Directing NEWSish

by Scotty Myers

While the world was going through the 18-month long version of Dante's Inferno, otherwise known as the 2016 Presidential Election, Tim Kay and Jess Loria asked me to take on the task of directing them in Go Comedy!'s most politically charged production (to date), NEWSish. The monthly (well, almost monthly) 45-minute scripted show melded together the formats of The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, and Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update.

It was one of the most stressful, mind-wrenching, challenging things I've ever done.

I couldn't be more excited to be returning with a condensed version of it this summer as part of a political sketch show coming soon.

When we started working on NEWSish, we knew it was going to be a challenge. The first show took us three months to pull together. We put out a call for special guests, story ideas and video segments. We got a handful of responses and polled people we believed could do a good job, giving out assignments and working on segments. And we started writing. Lots and lots of writing. We learned quickly that having too many stories to fit into a show was far better than having to scramble to write at the last minute. 
 

A typical 45-minute NEWSish program will have between 30 and 50 segments or stories. This makes the show much more similar to a broadcast news program, rather than a sketch show. At the start of each cycle, I would lay out a schedule of deadlines, casting and stories.

We quickly learned that putting it all together was too much for one person, so we brought on another spreadsheet loving improviser, Chris Fortin as Assistant Director. About a week before our show, he and I would sit down with all of the stories and put them together into a running order.

Working on a show that's dependent on current events means that you are subject to changes in those current events. With last year's election chaos, every month several of our stories would change or be out-of-date by our last rehearsal. So a NEWSish show would have about 20-30% of its material written within 36 hours of show time. Thank God for the most patient and wonderful stage manager in the world, Pete Jacokes, for being able to roll with us through it all - including the 30-40 slides and videos that made the show work.

Finally, at the end of all of that organization, comes content.

As satirists, I believe our job is both to entertain and enlighten.

Our culture's current state of information overload has left us fairly numb to the facts (or lack of them) in the news. It takes the power of laughter, irony and satire to break through the hazy day-to-day barrage of things flooding our screens and ears. And that's how I felt we had to approach NEWSish. We had to push a story to its "did we go too far?" limits. And we had to find ways to make the audience laugh in uncomfortable moments to bring light to stories, situations and realities we miss every day. I think we did that, often enough. Sometimes we struggled to maintain our voice and our humor. At other times we got caught up in our point of view and missed the mark.

But in the end, the work we put up was something everyone at Go can be proud of.

It pushed our political boundaries and definitely made our audience, and us, think differently about our world.

And that is always a good thing.

Posted on April 27, 2017 .

Behind the Scenes & Off the Stage

by Shelby Kittleson

I love comedy.

When I moved to Chicago after college graduation, I thought I’d take a couple years of writing classes then casually write a Second City Mainstage revue then probably be headed to NYC to write for Saturday Night Live and get to hang out with Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon all the time and eventually Amy Poehler would come to host and she'd be like, “Shelby, you’re so attentive and polite and you have the prettiest hair, I want to introduce you to my friends Abbi and Ilana” and I’d die a blissful death and float to comedy heaven. Aside from the fact that that timeline is entirely ludicrous and I honestly know I have just OK hair, note that nowhere in my fantasy did I assume it would be necessary for me to get on stage. How doe-eyed and naive I was then - like Piper Perabo’s character in Coyote Ugly assuming she could get her ‘Can’t Fight The Moonlight’ song sung by a pure talent like LeAnn Rimes without having to, at first, perform herself in a couple crappy night clubs.

But if you’re like me and being vulnerable about your art and having faith in your path and maintaining the strength of character it takes to get up on stage and get noticed doesn’t sound like your cup of tea either, don’t fear; I’ve found that there are ways to stay engaged with the comedy community that don’t involve performing.

Maybe you’re like me and you love comedy, but you’re not a comedienne.

Here’s how to stay involved with comedy if you’re passionate about it but not the performing type:

1. Take classes to work on the craft, but consider taking classes for other skills as well.

I took improv classes at The Second City, but I also took Acting 1 and Storytelling. The storytelling class gave me a chance to really work out what I find funny, but to be more analytic about when a joke is necessary in a narrative. Plus, at most storytelling nights, I ended up being the funniest one in the room, which is not the case when I’m in an improv class. Sometimes using your humor in a non-competitive/comparative environment can be healthy and encouraging.

