us all gripe at once, then cut us all off and leave only one other person griping to finish it out.

The topics the first group had were: pinecones, grocery store clerks, bunions (that was mine), marriage, and snow blowers. The second group’s topics were: pantyhose, the moon, Alka Seltzer, hangnails, action figures, and air.

I can’t tell you how much fun this was. We were all given permission to just bitch and complain to our heart’s content! I think I might use this one at a party.

Today’s topic was Heightening. This improv concept has to do with always adding more and more to a scene, like Tiffany did with the conducting. This lead to the three rules of Improvisation:

1. Yes, And. When someone starts something, you should accept what they do and then add to it.
2. Don’t Deny! Denial is a big no-no. You need to accept the other person’s reality and build on that. For example.
My Father died today.
No he didn’t, he’s over there! ? that is denial.
I’m sorry, my Mother did too. ? this accepts and builds on the scene.
3. Don’t ask questions: We should also be careful about questions, because that might slow things down. Instead, be declarative and give something back to the scene.
4. Okay, this might be a fourth rule: Who, where, and what. This involves what you need to make clear when you are developing a scene: who you are, where you are, and what you are doing. Eventually we’ll get crafty and subtle about getting that information across. However, for now, we can be very obvious.

In an attempt to try to say “yes, and” more, we played something called that Ad game. We are advertising executives trying to come up with all the possible uses for an object. They can be as strange or as odd as we wanted. Again we went into two groups, and the objects were “a shoelace” and “a sponge.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – this group of people is just sick and twisted! All of us thought of the oddest ideas and concepts. Tons of fun!

Next we did a silent scene. We were to explore the environment, two at a time, and try to express who, what, and where. Two people were paired up, and the overall area was determined beforehand.

• Scott and Brendan were in a Laundromat. They were amazing at the miming of folding sheets.
• Bill and Autumn were at McDonalds. They pretended to a couple out on a date ordering food and had amazing expressions
• Russ and Kenny were at a bank. Russ ended up being a teller, and Kenny robbed him. After a shaky start they ended up being very funny as they hung around waiting for the manager.
• Kristen and I were at a playground. It took a while but I figured out I was a little boy to her little girl. We had a blast just playing with all the toys. Jump rope, those big bouncing balls you sit on, baseball, hopscotch, seesaw, and swings. It was just a ton of fun miming all that stuff!
• Jeff, Garret, and Chris were at a hospital. Chris just throws herself on the floor, so Jeff acts as an assistant and Garrett was the doctor. Chris just wouldn’t go unconscious, but they got the breast implants in her eventually!

I was amazed at how funny everyone was. We all laughed with all the skits, and none of us said a word!

To continue the lesson we did a game were we had to communicate with only a certain number of words. We still had to make a scene, and determine who, what, and where. We had to keep thinking about heightening it, exploring the area, and “yes, and.”

• Bill and Jeff were in a movie theater, and could only talk in 3 word phrases. It turned into a gay scene.
• Brendan and I were at a Wal-Mart. 4 word phrases. Yet another gay scene.
• Autumn and Kristen were at the Lion’s game. 5 word phrases. Might have been a gay scene.
• Garrett and Scott were at a car wash. 2 word phrases. Gay scenes were banned, so they talked about women and movies.
• Russ and Chris were in a living room. 1 word phrases. They were a married couple, who probably should have been gay cause no sex was going on.
• Scott (a second time) and Kenny were at the Gym. 3 word phrases. Not gay, just lots of awkward feelings!

Talking in short phrases was difficult. We think that the more words you had, the harder it was. I think two words were the easiest, but Garrett and Scott said it was very tough. I have no idea how Russ and Chris conveyed so much with 1 word. It was also fascinating how we fell back on mime work when we were stuck. The earlier classes worked quite well.

We ended the evening with the One Word Story. This was much harder than I thought it would be! We sat in a circle and would tell a story, but each person in order could only say one word at a time. Kenny was a riot: he would add the strangest words, like ‘hermaphrodite.” This was during a story about a clown and children. Anyway, the key was to try to keep it on the subject of whatever the first sentence was, and to always try to go back to that. With the last story we actually ended it, and it made some sort of sense!!

Still, I don’t think we are about to make any money writing children’s stories soon.

Beginning Program, Level A, Week 7- Monday, 17 November 2003

Fuhken A!

Only one more class after this one, and people are getting a little sad. Most, if not all of us, will be back in January. But we won’t be doing this at all in December, and quite frankly we are having far too much fun.

This class started off on a very odd note: there was no tape toss!! Tiffany couldn’t find the huge ball of black tape, so instead we started with a great game of Bippity Boppity Boo (see week 2). I have to say, this game is a ton of fun. We are all getting better at that, which means it looks exactly the same. People are better at not getting fooled into messing up, but now people are also craftier at getting fooled. I messed up a ton of times.
We added two more routines:
• Lawyer: middle person swings a gavel, the two end people type like a stenographer. That should be called Judge, but I’m not in charge. ?
• Reagan: middle person looks confused, touching their head, while the two wend people whisper in the middle person’s ears.

The next game was Conductive Gripes. It felt so goooood to complain so much! I might do this one at my Improv class this weekend. Anyway, here were the topics:

Brendan – taxes
Chuck – women (ahhhhh….)
Russ – poison ivy
Garrett – holidays
Autumn – bad drivers
Jeff – computers
Scott – fast food

Then the second group:

Lee – cheese
Kenny – the stock market
Kristen – men (heh – she had a surprisingly large amount of things to say)
April – beanbag chairs
Katina – Sumo wrestlers
Chris – flowers
Sarah – Acorns

I can’t tell you my actual gripes, because if I mentioned cold feet in bed, not tell us what we did wrong, and why they take forever to go out, I’d get into a lot of trouble.

Our next game was a new one: Hitch Hiker. It is pretty simple. Three chairs were set up. The person on the left is the driver and there is one passenger. They pick up a hitch hiker who plays a certain type of person (a profession, or mannerism). Then everyone in the car becomes that profession/mannerism. Eventually the driver leaves (making an in-role excuse), everyone shifts over, and they pick up a new person and it starts again.

There were many types and all were basic but fun. A Jamaican person, a sorority girl, drug dealer, mass murderer, priest, and others I can’t think of. The ones I did were weather man and gorilla (we went twice). The cool thing about this game is you get to play with someone else’s idea. Sure, I came in as a weather man, but then I had to turn into a Hindu monk, and then something else. Sheesh, I should really write this summary sooner so I’d remember more.

Something else happened during the game that, well, caught my attention. I’ll mention it at the end.

We did another round of Advertiser, with the products being a spoon and dice. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: we are all sick.

Next as an exercise we worked in predetermined scenes that Tiffany created for us. It was neat, but actually quite hard. We were given a who, what, and where, but we still had to fill in the details. We could take a minute to plan, but then we had to act it out, both with speech and motion.

I was up there with Kristen and Sarah. Our scene was our carpool driver died and we were at the funeral. We had to figure out everything else. We had him working at the Ford plant. We never said how he died, but we didn’t know him well. We just liked that he brought doughnuts and that he was always on time. Eventually I said that we should leave and lets get something to eat. As we are walking off, Sarah ended it perfectly by asking, “Hey, who’s going to drive?”

Here are the others:

• Chris, Russ, and Jeff: dinner at a restaurant, husband forgot anniversary.
• Autumn and Brendan: father sending daughter off to school.
• Sarah, Kristen, and Chuck: carpool driver died and we were at the funeral.
• Katina and Scot: father and daughter in store shopping, and she gets her first period.
• Garrett and April: devoted religious people on day 3 of 40 day fast at a barbeque place.
• Chris, Kristen, Kenny, and Brendan: student council dealing with a broken swing.
• Autumn and Sarah: two old ladies playing bingo.
• Chuck, Lee, and Jeff. Three merchant marines left behind when their ship left.

I need to talk about that last one. For some reason, people are surprised when I curse. I also, apparently, curse like a 36 year old man. I say things like “Fuhkin’ A!” Kids today don’t curse like that anymore. I’m so old…at the bar that evening I said some gal there was a “babe,” and everyone laughed at that too.


Oh well. I’m not fazed. I don’t mind acting my age and talking the way I do.

It’s groovy.

We ended with that one, and a bunch of us went to the bar, and Tiffany joined us. I haven’t had a teacher join me at the bar since the seventh grade, so that was pretty cool.

We talked about a bunch of things, but I had a Mike’s Lemonade in me, so I had to ask this question. “Hey, um…during the Hitch Hiker game, did any of you guys notice … well, you know, when those two girls were…” and about four guys say, “Oooh, yeah, we noticed!”

It wasn’t a big deal. Both were wearing thongs with very low rise jeans.

But me, being the dirty old man, couldn’t help but notice. I even think I was staring for a while. I couldn’t help it! I was afraid I was the only one who noticed.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Everyone noticed, but no one wanted to say anything at first. But after I opened that door we all had a great laugh over it. Heck, one of the other girl’s in our troupe laughed and even said, “Hey, I didn’t get the memo!!”

So all of us are just raunchy boys and girls who can’t help but notice this stuff.

We all decided to wear thongs next week for our final class.

Beginning Program, Level A, Week 8- Monday, 24 November 2003

I’m sure you are wondering, so I’ll get this out of the way now: no, we didn’t wear thongs (at least, I didn’t notice any…not that I looked…very hard…).

I think this class was the hardest one we ever had. Tiffany was teaching us all about concentration. Apparently, it is tough to concentrate, as we learned.

We started off with the tape toss. We got to 56, which is what we had two weeks ago, but we couldn’t get above that. We went at it for a while, but we just couldn’t do it.

Then we started our first concentration game. We all stood in a circle, and Kristen started us off in colors. She’s point at someone and say a color. That person would say another color and point to a different person, and we’d continue until everyone got picked just once. Kristen would start again and we’d repeat, same color, same order. We did that few times to made sure we got it right.

We’d then start again, but this time it was ice cream flavors, and Kristen would choose a different person, and the order would be different. We practiced that.

Now the hard part: she’d stay both words and we’d have two threads going at once. This was a lot harder than it sounds. We messed up quite a bit. I think we finally got it, because Tiffany had us do a third thread based on items of clothing (and the thong did appear).

Doing three was pretty much impossible. For some reason people would miss their cues. I know I missed plenty. The whole exercise was giving us all headaches. It was pretty neat, though, when we did have three threads going for a while, even though we never made it to completion.

Here was a strange game that we placed. I don’t know what it was called, but a person would sit down, and on either side would be two other people. The person sitting had to hold a conversation with the other two people simultaneously. The standing people ignored each other – they just babbled on and on to the sitting person trying to get their attention.

I thought my head would explode.

After a break and quite a few drinks, we did some more relaxing games.

We played a Dr. Know-It-All game. Tiffany was the MC, and we were asked questions that four people had to answer – one word at a time. Tons of fun. Then we were Experts, each of the four people was a character they had to play. Somehow I ended up a militant black man named Malcolm of Vibe magazine. I really don’t understand that.

We ended with a round of Big Booty, and didn’t leave for the bar until around 10:20!

I think people were a bit down because we knew it was our last class for a while. Hopefully we’ll all be back. Unfortunately, it looks like the next class won’t start until February! I don’t want to wait that long!!

It was an excellent class with wonderful people. I hope they come to my New Year’s Eve party!

Left side, back row (left to right): Kristen, Chuck, Kenny, Scott
Left side, front row (left to right): April, Chris, Sarah
Right side, back row (left to right): Bill, Brendan, Katina, Jeff, Garrett
Right side, middle row (left to right): Russ, Lee
(not shown: Autumn)
Right side,: front: Our teacher, Tiffany!


Beginning Program, Level B, Week 1 - Monday, 26 January 2004

As I predicted, everyone who wanted to get into this class from the previous class was able to get in. There are a total of 17 people signed up for the class, though due to the incredibly nasty weather, only 13 people were here. Lee from our last class dropped (and he will be missed). However, we have one new face: Tom, who took Level A a full year ago.

Tom is outgoing, an extrovert, loud, boisterous, and probably a tad neurotic. I think he has an affinity for moldy cheese. He is also pro thong. I think he will fit in quite well.

Our teacher is Rachel Bellack. I’d link to her Second City faculty page, but she is one of those mysterious teachers who don’t say much about herself. She has a ton of experience in acting and improv, and has also taken all of the Second City classes, including the one we taking now.

There is something else about her that I should probably mention.

Her classes are HARD.

I suppose I could explain it by saying that she had us gasping for breath, confounded, frustrated, and even sent one of us to the hospital, but you’d probably think I was just kidding.

I’m not.

Then again, she was also fantastic, and I really think I’m going to enjoy this class immensely.

Rachel somehow managed to make us feel as if we had learned a lot while at the same time having us feel like we knew nothing. Kinda like life.

In the last class, our instructor Tiffany had two goals. The first was to help us understand our space and learn object work. The second, which I think was more important, was to help us get comfortable with just being on a stage and performing. To do anything as long as we did something.

Rachel’s goal for this next class, which she achieved, was different. She wants to take us out of comfort zone. We need to accept ourselves and be willing to try and do almost anything. We need to get out of our head of how we normally do things, and to really pay attention to everything that is going on around us.

I better simplify. Class A: object work – where are you. Class B: relationships (within scenes and between the group) and communication.

I also liked Rachel’s job description for the individual improv performer: make everyone else look better than you do.

She also will be side coaching. During a scene she will stop us, give us a critique, or change the direction, or give us ideas. If she waited until the end, none of us would have any idea what she was referring to. She did some side coaching during this class session, and I think it worked out well.

On to the actual class itself. We started with a bunch of warm-ups. I forget what it was called, but it was basically the clap and point stuff. You clap and point at someone, and they do that to someone else.

Variations were added. We would have to say someone’s name, then do different sounds, then Zip Zap Zop.

A new variation was 007: starting person says “zero” and points, next person also says “zero” and points, third person says “seven” and points, and the forth person says “Bang!” and points. That fifth person acts as if she were shot, and the two people next to her scream in horror. That was fun. We had to reminded, however, that we need to concentrate on what we are doing. Keep it going as fast as possible, but don’t be sloppy.

We then played ‘tag.’ You know, the “Tag! You’re it!” game? This being improv, it was different. The space was restricted, and if you got tagged, then you had to grab on to that area for the rest of the game. Same thing if this happened a second time. Third time you had to die creatively. We played this once, and it was a lot of fun, but this is where we almost killed Kenny (like I would be able to resist that reference). Someone either stepped on him, or he twisted around, or something, but he hurt his ankle, badly. About ten minutes later Scott took him to the hospital.

Here’s Kenny now with an update:

Improv is dangerous
How I spent 5 hours at Detroit receiving
How I managed to cripple myself playing a game of tag.

Hey Party people, what’s up?

I thought I'd give you an update on my trip to the emergency room. Major thanks are due to Scott for spending several fun filled hours at the hospital with me.

First the good news:

I've got fantastic medical diagnostic skills!

The E.R. Doctors confirmed that I was correct in my initial self diagnosis: I ruptured/tore my Achilles tendon. I take a small amount of joy in knowing that I could accurately pinpoint my injury.

The bad news:

I have a temporary splint right now and it looks like I'll be on crutches for the foreseeable future. Once the swelling goes down I'll see an orthopedic surgeon and he/she will decide if I need to have surgery to reattach the tendon (I've been told that most likely this will be the case), or if they can treat it non-surgically. Either way I'll be in a cast for a while.

Moving on (albeit at a decidedly slower and awkward gait):

Despite this being a major bummer I'm in relatively good spirits, although I do bitterly regret purchasing a car with a manual transmission seeing as I need both feet to shift gears properly. I need to discuss this further with our instructor, but if it’s at all possible I'd like to continue coming to class and participate, albeit in a somewhat limited fashion.
I'm pissed that this had to happen an hour into the first class.

For the curious amongst you I've included a couple of links regarding ruptured Achilles tendons, including a totally awesome, super sweet video (real player required) of an actual surgery where they sew the tendons back together.

(Awesome, super sweet surgery video!!!!)


Seriously, that stinks. I’m glad he’ll still be doing the classes though.

After tag while we were resting we reviewed the three rules of improv:
Yes, and….
Don’t deny.
Don’t ask questions.

Rachel clarified the “don’t ask questions” rule. In a scene, if you ask “Did you take my sweater?” then the response is either yes or no. But if you say “You took my sweater!” then the other person has something to build on.

We also discussed Exposition: who, what, where (the focus of Level A), how, and sometimes why.

The deny part is worth reviewing, as we all, me especially, had troubles with that. Denying isn’t just saying no, it is fighting the scene as opposed to going along with it. That came into the fore when we played the Gibberish game. Three people would sit together, with the two on the end talking in gibberish but trying to hold a conversation with each other. The one in the middle would translate, as if they were each person.

This was incredibly tough. I’ll go through who did what, and the scenes, and then add all the notes at the end, because they applied pretty much to all of us.

Tom, Chuck, Russ: Father and son.
Kristin, Scott, Bill: In an airplane.
Brendan, Garrett, Sarah: Brother and sister.
Chris, April, Katina: Beauty shop.
April, Brendan, Bill: Doctor.
Chuck, Katina, Garrett: Gym.
Chris, Kristen, Tom: Teacher and student.
Russ, Sarah, Kristen: Lawyer.
Chris, Tom, Chuck: Swimming Pool.
Brenden, Bill, April: Library.
Russ, Chris, Bill: Golf course.
Garrett, Sarah, Katina: Probation officer and client.

My initial problem was that I was trying to be funny, again, instead of just playing the scene straight. Making a conversation, a realistic one, is difficult, and I was fighting myself when I was doing the translating.

Other notes.

The scene needs to be about something. There has to be a reason for communicating. Many times we would do things that one would only see on a stupid situation comedy, and not real life. So, have a subject with some sort of conflict (conflict as in drama, not conflict as in fighting). Then have a resolution that ends the scene.

We shouldn’t play children or infants, as they become caricatures.

Don’t ask too many questions, it will push you into a corner. Think about how to heighten the scene. Think about the need: why is stuff happening?

Given a who, what, or where from the audience doesn’t mean anything, because you can go anywhere with it. For example, if someone says a Taxi as a location, you could still be a couple having a discussion about dinner while in the cab. We can take it anywhere we want; don’t limit ourselves.

Turn questions into statements. Keep in mind the relationship between the two people. That is what this class is about. How you talk to your boss is different than how you talk to your spouse, friends, etc.

Don’t do shit and penis jokes – there is no where to go from there, and we are too smart for that.

Be true to real life. Avoid teaching and coaching. Don’t say what you are doing – when people are talking, they don’t say “I am now pouring a cup of coffee!”

Lots of stuff. Like I said, it was hard, and there were tons of things to think about. However, we really enjoyed the exercise and the experience.

We ended with the old standby, Switch, only this time our teacher would freeze us. We had to jump in quickly, and be meticulous about keeping the previous poses.

I think that is one of my favorite games.

We were given two pieces of homework, er, that is, homeplay:
1. Pay attention to conversations, both ours and others. What do people want? Why are they speaking? What is the tone of voice used, and what are they actually saying?
2. Watch the news. Know enough to form a strong opinion about topics.

The class was great.

The hour long drive home in the freezing icy rain wasn’t, but I think I came out lucky – I’m glad Kenny is doing okay, and hope he heals quickly.

Beginning Program, Level B, Week 2 - Monday, 2 February 2004

Only twelve people attended this week. Two couldn't make it (one had a previous commitment and the other I think was coming down with the Black Death). I do have to apologize though. Last week I said Lee wasn't taking the class, and imagine my surprise when I see him there! Excellent! Kenny was also there, on crutches. He managed to move around pretty well.

To start off, we went around talking about what was new with us. This was done so that we could not only bond, but to hear about how we express ourselves. Something new happens to us everyday (let alone every week). It is interesting to hear how people talk about themselves, what it is they want to say about their life, and maybe even why it is important enough to mention.

Next it was a bunch of warm-ups. We did 8's, clap and point, sounds, and then our old favorite: Bippity Boppity Boo.

We did something that I've not done before. It was another form of object work, where we stood apart from each other, and each person pretended there was a table in front of us an behind us. Rachel would call out an object and we would have to pick it up from the table behind us, and place it on the table in front.

It is harder than it sounds.

For instance, I think the first object we picked up was a plate. I, like many others, had my fingers touching when I picked up the plate, which isn't how it would be. We really had to visualize that object we were holding; so much that we could answer questions about it. Every so often Rachel would ask one of us about the color of the object, or style, or what emotion we felt. A towel that is snuggly warm out the dryer: what would you do if you picked it up? You'd probably put it on your face and feel the warmth. That was the sort of thing you should do when visualizing. I can't remember all the objects she mentioned (and I had little time to write things down during this class).

We then worked on knowing the space around us and our environment. We would walk around for a while and at some point everyone would freeze. One person would start walking, and when they made eye contact with someone, that person would start moving and the first person would stop. The goal was to make those transitions incredibly smooth: the new person should start moving as the first person is slowing down to stop. As with all things, this was tough too, but we were developing a sort of group mind.

The exercise was enhanced by having us try to guess who the person was (if they were walking behind us) - or at least their gender, height, weight. We were also to try to figure who they were going to pick. To help we would try to set our intention of who we would pick while walking around. It was tough to not look at people as we were walking by! We then would walk around with an emotion, and could also have full phrases.

The goal was to speed up those transitions. I think at the end she had us going on with this for a full ten minutes. It seemed like a long time, and we would go so fast that we had no time to preplan what we were going to say or how we were going to feel.

And that was the whole point. For improv, you aren't supposed to preplan. We need to clear our minds so that we are open to thousands of possibilities. That's the theory anyway.

After a short break we went on to do some scene work. As before, we had to focus on the relationship to each other in the scene. How do you feel? What do you want? The conversation/scene should be about something, and then we need to heighten the situation, and finally bring it to a resolution.

The game we played was called "Dubbing." Like gibberish before, two people would stand and pretend to talk, but this time each of them had a person doing the talking for them. We each had a chance to dub and be dubbed. We needed to avoid the obvious. If we were given a scene between two divorced people, the first thought is to have them fight and argue. Instead, have them talk about their jobs, or how they miss each other, or something. Everyone has more than one relationship between them. College roommates might also be sports rivals. A brother and sister might like the same types of movies. The possibilities are endless, and we had to try to think of the non-obvious and go with it, heighten, and then resolve the story.

To practice our thinking on the fly, we did the One Word Storyteller, where we sat in a circle, and each person in order doing one word of a story. It was tough for us, so Rachel had us take a step back. We did word associations. We just had to say the first word that comes to mind after hearing the person next to us say their word. I think we did this for ten to fifteen minutes too. After a while, you just stopped thinking and say what comes to mind. We would get on themes at times: colors, food types, etc. It was surreal.

We ended the night with another wonderful game of Switch.

Our homeplay was to, at a place we are very familiar with (someplace at home, or office, whatever), notice three sounds that you never really noticed before, and three things (not just objects, but effects such as light on an object) in the same way.

Beginning Program, Level B, Week 3 - Monday, 9 February 2004

Thirteen people here today. People were out auditioning for shows, or had personal affairs to take care of. The new guy Tom was replaced by another new guy called ... Tom.


We are so uncreative here at Improv, that we can't even come up with a new name for visitors. Even Tommy would be fine. Heck, add an 'h' so he's Thom. Anything!

I'm afraid of what will happen if both Toms show up at the same time. Second City might implode and end up relocating to Novi or something.

The conversation this week (after Rachel made a few of us sit in different locations - I got the wonderful view of hockey players with bad dental plans) was to tell everyone about a pleasant surprise. Most people had to think about what that was, which is kind of depressing. If we were asked to talk about something that bothered us, we'd be able to whip out a top ten list in less than twenty seconds.

We continued with our standard warm ups (see the previous two weeks), and then moved on an exercise that was totally different than anything we had done before. This is a great exercise for a small group of people to help them get to know each other, especially if you are in a comedy troupe (or Commedia Troupe, or a troupe run by someone named Sophia...).

Basically, we split up into teams of two (with one group of three to include the odd person out), and go off to a corner, sitting with our backs to each other. It is best to team up with someone you don't know very well. For fifteen minutes one person would interview the other, asking them about their life and anything else. Where they came from, their job, favorite flavor of ice cream, why they are in the improv class, person who inspires them ...whatever. Then it switches and the second person interviews the first. Notes are taken.

You learn a lot about the person that way.

But then comes an even more fun part. Everyone gets together as an audience, and one person comes forward and becomes that person they interviewed. They are called by that person's name, and first they stand there and talk about themselves. When done, the audience then asks questions. If the person doesn't know the answer, they still pretend they are that person, who would know that answer, and just make something up. The person who is being played on the stage is not allowed to ask questions.

The task isn't to imitate that person. You don't have to mimic their voice or mannerisms if you don't want to. But you should feel enough like them so that you can answer questions.

Hmm, that is confusing. I wasn't going to at first, but I think an example will help.

I was in the group of three, with Lee and Chris. I interviewed Lee (and had to be him). Lee interviewed Chris (and had to be her). Chris interviewed me (and had to be me). We didn't really ask about our pasts much, so while others were able to give a brief life history, we didn't know that. We knew enough, of course.

When being Lee, I didn't imitate his voice, but I did try to do his mannerisms to a certain degree. I was very contemplative and spoke slowly and precisely. I smiled and had a very good humor about me. Sometimes I responded to a question so like him that I got a great reaction from everyone else.

The coolest part was when someone asked me: Lee, what do you look for in a woman? I won't put the answer here, but I gave an answer that I thought Lee would give, and it wasn't what I would normally answer about myself. Afterwards he told me that I exactly right, and it was amazing. People might get facts wrong that they didn't know about, but for some reason during this exercise, you learn enough to be able to answer emotional and philosophical questions quite well.

As Rachel told us afterwards, we didn't do this to just learn about others. This exercise helped us to learn more about ourselves.

All of us did a fantastic job. People really got deep into what the other students were like - it was uncanny.

I should note that this exercise took up the entire class time. Although we were rushing a bit at the end, I think we all got to do a full presentation of the people we interviewed.

Our homeplay for this week is to have a sensual experience every day. Use our senses. Really taste some food we are eating. Feel the weather around us. Enjoy the texture of an object. That sort of thing. More about this is in my February 10th blog from 2004.

Beginning Program, Level B, Week 4 - Monday, 16 February 2004

We had fourteen students today, but also we had two guests who were in Rachel's troupe: Barry and Debbie. They were a lot of fun, and added an interesting mix to the day.

We did our normal warmups, then went right into a game we did in Level A called Make a Machine. We split up into two groups, and the other group would give us what we had to make. It was something weird, a color, or made up object. We learned a lot about how to actually be a part of the group when making a machine. We also for one of them had to make sure we were touching. The key was to work as an ensemble, a mechanism of connecting parts.

We sure do learn many fun party games here!

Next we did some space walking, with different emotions, feelings, and activities. A key point here was to keep moving, which translates to performance. No matter what is going on, you should make sure that you keep doing something and not let the show just die.

Our next exercise was a word game. We stood in a circle and someone would say a word and point. That person who was pointed at would have to make a new word from the last letter of the first word, point, and so on. It was hard for us, as we were quite slow and thinking too much. So we switched to places, and tried to go as fast as possible, paying attention to others and trying to not mess up.

Continuing this, we got into two lines and did a game I actually played in my medieval club: going in alphabetical order we had to say a sentence back and forth, making a story. If you started with the wrong letter (or took too long), then you got buzzed and went to the back of your line. As you can imagine, 'Q' and 'Z' were tough, and I think I'm going to look up some words in the dictionary.

To help improve our trust, we made a trust circle, where one person would stand in the center, fold their arms over the chest, close their eyes, keep their body rigid, and fall. All of us would catch them and move them around the small circle. It was a weird but very fun exercise!!

A new game we played was the Three Person Statue. Standing in a circle, a person would say a phrase (anything really), and the three people next in the circle would go out and make a statue of it. This was much harder than it sounds! We went one way around the circle then the other.

We ended with Switch. This time we got to call 'freeze' ourselves and pick the time to jump in. I goofed by pretending someone's hand was glued to their body. That is a big no-no, as there really isn't any place to go with it. I do love Switch though. I always want to jump in everytime!

Beginning Program, Level B, Week 5 - Monday, 23 February 2004

Today’s session was different.

That’s silly, they are all different.

Let me start again.

This week Rachel gave us our evaluations, so even for an Improv class it wasn’t a regular session. To start us off she talked us through a full body relaxation. I need to do such relaxation techniques more. It really helps to have someone talk you through it, that way you can just, well, relax, and not think about how you are relaxing.

Next, to continue the relaxation effect, we did something that was so cool that I will be doing it again with groups of people. Basically, she had us, all at the same time, talk about all the things about our life that we wanted to complain about. However, we talked in gibberish. You use the same tone and volume of voice, gestures, and body language, but no one knows what you are saying. Everyone is talking over everyone else. When we got it all out of our system, we’d speak in gibberish again, but about all the things that make us happy.

