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Here’s a fun project for a lazy Sunday.

We have a ton of comedy ephemera we’ve collected over the years, but it’s just been sitting in a box. I decided to make this simple strip collage using programs from two of my favourite Second City revues, Live Wrong and Prosper and Dreams Really Do Come True! (And Other Lies).

I started by painting a piece of illustration board black (you can also paint cardboard or use black construction paper). I cut the two program covers into strips and glued them down with Mod Podge, or you can use any white glue. Then coat the final piece with glue to seal it.

I love the way it turned out! You can make a similar one with show flyers, posters, programs, or festival schedules. It’s a great way to showcase fond memories.

SC PhotoToaster

 

We were hoping Second City would release this one day! It’s the “Maya” sketch from their 50th anniversary, featuring Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and David Razowsky.

Now if someone would just post the full video of Pinata Full of Bees

 

 

Early on in my improv life, I did a set where I played a heroin addict. (My scene partner’s character had AIDS, so presumably we needed some comic relief.)

Doing my best Sid and Nancy impression, I mimed jamming a syringe repeatedly into my left leg.

When second beats rolled around, I decided to do a time dash. Hopping on one leg, I held my foot behind me.

The only problem was, in my haste to initiate, it appeared that my right leg had been amputated.

Instead of taking this gift from the comedy gods, I “corrected” myself and switched legs, thus destroying the reality that had already been established – and that everyone had seen.

Things deteriorated from there (if that’s possible), and by third beats…well…to quote Mark Twain, “Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene.”

It took me a while to understand that so-called mistakes are a gift.

If I hadn’t been hell-bent on doing the “right” thing, my teammates and I could have played with the fact that my good leg got amputated.

Maybe the doctor was also an addict, and he operated while he was high. Maybe the hospital realised their error, and in the third beat I’d be legless. Who knows?

Not my brain.

The second you find yourself judging what’s already happened, put your focus on what’s here now.

It’s all that ever matters.

“The biggest laughs I’ve ever had in my life are something going off the rails, something going wrong, something happening that wasn’t supposed to happen. And improv teaches you not to fear those moments; that’s where the gold is.” – Conan O’Brien

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

 

There’s a theory in personal finance that says, “Your income is the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

It’s enough to strike fear in the hearts of actors everywhere.

If you’re not earning big bucks, the thinking goes, you need to seek out people who do and start spending time with them. (What they don’t say, is what to do if those five people are douchebags.)

Before you quit improv to become a commodities trader, there’s another concept that’s far more valuable in my opinion: the idea of “psychic income.” It involves all those things that you don’t get paid for, but which give something back to the world – and in so doing, fill your cup as well.

For most of us, improv pays little (if anything), but it’s off the charts in terms of psychic income.

Few things compare to the high you feel when you’ve finished a great set. The same goes for coaching or teaching. You may not be earning six figures, but where else can you experience the joy of watching grown men and women play “Big Booty”?

Citibank’s slogan used to be “Live richly.” (That was before the whole subprime mortgage meltdown. Then they changed it to “Citi never sleeps” – presumably because no one was sleeping after the subprime meltdown thing.)

If you want a rich life, it’s simple:

Surround yourself with people who enrich you.

People you admire or aspire to be like. People who are smarter than you, who broaden your understanding of the world. People who go out and make things happen, as opposed to just sitting around criticizing. People who make you laugh.

When I look at my favourite improv teams, they’re made up of friends who respect and support each other. They share what they have unreservedly, and celebrate each other’s successes.

That’s living richly.

Bonspiel! Theatre’s Ashley Botting, Alastair Forbes, Rob Baker & James Gangl spin comedy gold

Screen shot 2014-02-13 at 6.50.25 PM

When you hear the word “artist,” what do you picture?

(a) That Picasso guy

(b) Turtlenecked hipsters who say “juxtapose” and “deconstructed” while stroking their Llewyn Davis beards

(c) That Van Gogh guy

(d) This

Well, it’s time for a new definition.

I don’t care if you’re a barista, a broker, or a shoe salesman. I couldn’t care less if you haven’t picked up a paintbrush since 1992. I don’t give a shit if the last time you did something creative was when Mr Beresford gave you a D minus in pottery.

What you do in your day job is not who you are, even if you work in a so-called “creative” field. Also, fuck Mr Beresford.