2. Work as a host/hostess at a comedy theater or club.

I got to serve fries to Lorne Michaels, I attended a surprise Phish concert during an improv set, I hugged John Mulaney, I once accidentally kicked Fred Armisen while protecting him from being photographed, all while making money. I’m not saying being a server or hostess or box officer pays well, but I am saying that the opportunity to see the artists you believe in for free while getting paid (even minimum wage) is pretty divine.

3. Volunteer and work with arts and comedy festivals.

Know how easy it is to see your favorite comedians perform for free? Volunteer and train and work a comedy festival. Don’t slack off, and don’t ever ask if you can take a photo with or talk to the performers. I’ve worked at Chicago Humanities Festival (where I met Lena Dunham), RiotLA (where I met Moshe Kasher and Thomas Middleditch), and Detroit Improv Festival (where I met Kevin Dorff and Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson). Do the work, remain calm, be humble and grateful, and festivals can be the most amazing Coachellas of Comedy.

4. Watch PaleyFest videos.

There are a million books you could read and a trillion podcasts you could listen to about comedy. My favorites are 'Poking a Dead Frog' (Mike Sacks) and 'You Made It Weird' (Pete Holmes), respectively, but I also recommend Googling ‘Paley Center [insert favorite TV show here]’.

5. Attend charity/benefit shows for comedy.

The best part about benefits featuring comedians is that you’ll feel great about selflessly spending money to help those less fortunate than you while also selfishly cackling.

6. Intern for a theater to learn the ins and outs of production from behind the scenes.

Through interning and assisting at for-profit theaters, I’ve learned about equity contracts and the legality of intellectual property and the creative process. I learned about accountability and demographics and marketing and the real grit of the business side of comedy. I learned about customer service. I learned a little about stage management. I learned we should all know a little more about stage management so that stage managers aren’t worked to death. I learned that not everyone finds the same things funny, and that most critics are hacks, but that their reviews are still really important to the business.  

Most of all, if you get the chance, try to really listen to performers you respect. 

Ask them about their path, but ask specific questions - answering "How did you get where you are?" is really complicated, so try to ask a more pointed question like, "Did you ever take improv classes?". Make connections of any people or places you have in common. Don’t try to sell anything; no one likes being handed a mix tape (your comedy reel) unless they explicitly asked for it. And try not to cry when you meet John Mulaney, it seems to make him uncomfortable.

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Shelby Kittleson is the Director of Sales for Go Comedy! She grew up in Michigan and moved to Chicago and briefly lived in LA and now she's proud to be in Detroit. She refuses to get on stage but promises to do one (1) Fresh Sauce one day. 

Posted on April 20, 2017 .

Suggested Reading from Pj, James, & Gary

Posted on April 13, 2017 .

Q&A: Planned Improv

Questions can be submitted through the Go U Blog Inquiry form (found at the end of the page).

Here, Jenny Bloomer answers... 


Q: How do you deal with a fellow improviser that has planned the scene?

Basically, the question is how to deal with an improviser that does not trust the rest of the troupe. In my short experience, I have found that I just call them out on it. When I say the improviser does not trust the others, I have seen an improviser act out a predetermined character and direction for the scene. It was challenging for me to fit into what was going on. I am thinking that there are tactics I should have used? I am hoping that I don't repeat this situation. Thanks.
 

---


A: Get a coach, raise the issue to the coach and let them handle it. Improvisers shouldn't be giving their peers feedback within the troupe.

It damages the trust within the group (which already sounds damaged in this situation). In the interim, remember the fundamentals- accept and respond to what is happening in the moment. It's impossible not to fit into something when you're listening and directly responding to what is being said and done in the moment, even if someone comes in with something predetermined.

Focus on how you can use this to make you better.

If you're in a place of being frustrated with your troupe mate and you're blaming them for your experience, you're shooting yourself in the foot. You're going to improvise with a lot of difficult personalities early on (and later on, and always), so a pro move is to learn how to play with them and make them look good. Consider the fear and insecurity that someone must feel if they're coming in with everything gamed out, with very little trust for the group.

Try to come at that with acceptance and support.