It was like telling all of your secrets, yet keeping them at the same time. It was incredibly cathartic. Seriously. I talked about everything, good and bad parts of my life that most people don’t even know about, petty things that are too stupid to even bring up and silly things that make me happy but would be a bit embarrassed to express. I talked about it all, as if I was really speaking, and no one understood a word I said. It was great!

It is like writing an online journal that no one reads.

While a person was evaluated, the rest of us got to go back to kindergarten. We did two activities: drawing, and writing a story.

For the drawing, Rachel brought a hotplate and paper. We had to draw an emotion. We’d melt crayons on the hot plate then put the paper on top. When removed (and removing it changes how the art comes out – for example, I swirled mine when I took it off), you had a piece of art, just perfect for the fridge.

For the fairytale story, each person would write one sentence while only seeing the sentence before. It went around and around until the class was over. As requested, here is the story. Bonus points are given if you can figure out who wrote what.

An ugly frog had big dreams that he hoped one day would come true.
But he knew that if they were to come true he would have to move from his pond.
So he grew sad, wondering what he should do, and that is when his friend, the Dragonfly, appeared.
Why do you fret so, my friend? Do you not know the way home?
Don’t be scared dear, I will not hurt you. Come with me, I’ll show you the way.
The way is up Cloud Avenue and down Miracle Mane.
If you get lost let all the bunnies show you the way.
I need to do something about my fear of mediocrity.
My mommy raised me all by herself and she is my hero. I love her very much.
Despite her complete lack of support during my awkward greasy teen years.
Having received her share of reparations from the Franco-Prussian war, Marissa dropped out of St. Martin’s College and set her sights on the costal town of Brighton.
Ok…but how do get there? She didn’t have a lot of money!
I guess she’ll have to hitchhike.
Hopefully she won’t have to wait for long.
Her heart longs for the answer now!
But all her heart hears is the silence of the Twilight Mountains.
Days and nights pass, without a sound, until she hears what she most longed to hear.
My love, my love, oh to hear your voice echoing in my heart, mind, and ear.
“Who are you and what is that awful smell? And your teeth are yellow and pointy.”
Then, a voice from the sky yelled, “Cocaine is a hell of a drug.”
Followed by “But don’t do it, because death isn’t pretty.”
“But death is a necessary factor in all that lives,” he replied.
I’m trying to do right in this world but my mind is playing tricks on me. I’m all messed up in my heart. I really am.
It really doesn’t help that I’ve been snorting paxil for the past three weeks with my old Cub Scout leader in a dilapidated duplex on the outskirts of the Financial district.
Oh when, oh when will my prince finally show up??
With my luck it won’t be until hell freezes over!
And so, I took my sword, and set forth to slay the beast, and to meet my destiny!!
Alas, my sword would not draw, and the beast breathed fire as death grew near and my destiny destroyed.
Trusting then to luck I stretched out my hand and grasped a rock.
I then took the rock and smashed the ugly beast’s head in. His yellow teeth shattered to the ground and …
The beast started to cry, strictly for the fact that he had no dental insurance.
One tooth doesn’t really bother him, but it’s the no play that does.
He was bound and determined to not be limited by his oral deficiencies, so he found refuge in the online dating scene.
Online dating offered him the perfect shield from the obtrusive reality of inter-personal contact. It allowed him to be someone he wasn’t if he wanted to – in a pimpish kind of way.
In online dating chatrooms he met some really strange and interesting people. He started going online more than he went outside, the people online changing his real life.
He found, thanks to the internet, he could live without ever leaving his home.
And life was very, very good!
And they lived happily ever after.
I need to know who the fuck thinks that SUVs are good for America.
Here you go talking nonsense again, did you eat those weird looking mushrooms again silly?
You’re talking reactionary gibberish, damn it!
You’re always slurring because you’re always drunk!
Then, in comes a Clydesdale horse, who looks over and says, “Anyone who’s drunk, hop on you son of a bitch.”

We are one strange class.

Beginning Program, Level B, Week 6 - Monday, 1 March 2004

This week we started off by finishing up the evaluations. There were about four left, so the ones not being evaluated did warm-ups and played any games we wanted! So we did Big Booty, Zip-Zap-Zop, 007, What Are You Doing….basically whatever we felt like doing.

The main work we did was another game of Hitchhiker. This time, as usual, was much harder. We had to mime really being in a car, and getting and out using the door, and driving properly. We had to make up real reasons for the driver getting out and the other two picking up a new passenger. We also had to keep track of where we were going.

The first time we did a terrible job. After a whole bunch of instruction, though, the second time was incredibly good and very funny! It was a hard game, but when you do an improv game well, it really is a ton of fun.

We finished with Switch, and are trying to go fast and not anyone hang out there.

Our homeplay is to, when in a non-critical conversation, try to say the second thing that comes to your mind, not the first. I can’t believe there are only two sessions left.

Beginning Program, Level B, Week 7 - Saturday, 6 March 2004, and Monday, 8 March 2004

As I was going to California this week and would be missing class, I went to the other B session that meets on Saturdays. There were three aspects to the Saturday class that were really nice:

1. During that time of day on a Saturday, traffic was very light, and it shaved ten minutes off my driving time.
2. Since class ends at 3 PM, I get home at a decent hour (that is, before 11 PM or even Midnight!).
3. They get to use the stage, while my class has a back room with pictures of dentally impaired hockey players.
4. This class loves to hug. A lot. I got a ton of hugs. I need to introduce that to our group.

This B class had Rachel as their A teacher, and it showed. They were very good and fun to play with. Their current teacher Eric was a lot of fun and a fine teacher. I was welcomed immediately and was comfortable playing with the group. They are as crazy as my own group, but that just made it easier.

We played many similar games and also a few that I hadn’t done yet. This class’s topic to practice was “give and take.” That is, give and take with each other and within a scene.

One of the new games was similar to our clap and point, but this one was “point and evade.” You would clap and point at someone, then immediately walk to their space. They would have to clap and point and move out of your way into someone else’s place. If you get this going really fast, you can get five or more people all moving in and out of the circle. Tons of fun!

We also played Ding, which is a great game for me to play as it helps to teach me to not think ahead. We do a regular scene, but when Eric rings his bell, the person who just spoke has to say something different. That person might have to say three or more different things before the scene can continue. It gets really funny!

A very silly game we played as Sit-Stand-Kneel. I got into a great scene with another guy as we were belligerent to each other, and we’d stand up and yell, forcing the other guy to kneel before the other. What fun!

A simple game we played was Holding the Line. After a subject was picked, someone would stand up at the front of the stage and talk about that subject (one or more lines, but it didn’t have to be much). Others would come forward, and when the first person finishes, the new person would take over. They didn’t have to continue the specific thread, they just had to talk about the original topic.

A tough one was were two pairs of people were on their own side of the stage. They each had a separate scene to improv, and when they hear a line they like, one person from that other group says that line, incorporating it into their scene. It becomes much more fun when the scene switches back and forth quickly.

This game I’ve seen before, but have never played: Exits and Entrances. We did this in groups of four, though my group had six. Each person has a word, like “pizza.” When that word is said by anyone, that person who has that word has to exit or enter, with justification. So if someone said, “Hey, where is my pizza,” and pizza is my word, I might say, “Oh, I’ll go get some!” If I come back and say, “Here is the pizza!” Then I have to turn right around and leave because I said the word, and justify it. It gets really nasty if the other plays say your word with every sentence. “What kind of pizza do you like?” “I like pizza with cheese!” “This pizza doesn’t have any.” “Ugh, I ate too much pizza.” With six of us, it was hard remembering the words, and sometimes people wouldn’t be called back on for a while. By the way, it is also bad form to call out your own word so you can come back on stage!!

I’ve asked a guest writer to summarize Monday’s class. Stay tuned. I’ll add it later in the week!

And now, here is Kenny, our guest writer for the week!!


Class started off a little differently this week. Rachel had invited Rich Goteri the artistic director for second city Detroit to join us. Rich was there to observe and answer any questions we might have. Rich is offering a couple of advanced improv classes as well as a writing class. Both Jeff and I have expressed interest in taking the writing class, and after meeting Rich I’m convinced I want to sign up. We started off by asking about the move to Novi, unfortunately he didn’t have new information for us regarding when the training center would be up and running again in the new space. After exhausting the move to Novi topic, we began asking Rich for suggestions about how to improve our improv skills.

This led to Rich suggesting we play the 3-line scene game so that he could get a better idea about where we were skill wise. The 3-line scene game was really cool. The basic idea was to have two people perform a scene by only saying 3 lines. The first person would make a declarative statement that would hopefully define the two characters relationship and/or the source of conflict in the scene. The second person would respond by accepting this information and offering something in addition. Finally the first person would respond in turn. Ideally this brief exchange would if not consist of an entire scene at least set up the basic exposition needed to carry on from that point forward. This was really cool and I think it would be tremendously helpful when it comes time to do switch and other scene work.

Rich was a really great instructor (no slight towards Tiffany or Rachel intended). His suggestions were great and he made small corrections to what we were doing that really made sense. One of the things he had us do was to make sure that we involve object work before we spoke. He mentioned that we should try and touch at least 3 objects before we start in with dialogue in order to help set the scene. Rich also stressed that we should really pay attention to what the other person was doing with their scene work as well, in fact if we missed something that was key to the scene Rich would freeze us and have us redo the scene and make sure we caught what the other person was doing. Another cool thing I got out of this exercise was the idea that we don’t have to rush and that it was okay for there to be silence provided we were doing some object work at the time. This was really cool, because it gave us time to really listen to what the other person was saying and to form a proper response. Rich also stressed that it was very important for us to have a strong point of view and would at times pause us and give us an emotion, or some other background information that he felt would be helpful in furthering the scene.

After everyone had a chance at the 3-line scene Rachel and Rich broke off to discuss what we had done and the rest of the class jumped into eights, point and clap, and finally 007. Next we played a game where one person would leave the room and the rest of the group would form a circle. Rachel would then pick a leader for the group. The leader would be in charge of making a gesture (with their hands, feet, whatever) and the rest of the group was to mimic whatever gesture the leader performed. The leader could change gestures at will and the rest of the group was to follow suit. After settling on an initial gesture the person who was sent out of the room was brought back in and then observed the group and attempted to guess who the leader was in three tries or less. Rich was the first person who tried to guess the leader, after which he had to leave for the evening.

After everyone had gone once we took a short break and started off the second half of the class by discussing our week. Notable news was Katina's acceptance into the Columbia theater program in Chicago. Her classes don't start until August but it appears we will definitely be losing her to Chi-Town. Kristen has officially put her house up for sale and her family is preparing for the upcoming move, so she will be leaving us as well.

Next we played a slightly different version of the conductive gripes game that we played in level A. In addition to having a topic to speak on, each person was also given an emotion to convey. The rest of the game was the same. We split up into two groups of 6. I was in the first group and my first subject was crutches and my emotion was paranoia. We did this exercise twice and then switched it up so that instead a subject we would just speak gibberish but still try to convey whatever emotion we were given.

Finally we ended the class by playing switch, which is rapidly becoming my downfall. I felt completely off today. When I jumped in I was trying to have a good declarative opening line that would establish the scene, similar to what we were doing earlier with the 3-line scene with Rich. Despite my best intentions I kept screwing up, and would often lead with a question. I noticed that I have a bad habit of asking permission in a scene instead of declaring what I’m going to do or would like to do. This is something I’ll have to work on.

Half way through playing switch Rachel made us all turn around so that we could only hear the scene that was happening and not see the action. This was to help us from planning out what we were going to say. I had trouble with this. I can usually think of something to say when I run in however I have trouble justifying whatever silly pose the actors may have been frozen in. Not being able to see what the others were doing prior to calling out “Switch” really rattled me, so much so that I was at a complete loss for words at one point and could not think of a single thing to say. Needless to say this was not a good feeling, and I was surprised and upset at myself for drawing a blank. The good news is that most everyone else seemed to find this exercise really helpful. I still find it a bit off putting and think I need a lot more practice with switch.

I can’t believe we only have one more class left in level B; the past 7 weeks have gone by really fast!

Beginning Program, Level B, Week 8 - Saturday, 6 March 2004, and Monday, 8 March 2004

After talking about our week, and a quick warm up, we were allowed to play any game we wanted. We chose the 3-line scene game, and Kenny was right – that game is incredibly hard. I enjoyed it, but wow, we all had to work.

A quick break, and then Rachel had us do something that she does at the end of all her classes: we’d sit around in a circle with one person out. That person would sit with their back to us and take notes, while the rest of us talked about them for five minutes. It was … well … beautiful. We said many positive things about each other, and I found the comments very insightful. It was interesting to find out how people saw each other, and what qualities stood out.

Another break, then for our last game of the class we played blind freeze. Our backs were to the audience so you couldn't see what the two people were doing, only hear them. Therefore, you couldn't wait for the 'perfect' time to jump in based on position, you just had to clap freeze and hope for the best!

At one point I jumped in and had no idea what to do. My partner was holding her hands together so I said something like, "I'm very flattered, but you are my sister-in-law. I don't think this is right." She, of course, ran with that.

Then someone claps her out and gives me a hard time about hitting on my sister-in-law. I called him my Dad and we continued with that same thread. Someone claps him out, and he becomes my brother-in-law, giving me a hard time too!

Then someone claps him out and is my wife, wondering why I'm spending so much time with her sister and noting how cute she is. She is clapped out, and it is my gay friend wondering why I'm ignoring him for my family. He's clapped out, and my brother comes on asking me about my hot looking sister-in-law and we talk like a couple of horny guys about her.

While all this is happening, I’m going along with the rollercoaster ride, interacting with these new events and moving the scene along, not denying, just working with it. It was incredibly fun and a bit stressful!! I was surprised that no one tagged me out. We all had a fantastic time doing that.

We basically stumbled upon an advanced form of improv, doing a long improv story scene. Rachel was pretty amazed with us, as were we!

Because we don’t know when the next class will begin, what with Second City moving to Novi and all, this last class was bitter sweet. It could be weeks or even months before we all get together again. We still have no idea when the new stage will be open.

So, what else was there to do but to go out drinking!! I think all of us went, including Rachel and Tiffany! I stayed out much later than usual (past midnight). Someone ordered pizza, which was just perfect with all that we were drinking.

This was a fantastic class. I hope that somehow we all keep in touch.

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 3 - Saturday, 8 May 2004

Yay Second City!! I was finally able to make it to my Saturday classes. I missed the first one because I was in England, and the second because of an SCA demo. I switch from my Monday class time because I’m taking Richard’s improv classes (which I love, and hope to write about someday).

This class is at Second City’s new location in Novi, Michigan, right across from 12 Oaks Mall. The stage is still under construction, but they have two classrooms set up. They are really just a couple of empty rooms with lots of chairs, but honestly, compared to the old place with the pictures of dentally impaired hockey players, this place was fine. Also, the neighborhood is much, well, nicer. It feels like we are in Pleasantville or something.

Free parking is also a bonus.

This class was big, with I think 14 people, but only nine were here this week (including me). Bill and Garrett were here from my previous classes, and rounding out the class from the original Saturday section were John, Ann, Christian, Heather, Andrea, and Carissa. All of them are quite good, as good as the class I was in, but different. No surprise there, although I think Christian could give Kenny a run for his money…

Pj teaches this section. A very cool guy who can even teach after barfing on the side of the road an hour before class.

We started off telling everyone something they don’t know about ourselves. Most of it was either amazing, or pretty sad, or both.

Next is a fun activity that is useful for starting an improv party. First we lined up in order of our birthday (month and day) without using any verbal signals. Then we lined up by age, then by middle name.

Next we played a game of Hitchhicker. It isn’t my favorite game, but I did have a ton of fun. I also apparently came up with the geekiest ‘hitting on a girl’ line ever when, while pretending to be a role playing game kid, I said “ooh, I would really love to roll her dice!” I’m using that on my wife now, and I can’t tell you how much she loves it.

After that we had a long discussion on scene work. Scenes have the following components:

Beginning: exposition, the who, what, and where.
Middle: how to solve the problem.
End: the solution, completion, and the blow line.

All scenes have “beats,” which are basically the events or elements that happen.

Editing is when you cut into a scene, during the beats. For example, during switch, edit right after a big laugh, or after the end. Scenes can be as short as eight seconds, or as long as required to develop into a scene. For some reason, at Second City the switch scenes have been getting shorter and shorter, but they don’t have to be.

Heightening: raising the stakes. It doesn’t have to be absurd; it can be a small event. In fact, have multiple small heightens is a very good thing.

To practice making a story, we sat in a circle and told a story, one line at time, and going only once. Pj would start us out. I think the funniest thing to me was when Garrett said that robots are silver. Seven years of graduate school and I never learned that!! They also liked it when I referred to heightening as a monotonically increasing function.

To end the session we played a “bell” like game to practice heightening and story telling. It was basically two person scenes, and at various points Pj would say “new choice” and we’d have to change our response.

One thing I learned during this class was that when performing, it is always more interesting to go to the awkward and uncomfortable place.

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 3b - Monday, 10 May 2004

Since my other Monday class was cancelled, I decided to go back to Second City and take the other section C class. It was a small one, I think with only six regulars. Four of my friends from section B were there: Scott, Kenny, Chris, and Katina! I also met Nick and Mike. Mike is in my class, but had missed in on Saturday.

The teacher there is Shawn. He thinks that he’s a much better teacher than Pj. I, of course, as a humble student, would never take sides, and will just assume that they will have a fun improv duel to settle the matter!

We started off with a fun warm-up/game: References. First, we made a beat, slapping our thighs twice then snapping our fingers twice, repeating. Then, in a circle, someone would choose a topic, and we would have to name objects in that topic. Like car types, or colors, or sit coms. Kenny was there, so we had to name Vice Presidents.

The warm-up then becomes a game by having the person who messes up have to drop out, by dying. If it were a show, people would yell “die die die!” and they’d have to die in a unique and funny way.

Our next game was “Da do run run.” You know, like the song? We would actually sing it. After getting a one syllable name from the audience, say, for example, Bill, the first person would sing, “I met him on a Monday and his name was Bill.” We’d all sing, “Da do run run run, Da do run run.” Then the next person in line would have to sing anything, in that rhythm, that rhymes with Bill. The third person would then have to do three rhymes in a row, and the song continues until someone fails and has to die. Oh, and you can vary the time and location, having fun with it.

For example:

Person 1: I met him at the mall, and his name was Dan.
All: Da do run run run, da do run run!
Person 2: I can tell you that he’s quite the man.
All: Da do run run run, da do run run!
Person 3: He liked to kick a can…
All: Da do do
Person 3: he didn’t walk he ran…
All: Da do do
Person 3: And he has a great tan!
All: Da do run run run, da do run run!
(the song starts over)
Person 4: I heard that he was good friends with Stan.
All: Da do run run run, da do run run!

And so on…wrapping around when everyone has gone.

It was tough, but a very fun game!

We got a wonderful lecture on some improv and stuff, and stupid me didn’t write any of it down.


We spent a lot of time doing the Onion game. I’ve seen this done before, and it is a fun to play. It helps teach give and take, and transformation (like in switch, where you take object work and transform it into something completely different – this is what we talked about in the lecture!).

Basically, one person starts out in a scene, alone. Then at some point a second person comes in, and they do a two person scene, with the person coming in immediately defining the who/what/where. This continues until everyone is in doing one big scene. Then you work backwards. The seventh person leaves (with a justification), and you go back to the scene that the six people were doing. Not something new, so you have to remember what you were doing. This continues until only one person is left.

For example, I started out the Onion by, from a suggestion, eating an apple. So I picked apples from a tree, doing object work. When I had my hand in the air to pick one, Katina come in and demanded to know why I was stealing her clothes that were hanging up in the shower. We did that scene, then more people came in, doing the following: movers moving a table, Tai Chi, a police accident scene, marriage ceremony, and a boy band.

We practiced this one more time. It is a tough exercise, but it is a lot of fun, and would make a good performance piece.

The next game was the most fun of the evening, and I want to play this again! It is called “Emotional Option.” Two people do a scene, and are given a non-geographical location. At some point, the Caller (who interfaces with the audience) freezes the two people and asks for an emotion, saying something like, “Chuck, who is shocked at hearing that his co-worker is in love with him, feels…” and the audience would suggest something, and that actor would have to respond in that manner.

This game is fun not only because of the responses and varied emotions that you have to do (which makes it really funny), but also because it forces you to stretch. Instead of reacting normally, you have to act different an unexpected. With enough practice, we won’t need prompting from the audience to do that.

So here is a rule: unexpected emotional responses provoke laughter.

While doing all of this, we need to keep in mind that a scene has an ending, so it has to be brought to a resolution. Also, keep in mind your “want” during the scene. The emotion can help figure that out.

We ended the night with Sit, Stand, and Kneel (a variation of this). This game was okay. Kinda awkward and very hard to make fun. But, a good exercise none the less. The best that the game gets is when those actions are justified in the context of the scene and what you are saying.

Great class. I’ll be going again to the Monday night at least one more time!

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 4 - Monday, 15 May 2004

Week four started off with some fun warm-ups. We walked around a bit, then picked a person and had to get as far away from them as possible (each one of us picking a random person silently). While doing this we had to stay within a set boundary. Then we would get as close to each other, then pick two people, and keep yourself between them. Then keep the first person between the second.

It was like some big chaos experiment.

We ended warm-ups with tag.

After a bit of switch, we did some “where” transformation scenes. Everyone didn’t appreciate my joke, though. When Pj mentioned these types of scenes, I asked: “as in, wolves?” Get it? Where transformations? Were-transformations?


Basically, two people are in a scene, and a third comes in. When the third person comes in, the where totally changes, and the scene moves to a future time, but the story continues. Very tough, but a great exercise.

One thing I learned: don’t talk to invisible people!

We then played the Onion game (six at a time, then five).

Emotions are important. They give you something to work with, so we played that fantastic game I love: Emotional Option.” Pj repeated a great quote: “So many people are afraid of overacting that they are afraid to act at all.”

We ended the day with evaluations. I’m confident, funny, and not afraid to be intelligent. It is good that I don’t hide who I am, and that I help others look good.

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 5 - Monday, 22 May 2004

This was the largest class yet, with Steve joining us. He has a great British accent. He’s probably been working on that for quite a while.

We talked about our show. It is at the Farmington’s Players Barn, at 2 PM, on June 27. We have to wear black pants, black shoes (not clunky), and a solid color shirt with sleeves that button up. Underwear is optional.

Ugh!! We started out with that darn tape ball again! ARG!!! Well, at least we made it to 80.

We played two main games today, to try to get us to work together and listen to each other.

The first was Experts, which some of us have played before in previous classes. Five people, each given a character to play based on a cable station, radio, or magazines. You can just use the suggestion to go further. Example: Home and Garden network, you can just be a gardener. I was with National Geographic, and I pretended to be the janitor sent there for some odd reason. When answering, keep in mind who you work for and work that in to the answer. The questions come from the audience. The best is when the experts interact, working off of each other, not just arguing, but having some sort of conflict.

The other game was Conductive Radio. Again, the audience picks different types of radio stations for each person who stands in a row: NPR, easy listening, top 40, etc. Then a topic is picked (such as love, food, whatever). Pj then walks in front of us like a dial, and when in front of us we would talk, like he was tuning into different stations. He might stay with us a while or just quickly dial through. This was tough! It was best when we would listen to each other, and build stories and hints from what other people were saying.

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 6b - Monday, 24 May 2004

My other Monday night class was cancelled this week, so I went to my second make-up class with Shawn. Only three others were there, all from my Level B: Katina, Chris, and Kenny. They were glad I was there as four gave us some flexibility. I really like going to this class with the small number of students because I get a lot of play time!

Our opening exercise was a mime tug-of-war. We pretended to pull on a mime…no, that is, we mimed doing a tug-of-war, pretending to give and take ground. We had to watch the other team to see what we should be doing at any moment. Are they pulling hard? Then let them get some headway. That sort of thing.

We did a number of two person scenes to work on status – stopping early to discuss where we were going. One idea I learned was to start in the middle. That is, instead of coming in and saying “hi” and discussing what is going on, just start with something bold as if that had already happened, such as, “You are a lousy boss, I quit!” or “Ha, I got the research grant – all your years of work are wasted!” or “Being pregnant isn’t so bad.” That sort of thing. Make it exciting and interesting right away. Adding strong emotion helps too.

If it helps, try to make that opening line a reaction to something that might have been said.

When doing scene work, think about “How is today different?” Get to the points early, and then you can explore the repercussions. Basically, stop stalling!

The next game was one of my favorites: New Choice! Do a scene, and when one of us says something Shawn would say “New Choice!” and we’d have to say something different. The scene must have a beginning, middle, and end. It really helps you think outside of the box and bring in new aspects that would never have been thought of before.

Detective was a fun game. Two detectives interrogate the alleged perpetrator. They are trying to get out the perp who was killed, the weapon used, and the place. These three things are chosen by the audience while the perp is offstage and out of the room. The detectives lead the guilty person into guesses the who, what, and where, and eventually the perpetrator will confess to the killing. It is done in a gritty, film noir detective style. If the person couldn’t guess the name or something, you could break it down into syllables. “Oh, so, not wanting to talk, huh? I’ll break it down for you then, and maybe you can, you know, put it together!!” Too much fun!

The last game was quite hard. With a person off stage, we would pick a commonly used expression “look before you leap” or “a stitch in time saves nine.” Then all four would do any sort of scene, leading the person to try to say the phrase. As before, you can break it down, but the hard part is to stay in some sort of scene. Very very hard. Detective is much easier and funnier.

Intermission - Thursday, 3 June 2004

Once a month, back in the old days, Second City would have jam sessions, where all the students were invited to get together for a few hours and play together.

It hadn’t been done for a while, but since they moved to the Novi location, they decided to bring it back, and this time, they had pizza. The event took place on Thursday, from 9 PM until 11:30.

Over 80 people were there (no, I didn’t count, I guestimated), and I’m pretty sure they have one whole pizza pie per person. I had two slices. I think Garrett had two dozen.

The first hour was basically just socializing. We got to meet people from other classes, talk to the teachers, and meet the nice woman on the other end of the phone who takes reservations and keeps the place humming.

The games began. We did the following:

• 1001. This is: 1001 <blanks> walk into the bar. The bartender says, “We don’t serve your kind here.” The 1001 <blanks> ask, “Why not?” And the bartender says <insert made up joke here>. Everyone laughs.
• Monster. Just like Machine, only it is a monster, that gets more ferocious, and then dies.
• Three Way Dubbing. Person A dubs for Person B who dubs for Person C who dubs for Person A. Person B finally got in the middle, which was quite a riot.
• Steal a Line. Three simultaneous scenes, and you steal a line from someone else’s scene to continue your own.
• Transformation Switch. Freeze out a character, new person comes in with a new scene and place, but the old character remains the same.
• Team A B C’s. Six in each line, two lines. Each line continues the scene, starting each line of dialog with the letter of the alphabet in order.
• Blind Freeze. Just like freeze, but you can’t see what is going on before you yell Freeze!
• Nightmare. Eight people in the back line. Host will question one audience member about a day in their life. Anything that pops into their lives is replayed by the players, but exaggerated and strange, like a nightmare.

The night ended with the three teachers playing Ding! I really love that game, and they were a riot.

What surprised me the most, though, was that only around 20 to 25 people got up to improv. The rest stayed back and just watched the show. I’m not sure what to make of that, but there you go. For the record, I played Monster and Blind Freeze.

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 6a - Saturday, 5 June 2004

Yes, I have the order correct. Memorial Day weekend caused a skip in classes, and I went to the week 6 Monday class before my Saturday class. So I guess that should mean that my class is ‘b’ while the other class is ‘a’, but since I’m the one writing this summary, I can be a tad self centered.

Our warm-up was the Patterns game, which I’ve played before. While not a good improv game, it is a great party game! Stand in a circle and topic is picked (such as U.S. Presidents). Each person says an item from that topic (Reagan, FDR, etc.) and points to another person, who then does the same until everyone has been picked once. Then the group goes around again, picking the same people as before and saying the same item.


But then a new topic is picked, and a different order established. After that is practiced, both are done at the same time. So you have to be aware of who is pointing at you and make sure the person you are pointed at sees and hears you.

We had FIVE patterns going at once. Lots of yelling and pointing and great fun as threads would be lost then started again!

Pj next gave us a talk about status. High and low status determines how people respond to each other in a scene. It is important to give the right people the right status. Something to think about whenever a scene is created.

High status can be displayed with/by: posture, loud voice, interrupting, eye contact control, pointing.

Low status can be displayed with/by: looking at floor, timid, slouching, quiet.

Job types can be high and low status.

For practice, we did two person silence scenes. No words, just interacting and maintaining high vs low status, with the last two groups doing low-low status and high-high status, which was quite fun! All of us did a really good job.

As further practice, we did full scenes with groups of 3, 3, and 4, where we’d repeat the location and concept, but cycle through the status. A bit hard, especially since I was in the four person group (and doing two people of middle status was rough), but I believe we learned a lot.