Being an artist doesn’t require paint or clay or a stage. It’s not about the medium you choose, it’s about using your ability to create, and using it daily.

That last part is key. Because while you’re an artist, the chances are very good that you’re blocked. Most of us are. We spend hours, weeks, months, years working on other people’s ideas, but somehow we never seem to find the time for our own.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron will unblock you.

It’s a 12-week course in recovering creativity. You’ll learn how to silence your inner critic, make new discoveries as you heal old wounds, and find the joy in making space for art in your everyday life.

As a kid, I loved to draw, write stories, play the piano, and make my own “TV shows.” I did these things every day as far back as I can remember. But when I started working in advertising, I stopped making art for myself.

After 20 years of squeezing what creativity I could into ads for cars and banks and cleaning products, two things helped me find my own voice again: learning to improvise, and The Artist’s Way.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

If you feel like you’ve lost your sense of play…

If you yearn to make short films or decorate cakes or write your own comics or make things from popsicle sticks…

If it’s been so long since you did something creative, not for money or someone’s approval, but just for the fun of it, you need The Artist’s Way.

Just as important, the world needs your art.

P.S. I bought the watercolour set above four years ago. The colours made me smile, so pretty in their little trays. But when I got home, I got scared. What if I tried to make something and it SUCKED? So I put it in storage and promptly forgot about it. Within two weeks of starting The Artist’s Way, I got over my fear, as you can see.

A special thank you to Shari Hollett for introducing me to The Artist’s Way.

We’ve all been there.

Venues where the bar fridge is louder than the performers. Shows where no one shows up. Sets so bad that no amount of alcohol can blot out the shameful memory.

For me, it’s any number of shows that took place at the Savannah Room. It was, to put not too fine a point on it, a shithole.

“You’re crazy if you think I’m touching this filthy stage.”

Photo © Reggie D’Souza

More than once the place had to be evacuated due to flooding. I remember seeing Matt Folliott doing tech, his sneakers submerged in cables and rainwater, and wondering if this was the night we would all die.

Then there was the stage.

It wasn’t large, but this thing had holes that surely led to Middle Earth.

One time Charna Halpern taught a workshop there. Forty or so people signed up. Half of us watched as the other half got on their hands and knees to do an organic opening.

They started pounding the stage with their hands, getting faster and more intense.

We watched in horror as a dust cloud rose from the ancient carpet. Prehistoric molecules, no doubt redolent of polio and semen, stood out in stark relief under the lights.

Oblivious, the players kept pounding. When the dust cloud was finally higher than Charna, everyone started coughing uncontrollably.

But my special and favourite Savannah story involved my first Harold team, Leroy. Rob Ariss Hills, Gene Abella and I were on stage when a cat brushed past my leg.

I was momentarily caught off guard, but went back to killing it with my patented Shaft character. That’s when I saw it again.

It wasn’t a cat. It was a rat. And it was coming back toward us.

I shrieked and jumped into the first row of chairs (empty, of course) as the rat swept the scene. Gene said later he wished he’d tagged it out.

Shortly after, the Savannah Room closed its doors for the last time.

That’s my worst show. What’s yours?

Photo © Mae Martin

Photo © Mae Martin

If you’re me and you like to write, you’ll rewrite something over and over again. In improv we don’t have this option. We are writing in the moment with no editor and sometimes no forethought whatsoever.

When we start off as improvisers doing this crazy thing like writing in the moment with others on stage, we often dislike or forget to honour and explore the first few things we offer up. I mean, why would we? We are just dumping our mind garbage, to quote my friend Freddie Rivas, all over the stage and hoping that within that heap of waste there is something worth taking a deeper look at.

We often run past or own brilliance at the top of a scene with blinding speed and agility. We think it can’t be that easy. That look, that line of dialogue, your body language. No it can’t be that simple. Let’s find something else to explore! We are complicated begins and when we make stuff up we often bring our own complexities on stage and forget to listen to the precious, brilliant and simple things we offer each other.

Everything we say and do on stage is precious.

Every look, every line, every movement or gesture can be the key to unlocking the greatest scene you’ve ever played. Stop running past the top of your scene and start being precious with every moment.

In improv you’re right. It’s not like the outside world, where we are constantly told we aren’t right, and that we aren’t good enough and that we have to be better. In improv we are always right.