That's going to send the message, "I've got your back, you can trust me." Another thought that I had when I read "It was challenging to me to fit into what was going on" is that not everyone needs to be in every scene. If you find yourself feeling "I don't need to be in this scene," listen to that instinct. An under-appreciated quality in great improvisers is knowing when to not enter/not speak. If you're playing a form that requires you to be in every scene or you exit the scene in a way that feels natural, remember that the environment is there. There are two places you can be in a scene- one is with your scene partner(s) and the other is with the environment. If you can't get a word in, embrace that. Go to that environment. You'll still be engaged in the scene, supporting and enriching it, and by taking that time to be listening and engaged non-verbally, you might even find a place to speak. In my years of experience I've found that people who are untrusting and difficult to work with disappear of their own accord and you don't have to worry about it anymore. If that doesn't happen, consider not working with that person in the future. I wasted a lot of time worrying about playing with difficult people early on. And that's what it is - a waste of time. If I had a time machine I'd go back and tell myself this:

Focus on you, focus on getting better.

Since I can't do that, I'll say it to you. Focus on you, focus on getting better.

Name *
Name
Posted on April 7, 2017 .

Improv Extra Credit

by James Quesada

The absolute best way to get better at Improv is through taking classes, having coached rehearsals with a troupe, and getting on stage. But sometimes doing all three of those things is easier said than done. Stage time can be limited, money can be tight, and organizing troupe rehearsals can be like trying to catch squirrels. Or maybe you’re doing all three no problem and you just want more more more Improv Improv Improv!

Well, here are some extra ways you can learn and grow as an improviser:

 

WATCH IMPROV

It doesn’t matter if the show is good or bad, there’s plenty to be learned from watching. DON’T make it your job to judge the show but DO make active, useful observations. Follow along with the show as if you were on the back line. Try to name each scene based on what it was about. Flag moments in the show that were potential edit points. Look for connections and themes in the show. If this show had a slogan what would it be? Put yourself in the shoes of each player and try to understand what they’re doing. Watch from a place of curiosity and investigation or as TJ & Dave would say, ‘Pay Attention’. This will carry over to your time on stage and allow you to naturally make these kinds of observations when you play.

Seek out and watch rare Improv. If a special guest performer or troupe comes to town, see that show. If a troupe or show is trying some crazy outside the box idea, see that show. If there’s a pop up Improv show in the back of some record store, see that show. I also highly recommend taking a trip to a place like Chicago to see some shows. There are plenty of living legends of Improv who are still doing regular shows. See Messing with a Friend or Trigger Happy at The Annoyance, The Improvised Shakespeare Company or TJ & Dave at iO.

Improv is a community driven art and there’s no better way to participate in that community than to take an interest in what your fellow improvisers are putting on stage.

READ ABOUT IMPROV

Look, reading sucks and everybody knows it. But if you haven’t read any books on Improv you’re really doing yourself a disservice. I recommend Behind the Scenes by Mick Napier. I feel like if every improviser read that book there would be half as many bad shows and twice as many good ones. The Second City Almanac is also an excellent read. It’s got like 25 contributing authors so it actually reads more like a collection of articles featuring greats like Keegan Michael Key, Tina Fey, and Adam McKay.

TAKE NON IMPROV WORKSHOPS AND CLASSES

I took a physical theater program at Second City a few years ago and I was expecting it to be taught by improvisers for improvisers. Instead it was skill specific courses like dance and stage combat taught by professionals in those fields. There was one day that was on physicalizing characters in improvised scenes but, while fun, it ended up being the least exciting day for me. It was much more fun to learn entirely NEW SKILLS in their own right.

Seek out workshops for acting, singing, voice acting, clown, mime, etc. Having training in these areas will make you a more well rounded, capable performer.

LISTEN TO IMPROV PODCASTS

I can’t believe how many Improv podcasts there are. It’s insane. Improv Nerd with Jimmy Carrane is on its 226th episode. You can piece together a complete history of modern improv from all the interviews on that show. Improv Obsession with Stephen Perlstein existed long enough for Stephen to go from being an obsessed student of Improv to being a jaded coach ready to walk away from Improv all together. I’m currently listening to One Night Only with Miles Stroth which has a nice Q&A segment in each episode. All of these are excellent and endlessly insightful podcasts. The interview format is the most common format for these shows so I recommend maybe browsing for a guest you recognize and listening to that episode to see if the show jives with you. I’m a big fan of any interview with Matt Besser or Rachel Mason.