We ended with Jeopardy. Just like the game show, except the players are made up caricatures, the audience provides the categories and the “answers,” and the MC decides what is a correct question and what is wrong. The MC is totally arbitrary, an excuse to be silly, and obviously has high status.

Pj said that we shouldn’t be ourselves, and especially, “Don’t be Chuck.” And there you have it, right here on my website!

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 7 - Saturday, 12 June 2004

These last two weeks were a blur, as we mainly practiced for our performance. This week we started off with doing tape ball categories as a warm-up.

Right after that we learned a new game, one that Pj wanted us to do for our performance. Hey, we are semi-amateurs. I mean, we can handle learning a new game and performing it in a couple of weeks with very little practice. No problem!

Actually, though, it was no problem, and a ton of fun! It is called Beginning & End. A story is made, with each person in the troupe doing one line. The audience provides the beginning and ending lines, and one at a time we fill in the story in any order we want. As each person adds a line, whoever has already gone repeats their lines from beginning to end, so you hear the story forming.

The trick is to early on add neat plot twists and emotions. The ones towards the end should fill in the gaps of the story and make it work.

When done badly, it is boring. When done well, it is magic!! This is an excellent game for a moderate sized group of people.

The rest of the class was practicing for our performance.

Beginning Program, Level C, Week 8 - Saturday, 19 June 2004

Nothing much to say for this class except that in tape ball we reached 108 hits!!

We practiced for the show, and gave ourselves a name: Monkey Ninjas with Guns.

Beginning Program, Level C, Performance! - Sunday, 27 June 2004

The show was at yhe Farmington’s Players Barn. A nice small theater (can hold several hundred), but isn’t the permanent Second City site, which is still under construction.

After we ran T’s & B’s (tops and bottoms), we all went outside and did a full run through, and it seemed to go well. I then went off and sat down for a long time.

The show started fifteen minutes late. Looking through the curtains I could see Parsla out there, but that was it. Later I found out Natalie was there too. It was nice to have friends come and see me!

The other Level C went first (that was my original class, actually). There were five of them. We had to stay in the Green Room, so I couldn’t watch, but we could hear everything and they did very well. Lots of laughs and applause and I found them very funny. When they were on their last game (Blind Switch), we did very quite version of 8’s to warm up, then we went out into the wings. Within two minutes we were on.

Our first game was Conductive Radio. We all streamed out in a line, and I went on last. The audience suggested radio stations, and I got heavy metal. Pj said it was the best Conductive Radio we’ve done, and was pleased, and we got some pretty good laughs. I liked the game.

Everyone streamed off stage left, but I ducted out stage right. One guy stayed on stage to start the Hitchhiker game. I used a microphone off stage and continued the radio station until he mimed turning it off, starting the game. My routine was to be an old man. The fellow who came after me had us be German ballet dancers. The woman after that had us all be the Three Stooges. Tons of fun, and the audience liked the entire skit! Only six of us did this game.

Next was Steal a Line with the other six students, and I sat out and relaxed. They did very well, and were really good at keeping the flow going from one pair to another.

Our final game was Beginnings and Endings, where we fill in story, one line at a time in any order, from beginning and ending lines provided by the audience: "Once upon a time, there was a muscrat." and "And then the bus full of nuns burst into flames."

We got lots of compliments afterwards. I have to admit: it was great being up on stage, under the lights, getting applause. The place was packed. I definitely want to do it again.

I stayed around to see the class D and E shows. Class D was pretty good. Class E was phenomenal. They also did actual skits, in addition to some games. I can’t imagine doing their stuff. I hope that in six months I will be able to imagine it!

The only disappointment was during the intermission, before the class E show, more than 70% of the audience just up and left. They missed a great show. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t stay the extra hour and be entertained. I know they were probably their just to see their friends and family, but still…don’t most people want to see a show just to, well, see a show?

I felt I did okay. My class was great, but I could have been better. Then again, that is what everyone thinks.

I can't wait to perform again!!

Acting for Improvisers, Week 1 - Wednesday, 7 July 2004

I'm kinda nervous.

While I still have a ton to learn in improvisation (like, say, classes D, E, 1, 1a, 2, 3, 4, and 5), I’m pretty secure in my abilities in this area. I’m comfortable, confident, and able to just have fun.

But acting? Ack!! I’ve done some acting, with minor parts in college plays and lots of Bedlam shows.

However, I’ve never taken an acting class in my life. (Response from the peanut gallery: Of course you haven’t, it shows!)

I had no idea what to expect from our teacher, Topher. I figured it would be running some lines and some tips.

What we got was doing scenes on our own and with a partner, lots of instruction, and even more homework.

This is an awesome class.

There are a total of ten students in the class. The other nine are: Jennifer, Theresa, Nilesh, Brian, Shaun, Joe, Adam, Stephanie, and Tina. Most have finished level B, and one has finished level D.

As typical at Second City, we started the class off with a game. This was called “Prince of Paris.” We all stand in a line, and count of in numbers. The game goes like this:

Topher: Prince of Paris lost his hat, and number x knows where it is at.
Number x (stepping forward): Who sir, me sir?
Topher: Yes sir, you sir!
Number x: No sir, not I sir!
Topher: Then who sir?
Number x: Number y, sir!
Number y (stepping forward as fast as possible while x steps back): Who sir, me sir?
(Game continues until a person doesn’t respond fast enough, with Topher yelling “gotcha number x!)

It has “Big Booty” rules: if you mess up, you go to the end of the line, and everyone between you and the end has their number change.

That isn’t hard enough, so Topher now changed it from numbers to our names. Great for learning names. However, when you move in line, the location of the names stays the same, so you have to respond to a new name! What a hoot!

At the beginning of that phase of the game I could associate everyone’s face with their name. By the end, I thought Brian was Theresa and Jennifer was Nilesh. Fortunately, I kept my wits about me, and remained confident that my name was still Stephanie.

The student in me got all excited because Topher actually handed out notes and a syllabus! Really! He detailed what we’d be doing each week, and summarized what we should learn. What a hoot! He also gave us his phone number, and told us to call him anytime, day or night. I plan to test this next time I have a fun case of insomnia.

Before we learned any bookwork, he had us do contentless scenes. Basically just 16 lines, a few words each, with no names, places, or objects associated with it. Two people would do each one (we had two to chose from), and we would interpret it anyway we wanted.

Topher would give us tips and hints while we reviewed it for about ten minutes. There was really no wrong way to do it. We should look at each line and try to add context without changing the script. We could use props or object work, and make it our own.

I teamed up with Jennifer. At first it looked like our scene would best be done as a man and woman who had dated before, broken up, and recently met again by accident, acting a bit hostile (the woman) and desperate (the man). However, we turned it on its head, and instead we acted like a husband and wife, meeting on a subway, pretending to be strangers and flirting with each other! Same words, totally different scene, and fun to do.

Everyone did a wonderful job. It was awesome seeing all the different interpretations, and discussing the choices made.

Topher then discussed some elements of acting:

Objective – what do I want right now?
Super-objective – what do I want in the arc of the play?
Tactics – what do I do/say to get my objectives? How do these actions change?
Beats – these change when the tactics changes.

So, as an example, in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the objectives were to get out of school, be in a parade, that sort of thing. The super-objective was to make that day the most extraordinary day of his life. The tactics to achieve the objective of getting Cameron’s car was to butter him up, then bully him.

We discussed subtext: what you are not saying, why, and how it affects your tactics. Most important: don’t make your audience guess.

Some other random items that were said or that I learned:

• We aren’t improvising in this class. More ‘heady.’
• When given a line, justify it, even if it is only in your head. “I have sympathy for him because … his daughter is dating my son.”
• Most acting occurs in the moments of silence. This is where emotional shifts occur.
• Take your time! Show, not tell.
• Get specific. Each sentence can be a shift.

Our last task was difficult. We were given two monologues: emotional and killing. We would chose one, and perform the monologue in front of the class.

Ah. Okay.

We should take inspiration from our past. So, was there anything I ever killed? Hopefully I never killed a real person, but did I ever want to kill someone? Or did I ever want to kill something, like a spider? What about the emotional monologue, which was about wanting someone not to leave you.

I flip-flopped (as most people did, it seemed). Which one do I do? I was leaning towards the killing one, but I realized I was avoiding the emotional one. It so reminded me of one of my earlier relationships, where she left me, and I almost begged her to stay.

I got pretty emotional thinking about it, and forced myself to perform it. I pictured her in front of me, with me talking directly to her, with those stupid words that I’d never say unless I was pathetic, but of course crossed my mind. I was pretty shaken while doing the monologue, but that was good. I just let it happen and went with it.

It was fun, and cathartic. Topher said I did well, but I really have no idea if I did good or not.

One positive was that we pretended as if we were auditioning, so we got a ton of audition tips. Things like pick a point in the back, that is lower than you, and talk to it. Since it is lower, they won’t see your neck or bold spot. How your movement affects your status and what you portray. All sorts of things that I wish I had taken more notes about!

The biggest surprise with this class is the homework we have. The amount is huge!

Here is what we need to do.

For next week:

• Find a monologue (length of under a minute), memorize, and perform in weeks two and four. Can be anything, even lines of dialog where the other person is cut out. Don’t pick hurting animals or monologues with lots of profanity. Make it personal and emotional. Write a character bio (from a handout he gave) on your part.
• With a partner (Shaun is mine!) find a play with a scene in it for two people. Should be around ten minutes long. We will perform it during weeks three and four. Write a character bio on your part.
• Think of something that you do alone for five minutes. We will ‘perform’ that in front of the class. This should be something we wouldn’t do on stage. Just something simple like reading a paper, or a book, or … well, whatever.
• When feeling various emotions, try to take note of what you actually do and behave when feeling them.

I’m not sure how I’ll find a monologue or play. The internet is a good place to start. But seriously, this acting isn’t rocket science. This is hard!

Acting for Improvisers, Week 2 - Wednesday, 14 July 2004

Before class started I found out that my scene partner has to unfortunately drop the class.


We had met on Monday at the library and found some books with scenes, and had a pretty good time. But his life is way too hectic to fit in the class, so oh well. I wish him the best and hope he continues with Second City!

We didn’t start class with any warm-ups. We went right into the five minute “do nothing scenes.” Since this didn’t embarrass me at all, I volunteered to go first.

I sat on the floor, for five minutes, reading Newsweek and eating skittles. The class had to take notes of what I was doing. They wrote a few lines. Topher comes up with a page full of stuff: “He started with both legs out and the magazine in one hand. He takes his skittles two at a time with the tips of his fingers. He chews with his mouth open for a long time. At one minute he leaned back against the wall in a way that looked very uncomfortable, but he stayed that way the entire time so it must have been okay for him. His right leg stayed elongated but his left knee was bent and up. He usually keeps the paper folded over, but at times he would open it up fully when flipping though it. He mainly breathed through his nose. I picture him as a young man who is a bit insane.” On and on.


I’m not going to detail all the characteristics of the other students, but it was interested what they did for five minutes.

Theresa: Reading (Catcher in the Rye).
Jennifer: Nail filing.
Nilesh: Wrote Haikus (which were very good!)
Joe: Meditating.
Brian: Reading.
Adam: Newspaper Word Search.
Tina: Making jewelry.
Stephanie: Played with her pet Newt.

Then we went into our Monologues. I was impressed with everyone’s performance. I was fun seeing what they did, but more so how they did. However, I was most impressed with Topher. He had really good supportive advice for everyone. With the ones who were really good, he instructed them on how to expand their performance. For the rest of us, he helped us to find ways of getting more comfortable and doing it well.

This isn’t improv. For me, when I get on stage to do improv, I’m not nervous at all. That would seem odd. With acting, you have a script and know your lines. With improv you have to make it all up.

Somehow, I’m much happier making it all up then ack-ting. I don’t get it. So I was nervous.

First I had to find a scene to do. I though about doing the “No Thank You” speech from Cyrano, but I wanted something different. Then I thought about doing Kirk’s “Risk is our Business” speech from Star Trek: The Original Series. Too geeky.

The Friday before my friends suggested a Spike speech from Buffy (Lover's Walk, Season 3, Episode 8). We watched it, and I agreed, it was pretty powerful. Here it is, below. I cut out Buffy’s and Angel’s lines.

From “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”

Spike: What do you know? It's your fault, the both of you! She belongs with me. I'm nothing without her.

Buffy: That I'll have to agree with. You're pathetic, you know that?You're not even a loser anymore, you're a shell of a loser.

Spike: Yeah. You're one to talk.

Buffy: Meaning?

Spike: The last time I looked in on you two, you were fighting to the death. Now you're back making googly-eyes at each other like nothing happened. Makes me want to heave.

Buffy: I don't know what you're talking about.

Spike: Oh, yeah. You're just friends.

Angel: That's right.

Spike: You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love till it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other till it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood... blood screaming inside you to work its will.

Neither Buffy nor Angel want to hear this.

Spike: I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it.

Pretty neat, huh? Love’s bitch and all that.

So I memorized. And I practiced. I memorized some more and I practiced. I practiced while driving, while on my trip, while flying home. The passengers looked at me funny while I mumbled to myself.

It didn’t feel right. I visited my friend Alison and practiced in front of her. That helped a lot! I was incredibly nervous performing in front of her, but it got smoother each time.

This is one time I didn’t volunteer in class, so of course Topher just called on me. I did it, and it turned out okay. The thing is, I try to pretend I’m Spike, but I feel like I’m just saying the words, blah blah blah.

So he started asking me about the character and the scene. While talking, I realized that Spike wasn’t just devastated over loosing Dru and pissed off at Buffy and Angel. He wanted to hurt Buffy and Angel. Make them feel pain.

Therefore, during the “You’re not friends” speech, instead of saying it all pissed off like, I got gleeful at how much pain they would be in. “You’ll never be friends! This is great! You’ll be in love till it kills you both, and I’ll be dancing over your dead bodies!” I obviously didn’t say those extra words, but that is what I was thinking. And it worked!

I felt more natural, but more so, I was able to do the scene differently, something I had no idea how to do, and in the back of my mind was afraid I couldn’t do at all.

I think that was my fear. I’m not afraid of acting. I’m afraid that no one would be able to teach me how to be an actor, let alone a better one.

So now I have things to work on. I’m going to take the different beats in that scene and add some emotional turns. He also suggested a speed up the delivery, which surprised me since I usually go too fast.

Other notes from class. We can change the bios (yes, I did one for Spike) later, especially if it makes more logical sense. They aren’t set in stone. At the end of an audition, just say ‘thank you’ to let them know you are done.

A practice technique is to, for each line of dialogue, above it write what you are meaning to say, and below it what you are thinking.

Another technique is to record yourself, then vary your intensity of the emotion from one to five. Then, do it 100% wrong and play with the intensity. You know you’ll never perform it that way, but be open to discovering that something from that might work or even be better.

Most important: “Illusion of the First Time.” Try to make each performance as if it were the first time you were doing it. This is tough, but what it is all about. Also, acting isn’t lying, it is telling the truth.

I think I figured out something today. Making variations on the emotional content of the scene is a great way to creating the illusion of the first time. I put that together, and I can hear the cries of “duh, of course!” from the crowd, but that’s fine. It is something for me to think on.

Another fantastic class.


Acting for Improvisers, Week 3 - Wednesday, 21 July 2004

Not much in the way of notes for this week, as everyone did their two-person monologues. Jennifer and I did ours. We only went through lines the day before, so I wasn’t expecting much.

Boy was I surprised. The play was called “Life and Limb.” Basically, a woman comes back from the dead, as a ghost, and talks to her husband. She had cheated on him and was now in hell. It seemed pretty bland, but when we performed it in front of the class, it felt incredibly powerful. It was highly emotional and moving, and I think we did a great job.

Well, after I got over my big laughing jag! We said a line wrong, and it struck me as so funny that I think I laughed for ten minutes. I could breathe and tears were streaming down my face. That felt awesome.

Topher asked us to analyze the character: what does the character want? As the character, what do I want and how do I get it? Overall, answer those questions, for the character, at each line. More on that next week.

I think Franklin, my character, wants love. After thinking about it, I think Franklin also cheated on his wife, and so he wanted to get forgiveness and confess, although he doesn’t.

As far as performing, I need to stop swaying when I’m just standing there.


Acting for Improvisers, Week 4 - Wednesday, 28 July 2004

This was a jammed packed class.

First we did an exercise to learn how to change up our delivery of lines. Basically, we created a monologue to our mother or father. Assume they called you up and said something hateful to you, and you respond briefly. We took twenty seconds to write that responding monologue down. We were to leave lots of space between the lines. Then you perform the following steps:

a) Write down one over all want.
b) Write down two wants per sentence, under the sentence.
c) Tactic: How you will achieve your wants. Laugh it off, or yell, etc. This goes under the ‘wants’ line.
d) Verbs: ways of doing the tactics, or how you will portray the tactic. Ex: how do you plead? Do you talk loud, or shake, or something else? Written below the tactic.
e) Opposite: write down, below the verbs, opposite verbs.
f) Wrong way: write down, below opposite, the absolute wrong way to do your tactic, as far out as you can go.
g) Subtext: above the sentence, write down what you believe you are saying.
h) Does the verb fit the subtext? If not, one of them is wrong (usually the subtext). Keep the stronger one.
i) Look at other verbs. If more fit, how would you perform them? Don’t throw away any verbs! It helps to knowingly rehearse your lines incorrectly, as you might find, accidentally, something that surprisingly works.

Do this with every script, every line. It helps you to figure out how you will perform it.

So, here is an example. Note: my parents have never said this to me, they don’t have a problem with me living in Ann Arbor, and they aren’t butting into my life. I totally made it up! This isn’t a therapy session; it was just something I created so I could work on my acting. Here are two lines I wrote:

Want/Objective: accept our decisions!

Subtext (written last): We aren’t moving.
Line: Look, Ann Arbor is perfect for us.
Wants: Really listen to me. Believe me.
Tactics: talk calm, forceful.
Verbs: spread the words out, enunciate.
Opposite: speak quickly, slur.
Wrong ways: seduce.

Subtext: Don’t ever bring this up again.
Line: We love this town, our careers are here, and I wish you would stop butting into our life!
Wants: Trust that I’m a grown up. My life, not yours.
Tactics: emphatic, yell.
Verbs: gesticulate and growl.
Opposite: static, shrill.
Wrong ways: hyper.

For the next half hour we pretty much got a full crash course on how to land an acting job.

Your job as an actor is to sell yourself. Use head shots: what you are selling is you. In Detroit, you can start at The Talent Shop, and they will give you a list of photographers for your head shot. They work for you.

Have the attitude of “if you sign me, I will make you money.” Can also walk in saying, “I heard of you from Topher Owen at Second City.” They may ask for a monologue. The best way to get there, which is rare, is to have someone walk you in.

Having a headshot and resume is essential. You can alter your resume for each audition. Three categories:
Professional: anything you were paid for, be it dollars or bagels.
Regional: not paid.
Other: class shows.

Also include special skills, and the last one should be freakish (Topher’s: I can stick my entire fist in my mouth. At the end of every audition, they ask him to show them that trick. It gets him extra face time, and they always remember him.)

Hint: watch Michael Keaton in My Life.

The first five seconds, even before you do your monologue, are the most important and they make the impression. Should give off the attitude: “I’m not afraid of you.”

With the headshot, do not include your height, weight, age, or any dates at all.

We ended (well, the last half of the class) with doing our monologues and scenes. They thought my vision of Spike was improved and good, though I have to just fix on the two people I’m “talking” to in the scene. It was fun seeing everyone's improvement.

This was a fantastic class. I learned a ton, and if I had more time I would have let the acting bug bite me. I’m thrilled that Topher is going to be my next improv teacher in class D!

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 1 - Saturday, 31 July 2004

And now we are Level D. Enough training so that when we make a mistake, Topher, our instructor, can cackle with glee and announce that Pj hasn’t taught us anything.

Okay, we know that Pj was a great teacher, and Topher isn’t that mean, as long as you bring in cookies to share or something.

There is only one section for Level D: both C classes combined into this one on Saturdays.

Topher started off with the rules. We can’t come to class (or become during class) drunk or high. We can’t stalk anyone in class or harass them.

We can’t inhibit anyone trying to perform. This is serious, as it includes stopping yourself. Topher promised that he’d be critical enough for all of us, so we shouldn’t beat ourselves up over anything.

We can have a ton of fun.

We started out with tape ball. Honestly, I am starting to think that “tape ball” is to Second City as mudslinging is to politics.

The fifteen of us reached 91 tosses!

Our warm-ups were variations on Zip Zap Zop: silent, then with a name, then clap and point and walk to that person’s spot when someone says ‘thank you,’ and then rotating while doing all that previous stuff.

Next we did something that totally blew my mind: the class was split into two, and with minimal help we put on a show. Twenty minutes, five games each, with people in each group taking turns to introduce the games. The last game had to be some alternate form of Switch.

And we did it, and each group enjoyed the other show very much!

The first group did the following: 1001 Objects, Onion, ABC, Entrances & Exits, and Object Switch.

Our group did: Machine, Steal a Line, Hitchhiker, Begins and Ends, and Blind Freeze.

After our show and critique, we moved onto some discussion. We learned about the “Character of Self.” That is the person you are when you aren’t performing, though larger and out there. This is the person who MC’s a show or introduces a game.

Also, for shows, we can start bending rules of the games. For example, why can’t two people come out and do 1001 together?

For switch, we need to get the physical going as quick as possible.

Scenic Issue: ask yourself “what is different about today that is different from every other day.” I really need to remember that one, and I unfortunately didn’t in the next class.

We finished off by doing the mirror exercise, except that the groups would merge, increasing numbers, until all fifteen were mirroring each other. This was an exercise in acceptance and surrender of self.

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 2 - Saturday, 7 August 2004

I hate tape ball. For a long time we couldn’t even get past twelve tosses. Arg! We eventually did do it, and hit 101 tosses. But seriously, arg!!

We then split up into pairs (I got Russ!) and had to make up a story. Include the who, what, where, begin, middle, and end. We chose to do soldiers who were brothers and in boot camp doing an obstacle course. We were rivals. I get hurt, he helps, and we make it to the end.

One thing we could have done, to make this day different from every other, was for me to fall off and die. We didn’t even think of that, but it was pretty obvious.

Some advice was given. If we get pulled into a teaching scene, jump to an emotion (like: I love you!). That is a quick out.

Ask yourself what the ‘game’ is, and what the ‘scenic issue’ is.

A fun exercise that we did next was “Build a Where.” It is a silent scene, set in a location, with one person starting and people adding themselves in. No one knows ahead of time what the place is, but all of us have to fit in there.

For example, if someone started out lifting weights, the rest could assume it is a gym. However, you can’t go in and do what others are doing, so other things you can do: towel off, read a magazine, drink water, be a bum, steal some things, check out the others…whatever. They key is to not just get stuck on the obvious.

The first guy started out putting on a miniature golf course. I went out and pretended to be bored waiting for him to be done, and smoking a cigarette. After a few people, Andrea came out and was all bubbly and wanting money and stuff, so I assumed I was her Dad. Then Christian was holding people up, so I became an undercover cop. Those roles added and didn’t contradict each other.

The next time we did that it was a luau, and I was a drunk. I think it was Andrea who flopped into a fire as a dead fish for dinner!

Simonize was the next exercise. We would do a scene, and Topher would yell Simonize and we’d redo it, but make it shorter, then continue on. This would happen over and over, and we’d be fast forwarding through those beginning parts, just hitting the key points. If we wanted, we could also change any of the elements to make it work better. Kind of like the ‘new choice’ game. Four of us would be in the scene, with two starting, and the others coming in one at a time.

We finished out with Switch, with Topher side coaching us through the who, what, and where.

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 3 - Saturday, 14 August 2004

Instead of tape ball, we started off with Patterns. I think this is my favorite warm-up game: tough, but really great for concentration. Our patterns were food, television shows, sexual positions, b-level bands, philosophers, and school classes. Yes, we had six patterns going! The hardest part was that people kept coming in late, and so we had to keep restarting and adding them.

To work on characters, we pretended to be at a cocktail party, and were given a type of profession. Mine was ‘grocer,’ and I pretended that my wife left me. We went into groups of four, four, and three, and occasionally we’d mingle and go to other parties.

Ah, then we did our first Laronde. That is French for…ah, hell, I have no idea. It is like switch, but you keep the same character you start with, and new ones that people add in are based on previous scenes. Time keeps jumping ahead. So, I played a neighbor with a son, but eventually I kept getting arrested for drug dealing. It was quite funny.

We ended by learning a new game that I hope we do for our show, called ESPN. Many people play the roles of commentator, color commentator, two athletes with their own coaches, and the man (or woman) on the field. A fake sport is gotten from the audience (a physical activity), such as fishing, or extreme bowling, and we play out a competition for that sport. There are interviews in the beginning, and the game is explained by the announcer, and it begins. One of the athletes has an accident so the other one wins. Then the color commentator explains what happened, does an instant replay in slow motion, where something we didn’t see before happens, such as one of the coaches pulling out a gun and shooting the competition. A 180 degree view can be seen, with zoom in and zoom out. Tons of fun when played well, and I think we can pull it off!

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 4 - Saturday, 21 August 2004

No tape ball this week. Maybe we complain too much? Instead, we did Bipity Bopity Boo! This time, though, we had to be ruthless. It isn’t to be mean, but to help to train each other to pay attention. Therefore, it is an excellent warm-up game.

We then did a bunch of three-line scenes, to focus on the who what and where. We’d go in non-equal lines, and after a scene we’d go to the back of the other line, so we’d alternate going first and second. The person going first starts the scene. Advice: find the love in the scene. It adds to it. It could be the love of others, or to hurt/insult, or of an object, etc.

As an aid to character development, Topher had us walk the space with some sort of physical defect. I chose a limp. We then went into two person scenes. The characteristic was present, but we were to incorporate it into the who/what/where. Such a technique would allow us to incorporate a physical aspect into any short form game.

We did a couple of sets of ESPN again. I am pretty sure we’ll be doing it for our show (which is on the weekend of Oct 2nd).

We ended with a game of Experts. Not just magazine types, but anything. One of us was also the host. We played twice, and for the second time I volunteered to be the host (I’m uncomfortable doing that). I pretended to be a military guy doing boot camp, and it went over well because, I think, I did a lot of positive encouragement type of yelling.

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 5 - Saturday, 28 August 2004

Okay, we definitely complained to much because we didn’t do tape ball again.


Instead we learned a new game called “Do you like your neighbor?” It is a grownup version of ‘musical chairs.’ Everyone sits in chairs in a circle, facing in. No chairs are empty. The extra person is in the center, and he asks someone, “Do you like your neighbor?” If she says yes, then everyone but her and the two people on either side have to jump up and switch seats. The person in the center also tries to get a seat, which means that there could be someone new.

If she says, “no,” then she’s asked, “Who do you like?” At first she can answer with numbers (which we counted off in the beginning, and keep no matter where we end up sitting), and then the people next to her have to get up and the people with those numbers take their seats (or the person in the center does, who can grab any seat). If the neighbor already has that number, he can remain seated.

Later, the person answering ‘no’ can request things other than numbers, like “people with long hair,” or “people wearing black” or “people who breath air.” That sort of thing. My favorite was when Kenny said, “Whoever is a prime number!”

We moved onto two person scenes. We were given aspects of ourselves that were hidden from others, such as being a doctor, painted nails, Death. The other person had to figure out what we were, but the goal wasn’t to guess, the goal was to just do a two person scene.

Next we were given odd aspects that are more inwardly motivated: a Republican, air guitarist, video gamer, sexy, carrot (but not a sexy carrot). Each time we switched partners, we would take on the role of the person we previously interacted with.

During the break Topher handed out our evaluations, and the last half was taken up with one on one talks. He hit my weakness dead on: that I need to work on my characters, since I usually just play myself. I should “try planning lower status characters.” He had positive things to say also. I have “a great sense of honesty and reality and very rarely go for a joke that takes away from your scene or your partner.” I’m glad he noticed that, because I’m constantly stopping myself from making the easy joke that would just help me. I’m doing the second thing I think of! I’m pleased, and am glad I have enough skill in this to continue.

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 6 - Saturday, 11 September 2004

This was a very jammed packed class today! Topher started it by asking us which games we liked from a grouped list he had. Good idea, except that we didn’t know 75% of them. Ah well, that is why we are taking classes, I suppose!

We warmed up with variations on Zip Zap Zop: normal, silent, name, wrong name, and point-and-yes. The trick was that we would vary which version we did on the fly and just go with the flow. Tons of fun.

Continuing our character work…yes, I’ve finally figured out that Section D is all about characters…we had to pick someone in our life that we didn’t like. Think about their quirks and things that just drive you nuts, and try to be that person. How do they walk, and talk, and interact? Make that character three-dimensional. Everyone has good points too…what are their good points, and can you use them.

We then played the Alphabet Scene game, but as those characters. It was cool, and a bit hard to do. And no, I’m not going to tell you who I picked. Sorry.