The choices you make and the choices I make are right and they were never wrong, we just have to stop and recognize how beautiful, how simplistic and how precious these moments really are.

Only you can give yourself an improv scene, start trusting that your offers are good enough, start being precious with the things you say and do on stage, but remember: they are precious only in the moment. When that scene is over it will never be done again and there is no going back. That is when we no longer need to be precious. We celebrate the moment and move on, hopefully taking a lesson learned with us to the next.

This is The Precious Nature of Things, and I’m David Suzuki.

Kidding. I’m Matt Folliott.

Matt Folliott is an actor/improviser/comedian, and member of Standards & Practices. He’s performed in festivals across North America, including DCM, CIF, VIIF, Out Of Bounds, Improvaganza, and Mprov. To learn more visit his website, or check out his Fuck Yes! with Moniquea Marion podcast.

After eight years of doing improv, I’m finally comfortable on stage. Sometimes I still get butterflies before shows, but gone are the sweaty palms, the dizziness in the green room, the sudden urge to stay in the bathroom all night.

For a long time, just the act of getting on stage felt risky. Now I feel it’s time to push myself further.

This year, I want to do things I’ve never done, done only once, or never thought I could do. Things like…

Ghosting

TJ and Dave regularly incorporate ghosting in their sets. So does Toronto’s El Fantoma.

Both are masters at creating clearly defined characters whose posture, timbre, and gestures are easily identifiable. That’s important, not just for the performers, but so the audience knows what’s happening as well.

Definitely a skill I’d like to work on.

Using A Mic

Most venues have a microphone on hand, and savvy tech guys like Comedy Bar’s Mark Andrada will turn it on if they see an improviser wants to use it.

I’ve seen mics used (generally offstage) for the Voice of God, an airplane captain, a lounge lizard, and sound effects like wind, rain, a train, a gong, and beatboxing.

It looks like fun, but for some reason I’ve never dared try it. This year I will dare.

Interacting Directly With The Audience

I’ve done this once, maybe twice with my team, and never on my own. The idea of going into the crowd and mingling or talking with someone terrifies me as much as it probably does them. Which is why I have to do it.

Leaving The Stage Completely

Occasionally someone will exit the stage and never return (well, not for the rest of the set anyway). It always seems like a gutsy move, but somehow I felt if I tried it, I’d be abandoning my team.

When I think about it though, the people I’ve seen do it weren’t screwing over their scene partners. If the opportunity presents itself and it doesn’t feel forced, I’m gonna go for it.

Performing Behind The Curtain

For some reason, playing behind the curtain while staying in the scene scares the bejeezus out of me. Whenever I see people do it I think, “How do they know what’s going on? Can they really hear back there? What if the scene gets swept and they don’t know?” 

(Ahh, “What if…?” The birth – and death – of so many great things.)

Some people go one further and do their scene from the green room. This terrifies me even more, so I guess I’ve gotta try it at some point.

Making Bold Choices…And Sticking With Them

David Pasquesi sometimes plays with his back to the audience.

Anand Rajaram once stood motionless for a whole scene while saliva slowly dripped from his mouth to the floor.

Alex Tindal regularly hoists himself up to the rafters, and he’s even been known to get naked on stage.

While I’m not quite ready to get naked, I am ready to make changes. For years, I’ve struggled with “adaptive improviser” syndrome, where I come in with a strong character and then drop it when I think my scene partner’s offer is so much better.

This year I want to make brave choices and stick to them.

Taking Risks And Trusting

When S&P performed in Chicago a few years ago, Isaac Kessler played a character who died while seated. As his character stood up and slowly moved towards the light, Cameron came in behind him and slumped in the chair.

It was beautiful to watch. Not funny, but inspiring.

He told me after that he wondered for a split second if the team would know he was Isaac’s body, and not a new character, but he quickly dismissed the thought and made the move.

This year I want to make moves like that. I want to stop playing safe.

A friend on TourCo very kindly invited us to do the improv set after the show. As I feel my comfort with being on stage suddenly dissolve in a wave of nausea and sweaty palms, I’m contenting myself with the fact that I can always do it from the green room.

“The job is not to succeed, but fail more interesting than the last time – in a more subtle fashion or in a more intriguing way.” – TJ Jagodowski

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