SIDEBAR: There’s a particular podcast episode out there that I think every improviser in the world should listen to. It’s a two part episode featuring UCB co-founder Ian Roberts and it’s called Improv: ‘Rules’ vs. ‘No Rules’. It’s a discussion about whether rules in Improv are a good or bad thing. Very thought provoking stuff.

Those are your extra credit assignments: Watch Improv, read an Improv book, learn a non Improv performance skill, tune in to an Improv podcast.

So if your class gets cancelled, you can’t figure out who’s living room is big enough for a rehearsal, stage time is booked through next year or if there’s just no such thing as too much Improv, take on these tips and add to your learning momentum.

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James Quesada is Go Comedy!’s Director of Long Form and an enthusiastic director, coach and performer all over the Metro Detroit Improv scene.

Posted on March 31, 2017 .

How to Crush Short Form

by Tim Kay

Short form improv is typically improvisers’ first introduction to the art form. I know it was for me. 'Whose Line' blew my adolescent mind and I couldn’t get enough of it. These adults were on T.V. playing theater games! How cool is that?!? I still have a huge soft spot for it and worked hard to explore the form and help others find their footing.

I’ve put together a few basic tips that could help kickstart your approach to short form:

Start with Scene Work

Many inexperienced improvisers often forget to create an actual scene in their short form game. Establish the who/what/where of the scene immediately. Since short form games are typically really quick, it's even more important to develop your scene immediately. Don’t forget, even though you are playing a game, the scene still matters. Often, the details that you’ve worked hard to set up will get dropped once the game element begins. If things start to unravel because of some funky game rules, remember, the scene is still your backbone.

Know The Games

This needs to be said, even though it seems obvious. If you are playing in an improv game, it’s best to actually know how to play it. I’ve seen audiences turn on performers because they were simply not playing the game correctly. Keep up on game rules by rehearsing and talking to your show hosts about the games. Knowing the rules inside and out will also allows you to bend the rules on occasion. This will help you surprise the audience and ultimately make you more successful.  

Listen to Your Audience

A short-form audience will tell you what they want, sometimes with raucous laughter, other times with shocking, deafening silence. They’ll let you know if you’ve gone too blue, too smart, too dumb, or too young. Feel out the crowd and learn to shift gears. They didn’t go crazy over your Star Wars scene? Maybe steer clear of the Nerfherder jokes for a bit and find something else they respond to.

Perform, Watch, & Suck

It’s difficult to advance in improv if you are only performing in class or in rehearsal. These are both incredibly important but remember, improv is a performance art. You’ll need to eventually be comfortable playing in front of audiences all the time. Your best bet is to go to jams and play in as many games as you can, or put together a troupe and jump into the Itty Bits tournament. This goes hand in hand with bombing. Yes, you need to suck. And you will suck. But know that this is ok and perfectly normal. In fact, learn to love bombing. Everyone has crap shows. As your experience grows, learning to shake off the bad sets quickly will help you get back to your kick-ass self.  

Play with Confidence

Take your improvising to the next level by mustering as much confidence as you can for your performances. Initiate your scenes with conviction and offer up bold choices for your partners. This will help make your scenes more active and more fun. Audiences will appreciate your moxie too! If the crowd believes that you are on stage for a reason, they’ll have a harder time judging you as an ‘amateur’.   

Be Bold

Speaking of making bold choices...make bold choices. (Woof, terrible segue. Whatever. IDGAF.)

No one gets partial credit for waiting to see what your scene partner will do, so make a character choice as soon as the game begins. You’ve all seen it. The scene that just won’t start and ends with zero connections or identifiable elements. (that who/what/where again). Often, improvisors fall into the habit of being too supportive. Obviously we want to yes, and our scene partners, but it can be disastrous when that’s all a scene becomes. Your scenes will be stronger if you start with bold choices, even if it feels like you aren’t supporting.   

Be Yourself

Originality really shines through in comedy and the easiest way to get there is to simply be yourself. Keying into what makes you, you will help make you more comfortable on stage and more entertaining for audiences.