Next, instead of a person, we were to pick and object, and think of the characteristics of it and play it that way. For example, I chose a pickle (don’t ask why, it was the first thing that popped into my mind). A pickle is cool, crisp, likes to lounge in brine. So I was relaxed and at ease, and loved to be in a hot tub. It gives me sort of random things to work on.

With those characteristics in mind, we played my favorite game: Emotional Option.

We now went through a bunch of games that we’d never done before.

Rewind. Three people, one of whom walks on stage at the end of the scene (who typically bottoms the scene with a blow line). The two on stage should make some sort of hole for him so his entrance makes sense. Get a location from the audience, then the following styles: theater, literature, music, and movies. The scene is rewound and redone with the new style. Each time, the new rewind is faster and faster. There is an MC who runs the show.

Actor’s Nightmare. Similar to above, except the MC is a very upset director and the three players are community theater actors (that is, they are really bad). In between the scenes they should revert to a stereotypical community theater person. Get a title from the audience and it gets played out. At some point the director cuts it and wants it redone with each person getting a character type, then an emotion, then a genre. The show might start in Act II or III. It helps to have a catch phrase or gesture for each character.

Cheap Seats. This a Siskel and Ebert movie review game. Two people play the reviewers, and the rest act out the movies. Ask for: famous movie director, foreign country (this one gets dubbed), style/genre of movie, and a title of a movie that has never been done before. Three clips are done. First movie is regular. Second is dibbed foreign. Third is a children’s film. Mix and max the ideas given from the audience. All three are totally different films. The two reviewers act like they are doing the movie review show, even turning their backs on the audience when watching the film (“Let’s take a look…”). Also, have strong emotions and stick with your convictions (“This is the best film ever, or my lightning strike me now” – then the players can feel free to act terribly).

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 7 - Saturday, 18 September 2004

We did a fun little warm up called “pass the clap.” The group gets in a circle. One person starts by facing another person and the both have to clap at the exact same time. It helps when you look into each others eyes. Then person two claps with person three, and so on. The first person can start it around at any time. It is fun when everyone is in synch with the clapping.

We then practice for our show, which I’ll talk about later. The big advice for us was to always have lots of energy when exiting and entering. It is our stage, we own it. Keep it!

Beginning Program, Level D, Week 8 - Saturday, 25 September 2004

We practice our show a few times. Tons of fun!

Beginning Program, Level D, Performance! - Sunday, 3 October 2004

Well, the show is over, and I have a few minutes to write it up. I was pleased that some of my friends made it out there, especially since it started a half hour late (6:30 PM), and went on for about four hours to show all six class performances.

We went on around 8:30. I’m not sure of the exact time, as I was more concerned with the show itself.

The set was strange. Another play was going on at the theater, so there was no stage left entrance, and it looked like the inside of a 70’s house. Very odd.

But anyway, on with the routines.

#1: Conductive Loves.

In this game, we are given topics that upset people or tick them off, and we are ‘conducted’ to give strong forceful individual discussions on how much we love that topic. So, if someone says “lousy drivers,” then that person will say how much he adores bad drivers who get into accidents and stuff.

Heather introduced us to the audience and did a fantastic job of conducting us. She makes great eye contact to let you know who is going to be picked next, and gives us a chance to prepare or shake our head no if we have nothing. My topic was ‘hip hop,’ and I think I did well by doing a Ben Stine type of monotone voice, saying something like, “I love hip hop. As you can tell by my pasty white skin and sharp clothes, I am definitely a hip hop kind of guy.” And so on.

#2: Cheap Seats.

Chris and I are movie reviewers, with four others acting out the movies we made up. We got five suggestions from the audience: a movie director (Spielberg), a title of a movie that has never been done before (Boink Me Silly), a foreign non-English speaking country (Albania), an object (bowling ball), and a film genre/style (Western).

So then we introduce three movies. The first one is based on the title, the second is a dubbed film, and the third is a kids movie. I pretended to be a high school student doing this for school, while Chris was my mom filling in for a friend. I think we have good chemistry and the audience enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed the movie acting itself, and it gave me and Chris a lot to play off on.

#3: Director’s Nightmare.

Three people pretend to be community theater actors and one is their director. The show is going on that night and they don’t even know the title of the play (gotten from the audience) and this is their last rehearsal. The actors pretend to be really bad but supportive, and they do a scene four times: straight, then with different emotions, different stereotypical characters, and finally in a movie/play genre: all given by the audience.

I wasn’t in this, but the audience seemed to enjoy it a lot.

#4: Laronde.

Six of us do improv scenes (with a place given to us by the audience), but we keep the same characters as we move the scene forward. This fell apart.

It felt like we didn’t know where we were going. We had a code word, poptart, that we say when we are lost and want someone to switch us out, and it felt like we were using it all the time.

And I messed up big time. I stepped right on one of the players lines while she was speaking. At the time I didn’t realize I was doing it, but looking back I obviously did, and that was wrong and unprofessional.

Yes, I’m still learning, and yes, people told me it looked fine, and yes, this will help me to never do that again, but I know I messed her up and wasn’t supporting the team.

We’ve done good Larondes in the past. It is a shame that, at least for me, I didn’t do well at all on the night of the show.

#5: ESPN

This is a great game. Many people play the roles of commentator, color commentator, two athletes with their own coaches, and the man (or woman) on the field. A fake sport is gotten from the audience (a physical activity), such as fishing, or extreme bowling, and we play out a competition for that sport. There are interviews in the beginning, and the game is explained by the announcer, and it begins. One of the athletes has an accident so the other one wins. Then the color commentator explains what happened, does an instant replay in slow motion, where something we didn’t see before happens, such as one of the coaches pulling out a gun and shooting the competition. A 180 degree view can be seen, with zoom in and zoom out.

I wasn’t in this, but I feel it was our strongest routine, and from what I could hear the audience loved it.

#6: Laugh Tag

This is an easy game: it is switch, but you end the scene when someone, anyone, laughs.

Bill introduced this game, and he sounded like someone giving a eulogy. He played it incredibly deadpan, and he was hysterical. People were laughing already, and the scene ended our show on a high note.

I stuck around for next class show. I was a bit disappointed that they were doing some of the major games we did, but it isn’t that big a deal.

Apparently we did really well as most people felt that way, but I wasn’t happy with the performance I did. I’ll need to figure out what to do better, and hope that it was just a fluke and try to do better on our next show.

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 1 - Saturday, 9 October 2004

Visiting the folks in Philly, so I missed the class. Hopefully I’ll get a summary soon.

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 2- Saturday, 16 October 2004

Started off with a bunch of Zip Zap Zop and Long Point With Yes. Then we did Tape Ball Categories, with people leaving if they couldn’t think of the thing in the category, or repeated one already given. I got knocked out early!

We played a bunch of Brainy games.

The first one was “Who Am I?” This is for three people. Two people go off and figure out who they are, where they are, and what they are doing or waiting for. This goes for all three people, though of course the third one doesn’t know the answers – that person has to guess. So that third person starts the scene, and should just go wild with statements and things, while the other two drop clues and hints.

For example, two people were being guards at a prison, and the third person talked about his birthday. Everything that said has to be justified and brought into the scene. A hard but fun game.

Next: MPD. Multiple Personality Disorder. This is for six people, with two seats. One is Dr. Psycho, a psychologist. The other is a person who has MPD, who are represented by him and the other four people. They all leave the room and the Doctor gets from the audience what is bothering the patient: who hurt him (someone famous, or a relative, or a person in the room), with what, and where. The audience is instructed to clap lightly when the players get close to those items, and cheer when they hit it. Guessing must go in order. The five are called back in and the patient is put into a trance. Then all five new personalities are introduced (by one player tagging out the other) and then the guessing begins.

The game was a ton of fun, but even better the second time through. Heather was the patient, and all the players pretended to be her personality traits, such as competitiveness, and sarcasm, etc. It was a riot!

The last game was mime debates. Two people debate, and each person has two people who mime for them. The debaters have to guess a set of three words: adjective-none-verb. The MC dings after about twenty seconds of debating, and it goes back and forth while the debaters try to guess while still, well, debating. This was tough! I was one of the debaters, and I couldn’t get Florida. One guy kept doing tornadoes, and I thought he was doing a car wash. It was very funny, though.

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 3- Saturday, 23 October 2004

Pj was a few minutes late due to an audition (I hope he gets it!), so another teacher, Kathy, helped to warm up us.

We did a bunch of the clap warm ups, with pointing, and name associated with food.

Then we did a new one: New York Lemonade! Two sides, face in a line. One side has thought up an occupation, and mimes it while the other has to guess. Once they guess, the first side runs away and tries to cross a line before they are tagged by the guessing line. Anyone tagged switches to the other team. To start the miming:

Guessers: Hey!
Mimers: Hey!
Guessers: Where you from?
Mimers: New York!
Guessers: What is trade?
Mimers: Lemonade!
Guessers: Show me some!

Then object work ensues, guessers guess, and when they guess right, side mimers runs, side guessers attempts to tag.

We spent a some time before classes writing sentences on the backs of post-it notes (writing on the sticky side) and putting the in a line on the floor so we could play a bunch of Sentence games. Just like “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” we would do a scene, but at some point you’d stop, read a line, and have to justify it. Definitely a fun game. We also played another version where some are lines, and some are stage directions.

Things we learned:
• When you point to a British man’s penis, the game is over.
• The lines don’t have to be things said. They can be music/book titles, a type of cereal, whatever.
• Be careful about your lead in. If you prep for a line, and get an action, you still have to make it work.

One of the lines I got, that I had to play up, was “I want to be a pretty girl.” Another action I had to play up was “The back line breaks into a song and dance,” and so, I did it, rhyming and everything.

The final game was Love Letters. I enjoyed this one also (gee, I seem to like every game … go figure!). Carissa and I were wife and husband writing to each other during the Civil War. At various points while we are talking through our letter, we get suggestions from the audience and have to work them in. So if I say, “Unfortunately, I got shot in the…”, the audience could say arm, head, or even outhouse. You go back and forth two to three times, and you should work in what the other person wrote to you about.

The players don’t need to be husband and wife. There could be brothers on the other side of the civil war, or father and son. Whatever. As long as there is a ‘love’ relationship in there.

I’m curious about what we’ll do in our show. It looks like the performance will be on Dec 12th. I need to confirm it.

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 4- Saturday, 6 November 2004

We started with tape ball, which was odd in three ways. First, we hadn’t done tape ball in a while. Second, Pj joined us. And third, it wasn’t a tape ball. It was some oddly shaped sea urchin like ball. If you hit it even moderately hard, it would zing across the room. Notwithstanding all that, we managed to keep it in the air for 115 hits!

The next warm up was category toss. I picked a fun category for me: prime numbers, and we all got pretty far with that. Then for some reason I chose saints, and almost knocked myself out. Types of paint was what killed me.

We learned about a type of skit called “Blackouts.” They are very short scenes – at most thirty seconds with only a few lines and people. It ends with some sort of blow line, so each scene is a one joke premise.

When we practice our “dead Grandmother football” skit, I had to come on as a referee and make an “incomplete” gesture. Well, I don’t watch football, so I asked what it was and they joked that I had to swing my left hand around above my head while sashaying my hips in a circle. I knew this wasn’t what they did, but hey, it would be funny to really do that! So when we practiced it for the first time in front of Pj, it was all but impossible to keep a straight face. After I did my bit, he walks over and laughs, “What the heck was that?!?” Hey, I see refs do that all the time.

Our homework is for each person to write up a few blackouts so we can use them in our performance. We can fall back on the ones given to us, but I hope we come up with something good. I’ve thought of two so far, and one of them might be okay. We’ll see.

After a few rounds of Jeopardy, we all tried Triple Dub for the first time. There are people: A, B, and C. A talks for B. B talks for C. C talks for A. It was incredibly hard to do your own actions while talking for someone else. I think it is fun, but it certainly makes your head hurt.

During this class Pj told us about the conservatory classes. For levels 1 and 2, we have to audition. They will take place during the week following our class show. We’ll be doing three types of routines in groups of five or six. I’m not worried about anyone in this class passing. What surprised me was that it is like a professional audition: we need a résumé and, if possible, a head shot. The résumé is interesting. Any performance we’ve done anywhere, be it on film, stage, classes, education, it doesn’t matter, and it should all go on the résumé. So now I get to dig back into my memory and see what I can put on there. I have quite a bit of non-professional stuff, but it is weird things like street performing and doing plays for medieval demos.

I’m looking forward to seeing other people’s blackouts!

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 5- Saturday, 13 November 2004

This week was a unique one for us.

After we warmed up with Patterns (okay, that isn’t unique), Pj introduced a guest instructor: John Edwartowski, the musical director for the main stage of Second City.

The entire class was spent learning about and getting familiar with using music and song in improv.

So of course we started with … you guessed, warm-ups!!

We shook are arms, loosed up, and stretched. Then we would make a tone from high pitch to low, and try to continue through the breaks. Everyone has them, but with practice, lots and lots of practice, it can be minimized.

Another warm-up was “Ha-Ha up the chromatic scale, using short staccatos. This was followed by four ha’s long with 4 ha’s short, then another ha that goes up. This is called the 9H’s.

When then learned some phrases to practice articulation:
• Lips, teeth, tip of the tongue (tongue is two syllables)
• Eleven benevolent elephants (pop the t’s)
• Paper poppy Paper poppy Paper poppy Paper poppy
• You know New York, you need New York, you know you need unique New York
• Red leather yellow leather

And my favorite: I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son, I’m only plucking pheasants until the pheasant plucker comes!


Anyway. We then did Big Booty, but this time we would speed it up, a lot, which made it much harder, and really got us into the rhythm.

We also played a number of “Da do run run run games.” I was doing quite well, coming up with great rhymes, except at one point my mind went totally blank. We were playing as teams, so I lost it for my team. I have to say, though, that having music accompany the game adds quite a bit to it.

The hardest thing we did was a routine based on Pachelbel’s Canon. It is where you do a round in different sets of beats, with everyone joining in. A filk group I like, “Technical Difficulties,” sings a song that way and I never knew it was an improv routine!

So we get suggestion of a topic from the audience and sing stuff based on that suggestion in one of the styles (one beat, two beats, four beats, or eight beats). So the performers set up in a line, and can come forward at any time doing a different theme and melody. It is best to save the filigree part until the end.

The last game we played was another team “Da do run run run.”

The class, as individuals, also got reviews. I got a good piece of advice: do things I don’t want to do. That is, play characters I don’t want to do, like drunken frat boys or rap stars or things.

I’ll have to work on that.

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 6- Saturday, 20 November 2004

After a warm-up of signing (doing the “Hot Spot”) game, we practiced all of our blackouts. All of them were quite funny, I was impressed! In fact, I think our blackouts were better than what SNL is putting out now, but I’m extremely biased.

Our show is Dec 12th at 3:15 PM (all shows start at 2 PM). The two thirds will be games and blackouts. The last third is a … Laronde. Ugh.

Those things are HARD. Ugh.

Some tips we got: find an emotional relationship between the people. It isn’t about stuff, it is about relationships. Look at the first scene – everything we need can be found there.

I have to admit, the last one we did was a lot of fun and very entertaining. I made sure to start out with a who/what/where, and Kenny pulled something in that was great and the rest of the group kept pushing it forward. And it had a fun ending!!

I hope our show goes that well.

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 7- Saturday, 4 November 2004

Not much to talk about because it was all about practicing for our show. Pj told us which blackouts we would do (mine weren’t picked, but that is fine – the ones we did were really good).

We warmed up with Big Booty, which was a fun change of pace.

But mainly, we practiced the skits for our show. Over and over. I liked that.

Beginning Program, Level E, Week 8- Saturday, 11 November 2004

More practicing. Lots of practicing. We were there an extra hour practicing.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Beginning Program, Level E, Performance! - Sunday, 12 December 2004

Another class, another performance.

Once again, this was at the Farmington Player’s Barn, Sunday, December 12th. Our show started at 3:15 PM, though the level C and D started at 2 PM.

Their shows were great. Really great. They have some amazing talents, and I like the way they did their games and worked together. They rocked.

Our show was pretty good. I had a good group of friends show up, people who mainly hadn’t seen me perform before, which was very nice.

Our performance was different from the ones we did before, as this time we had written our own Blackouts: short skits with a punchline. The Blackouts were interspersed between regular improv games. We also had lots of musical accompaniment, which added a lot too. And so, in order:

Puppy: Garrett, Charles, Ann, Carissa. This was a blackout. I played a Clown who created a blow up puppy balloon (Garrett) at a party, who then starts, um, getting excited on one of the kids legs. I pop the balloon, stopping in.

Burger King: John, Andrea. A Blackout inspired by the “Supersize Me” movie.

Dangerous Assignment: Russ, Ken. A Blackout about two cops on the beat waiting for riots after church.

Beginning to End: Everyone (Garrett hosts). We’ve performed this before. I was one of the anchors so I didn’t have to make anything up. While it started out slow, the last three performers tied in together great and it turned out to be a wonderful skit.

IRS: Bill, Christian, Charles, Ken, Steve, Carissa, Heather. A Blackout. Everyone in Beginning to End starts dancing, except me. I just walk off stage (I’m right next to the exit, hence me being one of the anchors). The people not listed dance off stage while everyone else kept dancing. I walk back on stage, gesture to stop the music, and say, “That ends the dancing portion of the interview. Congratulations, everyone is hired. I’m sure you will all enjoy working for the IRS.”

Canon: Mike, Bill, Christian, John, Ann, Andrea, Chris, Charles (Charles hosts). While most of us really can’t sing, this one turned out pretty good. As a host, I got to interview a member of the audience, and I had some fun with that. We then sang a canon based on the information I got. With respect to the person’s UPS job, I sang “I have a looser job. I have a looser job. I have a looser job. Better go to school.” It got a laugh. And no, being a UPS delivery guy is a fine job, but the way the kid described it, it worked.

Dinosaur: Mike, Andrea. A Blackout where Mike does a wonderful imitation of a Velociraptor. I laugh every time I see it.

Shift Left: Christian, Steve, Carissa, Heather (Russ Hosts). This went over well.

Bell Game: Ken, Garret, John (Heather Hosts). One of my favorite games, but I wasn’t in it. I believe the audience enjoyed it.

Santa: Chris Christian, Heather. A Blackout with a drunk violent Santa proving that yes, indeed, he does exist.

Sentences: Russ, Charles, Ann (Steve Hosts). Another game I love, and I was in it! We get lines and directions written on cards from the audience, which we insert into our scene. Unfortunately, our scene didn’t really go anywhere, and I forgot to get out the “who, what, and where.” Ah well.

Pistons: Steve, John. A Blackout relevant to our times.

MPD: Bill, Russ, Garret, Mike, Andrea, Carissa (Chris Hosts). One of our best skits, and a good one to do next to last.

Transcendental Switch: Everyone (Bill Hosts). Here we brought back many of our characters from earlier skits, and it worked very well.

And so, that was it. We got our Second City diplomas and all went out drinking afterwards. I’m very glad I took these classes and performed. And now it is on to the Conservatory Level.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 1 - Saturday, 8 January 2005

Have you ever seen that wonderful Geico commercial called “Tiny House”? The commercial looks like an ad for some stupid reality television show, where a couple moves into a house that is way too small. The bed is half their size, they can’t stand up straight, and the hot tub is too small for even one person. Very funny stuff.

Except when you are taking your Improv lessons in Tiny Classroom.

I was all excited to see the new Second City Detroit place. It was only a mile from the old place in Novi, where the two classrooms were just the large empty boxes, only one of which had carpeting.

That was palatial compared to Tiny Classroom. The new place isn’t done (and when it is it is going to be fantastic!), but for now the Level 1 class is stuck in, oh, I’ll guess, an 8’ x 20’ room. It is really thin. There is room to have a backline, but really no room for an audience to pretend to play to. If you walk just a few steps you hit the wall.

Our teacher, Topher, is making do. He decorated it with some posters and things, and he has some ideas of things he can teach us when only a small space is available.

Still, it isn’t the place, it is the people. I’m thrilled to have Topher as a teacher again (who was also my Level D class and Acting for Improvisers teacher). Not only will my use of the English language improve, but man, I am going to learn a ton about improv.

There are only nine people in this class. Down from fourteen, but even that isn’t the whole story. Only six out of the fourteen from Level E passed the audition (me, Bill, Chris, Garrett, Christian, and Russ). Three more from outside our class (out of six, I believe) also made it: Mike, Jon, and Wendy. I’m terrible with names, but I’ll be okay if Jon never shaves off his goatee, and if Wendy never grows one.

So this is the first class of the conservatory program, I have this to say. Topher was great. Topher was talented. Topher was skilled. Topher was absent.

He had a scheduling conflict, but he got Cathy to substitute for him that day. I was disappointed when I found out that it wasn’t Topher. I mean, when I saw her I had hoped that Topher has somehow morphed into a tall, thin, and very attractive woman. Apparently, I was incorrect, but he still has seven more weeks.

My mind wasn’t really on the class as I had to leave early to take my wife to the hospital to induce labor. Everything turned great, but at the time I was more worried about the results of the birth, and my wife wisely told me to go have fun until we could actual do something. Since my wife is far wiser than I am, I went to class. My recollection of it won’t be that great, and unfortunately, my notes don’t make that much sense, but it is all I have.

We started off with warm-ups. The first was walking, with people starting and stopping at various times. Next we did zip-zap-zop with variations: clap, other name, and rotating left/right. The pattern can change whenever you want, but you must let it go at least through three people. It was an elimination version, and Russ won due to a technicality with Garrett.

The next game is one of my favorites: What Are You Doing. This time, though, she had us go faster and faster, which is nice cause I couldn’t think ahead, and it got me out of my head.

We practiced some object work. Cathy would hand someone an object and say, “This is an X.” That person would then hand it to someone else, saying the same thing. Many objects would be going around the circle (in random order).

In groups of two we played a fun object work game called Presents. You are given a present and have to pretend that it is the very best gift in the world, and then add a feature to it. Example: “This is a snake.” “Wow, what a great ten foot long snake! Thank you!”

After that we did some Mirroring, where pairs would switch off who was high status, with at times no one being in charge. This was called by the teacher.

Our next game was an extension of mirror, called Physical Verbal Mirror. Three people are in a line, with the two on the end mirroring the center person, both physically and with what they are saying. Very hard, and very fun! Better still, we all had great stories to tell.

Next was three line scenes given a physical space. Then three line who/what/where, with building an environment and extending it to a full scene. Some tips: find stuff in the environment, and then give your character a want.

I had to leave at this point while the above practice continued. While I was gone the class ended with switch.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 2 - Saturday, 15 January 2005

It is week 2, and addition having a new baby girl and a healthy wife, there is even better news: Topher is here!!! There was lots of hugging and kissing, but eventually Bill and Topher stopped ignoring the rest of us.

Topher started the class by talking about the conservatory level and our audition. Levels 1 and 1a are a lot like Level A. We go back to the basics, but by the end of the conservatory program we should know how to develop a scripted show through improv. Right now, though, we drill in the basics and learn how to do what we know how to do better.

We should be keeping a journal (yay!) of everything. Things we liked that we did, stuff that didn’t work, ideas…everything.

Our audition, where half the class didn’t pass, was to see if we can create scenes that might possibly be scripted. It was also to see if we can support our partner and play together. A quick way to fail an audition: sacrifice the scene for the funny. Instead, go for honesty, not the joke.

Topher recommended some books: Improvisation for the Theater by Spolin and Sills, Truth in Comedy by Halpern, Close and Johnson, and Impro by Johnstone. I’ll be putting these on my wish list! He also recommended a book my lovely wife got me: The Second City Almanac of Improvisation by Libera. I’m reading that now and enjoying it.

We learned a new warm-up game, and it is a blast. It is called Vroom, and it is a bit hard to explain. You make a circular gesture in front of you and say ‘vroom!’, gesturing to the next person, who continues it, so it is like a car going around the circle of people. People can then do various things:
• Hold up their hands and yell “Stop!” That causes the ‘vroom’ to reverse directions.
• Say “oil slick.” The person next in line is skipped.
• Say “pot hole.” The next two people are skipped.
• Jump the Chasm. While signing the theme to The Dukes of Hazard (no, I’m not kidding), you gesture that a car is launched in midair and walk over to another part of the circle. Tag someone on the shoulder, and they continue away from you.
• Detour. Point with one of your hands at someone else and yell “Detour”, causing the ‘vroom’ to go in the opposite direction from that person. This one takes practice.
We did this with two cars going at once!

Then we did zip zap zop five ways: normal, silent, your name, person’s name you are pointing to, and yes. We added vroom, and allowed people to change at will (after you keep it going three times. A good game for listening and working together.

Next was some practice in give and take. We walked around randomly, practicing smooth starts and stops in this manner:
1. Walk around and then we are called to stop. One continues and using eye, give control to another person who starts walking while the other one stops.
2. One walks and a person takes control away by starting to walk. The other person should stop. Sometimes this caused multiple people to walk simultaneously, but not for long as we would surrender control until only one person continued.
3. Same as #1, but also tell a story at the same time. The next person should continue the sentence, or even finish the word when they begin.
The trick is to convert what we learned with these movement exercises into what we do verbally – the whole give and take thing.

After the break, we had to write down our goals for this class. Mine are:
1. Expand my character work.
2. Take on more low status roles.

For next week, we should find some silent activity that we will do in front of others, and we’ll do that at class for five minutes. Anything basic, like reading a book or knitting. I did this in Topher’s acting class.

Topher next taught us a hightening technique called Comma. We start a scene with some object work then say a line. At some point Topher will say ‘comma’ and we have to heighten it, a lot. Go really emotional and over the top. Like ‘new choice,’ to totally overboard, and you don’t change what you were feeling, but what and how you are saying it, and add physical motions. This really helps you to practice not only hightening a scene, but also gets you the “why is this day different?” aspect.

Another tip we learned for object work: if you don’t know what your partner is doing, just mirror them. This helped me during my scene quite a bit.

The class ended with switch, but we were coached. Obviously I have no notes on this, except that it is intense, and that I think we learned a ton. One thing I learned was that during switch, when it is a quick line funny, you immediately clap them out.

Only six weeks left.

I’m getting nervous about the Level 2 audition. I wasn’t nervous about the first one, but I really didn’t think people would fail. Now I know too much.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 3 - Saturday, 29 January 2005

The observant among you will notice that this class is two weeks after the last one. The class was cancelled due to snow. Not a little snow – it was a ton of snow. I think it was at least 10”, maybe more. Topher called everyone and let them know. I got the phone call at 11:20 AM, which would have had me on the road. Fortunately, I had decided to skip class because I would have had to have taken my son to Grandma’s, and that would have meant driving on backroads. I wasn’t even sure I could make it out to the main highway.

For this class we started with each person doing a five minute activities, with everyone else writing down observations. We did this in Topher’s acting class also. I went first and read a book. Others did some interesting things, like create little ships or work on their schedule. One fellow was amazing. He prayed, and at one point his whole presence changed and he protected a total feeling of peace and calm. Amazing.

The goal was to teach us how to be observant so we can learn to develop characters. That is, if we want to give an impression of an emotion or feeling, then we use what we see those people do. However, we also discovered that if we can do ‘nothing’ for five minutes in front of a room full of people, we can do twenty minutes of object work on stage.

We warmed up with the five-way zip zap zop with vroom.

We played Experts, four people at a time, and the task was to work on the relationship between each other. That is, the loves, hates, likes, and dislikes. When there are relationships, then interesting scenes occur. I tried very hard to play a low status character. It felt awkward, but apparently it came out alright.

Next was an interesting (and hard) exercise called Character switch. Three people sit in front of a table. They each give each other three traits (per person) to create a character.
After running the scene for a while, they stand up and rotate clockwise to the new seat and become that character. This way you have to try to do characters you’d never even consider before, and you also have to be incredibly observant so you can play the other characters properly. It helps to find one characteristic of the other people to represent them. Also, when doing your own character, think of one key word for them.

We ended with switch, and worked on exits. That is, jumping in when the scene is going nowhere and even if you have nothing. We’ll find that the scenes still work, and for the most part they did.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 4 - Saturday, 5 February 2005

When there are only nine people in this class, having two absent seems like a lot. We were also in kind of a blah mood to start, but one of the nice things about improv is that once you get going, then energy really starts flowing. Topher also had come down with something, and felt like he was going to throw up, which gave us something fun to chuckle about.

Bill led us in some stretches, then we did zip zap zop vroom, but this time we added three patterns! Nothing like having your head explode to wake a person up.

This week focused on object work. To that end we started off handing a toothbrush (mimed, of course) around in a circle, and each person adds one feature. The color, shape, how the bristles are, a hair on it, etc.

Next time around, we pass the brush and two people at time do a three line scene based on the feature. The second person has to show real heightened emotion before speaking.

For the next round, the first person had to think about what the toothbrush made them think of. In this case, it was a drain. The drain was passed around and we once again did three line scenes. After the full circle the next person decided that the drain reminded him of a clown wig, and we did the whole routine based on that.

