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Rob has been part of the comedy community in Toronto for over a decade. But you may not know that he’s also a talented artist.

We’re thrilled to launch a range of improv-inspired shirts, art, and iPhone cases in collaboration with Rob. There are dozens of colours and styles to choose from, so why not make your next rehearsal a more stylish one?

Browse here or click on an image below to order.

Group Mind Indigo Tank

Group Mind Men's Tshirt

Group Mind Ladies Tshirt

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All images © Rob Ariss Hills/People and Chairs

 

Have you ever been ill before a show or rehearsal, so ill that you felt you couldn’t go through with it, yet somehow you did and ended up having a great set?

Not me, but the lovely Jet Eveleth with Paul Brittain - Photo © Adrianne Gagnon

(Not me, but the lovely Jet Eveleth with Paul Brittain) – Photo © Adrianne Gagnon

When Paul Brittain offered a workshop in Toronto, I signed up months in advance. I was super excited, and looking forward to learning from the SNL alumnus.

But as the date got closer, I got sick. We’re talking coughing up toxic sludge, sweating profusely, SARS-kinda sick. Still, I was determined to attend. (Who cares if I was carrying the Plague? This was clearly all about me.)

The day of the workshop, I awoke feeling mummified. On the subway ride there, I was sure I was going to pass out.

Standing outside the classroom, I was torn between vomiting or dying. Mostly, I was furious at my body: How dare it get sick, now of all times?

At the last moment I made a decision: I wouldn’t participate, I’d just monitor the class. It was better than missing it altogether.

And then a funny thing happened.

I sat and watched as the first group performed. But when Paul called for four new people to go up, I joined them. My performance was far from amazing, but I enjoyed learning a new form.

I returned to my seat and watched as another group tried a different form. When he called for a new bunch of people, I went up again. This time I was a little more playful.

As the afternoon progressed, Paul switched to two-person scenes.

Standing on the sidelines, I thought of an initiation: I’d go in as Tom Jones, a callback to an earlier scene.

But as I strode forward, my hand cupped like it was holding a microphone, the girl walking towards me endowed me as a computer salesman.

Without breaking stride, I became an Apple Genius, and the microphone became a pen. I saw the store in 3D all around us, and started showing her a MacBook.

With every line my scene partner spoke, words and phrases peculiar to my character (not me) flowed from my lips, and I discovered more things in our environment to play with. I didn’t have to look; they appeared spontaneously.

During the scene I was aware of only one thing: that I wasn’t thinking or anticipating at all. It felt like things were being fed to me, constantly, intravenously.

Afterwards, Cameron asked if I’d seen Paul laughing. I hadn’t, but it was only then with the workshop over that I realized I hadn’t thought about being ill the entire time.

Two hours earlier I wasn’t sure I could stand. My only goal was to get through the workshop without puking. But during scenes, I was like a person possessed. It was one of the funnest, most freeing experiences I’ve ever had.

Maybe I oughta get sick more often.

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One of the things that made Much Music (Canada’s MTV) a joy to watch back in the day, was the fact that so much of it was unscripted.

With live programming broadcast in eight-hour chunks, there was no way everything could be written or pre-planned. And while it was almost entirely music-focused, there was lots of room for comedy.

One guest of those early days was a young and lanky Mike Myers. Before Much Music, he and VJ Christopher Ward improvised and did sketch on an all-night video show called City Limits. (I remember coming home from clubbing and watching their low-tech green-screen antics till dawn.)

Much’s producers also invited Weird Al Yankovic to “take over” the station with his own brand of insanity. And it was always great to find out which visiting rock stars had a sense of humour.

Now that Bell Media has axed all but a handful of jobs from the station, we thought we’d share some nuggets from the past we dug up on the inter webs.

 

Improv teaches us this moment is all that exists. And now there’s a timepiece to prove it.

Whether you’re rehearsing, thinking about starting a hillbilly vampire-themed improv night, or just contemplating ordering pizza, this clock is a great reminder that the best time to do anything is now.

Choose from a variety of designs here, or click on an image below to order. Improv Clock B&W Improv Clock Natural Improv Clock White Improv Clock Reverse B&W Improv Clock Scrawl Alt

All images © People and Chairs

All designs © People and Chairs

“Be in this moment. Now be here in this moment. Now be here in this moment.” – Twitter CEO, Dick Costolo, quoting Martin de Maat

One of the things that I do when I bring improv into the world of social work and/or academia is an exercise that I now call “The Drawing Exercise.” I learned it from the wonderful Jess Grant (in a group rehearsal with a bunch of very awesome people).

The exercise goes like this:

The premise is that the group works to create a picture together: line-by-line, person-by-person. Individuals take turns, but there’s no given order to the turn-taking. This is a silent exercise. The group is given one marker and a large sheet of paper on an easel (or on the wall). The instructions given are minimal.

