Info

You’ve trained. You’ve rehearsed. You’re ready to rock’n’roll. But where?

In the past, improvisers performed where they studied, or looked for existing shows to be part of. Now a new breed of players is getting creative in the ongoing pursuit of stage time.

Pop-Up Improv

Image © Countdown Theater

Image © Countdown Theater

Retailers have pop-up spaces, why not improvisers? The idea “popped” in my head last year. But while I was still musing, Kelly Buttermore was making it happen. Countdown Theater is a pop-up improv space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. (Could it be any cooler?) It opened February 1st this year, and closes April 1st. In her words, it’s “an ephemeral space for an ephemeral art form.”

Do what Kelly did: keep your eyes peeled for potential locations, then get in touch with the landlord or lease holder. Invite other teams, and maybe even collaborate with other artists in your community (musicians, dancers, painters, etc.) It’s a buzz-worthy way to showcase talent, and who knows where it could lead? To learn more about Countdown, click here.

Podcast Your Passion

There’s a podcast for practically everything nowadays, from modern love to mental health to mostly made-up movies. Most podcasts are two people and a mic in a basement, but why not do it in front of an audience? Here are three podcasts that do just that.

Improv Nerd is a show, a podcast, and an improv master class rolled into one. Host Jimmy Carrane has interviewed and performed with the cream of comedy, including Key & Peele, Scott Adsit, Rachel Dratch, TJ & Dave, and The Improvised Shakespeare Company to name a few of his over 200 guests. If you can’t make it out to a live show, you can listen on iTunes.

Comedy Bang! Bang! The show that launched a thousand catchphrases, Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang! has been making fans laugh with improvised nonsense since 2009. While it started on Earwolf and later aired on TV for five seasons, the core players have also performed live. Last year they toured North America, as well as four stops Down Under. Regular cast members include Paul F. Tompkins, Lauren Lapkus, Jason Mantzoukas, Andy Daly, Ben Schwartz, Matt Besser, and Bob Odenkirk. All joking a salad, we heart CBB. 

Illusionoid Nug Nahrgang, Paul Bates, and Lee Smart have been bringing their brand of sci-fi comedy to audiences for almost a decade. Past guests include Colin Mochrie, Sean Cullen, The Templeton Philharmonic, and Scott Thompson.

According to Nug, “The show is like Twlight Zone or Tales from the Crypt. There’s a host, and it’s this man from the future, the last surviving human, and he’s sending these stories backwards in time in hopes that we’ll prevent these horrible things from happening.” (We can think of something we’d like to prevent, Nug…)

They’ve just signed with Antica Productions, the folks behind Gord Downie’s Secret Path. If you can’t catch the show in person, subscribe here.

10494928_776834102337911_4767795704613395827_o

Find A Sponsor, Create A Form

If you really want to think outside The Harold, go beyond improv and appeal to a whole new audience. Abra Cadaver met in the Second City Longform Conservatory program, and have gone on to perform for packed houses across the city. We asked them about their signature show, Bunz Live.

P&C: Your show is called Bunz Live. How did you come up with it?

Molly: Cameron Algie was our coach at the time–

P&C: Terrible.

Molly: (laughs) He was really encouraging us because we’re a very theatrical group, to kind of use our bodies because we’re all really comfortable “movers,” to try and find a form that would encapsulate that. And there’s also this burgeoning community called Bunz. It’s an online platform where you can trade items for anything. Like, if I have an extra shoe, I can trade it for some ramen noodles.

Robbie: Of all of the examples, that was not the most amazingly descriptive example, but…

Antonis: Let’s say this: someone can teach you piano, but they won’t ask for money, they’ll ask for a sofa because they really need a sofa.

P&C: That’s one of the things about Bunz, no cash is allowed, is that right?

Molly: Yes, exactly. No cash, only item for item.

Robbie: Side note: it ends up being a lot of people asking for tokens and beer, and subway tokens are kinda funny because it looks like money, people treat it like money, so why don’t they just give each other money?

Antonis: Plus it has an exact monetary value.

Robbie: Maybe they haven’t heard of this thing called “money.”

Dana: Another interesting thing in coming up with the form was that Cam kind of wanted to expand us to the idea of thinking outside of just the Conservatory. Thinking like, OK, if you’re gonna take the time and you want to explore something and make a show, really think about, “What’s something that hasn’t been explored in Toronto?”

That was something we weren’t necessarily thinking of when we were making our form. It [went from], “What hasn’t been done [in long form]?” to “What’s happening right now that hasn’t really been explored, that might have an audience?” And there’s a huge Bunz community.

Molly: I feel like we got lucky. In Toronto there was this online start-up company, and we were like this online improv company (laughs) no, live improv company. It just kind of worked; we were both coming up at the same time and a lot of people we knew were also involved in that community. And it was an audience outside of the comedy audience.