Continuing with objects, we did some two person scenes in groups, and we should keep adding objects in the environment while doing the scene. The key is to use the objects, but don’t talk about them. Scenes aren’t about things, they are about relationships. The environment informs the what of the scene.

Sort of like a LaRonde, our next exercise started with one person doing object work (and being in a gym was not allowed!). Another person comes in thinks of another object based on what the first person is doing. The second person then begins speaking starting the scene, delivering the first line with a high emotional context, and the first person continues the scene at the same emotional level. After a while, the next person comes in, does object work based on what the second person is doing, and the first person justifies leaving. That third person then starts the two person scene. The second person is still the same character they were before. This continues until everyone gets a turn. For this exercise, all the objects created by everyone remain, and shouldn’t be forgotten.

So much of improv is stuff that you don’t have to come up with on your own, and that exercise helps with that. Be a black slate so you are receptive to everything that is going on around you. If you are stuck, mirroring what is going on is one way of getting out of that. In the earlier exercise, we were mirroring the emotion.

We then continued with the Character Switch using three people at a table, the game we played at the end of last week. I got to do it this time and it was extremely hard. We need to think about what is in the room around us, and that we can interact with it. We are allowed to get up, throw things, and refer to stuff. The point, though, is to advance the story around us.

We ended with switch where once again we worked on exits. We really pushed on jumping in when scenes were going nowhere. This time, our scenes, well, they frankly sucked raw eggs. I guess we aren’t afraid to fail.

Oh, I almost forgot. Dickitydickitydickdickdick.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 5 - Saturday, 12 February 2005

This was an incredibly intense class.

We began with Big Booty. Then we did zip/zap/zop with variations, but also Topher called for us to close the circle closer, then far apart, then circle left, then break the circle and walk around randomly. How do you “yes, point” while you are moving in a random direction? We had to figure out how to make it work.

Next we played two Machine games, with the emotions of rage and giddy. We had to focus on how we fit in.

We then did a counting exercise. We tried to count to 50, one at a time in a non-predetermined order, but facing out. We couldn’t see each other. We eventually made it, then tried it facing in while looking. It was easier when you looked and listened for clues that people give.

Our next exercise was mirroring, two people at a time (though I was in a group of three, which had its own interesting results). The goal is to help your partner. “If you think he is retarded, then you are!” If he is lagging, exaggerate movements to let him know that he is lagging and get him back on track.

Even better was when we mirrored in a circle. Instead of two people mirroring each other (with control being passed by the teacher or by another method), we formed a circle, and each person would be mirrored by someone and mirror a different person.

So, if there were five people. Person A would Mirror C and be Mirrored by D. B would Mirror D and be Mirrored by E, and so on. Then you just start by standing still and don't make any purposive motions, just mirror. Eventually someone will shift their legs, and that gets transferred throughout the group, and it never stops. It was amazing to see how it morphed. It was used to teach total acceptance of your partners and to help get out of your head.

For our next lesson we wrote down character traits on slips of paper, which were then put into a big pile. Two people would do silent scenes, picking three character traits from the pile (not their own) and have them influence the scene: who, what, where, and relationship. The slips are the suggestions from the audience, and we start at the beginning of a scene. Later groups got to say three lines. Things we had to keep in mind and stuff we learned:
• Take time to transform emotions. Ex: like to hate. We can play with time.
• If there is a mirror, you can be in the reflection.
• Traits influence, but always go to the relationship.
• The more you move the less power you have. If you are still on stage (and in life), you have power, which is given away as soon as you start to move.
• You will never deny if you mirror their actions and emotions.
• Take off shoes if you are at home. This can help you differentiate between being at home and at work.
• The more real the scenes, the more far out the characters need to be, and visa versa. For example: if I am a create that feeds by sucking souls out of people’s eyes, then the scene could be able needing money to pay the rent.
• “Why is this day different” is an emotional shift that leads to an action.
• Show rather than tell.
• Start in the middle of the scene.

If figure if our class is told this a few hundred times more, we (definitely including me) might actually get it.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 6 - Saturday, 19 February 2005

This week focused on “Moments Before, Moments After.” Actually, it was mainly the moments before part. We would do a bunch of games/scenes, and then to flesh out the characters and build on their relationships, we would do a scene based on what was going on ten minutes before.

So, this class wasn’t about short for games. We use them to get to the relationship, which is the meat of the scene, and helps to define the “why is this day different from any other day?” As Topher put it really well: every game is a scene, and every scene is a game. This technique is done quite a bit for training actors.

Relationships are the meat of the scene, the coming together and drifting apart. Some of the funny comes from the realistic responses.

When doing a scene/game, you may start close and drift apart. Then, when you do “moments before,” start apart and grow close. Or reverse that.

We began with Vroom, and added a variation called “Chinese fire drill,” where when it was called you would change locations randomly. The person who calls it then begins again. We tried hard to speed up the game as fast as possible.

Slide Show was a new game we learned. Two people have a discussion where they are showing “slides,” and the rest of the class freezes as the various pictures (we change during “lights down” and “lights up”). The pair should get the who/what/where out, as well as the relationship.

Then, as part of today’s work, the two people did a “ten minutes before” scene to further flesh out their relationship.

Next we played “Experts,” and I tried doing a character I’d never done before. A Chinese ping-pong sports player. I based him off a guy I knew in high school, using his phrases, speech, and mannerisms. It was awkward, yet fun, though I did feel like I was constantly in my head.

The good part was that we all were very accepting of gifts, especially me and Bill, and we ended up doing a “ten minutes before” scene of getting ready for the show at a room at a university. We started emotionally more together then drifted apart, so that for the start of our Expert’s scene, we were very distant to begin. During that game, we were surprised that we got emotionally close.

The key to a relationship is to let yourself be vulnerable to others. Acknowledge your flaws, although you don’t have to be happy with them. Also, don’t make fun of other’s faults. It is too easy to make a funny out of it, and then there is just no where to go.

During the break I taught juggling, which was a ton of fun!

The next game we played was Shift Left. I think I’ve only played it once, if that, and I really want to play it more as I enjoy the concept. I didn’t play this time (because I got to do the moments before earlier. They were instructed to play with high emotions and relations, and don’t forget the object work. Two of the scenes were taken (out of the four) and “ten minutes before” was done with those.

For that second group, they did a totally different scene, playing “A B C’s” but not as a competition, but instead to bring out the who/what/wear. Then they did ten minutes before from that, and drifted into the original scene (with the “A B C’s”) and did it again. Both of the groups did incredible scenes. They took their time, accepted all gifts, and didn’t screw each other.

It was an intense day so we ended with switch without any instruction, and, in my opinion, it was fantastic! We did a lot of callbacks to our earlier scenes, out exits were better, and we generally had a ton more fun!

Today was also the day our instructor evaluates us. He had them written up before class, and said that our work today pretty much nullified what he wrote because we all seemed to have reached a new plateau. That is, we did really great and different character work and were very accepting of gifts.

For example, in mine, he said that he cut and pasted my evaluation from Level D, which was that I needed to try to work on characters as I usually play myself. Well, in this class I didn’t, and it worked out pretty well. He also said that I’m really doing well in finding the emotion of the scene and the relationship with my partner.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 7 - Saturday, 26 February 2005

I was in Vegas that weekend, so I missed the class. Ah well.

Convervatory Program, Level 1, Week 8 - Saturday, 5 March 2005

Zip zap zop vroom was how we warmed up, with us leading and deciding how it would go.

This week dealt with object work, and how it impacts the who/what/where. First we split into groups of 2-3 people and would make an object, hand them a different group, then do a short scene with that object while creating the environment. We watched each of the groups do this.

Next we created objects at the same time and worked on the scenes. Usually there is a surrender to one of the people who sets the scene, although it might not happen. During scenes, be aware of when your partner is watching so you can clue them in on your activity.

We also attempted to create scenes from objects that weren’t logical, and of course learned that it is far easier to make a scene that logically comes from the objects. Also, during such scenes, no one had a where. Objects definitely help in making a where.

All the previous object scenes were done silently. Next we were allowed to talk, and that made it much much easier!

To start the scene, we did a variation on “what are we doing?” by having someone just move their arms wildly and have to stop randomly. Then we’d start different scenes (each person taking turns) from that position, which forms the base of every scene, having to justify it. We would quickly be told to switch into new scenes, which were done to get us out of our heads. “This isn’t just a coke can, it is the head of my aborted fetus that I carry around.” Topher didn’t want us to have time to think. When we have time to think, we retreat to our safe zone.

Next objects were given to us by the other person in our team of two, but we add in the emotional part. They don’t have to always be given to us by our grandparents, for example.

Objects have moments before also, as do the people who are attached to those objects. To practice this we would make up ordinary objects in groups, give objects to the other group in a scene, then do a scene around that object, then another scene with that object in the past.

We illuminated the idea that the interesting thing in a scene is the relationship between people, not “how to make an omelet.”

We ended with a long form of switch, where all the good scene rules applied.

Actually, we ended with going to a bar and having some food and drinks. I hope I get Topher again as a teacher! The bad news is that two people are dropping from our class, so for 1a we will be down to seven students.

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 1 - Saturday, 12 March 2005

Our level 1a teacher is Tim Robinson. He's performed on the main stage and other places, and has been doing improv for over six years. I think he really knows his stuff, and he also seems to like working with an advanced class.

Wow, we are an advanced class!

Actually, it does feel that way. I think we really grew with Topher, and we are much more aware of our environment, objects, who/what/where and how to make a scene that works.

We did our own warm-ups (zip/zap/zop/vroom – I really need a short cut for that), and the Tim led us through a Give and Take walk. People freeze except or one, who walks around and passes the lead (walking) to someone else. At first we would stop in front of the other person. But eventually (with coaching) we’d just walk near them, use looks to transfer control, then stop when the other person started. A good exercise for paying attention.

After introductions, we did some spot improv scenes with two people each. We were challenged to not go for the joke, and instead strive for a real scene with real relationships. Tim side coached us at times.

This class was about “wants.” Every character has a want, and it usually isn’t preplanned. Think about the subtext of what you are doing.

To work on this, we did an exercise called “secret.” Two person scenes, where one person at a time leaves so the other can be given a secret from the audience, such as, “I lost all my money gambling,” “My wife is pregnant,” or “I am slowly going blind.” The wants affect the point of view. The other person isn’t trying to guess the want. Each person just uses it to help enhance the scene. For example, the person with no money will be happy when someone else offers to pay for a drink. The want helps to affect the point of view. This isn’t a game of “party quirks.” The wants just support the scene.

So you need to ask yourself “how does the secret affect you?” Your emotions, mannerisms, and outlook.

Also, with respect to relationships, it isn’t about the title (brothers, husband and wife, boss and employee), but how the other person makes you feel. It is all about subtext.

Our next exercise began with a Character Walk, where you lead with different body parts, as called out by Tim. At certain points he would tell each of us to just continue to lead with a certain body part. When we all had a unique lead, we would then use that to create a character. Their profession, relationships, and politics.

Mine was using my feet to lead, which made me think of a dancer, whose wife and he owned a studio. They loved their jobs and enjoyed teaching. Fluid and graceful.

We would then do two person scenes, and base our characters on the ones we made up. The rules of improv apply, so if my partner says I’m a construction worker, I have to go with that. Although I’m a graceful construction worker who likes to dance. So in my scene, a banker came in with a loan, and I moved the scene forward by having it be to enhance the studio. When he got ‘offended’ because I didn’t like his loan offer, I did something I normally wouldn’t do but went perfectly with the character: I got very compassionate and apologized for causing him pain. It really helped to have that background available! Just like having a secret…

Some tips we learned: if we find a game, milk it. Milk the emotions, and take the time to show those feelings. Play it bigger than we are.

Reactions are what is funny. Truth is funny. Find out what is important to the character and heighten that.

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 2 - Saturday, 26 March 2005

(A wek was skipped due to a holiday)

In addition to the standard warm-ups, we did a round of Big Booty! Also did a spacewalk.

We did a fun new exercise called Good Squad. We all freeze in place (standing, sitting, whatever) and perform a scene where we all play secondary characters who observe what is going on or play minor roles. While frozen, we do talk, each taking turns (giving and taking), moving the story forward and trying to find connections with each other. However, a key is to not force the connection! Also, take a strong point of view.

Next was Experts. To heighten a character, pick a physicality. Don’t got for the easy puns. Give the characters a strong point of view to work with. Play them real.

Finally, we played a bunch of scenes where we’d just enter and continue the story based on what happened before. Unlike a Laronde, we can play different characters. We tried to go for the characters, not for the plot. The arc is based on emotions of the characters and how they interact. Who/what/where is important, but your character will bring that to you.

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 3 - Saturday, 2 April 2005

Started off with warm-ups and a space walk.

We then began with behavioral scenes, where we would run the gamut of emotions. We learned that we can build characters from just a body part (drawn from the space walk), and that character is able to answer any question and keep it very real.

I lead with my forearm, so I felt I was a French waiter who never made it into cooking school. I was proud of my work but a bit bitter, and very upset that people constantly thought I was gay. I could answer questions about past girlfriends and had opinions on politics. Most of these were very different from my own personal attitudes.

We then did our first Montage. Two or three people do a scene, and at some point someone walks in front of everyone, ending their scene and starting a totally new one. Someone else steps forward to join that person. Editing is the key – trying to find good edit points so that the scene doesn’t go on too long, but yet isn’t cut too short. We also tried not to force conflict or a relation – just let it happen.

One scene that was very fun was a port-a-john scene. I started by really needing to go, but refusing to enter the discussing thing. The others were constructions workers making fun of my masculinity and saying I wasn’t cut out for the job. This brought up “singular focus.” Everything revolved around the port-a-john. I didn’t want to use it, but I had to go in there, and eventually I did.

As a class, we curse a bit too much. We need to watch that.

Another key is to just react to the very last thing being said. Play the scenes moment to moment. “The scene starts when routine is interrupted.”

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 4 - Saturday, 9 April 2005

Not many people are showing up. Well, okay, more than half are. But when you start with only eight students, and two to three are consistently missing, it gets noticed. Depending on how many pass the audition and/or continue on, I wonder if we will even have a Level 2 class.

We did normal warm-ups and then a space walk, with the focus on places and smells. One of the places we imagined was our first apartment. It was odd. I thought back to my first college dorm room, but strangely the NASA pictures that I have in my current office were what I saw adorning my dorm wall. And no, they didn’t exist then.

Our first exercise was to tell a story with two people. We’d actually face the audience and tell it. I imagined that I was with a friend telling a story to my wife. It was a nice way to focus a story, and a great way to come up with ideas. It also was quite real, the reactions and responses. This activity also showed us that simple basic real events and emotions are interesting and entertaining.

Next we played the Dating Game. Again, we had to keep it real: characters, not caricatures, but we also needed to heighten who they were.

Finally, we did a Singular Focus exercise. In pairs, we’d do a scene but just focus on one thing. In fact, we’d try to focus it to aspects that were progressively smaller and simpler. In my scene, Wendy basically kept using analogies to describe me, and I responded that I couldn’t stand that anymore. And that is all the scene was about. We didn’t move it on to other areas, but we learned a lot about the characters and relationships. It was fun!

In another I ended up as a very low status character at a ball game. It was hard to stay that way, but liberating and a ton of fun.

Basically this activity was a very pure form of “yes, and.” Back in level A this would be easy. But now in 1A, with everything we have learned, it is hard, and we are learning whole new aspects of “yes, and.” Using singular focus is yet another tool we can use to make and develop a scene.

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 5 - Saturday, 16 April 2005

Warm-ups, counted up to 67, and spacewalking.

Our first exercise was to have two people at a time pretend to be sitting at a bus stop. It was after work and the scene is silent. Each was given an occupation (hidden from everyone else), and without being obvious about it, show the occupation in a subtle manner. There was no “how is this day different.” It was an exercise on how to be real, and to totally immerse yourself in a character.

Next, again in pairs, we told a story (as was done last week).

After that I got to play “Shift left.” I think I’ve only played it once before, so I was thrilled. The game went incredibly well, and Wendy and I did a wonderful scene about putting up a fake Christmas tree. I wanted the tree and decorations to be exactly the same every year, even though they didn’t include her decorations or ideas, and she wanted to make one simple change. It was very funny yet also very true.

We then did two person scenes, but this time we had to do object work for a bit until Tim said we could talk. Again, no forcing a conflict.

Finally, we took off our underwear and did Commando. Um, that is, we played a game where the scenes switch out completely by someone walking in front of the action and taking it over.

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 6 - Saturday, 23 April 2005

After warm-ups, we counted up to 240! We could have kept going, but the teacher stopped us. I was amazed at how high we were able to count! I guess we are learning to work together well. Or we like numbers

From a backline we once again told a two person story. The key that we need to get is to work on the relationship between the people. Not really what happened, but how it made the people feel.

Next we did a fun exercise. Five of us stay in the backline while the other two watch. Those five, one at a time, walk forward and describe an object on the set with interesting details (ex: a grey rug that has fringes on each side, very frayed with food and drink stains on it). Then the two people come forward and perform a scene based on those objects.

Wendy and I had fantastic scene. We were a husband and wife, and the other players created a dining room area, with some fancy furniture that didn’t quite match. These scene was we were getting ready for Thanksgiving, but I didn’t get along with her father. She was always on his side, etc, although she loved me. I just wasn’t her father. Then Christian came in being her Dad, looking down on everything I did while I tried to impress him with my advertising work.

Me: I got the Budweiser account, and we’ll be doing a 30 second television spot.

Christian: Oh, great, cheap beer. How impressive.

Wendy [coming in from the kitchen]: Honey, did you tell him about the Cover Girl account you are on now?

It ended when the back row had an accident with some office furniture, which was too bad because I had just changed the status by calling my father-in-law a hypocritical prick. It was a fun scene, with some funny moments, but very real.

Our next scenes could only have talking after each player touched three objects.

This brought up another lesson: be care of the “we should” lines. That leads to “yeah, we can…” For example: we should join the circus! Yeah, then we can all be clowns, and play with elephants. Instead, live in the moment of the scene. “Oh, there you go again with your dreams of the circus!”

Class ended with a round of Character Switch.

After class Tim gave each of us reviews. My review was very positive, and he also gave some good advice. I’ve been able to play low status characters (which I’ve been working on), but I need to now try to play someone really different from me. Like I should try to play a jerks, or be someone that I really hate, especially if he isn’t nice.

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 7 - Saturday, 30 April 2005

Warm-ups and a space walk. We also did a “stress shout,” which we’ve done in previous weeks but I forgot to write about it. We were took think about all the stress of that week, press it down into one work, and with everyone else simultaneously should it out as loud and as hard as possible.

It did make me feel better, that’s for certain.

We counted, but only made it to 50 this time.

As a give and take exercise, while we continued walking a keeping eye contact, we did word association. The trick is to only associate with the very last thing said, and to be aware of everyone else in the team so you don’t talk at the same time.

We learned a new game called “Phone Bank.” At a location given to us, we pretend there is a bank of pay phones. One by one we walk up to the phones and call someone, having conversation. When a new person comes up, the person talking stops, but still pretends they are on the phone. Once everyone is out there, it becomes steal-a-line, where the conversations get heightened. This is similar to Conductive Radio, but there is no conductor.

A trick we learned: to take control, be loud and bold. To surrender, just let it go, even in the middle of a sentence.

Also, it is important to take a strong point of view so you have something to work with.

“Someone’s sadness is funny as hell.”

As a group, we have great strong initiations, but we need to really heighten it more. We seem to reach a level and then stop.

The next game was Jeopardy, and the goal was to have a character with a point of view. I played a Sorority sister, and people were very impressed with how well I did that – speech, mannerisms, and answers. Hmmm…

To lead into two person scenes, we did an Animal Walk, where we took on characteristics of an animal as we morphed into human form. I choose a very timid deer.

The final game (exercise?) we learned is called “Armando Diaz.” We get a topic from the audience, and one person steps forward from the backline and performs a short monologue about it. While that person is speaking, two or more players (but not everyone) step forward and do some object work. When the monologue is done, the speaker steps back and the other players perform a scene inspired by the talk. At a good break point, another person steps forward and performs a monologue inspired by the scene, and it continues until the game is done.

This was a ton of fun! Oddly, I like doing monologues and seem to be pretty good at it. I drew on my own personal life for ideas.

We also learned that when doing scenes, avoid exposition, especially the “every time we … you … .” For example: every time we go to the movies you talk and irritate everyone! That sort of thing.

Only one week left.

Convervatory Program, Level 1a, Week 8 - Saturday, 7 May 2005

The warm-ups were counting and walking, and then we did some practice three person scenes.

We learned a new game that I love: Challenge in a Minute. A subject (current event) is given by the audience, and one person is the moderator. Then someone steps forward and rants until a person in the back row claps her hands and yells, “Challenge!” The moderator decides if it is valid, and if so, she takes the person’s place and rants some more. The challenge can be about anything for any reason, and the moderator can make any decision. After a minute or so, the person in front is declared the winner.

“Subtlety is the key of wit, but if it works, fuck it!

We ended by doing a bunch of Commando groups.

Tim was an awesome teacher. And even better, because of him, I will always remember to wear my seatbelt.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 1 - Saturday, 4 June 2005

“Never do that again.”

Great way to start my first class in Level 2, huh?

Our teacher, PJ, wasn’t mad or anything. But he was right. I basically halted a three person scene on my own to ask for help, instead of waiting until the end. I realized at the time that it was inappropriate.

It helped a heck of a lot, though.

We had a show on Thursday night and I wasn’t happy with my performance. I was lost and confused. I was feeling the same way during the scene, so instead of floundering, I cut it.

Pj made a very astute observation: that I'm brilliant and talented. (And since he doesn’t read this journal, I can get away with putting words into his mouth.)

He also noted that I go right up to the edge of getting fully into a character and then back down.

He had some great advice: Let go.

We went into it a lot more, but that pretty much sums it up. And the rest of my scenes were fine.

I’m not sure why I don’t let go in a scene. I realize that in normal life I am pretty conservative (financially, how I dress, etc. – even my jester outfit has pretty muted motley). So it is tough for me to just let go and say, “Yeah, I can be a slimy sexist sleaze ball, or a sorority girl, or a drunk bum.” It might also be that if I don’t give it my all, then when I fail I have an excuse. “I wasn’t playing at my fullest, so it makes sense that I failed.”

That isn’t any good either.

So for this class (and performances), I will try to have the main thought in my mind be, “Let go.”

And no, I won’t ever do that again.

After some interesting warm-ups of walking around doing different characters at locations, we learned an excellent exercise that can help move a scene forward. It is called “What?” And not in the Jon Stewart way of saying it.

Two person scene. First person gives a line. The second person asks, “What?” in a very emotional way (surprise, fear, hate, concern…). The scene continues from there. The only way you can’t say “What?” is in the form of “I can’t hear you.” We practiced using different types of “whats?” in different emotions by doing some quick scenes in a row. Pj called this the “What is the scene about generator.”

Next we did the exercise where I stopped the scene and almost got my ass tossed out of Second City. It was three person scenes where each of us, twice, would place objects in the location. Then we would give each other two characteristics. It was fun, once I got into it.

We ended by doing Transformational Scenes. We take something that was said and move to that scene. It doesn’t have to be the same characters continuously – some can sit out. But, each scene has to connect. We can go back to old scenes if we want, or just have it go in the direction the Muse takes us.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 2 - Saturday, 11 June 2005

Improvisation is like non-Euclidean geometry.


During class, Pj was telling us how the improv rules that we’ve been taught (“don’t deny,” “yes, and,” and “don’t ask questions”) really aren’t hard and fast rules, and that they breaking them can leading to interesting places in performance.

I said that I had a mathematical analogy, but I would be good and refrain from telling it.

Surprisingly, Pj and the class wanted to know.

An ancient Greek named Euclid is considered the father of geometry. He wrote the definitive text on the subject, The Elements, at around the 3rd century B.C. (It was used as a textbook for more than 1000 years and went through more than 2000 editions. This has nothing to do with improvisation, but I find it interesting anyway).

The book starts with five postulates (which we call axioms) that form the foundation of all his later self-consistent propositions, theorems, and proofs. The postulates can’t be proven, and are just taken as given. These were things like “all right angles are congruent” and “a straight line segment can be drawn joining any two points.”

In fact, no one really questioned them until the Renaissance. Eventually, in 1823, Bolyai and Lobachevsky discovered another self-consistent non-Euclidean geometry if you started with Euclid’s fifth postulate (given a point not on a line, there is one and one line through that point that is parallel to the first line) is not true.

Um…think of Euclidean geometry as a flat geometry, like on a piece of paper. The Bolyai-Lobachevsky-Gauss one is called hyperbolic. Reimannian geometry is easier: there exists no lines parallel to a given line. This can be visualized as the surface of the Earth, where lines become great circles.

Oh, and by the way, in Bolyai-Lobachevsky-Gauss geometry, the angles of a triangle sum to be less than 180 degrees, and in Reimannian geometry the angles of a triangle sum to be greater than 180 degrees.

So you see, in mathematics, you can take very basic stuff that is given as laws from god above, change them around, and see what happens. As long as you can make things internally self-consistent, you have something interesting.

And that is the same with improv. Questions are fine: as long as it is the character asking the question, and not the actor. Saying no is fine, as long as you aren’t contradicting a fact that came out on the scene. The rules are guidelines for us now.

Mathematics and improvisation are wonderful things.

We had more discussions. The goals of this class are to work on characters and our scene work (editing, etc.).

We learned a great new warm-up game today: sounds and motion mimic. Stand in a circle, and a person makes a sound and motion. Each person in the circle repeats it, and then the next person makes a new sounds and motion, and so on. The fun part is that the first time each person makes sound and motion 100% bigger than the person before them. The second time around, each person makes the sound and motion half the magnitude as before. Tons of fun!

We went back to some things we did last week: three person scenes with objects and characteristics. Two important points. First, I lived up to my mantra of letting go in a scene, to the point of kissing garret on the cheek. Second, we need to be careful about secrets on stage. Make sure everyone knows what is going on so mistakes aren’t made.

Next was a session of Hot Spot. This is the perfect warm-up to practice edits, confidence, and how you handle your singing ability. It is just like speaking scenes: if people are floundering, you should bail them out. If they are going well and selling it, and are entertaining, let it continue.

Similar to last week, we did the three person scenes where we gave each other traits. This time, the where was given and we had to repeat the scene, rotating the characters among the three people.

Another round of transformational scenes was done (like last week), and then we finished up with a chaotic set of Taboo Switch.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 3 - Saturday, 18 June 2005

I’m thinking one of my favorite parts of class is when Pj gives advice. Because we’ve performed at Improv Inferno a few times now, he can give us some pretty good critiques.

Case in point: when doing Commando, don’t just ask for a standard where. Be creative. “Where did you have your first date?” “What is a bad hangout for a Priest?” Or ask a point of view question: Give me a dumb campaign slogan.

Most of all, don’t do what I do and ask the same thing twice in a row. Sigh. I know better than that.

We played a great character game called Grand Master. One person does a different scene with each other person in the group. They play different characters with each player in the backline. The backline comes in using the ‘steal a line’ technique, keeping the same characters as before, and moving the scene forward.

Our next exercise was to do a Space Walk as one of the characters we were given. Then Pj does a Q & A session with us. We, of course, interact with each other a bit, likes and dislikes. If we answer a question and he says ‘truth?’ then we do have to tell the truth as our character sees it.

I was given three characters by Garrett, which I present for you now.

Orlando: Middle aged African-American. Wife’s name is Bernadette. Likes Motown music and classic cars. Dislikes rap music and the youth of America. He’s very religious and soulful.

Randy: Redneck from the South. Loves beer. Not married. Likes hunting, guns, and Nascar. Dislikes cops. Been to jail three different times, once for assault and battery, other ones for drunk driving.

Henry: A large giant octopus who likes to sing and dance. No, wait, that is a character from The Wiggles. Henry is a 21 year old man from Brooklyn. He’s a small time bookie. Likes money, women, and Cadillacs. Dislikes the law. Very tough guy on the street but only has a second grade reading level.

We did two spacewalks, and I got to play Orlando and Randy.

For our homework, we had to pick one of the characters and write a half page monologue about anything. Make sure it has a point of view. Also, we were to write, as ourselves, against something that we really believe in or like.

I had to leave an hour early to run to a good friend’s wedding, so I missed what happened in the rest of the class.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 4 - Saturday, 25 June 2005

Ever have a day turn out completely different from how you expect? This class was one of those.

When I go to improv class, I usually wear what I wear to work: long pants (black or blue), a long shirt (solid color), brown shoes and gray socks. During the summer I am more relaxed: sandals, shorts, and a polo shirt.

On this day I decided to be a little more whimsical. I wore my Little Mermaid T-shirt. I’ve had it for over a decade, and it is one of my favorite pieces of clothing. Well, for the first time ever, and I’ve worn it a lot, someone noticed that the large moon and the fireworks explosion made my chest look like I had, well, breasts!