Mastering any one aspect of improv will take years of practice.

Hopefully a few of these tips can help you up your game.

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Tim Kay is a Resident Artist at Go Comedy with over 10 years of experience in improv and sketch comedy. He is has been with Go Comedy since the inaugural cast and has been in countless productions and roles ever since. He lives with a wonderful girl and a delightful dog. 

Posted on March 24, 2017 .

Musical Improv

by Cari Sue Murphy

From ages 9-17 I was a part of a non profit dance and lip sync troupe called the Earth Angels. We performed mostly Motown and Oldies hits with a few modern numbers mixed in. We performed everywhere you could think of from the Woodward Dream Cruise, Retirement Homes, Disney World, and schools. One school we performed at every year was always very meaningful. It was called Cloverdale and it was a school for children who had severe physical and developmental disabilities.

The gymnasium would fill with students, teachers, and parents. Many of the children were in wheelchairs, many were both blind and deaf. How could these children enjoy a show of dancing and music when they couldn’t see us or hear the music? The show started, and that gym was full of more happiness and energy than I knew possible. How?

They could feel it.

They literally FELT the physical vibrations of the music. These kids would dance and smile and at the end of the show they would hug us and not let go. That was one moment of my life where I truly recognized the power of music. It’s powerful enough to transcend disability and connect people through it’s vibrations. Music is incredible, just like the kids at Cloverdale school.

I share that story to emphasize the limitless possibility of music. Song is a language everyone can speak. Even if you don’t understand the words of a song you can feel it, right? You can feel if it’s a happy or heartbreaking song, if it’s intense or chill. Most of us have songs that can take us back to a certain moment of time with just a few notes. We know lyrics that can make us weep and songs that make us feel strong enough to conquer our greatest life battles. Combine the superpower of music with the magic of improv and you have something truly special.

Musical improv only amplifies the “being in the moment” that is so awesome in non-musical improv.

In Musical improv you are thinking of so many things at once. Relationship, lyrics, emotion, rhythm, song structure, harmony, rhyme scheme, give and take, game of the scene and movement. There is even less brain space for self doubt and there is less time to hold back. Some of the best moments I’ve ever experienced on stage have been when my scene partner and I are so in the moment, so connected by music that we sing the same exact lyrics with boldness and energy and in perfect harmony… pure magic. In those moments I feel so connected to not only my scene partner(s), but the whole room.

There is a LOT to think about during musical improv, but I think the beauty of it is how simple it is. Melodies and lyrics don’t have to be very complicated to make a lasting impact on people. Sing simply about something and instead of going wide and creating further plot details go deep into that one simple thing you started your song about. Using very few words, what is the core of the matter? That could be your chorus. Think about the great choruses that everyone knows and how simple they are “Don’t stop believing! Hold on to that feel-leh-ee-eh-in!” …. “Nanananan Hey Jude!” ….. “I- ee - I will always love you!” …. “Who let the dogs out? Who? Who? Who?” …you get the point. Simple, powerful. It is always tempting to wrap something up and move onto what is next but the whole purpose of a song is to stay in what is. Don’t move past a moment because it gets uncomfortable. Go deep in that moment, for that is the exact place where what you “should say” dies and the honesty about that situation, the emotions, the relationship comes out… IN SONG!

If you are interested in doing musical improv I think a great way to get started is to sing throughout your normal day. You can make up your own melody or change the lyrics to songs you already know.

Sing about microwaving your oatmeal! Sing about the day ahead of you or what you notice that you might otherwise overlook. What’s going on around you, how do you feel? Notice it and sing it. The best songs are honest songs. But honesty doesn’t have to be limited to your own perspective. You can sing from a character’s perspective what is true to THEM! As you are driving somewhere instead of turning on the radio, become a character and make up a song from their perspective. Instead of being Julia Schroeder driving to the Recycling Center (which is pretty amazing in and of itself TBH) why not be Marcy Duhampton driving to the edge of a cliff to ponder her identity after she was served divorce papers. What song is inside of Marcy in that moment? Is it in a minor key? Is it dramatic? Is it hopeful? Or pretend like you are 16 year old Camden Crosby driving alone for the first time after getting his license. What’s that stoked dude singing about?! What’s he going to do with his newfound freedom? Try it! In one song you can go deep into a character’s psyche. Pro tip- if you have young children or pets they can be forced to be your audience.

