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Jill Bernard's Advice on Solo Improv

In honor of the Solo Improv Showcase tomorrow, I thought I’d share some general advice on solo improv:

Find someplace to test your piece – a cabaret, a friendly open mic, in between some group improv pieces. Once you’ve done a small test, the piece will tell you what it wants to grow up to be. You have to just try it and see.

Other advice: *most* but not *all* solo improv pieces involve switching characters. There are unlimited ways to do switch characters, but three easy ones are the CHARACTER SLIDE, the CHARACTER POP and the CHARACTER ABSENT. Whether you prefer the Character Slide or the Character Pop will depend on whether you’re more interested in preserving time or space – one of which has to be suspended for you to play more than one character.

  • In the character slide, I play the character of Janey, then go neutral and walk over to another spot on the stage and play Ralph. Time is suspended – normally dialogue would continue without the dead space. The audience accepts the travel time as neutral and ignores it, if you can make it truly neutral – the expression in your face or body should not be Janey or Ralph.
  • In the character pop, I play the character of Janey and then shift positions while staying in the same space. It works on a pivot. If we pretend I’m standing on a clock on the floor, when Janey’s talking I look at 11 o’clock, and when Ralph is talking I look at 1 o’clock. For some reason, we as viewers accept that the two are standing straight across from each other as you would be in an actual conversation, even though you’re portraying them at a 45 degree angle away from each other. A variation is the totem pole: I shift characters by changing my physicality and voice, but I stay looking in the same direction. The totem pole is nice for creating crowd scenes.
  • In the character absent, I talk to the empty space where another character would be. If I choose, I can do a “fill” where eventually I run over there to fill in as that second character, often as a punchline. Leave space in your dialogue where that character would “answer” you.

All of these can be used in combination with each other, and there might be a fourth way that’s unique to you. Like anything in solo improv, you’re the expert.

Things you may want to watch for in playing multiple characters:

  • Use realistic eye lines. If I’m playing a little kid talking to an adult, I should look up when I’m the kid and down when I’m the adult. This is especially tricky when using a chair, the temptation is to talk to the chair back, but a human’s eyes are about a foot and a half higher.
  • Make your characters distinct in voice, physicality, tempo and emotion or you’ll lose track of who’s who. Especially when shifting characters, make sure the change is complete from head to toe. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve switched characters and looked down to see I still have the other character’s feet. Or god forbid their wine glass.
  • Audiences get boners for when you make physical contact with invisible characters. Fights, dances, even a simple shoulder touch are so pleasing because they define the imaginary.

There are some solo improv warm-ups I can teach you even though it makes me giggle.

  • The first is a variation on WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Find two initials in the room you are, like L.B. Then just make little verb/object or adjective/verb combos out loud, i.e. Lighting Bridges, Losing Brian, Listening Boringly, Limiting Barry, Lightly Baking, Listlessly Burying, etc.
  • The second is a one-word story where you blink to separate the thoughts for yourself. [Eyes open] “once” [eyes closed] “there” [eyes open] “was” [eyes closed] “a” [eyes open] “grandmother” [eyes closed] “who” etc. This is hard to sustain for long because your brain catches up and starts unifying your thoughts into one thinker.
  • The third is something Andy Eninger taught me.  Do four little mini character monologues with the same first line of dialogue, spreading out around the room and taking different physicalities.
  • The fourth is to put on your headphones and dance around to your favorite song completely unleashed and free of inhibition.
  • The fifth is whatever would make you happy, think of a way to adapt your favorite group warm up. There are other great suggestions in the book “Improvise” by Mick Napier.

Guidelines for HUGE Shows

If you should perform a show at HUGE…here are some guidelines we ask you to follow.

THANK YOU

Your hard work makes HUGE Theater a success.  We are an artist-led company dedicated to supporting the Twin Cities improv community.  That’s you.  Thank you.

PRESS

HUGE provides a stage, basic promotion, and general support, but not a built-in audience. All groups MUST advertise their own shows. We rely on you.

THE SPACE

Please be mindful of the theater and the stage.