  • draw ONLY one line or mark at a time
  • no talking
  • make your mark and then wait, facing the group, until someone takes the marker from you
  • the final drawing should appear drawn by one hand.
  • find your ending; when the group feels the picture is complete, you agree to this (non-verbally) and stop drawing

The group stands back about two meters from the paper, forming a semi-circle facing it. The facilitator makes a single mark on the paper, then stands by it with the marker in their hand until someone in the group (“A”) takes it from them. “A” proceeds to make another mark on the paper, and once again steps away from it with the marker in hand and stands until someone else continues the activity. The process continues until the group feels their picture is complete.

There are a ton of great things within this exercise, but for now I’m going to talk about making one mark at a time.

As an improvisational exercise, having to make one mark at a time is meant to induce the process of making room for the ideas of others. It’s intended to point to how it feels to do this kind of sharing, and to point to the experience of creating together and/or “having to” create together.

The technique of making one mark at a time also ensures that people take turns, and in doing this, give up some control, while making the concept of having control or personal power, visible.

Allowing for the ideas of others is an improvisational technique; not just allowing, but necessitating/obliging/enforcing. We’re forced to make room for the ideas of others, forced to “hear” those ideas because they are then “in the world/on the paper.”

We can’t ignore the reality that has been created because it is visible, concrete. In this way, it’s training for the improviser: to begin to say “yes” to, to work with, to engage with and accept, the marks of others.

The mark begs our consideration, as does our fellow players’ existence. Their words, their stories, their body language: these are all changing the space, shifting the flow of the air in the room, altering the shape of our body when we sit down or shake their hand or pull our gun (hahaha Michael Scott).

As an improviser, this is what we learn to do. We learn to actively consider the existence of others; their ideas, their postures, their words, their silences. We actively consider the existence of others and ourselves.

As we’re forced to consider the marks of others, it makes us reflect on how we feel about it, how we react to it. It helps us to hear the voices of others, to consider their marks, and to consider them in the context of what was drawn before and what will come after, as part of a whole process of creating together.

Sometimes this is exciting and sometimes this is shitty. But it’s usually an awakening. So I’m really thankful for improv and the way it does.

cathyblog

Cathy Paton is an Arts Facilitator who has worked in Canada and internationally with many groups, exploring movement, improv, and communication. Trained in long-form improvisation, modern dance, life/art performance method, and red-nosed clown, she is currently working on a PhD project that looks at how we can change our ways of relating through the art of improvisation. Cathy has a background in social work, and is always looking at ways of combining the arts with ways of being together.

In improv, as in life, the biggest laughs often come from something you stumble across. It might be a discovery about your character, your scene partner, or a so-called mistake.

Even in scripted comedy, some of the most hilarious stuff wasn’t planned. Think of Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd’s “You know how I know you’re gay?” sequence from The 40 Year Old Virgin. Check out Russell Brand’s improvised audition for Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Or my favourite, The 32 Greatest Unscripted Movie Scenes.

I saw a Second City revue where Reid Janisse said “X-ways” instead of “X-rays.” The audience tittered.

But a few lines later he brought it back, saying, “I”ve looked at your X-rays, and I’ve looked at your X-ways…” This time the audience roared.

Think back on some of the funniest scenes you’ve done. Chances are you started somewhere and ended up somewhere you never intended. And isn’t that the joy of it?

Photo © Graham Lee

Photo © Graham Lee

Photo © Bjoern Kommerell

Photo © Bjoern Kommerell

For decades, TV shows had the same structure: an opening montage or story synopsis, typically sung or narrated, so newer viewers could understand the story and characters right away.

Meanwhile, regular viewers had to listen to how The Brady Bunch got together. Every. Goddamn. Episode.

As the internet grew and attention spans shrank, intros got shorter. Scrubs‘ intro was just 20 seconds long. By the fourth season, it was five seconds. And Louis CK’s Louie got right to the point this season with no opening whatsoever.

StartInTheMiddle

Modern audiences are story savvy. We’ve become really good at making assumptions, jumping in midway and figuring it out.

When you lose exposition, you focus on now. And that’s where great improv lies.

A Harold traditionally has some kind of opening (the form, after all, was modelled after TV and film) but even that’s changing. More and more long-form shows start with scenes. And dynamic scenes start in the middle.

Even if you just have a fragment of something to begin with, that’s OK. Make assumptions. Decide to know each other. Make bold choices, and you’ll figure it out as you go.

Another way to think of it is like an Oreo cookie.

In Canada there’s a brand called Eat The Middle First. The boring outer layer is like all those scenes that start with “Hey,” “Hi,” and other timid offers. Feel free to ditch that and dive right in to the fun part.

Don’t wait to get to the good stuff.

Carpe Cookie

Carpe Cookie

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