In conclusion, I just want to encourage all the musical improvisers or hope to be musical improvisers out there not to hold back. The world needs whatever song you and your characters have inside you- whether we need the lyrics, the laughter, or simply the vibrations...

It is needed.

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Cari comes from a long line of women who made songs up about practically every moment of their life. Some may cringe at the thought of such a life, but Cari hath embraced it to the fullest making it her hobby and passion. Cari began improv classes in 2013 as a New Years Resolution but it has blossomed into her life’s joy and purpose. When not on stage or in rehearsal you can find Cari hanging with her three year old son, Roosevelt, sweating profusely at Orangetheory, or with her headphones on at a coffee shop, journal open, muffin crumbs everywhere, just trying to make sense of it all.

Posted on March 17, 2017 .

How to Audition

by Pj Jacokes

So you're going to audition for an improv troupe or show or theater and you're wondering how the hell it works. Take it or leave it, this is my advice:

BEFORE YOU GET ON STAGE:

1. Treat it like a job interview (because it is one).

2. The audition begins when you walk in the door.

3. Come early to warm up so you can get to know your audition partners, pee, smoke or whatever you need to do to be ready.

   3a. Don't come drunk or high.

4. Be prepared/know what you're auditioning for. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

5. Bring a headshot and resume.

   5a. If you don't have a professional headshot, get one, but until then bring in a quality photo of yourself. (Don't bring a print out, a hilarious photo from that one time, or a photo with you and someone else in it. No, not even if they're someone famous.)

   5b. A performance resume - I don't need to know how long you worked at BusiNet. Always include education.

   5c. Don't lie on your resume and don't worry about how long it is. My first resume was 2 class shows and a play I did in High School. We all start somewhere. You are at the point in your career that you are at. Don’t spend a second fretting about where you’re not. Enjoy the journey.

6. Dress for the job you want. That usually means "show clothes.” Comfortable business attire. Ties - yes. Suit coats - no. Look professional. Women should wear pants or leggings - clothing and shoes you can move around in. Don't dress 'funny' or too casually or too provocatively. 

7. Be polite. It's never failed.

   7a. Don't be the d**khead who tries to psyche everyone out. I hate that guy. That guy's mom hates him too.

8. Don't be overly friendly with the auditioners. If you know them, even if they're family, keep it to a 'hello.' They know if they know you, stay away from suck-uppery. Everyone can see that for what it is and it can make the whole room uncomfortable.

ONCE YOU'RE ON STAGE:

9. Take a deep breath

10. Have Fun

11. Be confident. Failing that - perform confidence.

12. Save the comedy for the scenes - if you're asked to say your name, just say it, be a person first, and then a performer. If you're asked to be real, please be real.

13. Make an impression. Do what you do best. Make others look good, support, give and take and listen. Stage hogs and doormats will both be left behind.

   13a. If someone messes up on stage, don’t ever make a stink-face from the backline to show that you caught their gaffe. Doubly so, if you are in the scene. Your audition ends the moment you do.

14. Be bold.

   14a. That doesn't mean violent or offensive.

   14b. If your partner does something regrettable, do your best to roll with it. The auditioners know when your partner has put you at a disadvantage, and will take that into account.

15. Give it everything you've got and when it's over leave it all behind.

16. Remember that the auditioners want you to succeed. We're looking for talent. Believe me, we're pulling for you. We'd much rather cut good people, than cast mediocre.

AFTERWARDS

17. Remember to breathe.

18. Be polite.

19. Don’t hang out at the venue, get your stuff and let the next group have their space.

20. If you can, grab a drink with your audition group and all of the others. Cheer each other on as newcomers arrive from their audition.

21. If you don't get a callback, it's OK. There's always next time. Some of the best improvisers I've ever known, got shut out the first few times.

I hope that helps.
Now kick ass and break legs!

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Pj Jacokes is the Producer of Go Comedy! Improv Theater, so listen up, chumps! Pj did not write this bio. Shelby wrote this bio. Pj will probably make me change this bio later. 

Posted on March 8, 2017 .

Stop all the arguing (but if you do, make it loud)

By Aaron Mondry

Don't argue.