We do not have a cleaning staff.  Please dispose of trash and leave the space nicer than you found it.  If you need to store items here during your run, please talk to Butch, Nels, or Jill to find an appropriate storage spot.

Please do not leave cups or bottles behind.

ATTENDANCE

Call is one hour before showtime.  At least one member of your group must arrive by then. If you have so few cast members that you A) Cannot perform your advertised show or B) Have to alter the show to something other than advertised, you MUST notify Butch, Nels or Jill ASAP.  It’s a good idea to do your scheduling well in advance.

COMPS

One comp (free ticket) will be provided per cast member.  Please give a list to the box officer as you arrive.  If additional comps are needed (press, promotions) please talk to Butch, Nels or Jill.

TECH

You will be provided a house tech. If you would like to provide your own tech for a show, that person must go through an orientation of the tech booth with Butch or one of our house techs.

DRINKS

You may have a $1 soda or water at any time the night of your show.  You may also have a $1 beer or wine after your set.  Just tell the bartender you’re a performer.

HUGE PLUG

It would be a great help if the host of your show would mention that HUGE is a non-profit that depends on donations; and if they’d like to become a sustaining member they can talk to the box officer or go to hugetheater.com

THANK YOU AGAIN

We’ll never be done thanking you.

HUGE Theater Improv Mixer!

It’s time for the HUGE Theater Fall Improv Mixer! Saturday, November 17, 2012 1-4pm

The mixer is great if you’re looking to form a group, looking to add new people to an existing group, hope to join an existing group, or just want some time to do some improv and get to know all of the wonderful people that at any given time are around HUGE.

Also, Beatbox will be be holding auditions for their shows in January/February at noon (before the mixer)!

If you plan on attending, please fill out our very quick info form here.

Bonfires burning bright, Pumpkin faces in the night

Hey all – it’s been a while.

Been musing on a couple of posts but there is always so much to do that keeps me away from the keyboard for extended periods of time but there are so many cool things coming up you need to know about.  As always – I don’t want you to come see shows because we want to sell more tickets, I want you to come see these shows because if you miss them I feel sorry for you.

If you miss these, you miss out.

 

— Down to Business —

Annual MonstOberFest Shows…and then some

October is one of my favorite months at HUGE because it brings back two of my favorite shows – Survivors of the Undead Plague and Creature Feature – the run is short so make sure you catch them while you can.  Survivors features a new cast of frightened zombie chow and new lessons in improv gun safety – I look forward to this show all year long, come see why.

Creature Feature might be the first HUGE show ever created and it’s always a blast when it comes around every October – 8 years running and those kids never learn to stay away from the abandoned chemical plant…or to stick together…

They are playing Fridays and Saturdays* and Halloween night.

October 19-20th ::

*Survivors and Creature Feature are NOT on that weekend – because the great and mighty BASSPROV will be here for one weekend only!  Joe Bill and Mark Sutton row the fishing boat to the stage at HUGE Theater and we’re damn excited to have  them and very thankful to the State Arts Board for the touring grant that made it possble!

 

Other fun news ::  October 21st

The Mustache Rangers are going to be streaming their 250th podcast on stage where they started off,  at the Improv A Go Go – Congratulations to the Rangers, we’re very excited to see all the awkward pauses live in person !

That same night features a very special one-night-only return of THE BENNETS – they will put a crimp in your brain!

New shows coming in November :: Throwback Night, Family Dinner, The Board of Directors and the Mustache Rangers

Throwback Night : an Evening of Old School Improv – This one has been a long time coming!

Five Man Job (Butch Roy, Nels Lennes and Lauren Anderson) direct three groups of improvisers showcasing classic long form improv structures The Harold, The Deconstruction (invented by Del Close and The Family) and Close Quarters (invented at Second City, Chicago) that will stretch your mind – Why an improv theater?  This is why. Come see.

Fridays at 8pm – Nov 2nd – Dec 28th

 

 

Mustache Rangers – That’s right, Cadets!  The Rangers are back! Warm up the ion cannons, turn off the safety alerts and  herd your friends into HUGE theater for this show.