And so, the nickname “Tits Cohen” was born.

Hmph, improvisers.

I’ve had tons of nicknames in my life (from Castellan to Chuckyfuzz to Chasafraz to…well, others), but never that one.

Ah well, it is still my favorite shirt, so there.

Now, why did I write about it in this Second City journal? Because it happened, and if I edit out the slightly embarrassing (albeit funny) just because it is against me, then I wouldn’t feel right about this doing this.

Besides, it was kinda funny!

Oh, and Happy Birthday PJ! Carissa brought homemade pumpkin pie with Oreos and whipped cream. While the pie wasn’t my thing, the Oreos and whipped cream certainly were!

We started off with the horrid dreaded tape ball (and got up to 62). Ugh, okay, tape ball isn’t all that bad, and sure, it helps us to work as a group, but I do think it is one of the silliest activities at Second City. I’d much rather do counting, or Eights, or space walking, or…anything.

Our first piece was to perform our homework monologues and rants.

Here is my rant:

Ice cream has to be the worst food ever created. A little bit will add tons of fat to your body. Eat it too fast and you'll get a brain freeze, which hurts like crazy.

But mostly, it causes arguments. No one can ever agree on what flavor they like, which makes it impossible to just bring home a half gallon of the crap for a group of friends. This is made worse by all the stupid flavors they've been coming out with lately. Really, what kind of flavor is Cherry Garcia or Chunky Monkey? Do they really dice up Monkeys and add chilled milk?

What's next: hey, get your earwax-and-used-diaper flavor ice cream?!

This doesn't even mention the toppings. What idiot decided that ice cream should have nuts in it. I've seen people use ice cream as a means to shovel nuts and sprinkles and hot fudge into their mouth.

Here's a tip: if you put hot fudge on ice cream, all you'll get is melted ice cream and cold calamari-textured chocolate goo.

If I'd have my way, I'd ban ice cream from the face of the earth. Just give me some thing simple, like milk and cookies. Just don't make them monkey flavored.

I think that came out pretty well, and I got a fun reaction! Here is the monologue I performed, based on the Orlando character:

Children today have a problem. It isn't drugs, it isn't gangs, and it isn't that awful rap music. Those are just symptoms.

The problem is that they are lost. Their only hope of finding their way is through God. But they aren't going to find the Lord by themselves. Jesus works through us, and that means that you, you parents, must show them the way.

You can't do that by just telling them to go to church and then drinking another beer. You have to be an example. Be a hero. Go to church yourself. Be honest and ethical. Show them the love of God by loving your children.

Put down the belt. Give them a hand. Try to be the person you wish you were; show them that trying is what a life of faith is all about. Respect yourself, and your children will respect you.

Let your life be your ministry. That is the only hope for our youth.

The lesson from all this was that our characters should all have a point of view. If the character doesn’t care, the audience won’t either. Having a point of view opposite your own gives you lots to work with and creates satire and sarcasm. You get strong scenes from satire (example: The Daily Show). Sure, those scenes may have a higher failure rate, but it is worth it.

We did some point of view exercises.

For our first one, three people would sit around eating lunch. Each person picks something they know a lot about. A topic is given, and we have a conversation, but filter that topic through the filter of what they picked. You can’t stop talking until someone cuts you off. This was fun, and gave us something to work with while we discussed basic matters.

The second exercise consisted of us adopting random characters waiting for the bus. We need to move and act, no talking, in such a way that Pj can guess who we are. He would tell us where the bus is, how it gets slowed down, how it doesn’t stop and goes right by us, etc.

We finished the class by doing a bunch of transformational scenes.

No class next week, and the following week is our midterm show.

Happy birthday, Pj!

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 5 - Saturday, 9 July 2005

Six people today! We still haven’t had a class where everyone attended, but hey, it was six people.

We talked a bit in the beginning, mainly about improv stuff we had seen and other odd things.

After warm-ups (which Pj joined in – and let me tell you, I really LIKE it when the teacher joins in our warm-ups…) we did a LaRonde. I have to admit, I’m a bit scared of them. Two people do scenes at a time with people from the back row switching in. Always keep the same character and time jump.

However, this time I found it fun and was able to relax while doing it. Maybe it is all the practice, but I’m okay with doing a LaRonde and other long form types of activities. At least, I can do this during class and practice.

While doing a LaRonde and other scenes, we need to remember to let things happen so that the scene can move forward. Hmm, let me explain. Let’s say there is a conflict. I want her to go out with me, but she keeps saying no. Eventually, I either have to give in, or she does. Once that happens, we can continue past it and see what else happens.

This is a problem I especially have.

Oh, we also learned a bit more about edit points. If at any time one or both of the following lines is used in a scene (as it was done during class) “You are going to rape the shit out of me,” and “Pretty much,” then that is an edit point and people should be tagged out.

For the love of all that is good please don’t linger on those points!

For our homework, we are to take the character we wrote the monologue for, and write five scenes for him. This is a who, what, and where for at least two characters. This should be at most one or two long sentences.

The following day was our midterm performance.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Midterm Performance- Saturday, 10 July 2005

Six people today! We still haven’t had a class where everyone attended, but hey, it was six people.

We talked a bit in the beginning, mainly about improv stuff we had seen and other odd things.

After warm-ups (which Pj joined in – and let me tell you, I really LIKE it when the teacher joins in our warm-ups…) we did a LaRonde. I have to admit, I’m a bit scared of them. Two people do scenes at a time with people from the back row switching in. Always keep the same character and time jump.

However, this time I found it fun and was able to relax while doing it. Maybe it is all the practice, but I’m okay with doing a LaRonde and other long form types of activities. At least, I can do this during class and practice.

While doing a LaRonde and other scenes, we need to remember to let things happen so that the scene can move forward. Hmm, let me explain. Let’s say there is a conflict. I want her to go out with me, but she keeps saying no. Eventually, I either have to give in, or she does. Once that happens, we can continue past it and see what else happens.

This is a problem I especially have.

Oh, we also learned a bit more about edit points. If at any time one or both of the following lines is used in a scene (as it was done during class) “You are going to rape the shit out of me,” and “Pretty much,” then that is an edit point and people should be tagged out.

For the love of all that is good please don’t linger on those points!

For our homework, we are to take the character we wrote the monologue for, and write five premises for him. This is a who, what, and where for at least two characters. This should be at most one or two long sentences.

Here were mine:
• Orlando, the father, has found a join in his son’s bedroom, and confronts his son.
• Orlando and his wife, Bernadette, are out having an anniversary dinner.
• Orlando is at church, talking to his long time friend Rufus about the closing of his favorite jazz nightclub, The Slide.
• Orlando meets his son’s fiancé (both are there). She is a good match, except that she isn’t a Christian.
• Orlando plays chess in the park with an old friend, Jerome.

The following day was our midterm performance.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 6 - Saturday, 16 July 2005

Well, this was amazing: all of the students were at class! Really, everyone was there! So, of course we don’t do any improv, or even warm-ups. Not even tape ball.

On second thought, that was as good thing.

This class was in the freezing purple room next door where one couldn’t adjust the temperature. It was huge. It was purple. And it had a table with (conveniently) eight chairs.

Carissa, in honor of the Harry Potter book, gave each of us a gift. I got something I knew my wife would hate: an electronic joke list with a push-button laugh track. I loved it! At home, I told my son that Mommy would love it if he pressed the button for her.

My wife glares really well.

Or, right, improv class.

We started to hear the rest of the monologues that weren’t done last week. Then we learned about beats of a scene.

Beats are the major action points within a scene, not dialog or emotions. Things like: boy meets girl, girl insults boy, boy cries, girl laughs and taunts some more, boy goes into therapy. Our goal for this class was to create beats based off of one of our premises.

When you reimprovise a scene, you perform the beats. Pj read a blurb written by Tina Fey (from the Second City Almanac) to help explain how that works (see page 138).

To create scenes, what we do is create beats, improvise, then reimprovise again and again. I, personally, have been working on a one man improv show and have practiced it a couple of times, but it wasn’t going anywhere. This class gave me the clue of how to structure it. It is funny how I get knowledge and instruction just when I need it.

Hmm, I guess we did do a warm-up. The exercise was to tell a story in a circle, where each sentences as an action. We found this incredibly hard as we got stuck on doing dialog and not really advancing the story. After a few times we got a bit better. Some tips:
• Listen.
• Walk through scenes backwards, that is, only base your line off of the last line.
• Listen.
• Fit the scene on a stage – tone down the scope.
• Listen.
• Be willing to take the hit and do the boring action part of the scene.
• Don’t forget names. Repeat them!
• Oh, and listen to what people are saying.

We reviewed our premises and picked three: two week liked the most and our least favorite. Pj then picked one for each of us to use. The one chosen for me was the first one.

Using the format of the previous exercise, we created beats for each other. Surprisingly, for a while, ever set of beats ended with "And they were eaten by bears."

Here is the one for my premise:
1. Orlando shows joint to son.
2. Son denies it.
3. Orlando sighs and sits on bed.
4. Orlando asks son to sit next to him.
5. Son grabs book bag and heads towards door.
6. Orlando furiously blocks the door.
7. Son snatches joint back.
8. Son gets pissed that Dad is snooping in room.
9. Dad demands son obey or leave.
10. Son starts packing.
11. Son and Dad get eaten by bears.

Our homework is to do beats for another monologue.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 7 - Saturday, 23 July 2005

Here is the set of beats I did for home, created for the premise: Orlando meets his son's fiancé (both are there). She is a good match, except that she isn’t a Christian. It breakfast time, and they meet in Orlando’s kitchen.

1. Devon (Orlando’s son) introduces Crystal (his fiancé) to Orlando.
2. Orlando compliments her beauty.
3. Devon brags about Crystal’s work.
4. Orlando asks about her faith.
5. Crystal is non-committal.
6. Orlando presses.
7. Devon tries to change the subject.
8. Crystal is proud to be a non-Christian (but still religious).
9. Orlando preaches about Jesus.
10. Crystal stands firm.
11. Orlando looses control.
12. Devon defends Crystal.
13. Orlando accepts their love.

No bears starved in the writing of the above beats.

Class began with finishing up the monologues from homework, and then each of read the beats from our current homework. Some modifications were made.

Then we jumped right into what our final show would be. We’ll do six scenes (only six of us were at class), creating a scene from each of our sets of beats. Aim for the beats, but don’t worry if it diverges. The goal is to do a scene, not to hit all the beats.

So, we did them:
Nascar: Russ’s with me and Mike
Faith: Mine, with Carissa and Garrett
Tattoo: Garrett’s with Mike
Shrink: Wendy’s with me
Laundry: Carissa’s with Wendy and Garrett
Ice Cream: Mike’s with Wendy and Russ.

We had twenty minutes to create the show, and amazingly we did it! We didn’t do a great job, but we did do it. We cast the scenes, created an order, and ran through the beats. Before giving us advice, Pj gave us a good quote: directors don’t care why you didn’t something wrong, just change it.


Our main problem is that we did the scenes fast, only hitting the beats and not expanding the scenes like we would normally do. Also, just be because we know the beats doesn’t mean the audience does, so we have to include appropriate exposition.

We need to remember to be high energy all the time, such as when entering and switching scenes. Be bigger so that changes are more pronounced. Also be careful of the give and take. Two people shouldn’t be talking at the same time.

We did those same scenes again, and it turned out much better. We took our time and expanded the scenes out. It was fun to see how they would change and grow.

More notes: be sure to perform down stage, and again, make those transitions between scenes fast. Also, for some scenes, it is okay to give a thesis statement. Being clear about what is going on is like giving a gift to your self. And example thesis statement for the Shrink scene is “Doc, people keep leaving my life and it is freaking me out!”

We took the beats from last week and, again given only twenty minutes, created a new set. We were reminded to keep the emotions real and build up to them. Our scenes:
Class reunion: Wendy’s with Carissa and everyone else.
Arrow: Russ’s with Garrett.
Joint: Mine with Mike.
Disco: Garrett’s with me, Carissa, Wendy and everyone else.
Parole: Carissa’s with Russ and Wendy.
Bank robbery: Mike’s with me and Wendy and everyone else.

It was a good set, with nice variation of laughter and seriousness, and also between who was in the set and the numbers.

A motto we need to learn: You know, we don’t. That is, the group knows the exposition, but the audience doesn’t. We really need to get the who, what, and where out.

When people are background atmosphere, they should make sure they don’t overdo it, as that isn’t what the scene is about. One of our scenes didn’t really work. Ah well, sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss.

The best scene from the entire day was tattoo. Definitely a keeper!

For our final show, we will be given a newspaper or periodical and have to write the beats for a number of stories, cast them, and set them up in thirty minutes. Then we perform! This is what we’ll be practicing for the rest of the term.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Week 8 - Saturday, 30 July 2005

Our show was set: we would have only thirty minutes to create six scenes (at least one cast scene) and three blackouts from a newspaper we haven’t seen before. Included with this is a running order, casting, and two copies (one for the musician and one for the stage manager), complete with the blow lines.


For the first ten minutes we should just pitch ideas. The second ten minutes is when we pick six and fill in the beats. We also need to make sure that everyone is in at least two scenes. If time, the final ten minutes are for practice. There never was time.

But we were able to do it. Twice!

Some advice from Pj: get the thesis statement out right awawy. Also, get the who/what/where out there. “We know, they don’t.” We also shouldn’t spend too much time on the beats. If we know the beginning, middle, and end, then it is enough. If the idea flows, move on.

Pj is awesome.

Convervatory Program, Level 2, Performance - Sunday, 7 August 2005

We had a good show.

No, I take that back. We had a great show.

I don’t know how or why. Maybe we are finally gelling or something. But we did a fantastic job, and while on stage I knew we were doing well.

We were given only thirty minutes to create a full show (six scenes, three blackouts) from Sunday’s paper, and, it seemed to me, we all worked together to get the ideas, pare them down, cast them, and even go through a bit of the beats.

This was our first show at the new Novi (Detroit) Second City main stage. Because of that, we had a wonderful stage, great stage management (running lights) by our teacher, Pj, and wonderful musical accompaniment by John (the musical director).

Having great music and lights just heights the scenes so well! Or, they can just make a scene work. We had one where three old men were talking about cloning, and it was basically just a slice of life. As it wound down, the lights faded gently on us, which was perfect!

We also challenged ourselves. The day before, when practicing, we came up with a great blackout. One guy says, “I have never used steroids. Period.” Then another guy, as a kid says, “Mr. Palmeiro, would you please sign my syringe?”

Really funny!

But Mike, from our class, said, “No, we should make up something new, and not recycle.” He was right.

And so, we came up with something better.

Person 1: I have never used steroids. Period.
Person 2: I have never, while President, slept with an intern. [That was me, using a Pres. Clinton accent.]
Person 3: I have never lied to the American people. We will find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Person 4: The Second City Main Stage will open on time!

(It really is funny when you’ve been waiting months for it to open while they keep pushing back the date. Pj laughed when he just saw that line.)

So we all felt that it was really good. Finally, a show better than a rehearsal! And my wife and two people from my medieval club were there to see it!

Afterwards (way afterwards, after all the shows), Pj gave me some valuable time to go over a one man scene I was working on. Somehow I nailed that too, so I think I’m all ready for Pennsic, especially with the extra advice he gave me to improve it even more.

So, an almost perfect time.

Now I just have to figure out how to stop intimidating people when I think I’m being a team player.

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 1 - Saturday, 13 August 2005

Margaret Edwartowski is our teacher this time. This is great because we haven’t had a woman teaching our class yet! Well, except for Tiffany. Oh, and Rachel.

Never mind.

Anyway, it is great because we’ve never had a Mainstage performer teach us before. Well, except for Topher, and Tiffany, and…oh, never mind.

She did take off work to teach this class. That is pretty cool, right?

We discussed what we wanted to work on. I mentioned characters, but also that when I’m practicing I seem to do very well, but during a performance a get stage fright and I’m not really satisfied with how it turns out. (Well, except for our last class show.)

For our Midterm performance, we’ll be doing a Shakespearean piece. Eeep.

The Final performance will be the Jim/pad game, where we get different film, theater, and book styles from the audience to perform.

For our homework, we should watch a Shakespeare movie. Something not stylized. We should think about the show in terms of how we can use it for improvisation.

We played a game called Rewind. It is for three people, with one of them entering in the middle of the scene. The scene is performed, then rewound and done again in a different style: first literary, then theater, then film. Musical could be added at the end. The goal is to really embody the style.

Note: when calling the scene, just get the suggestion. Don’t say the name of the game.

The hard part is establishing the solid beginning. For the rewind part, it helps to have physical actions that can be repeated because they can be stylized. Relationships are also important.

Any choice you make, as long as you commit to it, will be rewarded by the audience. Also, adding insults and compliments can move the scene forward.

Rewind is a good game for knowing beats as you have to repeat them. In the beginning, try to give only one piece of info. Spark the ‘yes, and,’ letting your partner build from it. A good process is to keep a table of contents in your head, and see how many you can get out there, then go over the top with the style.

Other styles: haiku, kung fu, cartoon, anime, Disney (complete with animal friends and a song about “there is so much more to me!”), film noir (soliloquies, drinking and smoking, femme fatales, detective alone his office with a hot smoking dame who says “I need your help!”), slapstick romantic comedy (which is hard because you are already trying to make the audience laugh – includes innuendos, high jinx, and running back to your lover), and, of course, porn (innuendoes, but don’t bring up sex, dialogue is wretched, bad acting, and deliver a pizza).

We then played another version of the game called Historical Rewind, where instead of styles, different dates are given. The rhythm of the scene can change. A good trick is to find four or five things from the scene to bring into the historical context. Those are the beats. The person entering the scene should retain status, even if what he does changes.

More advice: for group scenes, the obstacles to a good scene are give and take, listening, focus, status, point of view, and having all the information come together. Pretty much everything we’ve been taught to do in a good scene!

Point of view is very important. Define how you feel about the topic, and whether others agree and disagree, and what you will do about it.

And that ended the class.

I’d like to take time to talk about the room we practice in. It is … odd. The shape is odd, the wall color is odd, and the walls themselves are messed up with holes in them and stuff. Also, it is cold. I could store ice cream in those rooms. I have to brink a jacket with me to class, which is odd when it is 90 degrees outside.

Ah well. The classes themselves are awesome.

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 2 - Saturday, 20 August 2005

This was an awesome class. Not only did Carissa bring coffee and bagels, but we read scenes from Shakespeare! It reminded of what I used to do in the SCA, where a group of us would get together and read a complete Shakespeare play, discussing it and figuring it out.

We read scenes from Othello, King Lear, Taking of the Shrew, and Macbeth (sorry). This was to help us learn to perform Shakespearean scenes.

Some words to sprinkle into our scenes: prithee, in faith, in sooth, tarry, hence, verily, -est (as in, cunningest), I know it not, I am undone, and, of course, breast.

In these kind of scenes, asides for hidden motivations are fun. You can also say exactly what you are doing, or planning on doing. Cut out modern contractions, and learn to use thee and thou.

You have: though hast
Your: thy (thy words cut me)
For you: thou (as thou hast wounded me)

We can also try to speak in Iambic pentameter: 2 and 5 syllables. So, ten syllables in a line, like a galloping horse.

There are many Shakespearian themes to work with: epiphanies, unallowed love, death, mistakes blown out of proportion, love octagons with gender switches, revenge, royalty, historical/mythological references, rivalries, and teaching.

We then, amazingly enough, performed our first Shakespearian montage! It was a pretty fun scene where everyone died in the end. I found it kind of tough, but this group is very good at the give and take, and everyone played on what the others did.

Some advice that Margaret gave was to go out with the intent (and the words will come later). Also, we should establish the names early.

For our homework next week, we should watch a film noir style of movie. I should probably buy some cigarettes too.

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 3 - Saturday, 27 August 2005

This week we reviewed the style of Film Noir, characterized by smoking, monologues, great descriptions, meta phrases, and the ubiquitous double cross.

Typical characters include the stool pigeon, femme fatale, motherly secretary, supportive female (Tess Trueheart), damsel in distress, foreign creepy guy, big boss, cops (good, crooked, Irish, rookie, disposable, or cautious), private dick and partner, newsie kid, answer man, hookers, husband to be killed off, an, of course, gangsters.

Locations include office, docks, warehouse, alley, casino, bar, diner, coffee shop, jazz club, bedroom (with two beds!), theater back stage, bridges, apartment, green screen car, and trains.

At the core, it is a mystery style. One should (as in most of the styles) totally exaggerate the characters.

Oh, we also learned how to smoke! Get our your silver case, light the cigarette with your Zippo, and don’t forget to exhale! It felt like I was back in middle school again.

After practicing a scene, we learned that we need to get the character names out quicker and remember them. Also work on how those names are delivered. Furthermore, don’t step down stage to do voiceovers. Just whip your head around. Add jargon and metaphors. Also, don’t too many voiceovers (three is usually enough). Set up the events and justify them. Think about the character’s wants and keep it simple.

A difference between Shakespeare and Film Noir: externalize Shakespeare, internalize Flim Noir.

Next we discussed Blackouts (short length jokes). “A zig, and then a zap.” That is, a zap is a reversal: who or where isn’t what you think it is. Example: you think it is an investigative report, but it is an ad against Kwamie.

Extended blackout (EBO). The are around a page in length, and can reveal and heighten.

We did another Shakespear scene (don’t forget formal greetings!), and then Flim Noir switch.

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 4 - Saturday, 10 September 2005

Our homework for this week is to watch a Western movie.

We went over our blackouts and EBOs. Wendy was amazing! I think she had over 21 blackouts and a number of EBOs! I brought in two blackouts and one EBO. Most of hers were excellent!

In a running order, blackouts have an asterisk in front of them. Songs have musical notes. EBOs have nothing as they are pretty much scenes.

Our blackouts turned out pretty well. They had the “blackout” feel with the appropriate reveals.

The next style that we learned was Commedia del Arte. It is the root of improvisation that we perform today. Commedia still has concepts similar to Shakespeare, except that there are always happy endings. Groups are troupes of actors with a caption traveling from town to town. They are made up of stock characters and are given a scenario (running order) with beats. Slapstick got its start from Commedia (the beating of servants).

Characters have masks, and can talk to the audience in solo bits. We reviewed many of the stock characters. I won’t go into here. I took tons of notes for myself, but the internet has even more information about it.

The best part was when we learned how to behave like the characters and did some short scenes. I learned how to walk like Pantalone: walk like a rooster, stooped and old with an old man voice. Have lots of heart attacks, wear a big codpiece and yell “pah!” when alarmed or protecting money.

Harelquino is very ADD. He leaps onto the spot and walks with straight arms. Margaret used a great line to describe him: every day is his first day on earth.

We performed a bunch of two person scenes, and then practiced our Shakespeare midterm show. Our characters and speeches are fine. We just need to improve the location and environmental aspects.

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 5 - Saturday, 17 September 2005

We had a guest teacher this week. Some guy named Pj. I have never heard of him before. Apparently he’s done some performances and teaching in the past. He’s had some free time since FEMA decided to let him go, so we were fortunately that he was available as a substitute.

Surprisingly, he knew all of our names, and acted like he’d known us for years.

Very strange.

This week we reviewed our Western themes: honor, revenge, law, righteousness, reluctant heroes, sheriffs (evil, cowardly, good, or dead).

Oh, wait, I remember Pj now! As a warm-up he brought out that thrice damned tape ball. Arg! We got up to 68, but after that we sucked.

The cool part, though, was that Pj played tape ball with us. Seriously. I like it when the teachers do the warm-ups with us.

Then we had a ton of fun by doing a “world’s worst” game, but in a Western style. Some of the stuff we did was a riot!

That was followed by a Western montage, with many different character scenes. One thing we need to keep in mind: pulling a gun is a huge deal. We need to let it affect us.

Some scenes we should bring back for Level 5:

• Poker-health care. After a slow starting poker game, two of us tried to convince a third to join our posse. This was done by detailed all the benefits of joining – health care, vacation, sick leave, and other perks.
• Shave and a horse-cut. While one guy was getting a shave, an intelligent walking (but non-human-speaking horse) came in, and we had a huge debate over whether a horse was a person too, with rights the same as any other human (voting, respect, etc). This worked well because no one commented on the standing horse. We accepted it and brought it to a higher level.
• Billy-the-kid blackout. On the count of three, gets shot on ‘one.’

Our homework was to watch a Kung-Fu and an Action movie.

We performed two Shakespeare scenes, and the first one was excellent. Pj gave us some great advice: that morning of our show, read through some Shakespeare.

And now, an aside. I have heard rumors that Pj actually reads this journal. I am quite confident that this is not true, as we happen to know that Pj is not literate. Have you seen the notes he takes during class? He uses word fragments and symbols. Our school system has failed Pj, and he deserves our pity.

It is fortunate that I can log all the wonderful things he says, especially about me. When I walked into class, he got on his knees and said, “Thank goodness you are here, Charles. You are the best student in this class. Not only does everyone else benefit by you being here, but I also learn more from three hours with you than years worth of on stage performances. Plus, I happen to think you quite handsome and witty.”

Thanks Pj. I think you are pretty nifty yourself.

(I love having my own journal, where I can write anything I want...)

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 6 - Saturday, 24 September 2005

It is odd that our Midterm show is after the week six class, but hey, that is showbiz.

We had a fun discussion reviewing Kung Fu and Action movies.

For Kung Fu (martial arts), the characters are either extremely calm or over the top angry. There is lots of ambient musical themes. The characters are either very good or very evil. Little or no betrayals.

A typical story is the hero’s tale. They are given or gain a quest, obstacles appear, they are overcome, then an 11th hour problem happens or a change of the goal. Sounds a lot like Shakespeare and Westerns.

For action movies, there are lots of catch phrases and dialogue, either during the threat or afterwards. Unlike Kung Fu, the American hero is mortal, very masculine, and has a hidden tragedy.

When doing any style, don’t point out the easy bits, but instead try to play it more truthfully. Immerse yourself in the style.

After a warm-up of Eights, we performed some Kung Fu and Action commando scenes. One difficulty we have is that we are in our heads to much. Many times afterwards we claim, “I was going to say…” We need to just do it and trust that the other players will help us justify it.

Aside from that, we had lots of good character types, especially the female ones (we didn’t just have the helpless victim). We also lent our characters great intensity and, when appropriate, stoicism.

A good bit of advice: even if you don’t know what is going to happen, don’t let the audience know. That is, don’t show panic on your face. Pretend that you are the greatest improviser ever. If something isn’t working, or you have nothing, then turn to the others and work with them.

We also need to work on exposition. We have heard this many times, and our teachers like to write “Why???” in huge big letters in their notes whenever they see our scenes. So, why are we in the crime ring? We need the exposition to drive the action.

We did a final Shakespeare practice. We are still too liner. It is okay to add in something new if we want. We are improvisers – we can justify anything. We solve our problems too quickly. It is okay, as in the movie Pulp Fiction, to have a totally unrelated scene in the beginning, after the first one, and just see where it takes us.

The first part of love is lust, and we need to show that. Shakespeare is very bawdy, and it is fine make innuendos and have fun with that.

We ended with a fun game of Kung Fu / Action switch. I got to play a mad scientist, which was a blast!

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Midterm Performance - Sunday, 25 September 2005

I felt we rocked. I introduced that we were doing a Shakespearean scene, using all the flowing flourishes (“My Lords and Ladies, welcome all!...”). And then we began.

It started off slow. But at some point, Garrett started calling us names that were variations of Rap stars, like Fifty Pence, and Sir MC of Hammer, etc. Once that happened, everything clicked into place, and we had a really good story with a wonderful ending.

Later we found out that the microphones didn’t come on until Garrett starting naming us, so basically the improv and the tech all came together simultaneously.

I ended up being an old man again. I got to take away Garrett’s sword right before the big fight. Christian gave one for the team by being a magical tree, and that helped bring everything together. Margarette was very pleased that we brought him back in at the end (which would have been very hard for him to do on his own, given the character choice).

We rocked. I was very happy after that show!

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 7 - Saturday, 1 October 2005

Hmmm, only two of us showed up. One of them was me. We talked about the show, but pretty much had to cancel the class. Ah well.

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Week 8 - Saturday, 8 October 2005

Yay, all of us were here at this class! Woohoo!

We reviewed the three blackouts for the show (yay Wendy!).

We reviewed our midterm show. Our class served the story well, addressed everything, and had great character choices. The tree was good, and we brought him back in. Good modern reference of the rapper names.

Next we discussed how to do full cast scenes. They key, as with all scenes, is to listen and react. Use status to your advantage, and keep your point of view. Early in a scene, it helps to choose a point of view. That helps to create and move a scene forward.

Relationship scenes are two people dealing with their relationship, which is in some sort of crisis. They start together and come apart at the end, or the other way around. These scenes do not have to be romantic.

We played a game of Rewind, and tried to perform those styles way over the top. We needed to keep in mind to ‘yes and’ and throw in gifts. The styles were Literary, Movie, and Theater. Rewind is a game of say and see. The audience wants to see it right away, and we need to make it big!