Along with "don't ask questions," this is one of the more common "rules" of improv. (I put rules in quotations because, as all improvisors eventually discover, these are more suggestions than directives -- rules of thumb that have proven successful in countless scenes and which newer improvisers are encouraged to master.)

Despite this adage, I've seen many hilarious scenes where people argue. There's energy, conflict, emotion -- things that often aid a scene. But arguing often comes from a place of fear or unease, an inability to accept gifts, and a combative attitude. Arguing can be a subtle form of denial that causes scenes to get bogged down in definitions, opinions, and things unrelated to the people themselves.

Let's look at an example of a scene that can easily stray into tedious argument.

A: "I can't believe you collect stamps. That's so lame."
B: "No it's not. Stamps are cool."

The most likely outcome from these two initial lines is an argument about whether or not stamps are cool. If it followed that track, they'd continually talk about stamps and never get to the meat of their relationship.

It's understandable that arguing happens so often in improv (and why I do it so often myself). When you get called lame in real life, you reflexively want to reject that description. It's human nature for people to defend themselves when their character is attacked, so it makes sense that they'd do the same as a character.

But it's not as funny. I'd much rather watch a scene that went like this:

A: "I can't believe you collect stamps. That's so lame."
B: "I know. I hope I never make any friends at this school. I don't even like stamps."

In this scenario, B chooses to accept A's gift and own an odd trait -- the desire to be lame. We can imagine countless funny ways this scene could go. B reveals he does his homework, kisses him mom when she drops him off, keeps a tiny vial of urine in his pocket so he can periodically make himself smell worse throughout the day. We find out A wants to be friends with B and gets rebuffed ("I'm sorry, I can't hang out with someone that wants to be my friend"). The whole school suddenly thinks stamp collecting is cool and B's plan backfires.

And it all arose from the instinct to agreement, even (especially) when our scene partner describes us in a way we'd normally recoil from. If, in a scene, someone describes you as cruel, promiscuous, boring, or greedy, don't argue with them -- OWN that trait. You'll have created an instant, original character.

A: "You're a monster."
B: "It's true, I like seeing others suffer."

There's a lot of potential humor in B's unrepentant, sadistic character (especially if you tend to go dark, like me).

Is it ever okay to argue in improv?

Yes, of course. Like I said in the intro, arguments can still be hilarious. Scenes can work even when people argue about the best action movie of the last decade or whether tacos are a sandwich. They just require a great deal of wit, which is not a skill everyone can access.

So if you find yourself in that situation, don't fret. I find arguments work most frequently when the improvisors make everything as important and emotionally impactful as possible. For example:

A: "You don't love me anymore."
B: "Yes I do! I'll do anything to prove it!"
A: "Okay. Clean the kitchen floor."
B: "Baby, be reasonable."

If you're in a troupe or class that finds itself arguing too much, a great way to break the habit is through the exercise "Goalie." One player stands across from line of improvisors fielding "shots." Each improvisor in the line steps forward, delivers an initiation line, and the goalie says one line back. In this version, the shooters accuse the goalie of something, and the goalie fully accepts it without shame.

Shooter: "You're going to the casino again? You have a gambling problem."
Goalie: "All the money I ever got was through luck and I'm not gonna stop now."

I'll sometimes give myself a single intention before shows, like "go to your environment" or "lead with an emotion." If you find yourself arguing a lot in scenes, tell yourself before going onstage that no matter what, you won't argue.

And if you do argue, it's no big deal.

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Aaron Mondry is an improvisor, freelance writer, and managing editor of Model D.

Posted on March 2, 2017 .

How to Start a Troupe

by Jessica Loria

 

There comes a time in the education of the improviser in which s/he finds that once a week in class improv just simply isn’t enough. That’s great! That time should come, and soon you’ll be on your way to selling your soul to some surly theater producer for 22 minutes of stage time. This is the dream. Embrace it.

 

Form a Troupe

But seriously folks -- the best way to get more experience is to start your own improv troupe. This is not a daunting task, I promise. Find a few people in your class you click with, and love playing with. It doesn’t have to be your full class. In my opinion it shouldn’t be more than six people, and sometimes that feels like too much. Be aware, however, those who you exclude may have hurt feelings. But, they’ll move on. Playing with different people is one of the joys of improv, and you want the troupe to have good chemistry. There’s also no rule about the number of troupes you can start -- so feel free to shop around, or throw a bone to someone you don’t necessarily adore playing with.