Fridays at 9:30pm – Nov 2nd – Dec 28th

 

 

 

 

Family Dinner – HUGE’s first holiday show, we decided to do the holidays at your house.

A cast of improvisers from all over the Twin Cities meet on stage as a family returning home for the holidays – complete with a holiday feast.   Originally staged at ComedySportz, we are excited and proud to bring your family to our stage.

Saturdays at 8pm – Nov 3rd – Dec 29th

 

 

The Board of Directors – Seriously. We are the actual, factual Board of Directors of HUGE Theater.

If you’ve ever sat in an improv show and thought,  “Hmmm…I wonder how they make budgetary decisions” then we’ve failed in so, so many ways.

BUT If you’ve ever thought, “I wonder how the people that run this place would handle a ninja invasion…” then this show will answer your strange, strange questions.

The Board is: Butch Roy, Jill Bernard, Nels Lennes and Molly Chase

Saturdays at 9:30pm – Nov 3rd – Dec 29th

There is more, there is always more – but I think that is enough for now.

 

You never know what they'll throw at you, a curveball or a question

We have a very special weekend coming up while the casts of SPORT, Star Trek and Bearded Men are in Austin, Texas representing MN at the Out Of Bounds Festival.  Time to break out some special mischief while everyone is away…

Friday – 8pm – Off Book : Fringe Edition

Off Book is the show that pairs an actor that has learned their half of a two-person scene with an improviser that has no idea what the scene (or even the play) is. Featuring scripts and cast from your favorite Fringe Festival shows of 2012.

Friday – 10:30 – Ferrari McSpeedy and Five Man Job

Mike Fotis and Joe Bozic are Ferrari McSpeedy, the two-man assault on the senses and the fabric of time and space.  Nels Lennes, Butch Roy and Lauren Anderson make up Five Man Job, they will take you to such dark places – Two great insane tastes that taste insanely great together.

Saturday – 8pm – Ka-Baam!!

The improvised superhero comic returns to HUGE Theater!

You give us the names of three heroes that don’t yet exist and we’ll give you their origin stories and giant-action-packed-team-up-adventure, complete with cover art drawn during the show by our special guest artist.

Saturday – 10:30 – The Explorer’s Club Returns

Improv comedy meets Manifest Destiny.  Come hear and see the tales of the greatest group of adventurers and explorers in this world or any other.  Explorer’s Club is now part of the Saturday Late Night Mix, first Saturday of every month!

 

The Difficulty of Reviewing Improv

There was a piece in the Star Tribune that’s making its way around about how the Twin Cities theater scene does a bad job of self-critique. It got me musing about the difficulties of critiquing improv, for the audiences, journalists, and performers alike. These are incomplete and scattered thoughts but here goes:

More than once it’s happened that the first improv show an audience member has ever seen turns out to be bad, and from that experience they drew the conclusion “Improv sucks!” They never want to see another improv show again. The criticism extends beyond the company they saw to the entire discipline.

Years ago there was a website called improvreview.com, which has since been taken over by Japanese hacker spam. There were two problems. First, the reviewers wrote with an authoritative tone, as if their opinion were more than just an opinion. Second, improv is built on positivity, so a grumpy Andy-Rooney style clashes badly with the subject of the critique.

Mainstream reviewers have some major obstacles. They feel like they can’t review improv because it’s different every time. There’s also no budget for it – to cover improv, a newspaper would have to take away coverage from a scripted theater because they don’t have space for both. Reviewers also do not have the vocabulary and don’t know how to diagnose what makes improv good or bad. For example, they’ll say, “You couldn’t tell it was improvised!” as a negative critique or they’ll get upset if only one suggestion was taken and used in an indirect way. They’ll compare it to “Whose Line Is It Anyway” regardless of whether it in any way resembles it.

We wrote a nice piece about how to look at improv for the Fringe Festival last year, I think it helps some.