Our final show was to be a Jim game, and we reviewed how they worked. There are four categories, usually a who, what, where, and a wild card. You then get suggestions from the audience, about ten for each category, and perform scenes based on items from two different categories. The person who chooses the topics doesn’t have to be in the scene. Someone from the back line should clap their hands and end a scene (editing). For the show, we should keep in mind to have combinations of long and short scenes. Our class also needs to learn to let the scenes go longer. Just let them happen.

To prepare we practiced doing the Jim game. Fun scenes can come from substations. What if Bill Clinton were in the Middle Ages, or if there really were Civil War baseball cards?

We also talked about pimping, and that usually that is an okay thing to do. Giving a reason for something is a gift. Instead of asking, “Why are you mad at me?” you can say, “You are mad at me because I ate your goldfish, aren’t you!” This is called “presuming the why.” Tell the other person why they hate ice cream.

I greatly enjoyed this class. It was great having Margaret as a teacher, and this class was different in that we reviewed a ton of styles and methods. Later I got her evaluation of me. I have good presence and composure in the shows, but I’m also having more fun playing. Once again I fooled my teacher into thinking I’m smart. I do need to strive to play more from my gut (emotional and fun), and let the scene take me along for the ride. Which is true and something I do need to work on.

Thanks, Margaret!

Convervatory Program, Level 3, Final Performance - Saturday, 15 October 2005

Oddly, after the show I didn’t remember that much about the show. I thought we did just, well, okay, and not great. I do remember being backstage alone with Wendy and me doing my best to make her laugh. I did a pretty good job, and she looked ready to kill me.

That was fun!

Wendy and I got some very good suggestions from the audience. I wish I remembered them. We did a Jim (or Pad) game, which is where we get suggestions from the audience for four different categories (in this case, it was Theater/Movie Styles, Things One Finds In One’s Attic, World Combinations from Initials, and Historical Eras.

We got some good applause for a number of our scenes, but like I wrote, I honestly didn’t remember much. A few days later, though, I did. I remembered me and Clarissa falling down dead right away for a stylized scene that went over hilariously. I remember the porn movie scene where I came in as a Pizza Delivery Guy. Not as part of the movie, but walking into the film and being confused. I think I killed Garrett twice and Christian once. Wait, I think I killed many people during the scenes. Very odd.

Looking back, we had a nice variety of scene lengths and numbers, and most of them worked really well. We had a very good show!

The oddest thing happened to me after the show. I discovered that my first graduate school roommate, Steve, was also taking Second City classes! He was in Level E, so I didn’t see him onstage because I was backstage with Wendy trying on her clothes.

I don’t think I’ve seen him in ten years. He looked good, we caught up on our lives. I hope I get to see him again later, and definitely want to do some scenes with him! Maybe at the Inferno or something.

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 1 - Saturday, 22 October 2005

Pj is our teacher again. Excellent! While it is nice having different teachers, having Pj back means we can just jump right into the class. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, has watched us grow, and knows how to bring out our best.

While other teachers take minutes to figure that out, Pj doesn’t even need that much time!

It is almost like we are just one big happy family, and Pj is the insane Uncle who has surprisingly insights between his bouts of debauchery, drunkenness, and daytime soap watching.

Welcome back as our teacher, Uncle Pj! Please leave the tape ball at the door.

Actually, he taught us a new warm-up game that was tons of fun: the snap game! In a circle, the four of us (yes, only three showed up this week – we still had a fantastic class!) would throw snaps at each other. So if someone throws a snap at me, I would snap my fingers to catch it, then snap them again to throw it. We got very creative with our snapping.

The three of us then warmed up with a Transformation Montage. I decided to just go nuts, and all of us seemed loose, so we did lots of scene changes, characters, and call backs. And I got to screw Garrett while Christian watched. Best quote from those scenes? “I need to know how old the sperm is to get it out.”

I wonder if I’ll have any idea what that means when I reread this ten years from now.

My future self was very upset when I asked him about it. “Stop bothering me with such stupid questions! You messed up the time line again by coming here. Now Gore is going to lose the 2000 election, you moron!”

I’m really grumpy in the future.

As a long interlude, the four of us made a list of hot button topics, which I will transcribe now.

Oh, by the way, the topics expressed during this class and in this journal no way reflect the views of Second City Inc., Pj Jacokes, The City Of Novi, or my Mom.

1. Things in the news: Rocky VI, hurricanes, the World Series, bird flu, Supreme Court, Bush, Detroit Mayor election, cronyism, python ate alligator, Tom-Kat, Star Wars DVDs, evacuees, Iraq Constitution, Iraq War, Nascar fights, End of Days, Delphi automotive, artificial diamonds, school closures, and the NBA dress code.

2. List of fears (concerns as adults, not phobias): no one at their funeral, bad drivers, no power / energy, currently in the middle of another dark age and we don’t know it, my kid’s education, flu/plague, fucked up kids (sex, drugs, etc.), being alone, settling and stagnating in life, working hard for nothing, that I can’t get another job, not finding peace, the unknown with no answers, lack of creativity in the world and the acceptance of it, sex drive, not making an impact, that they will discover that I really don’t know anything, being stuck in Michigan, and not having control.

3. Things that piss you off: rich child actors, macho male posturing, Republicans and Democrats, noisy kids around all the time, initial date conversation, idiots who think they know everything, negative assumptions about people, reporters who won’t ask the obvious questions, Bush, Hurricane reporters, Shepard Smith (Fox News) and Anne Coulter and Fox News, people who disrespect heroes, television stations interrupting shows with weather reports, dead blonde girl news, and too much football coverage.

With a bunch of these suggestions, we performed various scenes, monologues, and “world’s worst” blackout lines.

By my explaining how I get turned on by girls whispering mathematical formulas in my ear, I have confirmed my high level of “dorktitude” to Pj.

My mission is complete.


• Every week we need to write a blackout. No exceptions. At least one. Wendy must do at least fifty seven.
• Bring in beat sheets for any old scenes that we really liked, such as the “posse health care.”
• For the initial date world’s worst that we did, write out ten different openings.
• Me: Write beat sheet for Office Prankster Beating Other Prankster scene that we did today. Use the nuggets from class, but make it my own.
• Me: Hot4Math. Write up a monologue, scene, or whatever the muse suggests to me. (I am responsible for using the word ‘muse,’ but Pj is responsible for the spelling of Hot4Math.)
• If we want to bring in any scenes, bring them!

Others were given their own scenes to write up and do.

Hmmm, that is a lot of work to do! I suppose I should stop playing World of Warcraft for a while and get on it!

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 2 - Saturday, 29 October 2005

Yay, all of us were at class today! Many straggled in at various times, but for most of the class we were all there, doing “prov” as they say down in the ‘hood.

Whatever “hood” means. Yo.

First we performed our homework blackouts. I liked them a lot! Wendy is still amazing at them. Here was mine:

Person #1: You enter a room. There is a chest on a table, with no other exits. What do you do?
Person #2: I don't see how...
#1: Please answer the question, what do you do?
#2: I walk in and open the chest.
#1: Aha, you should have checked for traps! A poison dart shot out of the lid and hits you. Make a saving throw.
#2 (to #3): I think these Judicial Confirmation hearings are getting absurd.

Next we did our World’s Worst Initial Date homework. Again, it was incredible the stuff people came up with! Here are mine:

1. Oh, hey, are you going to eat that? [reach over and start eating off of her plate]
2. I really hate internet spam, like the ones that offer to double my penis size. I mean, really, what would I do with a four inch penis?
3. Books? Sure, I love reading. I've read Mein Kampf, the Necronomicon, and Barney Goes To The Opera.
4. Oh, I'm all for equal rights. Once we kill all the *censored* and *censored*, that is.
5. Look, I'm sorry, but at least I only pick my nose. I don't eat it!
6. Yeah, thanks for introducing me to your Mom. She is so hot!
7. I've always had a thing for women with facial hair.
8. Wanna come back to my place? It is the basement of my parents house, really cool!
9. Thank you for going out with me, Jenny. Most girls usually don't want to date a Jehovah's Witness. Jenny? Um, Jenny, where are you going?
10. Yeah, I can talk about Star Trek all night long!
11. Are you pro-choice or pro-life?
12. Oh, wait, we were supposed to wear clothes?
13. I have that same dress at home!
14. Mind if I take your picture for my wall of dates?
15. Wow, what I day. I've really been a bad boy. Will you spank me?
16. Can I borrow a twenty?
17. We need to cut dinner short. I need to run home and catch The Apprentice.
18. Around my waist? Just a suicide bomb. But don't worry, we can have dinner first!
19. Would you mind putting on this wig for me? It well help you look just like my ex wife.
20. Do you want me to buy you dinner now, or should I just hand you the money directly and have sex right away?

The class liked #14 the best.

After another fun warm-up of Snap Catch, we performed a bunch of ten second scenes (enough for around three lines) based on suggestions from last week. One scene that went really well was where lipstick was found on my collar, and I admitted I was dating a Clown.

More scenes were performed, but this time Pj would call out who would be in them, and the duration was variable.

To relax, we did another Hold the Line game. This time it was “Last Line Dying.” Mine was of the President saying, “I’m perfectly fine. There is nothing wrong with me. Everything is great…”

For the rest of the class we performed some montages, monologues, and ended with transformation montage. By the end I think we finally hit our stride, and I enjoyed the scenes we were doing.

One of the last scenes was of Mayor (Russ) Woods, who was perfect and pompous in everyway. At the end, I actually rapped. Yes, me. Now, I was channeling Weird Al spoofing Eminem, but hey, you get your muse wherever you can.

We ended with a nice relaxing game of switch.

For this class I showed up in my Halloween costume (I had a party right after class). At least it was Captain Reynolds (from the movie Serenity). I’ve worn far more, um, interesting costumes in the past.

• One blackout
• Beats for the news interviewing an Iraqi ice cream man. Different views of the same event when covered by different networks.
• Beats for some other good scenes that we did that day, such as Elves, Mayor Woods, Wordsmiths, Big Bird Flu, and Cheating with a Clown.
• I should write three characters for Mike. This is a priority.

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 3 - Saturday, 5 November 2005

Jenny Hagel, another mainstage performer, was our substitute teacher today. That means I’ve been taught by all but one of them! Although, I only had Shawn for one class (maybe two? I should look it up, but I’m too sleepy right now…), but that still counts.

We started with a blackout parade. Here was mine:

Father and son (3 years old) playing on an Xbox (separate controllers):
F: Okay son, are you ready.
S: I'm ready Daddy!
F: Keep your arms open, good...good, pull to your chest, yes, you did it!
Mom (walking in, in a happy voice): And what are my guys doing?
S: I'm playing catch with Daddy!

Then as there were people missing early one (and still one missing the entire time), we wrote extra characters (our homework) and blackouts. I ended up writing three characters for Wendy. Usually it takes me twenty minutes to flesh out a character. In class I did three in fifteen.

We got some good tips for our blackouts. Always name them. That way we can easily refer to the later. More importantly, don’t name them with the blowline. That way we can still talk about the scenes without giving anything away.

All of us chose one character to play and we warmed up with a space walk. That was followed by individual character interviews. I don’t know why, but that is one of my favorite things to do. It is probably just as much fun to ask the questions, but I really like the spontaneity of what character details come out of the blue.

For example, my first character was an old Irish man named Patrick who hangs out in a pub, fought in WW II, and has three sons who have kids of their own. I talked about my wife who passed away and my grandkids. When asked if I had a job before the War, I said that I was a boxer, and described a bit about how it wasn’t with gloves, and much rougher than it is today, like street fighting. All in my Irish accent (thanks Mom!).

Jenny then asked, "You have a secret that no one in the pub knows, what is it?"

I responded "Ah lassie, I wouldn't be comfortable telling ye. Do ye promise not to tell?"

"It will be just between us"

At this point I really don’t know what it was, but I opened my mouth and said, “Well, I’m shamed to admit it, but I'm a bit partial to that Regis and Kathy Lee on the telly."

It was *very* funny, but it also rang really true. That is something Patrick would have as a secret.

Even better, though, is the acceptance that happens with these characters. Two of the guys in class picked female characters. (Not me, which I know 99% of you will find odd. Deal.). What was amazing was that during the scenes, and afterwards while discussing them, everyone was just interacting with them as if they were women.

That is one of the joys of improv: total acceptance. If I am in a scene and I say (not always with words – it can be determined in the scene) that I am dwarf psychic who escaped from jail (that is, I’m a small medium at large), that is totally accepted by the other players and we continue the scene from there.

So, these men were accepted as women, and no one batted an eye.

I know quite a number of people who want to be something they aren’t, want their outside to match their inside, want to change themselves, or even just want to try new things. And through improv, we get to do all of that, and every other person in the scene will automatically accept who you are. Not only that, they will build on that.

It is incredibly liberating. Bam, you are an old Irish man. Bam, you are an artist in New York who is getting her first break. Bam, you are a waitress. Bam, you are a coal miner. Bam Bam, you are Pebbles Flintstone.

Totally accepted.

What an amazing thing.

To do a bunch of scenes, we performed The Placebo Effect: monologues, then scenes with various characters based on the one we chose (using the essence of that character), then end with a monologue. The first one we did was very good, and we weren’t worried about how to interact with the odd characters. Instead we just thought, “Hey, this will be interesting!”

The second time didn’t go as well, but it was still fun, and Jenny helped us mix up the characters and really stretch the situations.

One final bit of advice that we got was to only walk into an ongoing scene when it directly supports the scene.

More blackouts next week!

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 4 - Saturday, 12 November 2005

Traffic was really backed up on Grand River. It took me ten minutes to make it five blocks, so I was there with two minutes to spare, as opposed to twelve minutes if things had been normal. I rush up to the room and…

No one is there.

Ten minutes later, no one is there.

People start trickling in. Apparently there is a huge amount of construction on I-96, and traffic is backed up all the way to the Second City training center in Chicago.

The last person arrived over an hour late. But that doesn’t matter, because all of us were there, and we had an awesome class.

First, we did eleven blackouts. Yup, eleven. Many of them were funny. My shoe one didn’t not go over nearly as well as I thought it would, but others were fine. Here is one that worked…

Father and son (3 years old) playing on an Xbox (separate controllers):
F: Okay son, are you ready.
S: I'm ready Daddy!
F: Keep your arms open, good...good, pull to your chest, yes, you did it!
Mom (walking in, in a happy voice): And what are my guys doing?
S: I'm playing catch with Daddy!

Then we did some more World’s Worst first date lines. Highly cringe worthy. Here are mine:

1. There are some venereal diseases that can easily be cured.
2. We should eat quickly. The mothership is going to pick me up soon.
3. Wow, this tastes just like human flesh!
4. Will you be my mommy?
5. I bet that my panties are prettier than yours. Wanna see?

As a break, we did an actual Improv game: Press Conference. A news subject is suggested, and two people are interviewed by the audience with questions after they give an opening statement. The two people are directly responsible for the tragedy (such as the Giant Evil Robot), and must answer with full sentences, no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. They should always try to make the situation first.

Next we did something I thought was in our past. Pj handed us a newspaper and said, “30 minutes, 6 scenes, 3 blackouts. You know the drill.”

We did it! Some pretty good scenes and blackouts, and some of them we are going to work on for homework.

And we have lots of homework again. Mine is:

1. Write a blackout (as usual).
2. Email Pj all the beat sheets by Thursday.
3. Write up “Posse Health Insurance.”
4. Bring top five World’s Worst, plus one horrible one.
5. Write up a beat sheet for a scene from last week. I’ll do “Nurse drawing blood.”
6. Some concept for Senate Hearing.
7. Some concept for other scenic improv scenes.

Senate Hearing? Oh, right. One of our scenes was a chess playing boy who was before Senate for doping. We need to think of some way to improve that game.

And you can’t spell “improve” without “improv.”

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 5 - Saturday, 19 November 2005

Well, this was an odd class.

We started off with our blackouts, and Wendy wrote one were one guys says to the other, “It is colder than a witch’s tit today!” The other turns to the girl (Wendy) next to him, grabs her breast, and says, “Hmm, no, it isn’t.”

So I said, “It is colder than a Ph.D.’s penis today!” And, of course, someone (I’m not going to say who, but it wasn’t Wendy, damn it) walked over and grabbed my crotch and said, “No, it isn’t.”

Later that night I had my wife fondle me twice as compensation.

(Hey, you chose to read this. I’m not forcing anyone.)

Later I got to do my Hot4Math scene, composed of monologues and beats of how I get turned on by women who really know mathematics. It went over very well! One of the scenes has me at a strip club getting a lap dance by a woman who is talking higher order math to me. Very funny, and I got two lap dances out of it.

And in yet another scene I was pulled out as a dead guy, and hugged by one of the guys while on the floor, with his knee in my groin.

Ah, the life of an improviser.

For our warm-ups we snapped, and then performed some of our World’s Worst First Date lines.

We are working on our Level 4 show, and the scenes we may do are titled: 50 cent, Fire Me, Tattoo, Hot4Math, Mad Cow, Karaoke, Eulogy, and Posse. We also did a new scene entitled Star Wars, where I ended up a kid at a Star Wars convention slowly turning towards the dark side. We had a fight, and when my arm was hit I stopped the fight so I could “roll for damage.”

A good tip from Pj is that we need to slow down our scenes, and fill in the beats. We jump right to the ‘funny’ without fleshing anything out.

After the break, we ran through some scenes, and did Posse as just a normal scene without the funny to get a feel for how to make it flow.

We skip next week due to the holidays.

Oh, here are my blackouts:

Job Dissatisfaction:
Person 1: I'm telling you, I can't stand my job. There is no sense of excitement or adventure. Same dull activities day in and day out. I need to experience a sense of wonder in my work!
Person 2: That sounds awful. Where do you work now?
Person 1: NASA.

Person 1 (writing numbers slowly on paper): 3. 10. 5. 38. Hmm...12...
Person 2: Figuring out lottery numbers?
Person 1: Nah. It is a pool for guessing how many years in jail Scooter Libby will get. Want in?

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 6 - Saturday, 3 December 2005

We did four blackouts. Here is mine:

Man 1: I’m stuffed. I couldn’t eat another thing!
Person 2: What are you going to do with all that extra food on your plate?
Man 1: Ah, just throw it away. We’re Americans!

We then did two different shows made up of seven scenes, and used that to try to figure out what scenes we’d do four our Level 4 class show.

We also had to pick our favorite top three Worst Date lines.

Oh, and I had to find a cow costume.

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 7 - Saturday, 10 December 2005

Everyone was at class! Yay! I even secured a cow costume.

We did seven new blackouts. Here is mine:

Person 1 is like a TSA employee at an Airport, waving a wand over person 2.
Person 1: Are you carrying a laptop, Sir?
Person 2: No.
Person 1: Empty your pockets here. (roots through the stuff) Any knives or box cutters?
Person 2: No.
Person 1: Have you had your possessions totally under your supervision?
Person 2: Yes.
Person 1: Okay. Bride’s side or Groom’s?

We figured out a running order for the show, went through it, reworked it, cut some things, and did it a few more times.

For the last and final class, we had to be totally off book. We also needed to tighten it up. As is, our show was 55 minutes long.

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Week 8 - Saturday, 17 December 2005

For this class, we practice our show three times. Lots of notes. Lots of things to work on. That class was pretty intense, but a ton of fun. We tried hard to tighten things. The show would be at 7:25 or so, and we had to be there at 6 PM, wearing dark pants and a dark shirt.

I’m kinda unsure where I’m going to go from here, with respect to my Improv work. Unlike the younger students, I can’t give it what it takes to try to make it as a full time performer. I am almost 40 years old, with a wonderful wife and amazing two kids. The job I have is good and supports them in the lifestyle we want.

While I offered to be a stand-in and perform with them occasionally, that didn’t work out. Furthermore, the original group the class made, Weird and Uncomfortable, is officially dead and deceased.

We had a show on the Thursday after our class show at the Inferno, and only three of us showed up. We went on, and frankly it wasn’t too bad. But really, it is dead.

Oddly, I wasn’t concerned about the performance at all. I still remember my first show at the Inferno and how nervous I was. For that last show, I went on and just had fun, trying odd things and greatly enjoying myself. I even stayed later, watched the other shows, and then did the Hot Sauce bit (which ended, dangit) – a time when anyone in the audience can sign up and do random scenes.

But anyway, I need to figure out what to do. I have one more class, and then I bet I won’t be improvising with this group anymore. There are some people I know (and have recently met) that might for the basis of a group. If we can center around the Inferno, that might work out. I also (with great thanks to Pj) developed a one person show that I want to keep developing. I am performing that on January 5th at the Inferno. All by myself, up on stage do improv. The good news is that the people at the Inferno really are a great audience. So as long as I don’t completely suck I should do fine.

Now I’m getting nervous again!

I can also take some classes at the Inferno. That might help me to meet more people in my area. There is also a commedia troupe in Ann Arbor. They had open auditions a year ago. Depending on my schedule, that might be a fun thing to do. There are also plenty of other performance areas throughout the Detroit area. I’m just feeling kind of alone now.

There is always my medieval club (the SCA). I could go all out doing Improv and Commedia there. I guess the thing is while I can only do this to the level of a very favorite hobby, I still want to grow, improve, and perform. When I started out entertaining, it was as a juggler and Jester, doing some shows that way. Improvisation puts that all in the dust. Doing scenes with people who I trust to support me is one of the greatest and most fun activities I can do in public. There must be a way of making it work.

Convervatory Program, Level 4, Final Performance - 7 PM, 20 December 2005

Here is our show. An ‘*’ means that it is a blackout. We also figured out the blocking, and went through the T’s and B’s (tops and bottoms of each scene) to make sure it hen okay.

* Pet – W, C, G
* Combo – R, M
* Fema – Chr, W
Posse – Cast
* Airport - Cast
* Dracula – Chr, C
Math – C, W
* Larry King – R, Chr, G
* Pick me up – G, Chr
Tattoo – G, M
* Airport 2 - cast
Fire Me – C, W, M, G, Chr
* Boots – C, W
Mad Cow – Chr, R
* Statue – W, M
* Airport 3 - cast
Worse Dates – Cast
Hurricane – Cast

It went well! I was surprised that I got good laughs for my Boots blackout. The Math one started well, but I think we didn’t talk loud enough. We got laughs, but that could have gone better. I loved Worse Dates: We all did three with Wendy listening (she started off with a monologue), and then she did one for each of us. I’m very interested to see how different the final show will be.

Then again, I still don’t know who is teaching the next class! This class was awesome. Thank you Pj – you are a fantastic teacher.

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 1 - Saturday, 7 January 2006

Pj is our Level 5 teacher! Yes!!!

First thing he tells is that we are going to have even more homework for this class. Yes!!

Actually, that is fine by me. Having a ton of homework means I basically get to hone my improvisational skills more. The downside is it takes away from me playing World of Warcraft, but hey, sacrifices must be made.

For our Level 5 show, we will be adding one or two song and dance numbers. That means that we need to write songs. Ack! That is what my friend Mike, from high school, excelled at, not me. But I’ll try.

Some advice that we got:
• Stay away from parody (which is a shame, because my first idea was a parody – I think I’ll write it up anyway).
• A scene should be a song when the only way to get out all of the emotion is to sing it.
• A song should have just once concept, character, and point of view.
• A strong PoV doesn’t mean it has to be important and life shattering.
• Take a song, pull out the lyrics and add in your own words, character, and point of view. That way the meter and such is already built in.
• A intro can be scripted for the song.

We were also handled a sample script format that we should use when writing, well, scripts. They should be between four and ten pages (usually just six).

As a warmup, we revisited Bippity Bopity Boo! Pj played with us, and we tried to go as fast as we could. Also, we could make up a “thing” for a person to act out, and the center person and two sides and to come up with something in the ten seconds. The center person had to speak, and the sides had to be mirroring each other. So people yelled out Judge, Astronaut, and 50 Cent. For me, I got Shatner! I was so happy that I did a great impression, and when done I look down and see Pj and Garrett both doing my frozen impression that I did before. I lost it and couldn’t stop laughing for at least five minutes, drooling on the ground and unable to stop. Ah, that felt good.

Before the break, we walked around brainstorming some suggestions of topics: world news topics, and persona fears / important items.

After the break we did my blackouts:

Road Kill
A couple enters and sits down, commenting that they are at this restaurant for the first time, heard great things about it, etc.
Waiter comes over: Welcome to the Road Kill Café! We serve our regular fare of possum, rat, and deer. Our specials today are Bush’s Social Security plan, the Democratic Party Leadership, and a Balanced Budget. May I start you off with an appetizer of Family Values?

Love Life
A man is lying down, flat as a board. A woman is lying next to him, waking up in the morning all bright, cheerful, and happy after being satisfied the night before.
Woman: Oh honey, last night was wonderful! This is the best thing that could have happened to our marriage. We never fight. You never leave the toilet seat up anymore. You finally have quit smoking. Even sex has been better than ever since you’ve been dead.

Then we did a bunch of short scenes. Once Pj reminded us to come in with characters, emotions, and strong PoVs, I felt I really got on the ball. I loved pretty much every scene I was in, and had a blast!

So why can’t I do that without being reminded?

• One blackout per week.
• Write a song.
• Write a script based on the nuggets of one of the scenes. I was instructed to write up the St. Patrick’s Day scene (where we parody the “Merry Christmas” vs “Happy Holidays” debate). I should probably tinker with it the least. I like the ended I prov’d: “Happy Easter!”

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 2 - Saturday, 14 January 2006

In this class, I did something that, when other people do it, really ticks me off. As I handed in my homework, I started to put it down, saying it wasn’t good and that I was disappointed.

Pj, rightly, told us that a rule is to never do that. We should give the class a chance to view our work without any bias. Who knows? They might like it, or, if it is as bad as you think, they might not. But it is their decision, and you never know what pieces of something others may find that will grow into something good.

I’ll try not to do that. It was tough. Right before we went over my work I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from saying anything negative.

We reviewed our songs. I had two. I liked what the others wrote, a lot, and was very impressed. More, I liked how we talked about the songs and made suggestions (most of the from Pj, but we all participated) in how we could make them better, or their utility in the show, etc.

The first one of mine was called “Reverend Robertson.” I wrote a parody of “Mrs. Robinson.”

And here's to you, Reverend Robertson,
Jesus was a guest star on your show (you're no schmo!),
So don't get cross, Reverend Robertson,
Don't send me to Hell for what I say.
I'm not gay!
Hey, hey, hey...

We'd like to know a little more about you and your wiles
We'd like to help you learn to see yourself
Look around you, can’t you see that all you tell are lies
Broadcasting filth into far too many homes

And here's to you, Reverend Robertson
Satan loves you more than you will know (Wo, wo, wo)
You don’t speak for God, Reverend Robertson
He loves us all no matter what you say
(Hey, hey, hey...hey, hey, hey)

Calling for assassinations to support your vile cause
Saying God will punish those you hate
It’s not a secret, just the Robertson’s platform
Most of all, you make Al Qaeda seem quite sane

Coo, coo, ca-choo, Reverend Robertson
The far Right loves you and your wicked show (Wo, wo, wo)
They are your guests, Reverend Robertson
And you support criminals much to our dismay
(Hey, hey, Tom Delay)

Preaching from your puplit Sunday afternoon
Going to your Presidential debate
Decry about it, shout about it
Don’t justify your views
Ev'ry way you look at it, you lose

Where are the Moral Politicians
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you (Boo hoo hoo)
What's that you say, Reverend Robertson
They are damned and with you they’ll no longer play
(Hey, hey, hey...What’d you say?)

Now, Pj said not to write parodies. But that seems to be the first thing that pops into my head. The class liked it. However, we are pretty sure we’ll be doing a full scene on him, so we’ll just use this for ideas.

The other song I called “The Great Debate.” It is based on the song, “Summer Loving” from the musical Grease.

A: Evolution: it’s very sound.
B: Intelligent Design: is more profound.
A: Man from apes is more than theory.
B: The hand of God, is all I can see.
Both: This debate, of Church versus State, oh and, we know we are right!

Tell me more, tell me more
B: Life is far too complex
Tell me more, tell me more
A: Life changes from sex

A: The environment, it is what causes strife
B: Specified complexity, is the basis of life
A: Evolution Theory, the data we refine
B: Through our faith, we detect His design.
Both: And it’s free, this publicity, oh and, we know we are right!

Tell me more, tell me more
A: Are you from the far right?
Tell me more, tell me more
B: You and Satan are tight!

B: The Bible has the proof that we need.
A: That’s not science, and we won’t conede.
B: Our children must see all point of view
A: Yours belongs at Church in the pews.
Both: In the news, we win and we lose, but oh, we know we are right!

Tell me more, tell me more
B: We have Bush in our fold!
Tell me more, tell me more
A: Our facts are like gold!

B: Intelligent Design should be taught in a class
A: But it’s for church, like during a mass
B: We will win, God’s on our side
A: We have proof, with Darwin our guide
Throughout the night, both sides scream and fight, but oh, we know we are right.