It doesn’t have to be just your class, either. Connect with improvisers in Fresh Sauce. Reach out to someone in a different class you enjoy. Find people who get you, and get together.

Find a Coach

If you’re serious about this troupe, and becoming a better improviser, you need a coach. Reach out to a Go U teacher you really liked, or a particular performer you enjoy. Most of us are happy and willing to coach, and I guarantee you’ll find someone who helps you grow. Many troupes book sessions with a few different teachers to start. I always recommend that. You’ll find someone who clicks with your troupe and playing style, and you’ll figure out what you want as you go. Even when you decide on a coach, it never hurts to book a session or two here and there with someone else. Different people bring different things to the table. (For example: I love patient, emotional play, and tend to focus on that when I start working with a troupe).

An aside: pay your coach. Usually it’s $5-10 per person for a 2-hour session. Coaches aren’t doing this for the money, but their time is valuable.

Have Objectives. Get a Name.

Figure out what your goals are as a troupe. Sometimes, at first, you just want to play with certain people and improve. That’s a good goal! Later, you might decide you want to focus on a particular form, or excel in a certain area. Some troupes are adept at finding and playing the game of the scene. Others are focused on physicality or character. Follow your bliss, and pick a coach who is right for that -- but don’t neglect the rest of your training! A fast-paced physical troupe still needs to connect emotionally, and an emotional acting-focused troupe can benefit from intense game focus.

Another aside: if you’re still confused on what I mean by finding the Game, see me after class. Or check out the UCB book. Actually, do that anyway.

You’ll also need to name your troupe. Pick something that represents you, and that you won’t stop loving. Don’t name it after your coach, or a beloved teacher, and try to stay away from jokes that came out of scenes you did (trust me -- nothing is ever as funny as when you performed it, and that magic will never be recreated). If your troupe has a specific focus, feel free to use that when naming it too (think Dubalicious, who uses dubbing games in between their scenes).

Set goals. REHEARSE.

You have a coach now. Use him or her. Decide as a troupe what your goals are -- do you want to get ready for BITS? Work on characters? Master a particular form? Make a game plan, and be prepared to work for it. It’s ok to start small. And it’s ok to rehearse less as the troupe ages, but improv can never truly be solved (sorry), so you should still be rehearsing once in awhile. Go Comedy rents out rehearsal space for $25, and for even less if your coach is on staff here. Just email me for information and availability!

Sometimes troupes die. It happens and it’s natural, and you should let it. Performers will want different things, and sometimes people drop off to do non-improv related things (not sure what that’s all about). It’s ok to move on.

Perform

Get that stage time! Here at Go we have opportunities like the Sunday Buffet, BITS, or different opening night spots. Pointless and Planet Ant Theatre have availability for guest teams as well. Some local bars have pop-ups in need of comedy, and some others don't know it yet but they need you too. Remember that stage time is a goddamn gift -- most of the performers you admire honed their skills in some dive bar while competing with Monday Night Football. Don’t ever take stage time for granted. Your coach can help you find spots too, but remember that hustle is an improviser’s best friend. You should always be posting, networking, rehearsing. You can be the most talented person in the world, but without that drive no one is going to know about it.

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Jessica Loria is a goddess and a warrior and a Go Comedy! Resident Artist. You can find her at her throne as Managing Director in HQ, teaching classes for GoU, or performing on stage with Birdbox Players, Safe Word, and Seat's Taken. She is beautiful and wonderful and did not write this bio for herself.    

Posted on February 24, 2017 .

Welcome to the Go U Blog

Welcome to the totally hot and fresh Go U Blog.

Well, really, it's been here since 2015, but we're adding hot and fresh stuff to it. 

This Blog will serve as a hub of information for any and all up-and-coming improvisers, sketch writers, comedy aficionados, with new posts weekly, written by members of our Resident Company. 

If you're interested in seeing a specific topic, would like to submit a comment, or you have a question for one of the authors, please fill out the following form.

Otherwise, just enjoy! Thanks for reading! 

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Posted on February 24, 2017 .