It’s hard for insiders to review improv because we don’t want to break each other’s spirits. Improv feels so personal. It’s you up there onstage, and the words and actions aren’t the fault of a director or playwright, that’s you too. Over the years I’ve gotten better at giving students the honest critiques they crave, finding ways to phrase them that are clear and make sense without hurting. Oddly, the students who beg me to give them a harsh critique are the first to pout and check out when it’s given. And so I proceed gently and thoughtfully and directly, and try to create a culture where it is damn clear we’re talking about the work and not the person. It’s still difficult terrain.

These are the challenges. I lay them before you.

– Jill Bernard

this is my dedication to dedication. I dedicate this to you.

I posted about this in the State of HUGE blog but we are finally rolling out (some) payroll at the theater! People that are long overdue are going to start getting paid for the time they put into the place and we’re working hard to figure out who else we can compensate and the most fair/consistent ways to do so.
Today, Jill and I exchanged the first paychecks issued by HUGE to staff.

It feels like the beginning of something new and exciting and nerve-wracking.

(We take bad photos of important moments on purpose.)
I am deliriously happy that we can finally start paying people and holding my breath and hoping that money doesn’t change the way the place feels and how people interact with it.

I was also worried about the announcement – because I am always aware of how much I feel I owe people and I was afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings as we started paying out. Worried about the “what about me?” question I figured was so inevitable.

To my surprise, it hasn’t happened yet, in fact I was approach a few times by people asking “What about you?” – because their main concern was that HUGE pay me before themselves. Some of them got back to me to say they didn’t want to be paid and would like to continue to volunteer their hours to the theater as a way they can keep donating.

Small moments, maybe, but another way that our people continue to stagger me with how unselfish and wonderful and giving they are at every turn – As the guy in charge, I can tell you that it’s no small thing.

These are the things I stress about the most in running the business part of the theater – and these people manage to turn it into a joy.  I will never not owe them for everything they have done and everything they continue to do, money can’t really capture what their contributions mean and can’t really give them what they deserve – but it’s a start and it’s about damn time.

It Came From Later!

Exciting times – new things on the horizon as we emerge from Fringe Festival madness

Everyone take a minute to rest, dust yourselves off and then we are going to get the Fall season rolling with a lot of cool new stuff – not least of which is the Improv A Go Go will be Pay What You Can starting on 8/19 when it starts back up.  That means you can come any Sunday, name your price and enjoy some of the best, newest and strangest improv in the Cities.

This was made possible by our Members – we hear that our Membership program keeps ticket prices down all the time, but rarely do we get to see tangible results from it, normally it just means things stay the way they are.  We have been very eager to get the ticket price of IAGG back down ever since we raised them out of financial need and our Members are indeed what allowed that to happen – if you’re a Member already, thank you.

If you’re not a member yet, sign up and see what other cool stuff we can do!

New Shows :: Sean & The Ladies, Class of ’94, Special Shows and GONE

Starting 8/16, Thursday nights are a lot more musical and a little more lady-like as Sean & The Ladies bring their improvised musical show straight into your ear and eye holes.

Beginning 8/17, class is in session at De Roma High as the angst and antics of the Class of ’94 hit Fridays at 9:30

Friday, 8/31 – One night only – Off Book, Fringe Edition!

Off Book, the show that pairs an actor that has memorized one half of a script with an improviser that has no idea what the script is, presents a special night of scenes pulled from your favorite Fringe Festival shows!

Saturday, 9/1 – One night only – KaBaam! the improvised comic book returns!

Three origin stories of heroes you name – one action packed team adventure – too many thrills for one stage in one night for one audience! Watch if you dare!!!

8pm Fridays in September – GONE

The improvised, mind-bending drama of a collection of “castaways” who are “trapped” on an “island” after they “crash” and have to “survive” any way they can.

8/23 – Happy Hour Board Meeting and Open House

Join us. Come take a look around, come ask questions of us. Come make suggestions. Give ideas. Get involved. Or just come have a beer, listen in and find out what HUGE is planning and how we’re doing.

That is all for now, hope to see you when you’ve all slept off your Fringe hangover