Tell me more, tell me more
A: Its just a religious fad
Tell me more, tell me more
B: Quiet or you’ll make God very mad!

B: Went to court, that’s where it ends.
A: And the voters, their will transcends.
B: They voted out the support of our cause
A: They understood, Design has its flaws
B: Biblical dreams, ripped at the seams, but, ah,
A&B: We still all believe in God!
Tell me more, Tell me more.

Pj’s comment was, “I really like this. But I hate parodies!” Pj and I sang it together, with me as A and him as B, and the rest of the group did the background vocals. This class is awesome. I was surprised that they liked this one, especially more than the other song. Go figure. We’ll come back to it later, as we aren’t quite sure what to do with it.

During our conversation, I learned about a technique called “The Stranger.” It has nothing to do with improv. I had never heard of it before. Odd are the things we discuss in class.

We also reviewed are scenes, and I got a ton of notes on my “St. Patrick’s Day” skit. Basically, three people enter an Irish bar and get all ticked off at the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, similar to the way the news reported that people got offended at being wished a Merry Christmas. I need to figure out how to heighten it, but I’m not quite sure how. My homework is to rewrite it based on the comments I got.

After the break, we did some improvising (montage, and the switch). There wasn’t much we could mine from it for a comical show, but he scenes themselves were quite good, and we got some homework from it.

So, homework for next week:

• Rewrite our scenes and songs. For me, just the scene. Two ideas that people took from our scenes: two person singing group becomes four person quartet (with sexual undertones going from couple to a group dynamic), and woman picks fights for husband.
• Write five taboo premises. An example: two for one sale at the abortion clinic. Push the envelope as far as we can.
• Write down five locations that we have never seen on an improv comedy stage. He’s got to be kidding. This is going to be tough without being really specific (ex: Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom when he was five years old).
• Write a premise for each of the following topics: Pat Robertson, Intelligent Design, The Press Conference, and Bring Your Kid To Work.
• Extra credit: think about creating a scenic improv game. No one has done this successfully for Level 5.

That extra credit would be fun to do.

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 3 - Saturday, 21 January 2006

For this class, we jumped right into creating some scenes. Pj split us up into two groups. My group worked with our premises (all the ones from homework) to come up with six scenes. The other group of three was given a newspaper and had to create scenes (as was done in earlier classes). We could use people from the entire class, and were given a half hour to work.

I’m now going to list the premises that I worked on for my homework. What you, the reader, needs to realize, especially with respect to the taboo premises, is that I didn’t write them to be funny. I did just what our teacher asked us to do: really stretch and cross the line to areas we wouldn’t normally go. I don’t think the below are funny. However, by going beyond, it might be possible to create scenes in non-highly-offensive areas that one would have never thought of before.

The irony is that when people hear or read these premises, sometimes they actually do laugh a bit. Not because it is funny, but because of the shock at what has been thought of. So I don’t advocate any of the premises below. However, I do take full responsibility for them.

Enough of this. Here they are. Make of them what you will.

Five Taboo Premises:
1. Republican Party Slave Auction and Presidential Fundraiser. First slave up for auction: Colin Powell.
2. A children’s hot tub party with Michael Jackson.
3. A delicatessen in Auschwitz that specializes in smoked Kosher meats.
4. Judas having a necrophilia affair with a dead-on-the-cross Jesus.
5. Fat camp for anorexic girls who want to loose those last five ounces.

Five Locations Never Seen on an Improv Stage Before:
1. Airline uniform store.
2. Water reclamation plan.
3. Amish Buggy Dealership
4. Tapeworm convention inside a human stomach.
5. Iranian Nation Organization for Women Headquarters

Premises for:

Pat Robertson. He’s President of the United States. Various crises in the world comes up, he makes a pronouncement in his typical bigoted fundamentalist way. His advisors all support him and go through with what he wants while the world crumbles around him.

Intelligent Design. Hospitals are now run by intelligent design, where modern diseases and problems are diagnosed, but only biblical cures are allowed.

The Press Conference. Martian politicians deny the invasion of space probes from Earth.

Bring Your Kid to Work. Father brings his daughter to work. He’s a cop going undercover as a female prostitute to find a meth house. He’s the innocent one and she’s the one who knows her way around.

The Newspaper group came up with six scenes:
1. Free Tickets. The entire cast. Someone has tickets he wants to give away, and the rest of us offer more and more to get them. Would probably work better as an EBO, with the reveal at the end.
2. Hostages. For three people, based on the hostage in Iraq.
3. Ford. A town meeting where the Ford Motor Company doesn’t just shut down the Wixom plant, but the entire town itself. For the cast, with most of us in the audience.
4. Muslim Comedy. Auditions for Last Comic Standing. The Newspaper team were the judges, while we other three were contestants. I went on last, and used some jokes that I heard from some Arabic American comedians (ex: At the airport, she asked me where I was heading, and I responded, “I have a one-way ticket to Paradise my friend!”). So what gets the most laughs? I modify a joke I stole from my friend DeForest. Did you hear the one about the one armed terrorist? He made an explosion this (hold out just one hand, not the two that is needed) big!
5. Glory Road. Pitching ideas for sports movies.
6. Monkeys. Date at restaurant between two quadriplegics. Monkeys move their bodies for them. It was an okay scene, but nothing at all happened. Okay, maybe it wasn’t an okay scene.

The group I was in came up with five scenes and one EBO (extended blackout):
1. Standup. Based off of ‘bring your son to work day.’ A standup comedian brings his son to work and rips into him. The boy then goes on stage and does an even better job.
2. God Buddies. Jesus, Vishnu (me!), and Zeus are in a bar, discussing all the catastrophes they brought to earth. Next time it should be a game of one-upmanship. Think of it as god’s airport bar. Also, we could do “magic” object work as an undergame.
3. Tape worms. A tape-worm convention in John Madden’s stomach. For the entire cast.
4. US Mint. For the entire cast, a tour guide of the mint where the people there have pointed views about US monetary policy.
5. Pat Robertson. He’s at dinner with George Bush, Laura, Cheney, and two guards. He talks nonsense as usual, and everyone laughs. That is, until he comments very gently that the wiretapping might be going a bit too far. That is when the Secret Service kills him. This was the EBO.
6. Amish Buggy Dealership. By a new buggy from a buggy dealer that acts just like a modern slimy car dealer.

We still need a good Pat Roberson scene. A full one, not an EBO.

We also learned about the type of improvisation game that Pj was looking for. It was a plug and play kind of scene, with an intro followed by a bunch of scenelets. It should be as non top-of-improv game as possible. That is, don’t let the audience really know they are in an improv game, they should be part of the show.

For homework I came up with two improv games, but they didn’t satisfy the criteria. Frankly, I’m not sure how to satisfy the criteria without just changing the genre of the Superhero type scene that Pj gave us. I’ll think on it.

But anyway, here are there two improv games I made up.

Cradle to Grave. Follow a person throughout his entire life. Pick various points, like grade school, high school, college, marriage, job, midlife crisis, second job, retirement, death. Could include any other major events. We could get suggestions from the audience about major events in a person’s life, then improv the story of their life, from birth to death, around them. The questions don’t have to be major events, but still illuminate possibilities (ex: please tell me a reason to break up with someone; what is the worst job in the world?; what is one law you would like to break?). One person plays the main character throughout his/her life. Everyone else in the cast plays all the people the main person interacts with. Sometimes there are recurring characters.

First date. A man and a woman are on their first date. It is awkward, but they try to make a go of it. Freeze is called and two people come out to talk to the audience: one for the man and one for the woman. The assistants get suggestions from the audience on how to change the date. Things like:
• Can I have a food allergy?
• May I have a prejudice please?
• How old is the man?
• What does she do for a living?
• What is the next thing the woman says?
The assistants get one suggestion each, then step back and those are incorporated into the scene. This is done a few times, will all the suggestions kept (like in emotional-option). Finally, the audience gets to decide, through applause, whether the date ends on a positive or a negative note, and the scene finishes.

I like the second one better. The class liked both of them, but many liked the first one better. I wonder if I’ll ever have the chance to use them somewhere. They were fun to create!

We had no time for blackouts. We’ll do them next week. Our only homework was to keep working on writing our scenes and flesh out the ideas.

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 4 - Saturday, 28 January 2006

We started off with our blackouts. I had quite a few…

Birds and Bees
Son: Daddy, how did I get a sister?
Dad: Wow, I wasn’t expecting this talk for years! I mean, you’re only eight. Well, Jimmy, um….when a mommy and a daddy love each other, they work together create their children, like you and Sarah, who they love very very much.
Son: So only a mommy and a daddy can do this?
Dad: Yes, that’s right.
Son (looks, gets up, and starts to leave): Okay. Thanks Dad.
Dad (calling him back): Wait…why did you want to know?
Son: Well, I pushed Sarah down the stairs, and I was trying to figure out how to replace her without you finding out.

The Stranger
Len: Oh, hey, Joe! How are you doing? Why are you looking so, as you say, glum?
Joe: I tried out that new masturbation technique that you told me about, Len. You know, “The Stranger”?
Len: Oh yes! It is very fun! Where you make your arm and hand numb before you, as you say, get to work!
Joe: Yes, that’s it.
Len: So what is the problem?
Joe: I think I did it backwards.

Person #1: I don’t feel very good.
Person #2 feels up person #1: You feel just fine to me!

Honestly, I’m trying for very stupid blackouts. When I told Pj this, he said that is fine. I think too much on a smart level, so trying to be idiotic puts me in a fun place. It is odd, though, that the ones I write that I think are just incredibly stupid are the ones that get the best laughs.

We improved four scenes: Free Ticket, Hostages, Monkeys, and God Buddies. I wasn’t really happy with those scenes. They started low and just went nowhere. We also did a scene called “Classroom,” where the substitute teacher is a Priest, who twists everything around with religious reasoning.

That didn’t go far either.

The best part of the class was when we started brainstorming about some ideas, and we came up with “The West Virginia Mime Tragedy.” The ideas really started flowing then, and I got homework to make a set of scenes from that.

We decided to have some classes starting at 11 AM.

So, my homework:
• Two movie trailers, a paragraph each.
• Write the substitute priest teacher scene.
• Blow line for tickets.
• Three bits for the hostage bloopers.
• Write up Mime Tragedy scene(s).
• Think up some show titles.
• Work on Improv games.

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 5 - Saturday, 4 February 2006

I didn’t do any homework.

I don’t know. I was a bit blah about improv. I wasn’t up to doing the hostage scenes, and quite honestly, the scenes we were doing lately kinda sucked. Which is odd, because on stage I am fine, and the group of three in my class who have their own troupe (Idiot Savants) don’t have that problem either.

We talked about it before class, and then with Pj. He noticed it too, and gave us some advice. He reminded us that we do know what we are doing, and sometimes classes do get into funks. We have been focusing on getting scenes and materials, getting in our heads because we want things to be perfect and such.

He had two more methods to get us back into doing good scenes, and he only needed one.

After one of our “everything including the kitchen sink” warm-ups, we played three games:
• Grandmaster. One person is in all the scenes, and the backline does a separate (but continuing scene) with that front person. People enter scenes using steal-a-line.
• Switch Left. Four people, four scenes of two people each where they stand in a square, and a caller calls for the scene changes (switch left or right).
• Worlds Worst. Given a subject, one person from the backline comes forward detailing something that is a horrible, yet hopefully funny, example of that subject.

Almost all of the scenes we did were awesome! One of the scenes I did was Helicopter, where Wendy was a student and I was a rough guy who felt that girls can’t fly – a pathetic womanizer. I broke down in the middle, parents never liked me, etc. She is totally sure of herself, but freaks out when we are low on gas. This was during Grandmaster. What made it work was that when I jumped back into that scene, I’d time jump it and have a totally different emotion, and kept it strong. I also didn’t wait for the “perfect” line. I just grabbed one and went with it. I’m going to write this scene out.

We did four more scenes (three based on what we did today): Cult leader, sex change, Oprah versus the Bible, and Proposal. I get to write Oprah versus the Bible, which is a take off of her James Frey episode. That should be fun!

My homework, which I will try to do:

• Oprah versus the Bible scene.
• Movie trailers.
• Show title.
• Helicopter scene.
• Hostage bloopers.
• Mime tragedy scene(s).

That should keep me busy on my trip to the East Coast. Hmm, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ll write about hostage scenes while on an airplane.

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 6 - Saturday, 11 February 2006

I was only at class for an hour, and only three other students were there anyway. I had auditioned at the Improv Inferno for the Monster Machine II. I didn’t get in (13 our of 40 did). I didn’t know that at the time of class, but I felt I had done pretty well. The class itself, though, really got me into the improvisational groove. It is a shame the audition wasn’t after class!

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 7 - Saturday, 18 February 2006

All six of us were there, and on Saturday we finalized what our show would be (for the most part). I was surprised at the huge pile of work (scenes and BOs) we had accumulated. We weren’t even going to be using and of our work from our Level 4 class.

Pj also decided to add extra rehearsals. We knew that was going to happen: can’t put on a one hour show of this type with just 8 classes. Well, you can I guess, but we wanted it to be excellent, and frankly, I loved the extra rehearsals.

Tuesday and Wednesday night we met at 10:30 PM. The first night I got home at around 2:30 AM, the second at 2 AM. I had to admit, I had a blast. We practiced our song over and over, and learned the blocking for the corny dance. At one point I had this huge grin on my face. I realized that there was nothing I would rather be doing than practicing for these shows, and doing improv. It was such a treat. I didn’t care how late I was staying up. It was worth it!

Poor Wendy had a 2.5 hour drive home each night. I don’t know how she handled it.

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Week 8 - Saturday, 25 February 2006

We didn’t have a Saturday practice. We did have another Tuesday (7 PM to 10 PM) and Wednesday (8 PM until 1 AM) practice. More of the same, except this time we had to be as off book as possible.

Tuesday we didn’t have a room. We practiced in the lobby for a bit, then went to a nearby Irish bar to read through the rest of the scenes, go over T&Bs, and figure out props. We all stayed afterwards to hang out for a few hours. I don’t think I left until Midnight. It was a nice bar, although the music was quite strange.

Wednesday was when we really got to practice. As a group we didn’t have our lines down well enough, but we definitely got in some good practice.

Saturday we did the show three times. It was the day before our performance. I think we were as prepared as we could be, but there were some things I was not happy about. Mainly, we were not getting any time on the main stage to practice the full show. Either on Saturday (there were other class shows, and then Main Stage had the performance space), and on Sunday we didn’t get use of the theater before the performance.

I think it is a bit unacceptable to not have such access to practice our show. Sure, we got a half hour practice of our song and dance (thank goodness) and one run through of T&Bs, but on Sunday I definitely felt like we were going in there cold.

Convervatory Program, Level 5, Performance - Sunday 5 May 2006 (Noon), Tuesday 7 May 2006 (7 PM), and Tuesday 18 April 2006 (8 PM)

I was very excited about this show. Looking back, I think it was awesome. While it wasn’t the straight improv scenes that I like doing the most, it was a very solid show, the kind I think compares to a good evening at Saturday Night Live.

The show was titled “Cheney Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down.” I can’t listen to that Carptener’s Song without thinking of my show. Here is the running order and some commentary.

• Cult Leader. We start in the audience, and Christian leads us through the scene where we are going to all kill ourselves for Xaxanadu, but none of us really believe we are going to die, and instead think it is just a fun thing to do for the evening before we go back into our lives. I liked that we started with the crowd, and we really got into the bantering and playing off of each other. During some practices we’d have tons of fun being outrageous and trying to make Christian laugh, which developed into bits that we kept for the performance.

• Parachute 1. A blackout where Mike is watching Christian and Wendy falling from a great height. Very quick.

• Lost. A blackout written by Russ. Russ: Hey, Joey, I just bought the 1st season of Lost on DVD. Garrett: Oh, yeah, Bob, how was it? Russ: Uhh … I don’t know, I can’t find it!

• Parachute 2. Still falling.

• My Dogg. A blackout written by Garrett. Garrett talks to me and I act like a puppy while he says, “Sit…beg…roll over..okay boy, go get it!” and he tosses a ball. I chase after it off stage. Russ: Dude, who was that guy? Garret: Oh him? THAT’S MY DAAAAWWWWWGGGG.

• Parachute 3. They land and die, barely missing Mike.

• Sex Change. Wendy wrote this scene about a woman who gets a sex change and comes back to work as a man. Wendy went all out with a fake mustache and, um, a cucumber. All of us were in it. I got to play the guy who was sympathetic, while most of the others couldn’t take it. It ends with her following Christian into the men’s room, with very funny off stage lines.

• State of the Union. I did a George Bush impersonation, delivering two lines about Cowboy boots (an allusion to the movie Brokeback Mountain.) I get cut off, leading into…

• Mime 1. I wrote this runner, but everyone contributed a ton. The idea came up in passing to do a “West Virginia Mime Tragedy” bit off of the mining tragedy that happened. I made it very simple and short. Garrett turned out to be amazing at mime, so he became the main one. Russ was the reporter. Everyone but he and Christian are mimes off to one side, miming being stuck in a box and terrified. At one point Christian comes along and tosses a huge yellow rope, “Everything will be okay! Grab the rope!” We, the mimes, watch the rope fall, look at each other, mime having an idea, then while leaving the rope on the stage floor, mime grabbing and pulling a rope together. “No, the real rope!” We go back to being trapped and scared.

• St. Pat’s Day. I wrote this one. It is a riff on everyone supposedly getting upset at being wished “Merry Christmas.” The media really blew that out of proportion, so we figured we should also. I got to be an Irish pub owner, with Russ, Mike, and Wendy coming to the bar and getting really offended at me wishing them a Happy St. Patrick’s Day. I got to have a fun soliloquy with them humming in the background. Some really fun bits, like Wendy pouring the beer on the ground, Mike being Jewish and trying to explain Purim, and Russ wanting nothing but beer.

• Rookie Cops. Christian wrote this buddy cop scene between him and Garrett, with them responding to a woman (Wendy – big surprise, huh?) calling in a domestic disturbance. I really liked this scene. It could have easily been superficial, and while fun (with a good callback to “My Dogg”) and a hair away from being creepy, it actually gave the cops heart and you cared about them, even while they ignored the woman and treating her like crap. I come on at the very end after the cops walk off, with her still on her knees and handcuffed, asking if dinner is ready.

• Terrorist Bloopers. This started out as Hostage Bloopers. I didn’t like that, and it turns out that none of us really liked that idea. I couldn’t write anything. Others did, but we were all uncomfortable. Pj changed it to Terrorist Bloopers and, bam, it just worked, and I think it turned out great. A bunch of quick blackouts about a director taping terrorists and stupid things happening to ruin the takes. It ends with me and Wendy singing, “I say it’s ‘i-rack’.” “I burn your house down.” “You say it’s ‘i-rock’.” “I bomb your whole town.” “It’s ‘i-rack’.” “I kill you.” “Not I’rock’.” “Your kids too.” Together: “Let’s call the whole thing off.” I had so much fun with those blackouts!

• Birds and Bees. I wrote this blackout. I was a father and Christian was asking how kids were made. I fumble through it, and then ask him why he wanted to know. The son had pushed his sister down the stairs, killing her, and wanted to replace her without me finding out. Yes, this show is a tad dark.

• Air Craft Carrier. Russ wrote this one, and we thought it would work out well. Russ, Garrett, and Mike are on an Aircraft Carrier, and their gestures cause planes to crash and burn. Unfortunately, the sound effects weren’t that good, and I think that got it lost on the audience. It was removed between the second and third shows.

• Represent. Written at the last minute by Wendy, it has her and Mike as sports reporters covering a congressional “race” like an Olympic event. I was one Senator, Garrett was the really polished junior Senator who won, Russ was the guys in the elevator, and Christian was the female secretary who slaps me but gives Garrett her number. This worked best the straighter and faster it is played. It took a while, but I think it turned out okay. I had a bit where I had to fumble a cup of coffee, and I just couldn’t get it right.

• Tentacles. I was allowed to write a throw away scene and make it as odd and warped as possible. And so…Christian: My tentacles are all dry and pasty! Me: Bloooop, blooop….bloooop…that is because you’ve been mining hydrogen all night long! (End scene.) We get cut off by Russ, leading into….

• Mime 2. Garrett, as a mime, has tons of brain damage and is still acting like a Mime. Russ is still the reporter at the news desk, and Mike is the reporter on the scene. I’m the Doctor.

• Wire Tap. Garrett wrote this one, where he and Russ are roommates concerned about their apartment being wire tapped. I am the government agent trying to do just that, and I pretend to be a repair person, a plumber, a stripper and a girl scout. Mike is there as a pizza delivery guy, who gets beat up by them because they don’t believe him. I then beat them up in a Shatneresque manner, start to tap, and realize I’m in the wrong apartment. One night I kicked Russ on the way out, and it was so well taken we kept that bit in.

• Meta-BO. Wendy wrote this stripped down version of a blackout between her and Garrett. “Normal opening line.” “Question or statement setting up the punch line.” ‘Final statement with a twist making the whole thing hilarious!” The improvisers in the audience appreciated that.

• Helicopter. I wrote this one where I’m a misogynistic prick of an airplane instructor and Wendy is the student who I hit on. This might be the favorite scene of mine that I wrote. The creepier I played the guy, the better the whole scene went. So every performance I’d just get worse and worse without going overboard, and it made it worked well, I think. I took bits from my real life (ex: I do make a mean scrambled eggs and salami, with lots of butter and meat) along with things I’d never say to a woman, ever. Wendy blowing up at the end was perfect. An odd fact: it is called Helicopter, but it takes place in an airplane. That is because it first took place in a helicopter, and although the location changed, you rarely change the name of a scene no matter what happens.

• MIR. The three wise men (Garrett, Mike, and Russ) come out with gifts for the baby Jesus, but while Garrett brings gold, and Mike brings Frankincense, Russ is confused and brings out the space station MIR. I got some help and had made a HUGE replica of MIR, held together by string and duct tape. How it survived all three shows is beyond me. I’m not sure what happened to it, but if anyone in the class becomes famous, I’m sure it will show up on eBay.

• The Line Up. Mike wrote this way over the top scene of all the guys talking it up about women and things. We could not get through a rehearsal of this without laughing our heads off. The things I said I’m still amazed at, and won’t reproduce them here. Out of context it just doesn’t work. We talk horribly about women, and it is revealed that we are all standing together right before the bride walks down the isle.

• Mime 3. Russ finished us the blackout, and Mike interviews Garrett who has fully recovered, and after miming about how terrible it all was, says that he is going to run for Congress.

• Deliver Us our Death. Wendy wrote out song, and thank goodness she did too because, well, we had nothing, and her song was great. Pj wrote us a bridge from Mime 3 to the song, and the song tied the whole show together. Pj also choreographed it, and as I wrote before, I was thrilled with practicing it. Tons of fun. But the song, with the music by John Edwartowski, was a fantastic end to the show. I want to share it now:

Verse 1:
There’s so many things to be
Concerned about today
Safety’s just a myth,
Impending doom is on the way

We’re just a bunch of ants
Who are about to get the squish
Just let our death be fast,
That’s our only final wish

Chorus 1:
Because there’s bird flu, SARS, no oil for cars
And ice caps melting fast
The Middle East will have no peace
The good guys come in last

Our politics are on the fritz
The whole world holds its breath,
While tidal waves and mining caves
Deliver us our death

Verse 2:
It used to be so easy
To enjoy your life each day
Till CNN informed us
“Disaster’s on the way”

Now every lurking shadow’s
Never taken as a joke
It might just be a mugger
Or an unexpected stroke

Chorus 2:
Because there’s oil spills and smog that kills
Osama’s on the loose
We’re smoking rock around the clock an
Guns will cook our goose

The murder trials and pedophiles
Make us fret and frown
While thieves take our identities
Our ship is going down

The terrorists are coming (Something’s gotta give)
The terror level’s simple (Based on roy g biv)
Green and blue are low but (It’s rising up to yellow)
It’s going to get higher (Who’s that Arab fellow)
Fighting all around us (Now it’s level orange)
A new tape from Bin Laden (Nothing rhymes with orange)
Bomb scare in the subway (Terror level’s red)
We suspect all Muslims (With turbans on their head)
They’ll poison all our water (Death is almost certain)
And slaughter us for Allah (We’ve reached the final curtain)

Because there’s quakes and AIDS and hand grenades,
And shooting in our schools
Pollution chokes, our country’s broke
We kill ourselves with booze

We won’t survive to forty-five
But even if we do
Our kids will soon be able to
Remove our feeding tube

Because there’s bird flu, SARS, no oil for cars
And ice caps melting fast
The Middle East will have no peace
The good guys come in last

Our politics are on the fritz
The whole world holds its breath,
While tidal waves and mining caves
Deliver us our death
Deliver us our death

The first show, on a Sunday at Noon, went pretty well. I have to admit, though, that I was a bit disappointed with Second City. All of us basically had classes for two years, yet we barely got time to practice on the main stage before the show. In fact, we only got to practice the song a few times and our tops and bottoms once on the stage before the show. That’s it. On the other hand, Pj gave us a ton of extra time outside of our regular class times for us and our rehearsals. We definitely would not have had a good show without that extra effort, from him and all of us.

We planned on arriving early for the second show, which was on a Tuesday night at 7 PM. That way we’d have time to rehearse on the stage and polish things up. That is when I learned that there are worse things than not enough practice. A lot of work on the sets had been done during the day, and when we arrived the main stage was in a huge state of disrepair, so much so that the whole floor, as well as the seats and the tables in the audience, were covered in dust, dirt, and grime. So we got to clean up the place. Hey, it was just like a real theater!

That second show was odd. It was a smaller crowd, and while we as a group felt off (at least I did), the audience laughed a lot more and seemed to get more of our jokes. The best part of these shows, however, was just how much fun they were to do. All six of us were very comfortable with each other, and I was able to just relax and do the scenes. I wasn’t even nervous about messing up. We were improvisers, and if it went off script, we’d handle it.

The third show didn’t happen as scheduled. The night before the Tuesday show there was a fire at Second City. The fire wasn’t bad, but there was lots of water damage. Russ joked that they’d probably want us to come in and help clean up. It was a month before we found a night where we were all free. We had one rehearsal before the show, and surprisingly it went really well. We even remembered our song and dance! Pj cut “Air Craft Carrier,” and I think that was a wise choice. We were very relaxed and loose for the show, and the small audience seemed to like it. The crowd itself was tough, though, and we had to work incredibly hard to get a positive reaction. I think we ended up doing well. I wish the show hadn’t been delayed, as most of the people who wanted to see me and scheduled out the first day and weren’t able to make the new one. But, that is show biz, and I still had a good amount of friends come and see my last class show at Second City. Christian had made up a booklet, and I have a black and white version of it. Russ recorded the show, and I hope to get a copy of it soon.

More than that, though, I walked away with some really great performances with my class, and a lot of excellent training.


Our last show was in April, and I’m writing this in June – two months later. I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to write this out. I’ve started taking other improvisation classes and have moved on, yet I didn’t wrap this up.

The main reason probably is that I honestly don’t want this class to end. It is over, and I know it. I’m going to miss this group a lot. I’m very comfortable performing with them, and I know deep down that when we are on stage, they will support anything that I do, as I hope they know I will with them. I hope to see some of them on television one day!

I have learned a ton at Second City. I think it shows when I improv scenes at the Inferno at classes there. I have methods I can use to get me out of my head and to heighten scenes, and mainly I’m just relaxed and happy to be on stage. I also have brought much of this to my medieval club (SCA) performances, and have discovered that I can, with help from other performers, run an entertaining half hour show without any planning. I plan to expand my performing role in the SCA and see how far I can take improv.

Right now I’m not in a group. I am looking, and am also taking classes at the Inferno, meeting other people, and still learning. Second City is just a start, and if my work and family can permit it, I am going to try to continue. Making the time is hard, but I love being on stage so much. Taking classes forces me to take that time, and if I have to pay to improvise, so be it.

Combined with the other class, over 30 people started in Level with me. Only four of us made it to the end (with two more joining in for the Conservatory program). Most of the people who dropped did so because of life: they moved or went on to other things on and off stage. Some who didn’t pass the Conservatory auditions passed them later on, and are still improvising and in groups.

I feel I’m supposed to say something profound here but I have no idea what. If I were to be honest, I am a little disappointed with myself. I hoped to be in a group performing right now, and that wasn’t meant to be. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future, but it didn’t work out. That being said, the classes were fantastic, and looking back I had no idea what I was getting into. I wish I had started twenty years ago, and I am incredibly thankful I walked into the classes now and not twenty years in the future.

If anyone reading this is still wondering if the classes at Second City are worth it, then I’ll be blunt: heck yeah. Even if you don’t want to be a performer, take the classes to learn to interact in public speaking engagements, or even just for a better attitude on life. “Yes, and” and “don’t deny” are great ideals to live your life by.

Or just take the classes because they are a ton of fun. That is why I continue to improvise.

Why improv? Why not.


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