P&C: That’s what’s so interesting. As you know, improvisers often end up performing for other improvisers. We’re always asking “How do we get people from outside the community to come and see a show?” Especially when the players are at a certain level, performing to a handful of people, you think, “Aaaaahhh, if only more people could see this!” Get more people into the cult. (laughs) And I find the vibe in the room can be really great when there’s new people.

Molly: Absolutely. We’re just starting out, but even connecting with the Bunz team at their headquarters was so great to say, “We’ve got an idea, we’re trying something new. You’ve got an idea, you’re trying something new.” It’s awesome.

P&C: So how did you approach Bunz?

Molly: I’ve played in bands in Toronto, and I had played with Emily who started Bunz in a new year’s show at the Silver Dollar. She played in a band called Milk Lines. I was friends with her on Facebook and then noticed that she was starting Bunz. So when we started playing with the idea, I got in touch with her and it kinda went from there.

P&C: You said you’re a theatrical group. What do you mean by that?

Antonis: We all have differing backgrounds, in theatre, in film, in dance. I personally started in music theatre, I have a lot of dance background, and I try to bring that out in my comedy. I think that’s something about Abra Cadaver and Bunz Live that is really fun, is that we all have diverse talents and we all work hard to bring those talents out.

Dana: It’s all about becoming those objects or those people, so when we all started doing it together it was so wonderful to see other people jump into the form and really do it.

P&C: You’re a very physical team compared to “stand and talk” kind of shows that are more common. As an audience member it’s very cool to watch.

Robbie: All but one person have some kind of theatre background.

Antonis: That’s Jason, and he works at a museum, so that’s equally as fascinating, so I feel like his frame of reference is huge.

Robbie: And we need that difference. Also Jason’s a physical actor.

Antonis: He’s a very, very funny guy.

Molly: He’ll be an actor when we’re finished with him. (laughs)

Catch Abra Cadaver (Kate Fenton, Molly Flood, Robbie Grant, Ross Hammond, Leanne Miller, Dana Puddicombe, Samara Stern, Jason Voulgaris, and Antonis Varkaris) at Bunz Live, SoCap Theatre, Monday, March 13. Admission: $5, or bring an item to trade and enjoy the show for free! 

Photo © People & Chairs

Photo © People & Chairs

Click here for Parts One and Two of this series.

You hear a lot about “getting reps” in improv. And for most people, reps = stage time. But before you start making a Facebook event for your show, we’d like to focus on a different kind of rep.

What Are We Talking About?

giphy

Once you’ve got a team together, you need to rehearse on a regular basis. Why? Because it’s a helluva lot easier to develop group mind when you know each other, understand your fellow players’ moves, and share a common language. And the only way to do that is to practice.

Finding a good coach is key. Choose someone who shares your group’s goals and needs, or whose approach you want to model. Ask yourselves what you want to achieve as a team. Is improv a hobby? Or do you want to make a dent in the universe? If that sounds too lofty, here are two stories to inspire you.

Jazz Freddy

Chicago’s Jazz Freddy is legendary, and with good reason. The cast reads like a Who’s Who of Comedy, including Pete Gardner, Brian Stack, Dave Koechner, Rachel Dratch, Noah Gregoropoulos, Kevin Dorff, Jimmy Carrane, Miriam Tolan, Pat Finn, Chris Reed, Stephanie Howard, Susan McLaughlin and Meredith Zinner.

Photo © ? (If you know, please let me us know so we can credit them)

Photo © ? (If you know, please let us know so we can credit them)

When Jazz Freddy debuted at the Live Bait Theater, they broke the mould with their innovative, patient style of improv and attention to acting skills. It was one of the first long-form shows to be done in a theatre, as opposed to a comedy club or bar. It was also one of the first ensembles to feature almost as many women as men – unheard of in 1992.

As Craig Cackowski recalls, “Everything about it exuded class, from the Ray Charles music that played as the house lights faded to the fact that they were playing on actual sets of regular Live Bait productions,” (a tactic later employed by Stolen House).

Director and cast member Pete Gardner said, “There was a feeling of bringing your A-game, which established a lot of trust. People let go and experimented with forms and structures. Everyone understood that they were playing it straight – truth in comedy – like Del taught. They weren’t playing for jokes.”

The form itself involved a “two back, one forward” concept with two-person scenes, as well as scenes involving large groups of players. Jazz Freddy is credited with the first use of tag-outs in long form, and was among the first to use cross-fade edits.

There were callbacks, relationships, time dashes, and a modified three-scene structure similar to Harold. But as Matt Fotis notes in his book, Long Form Improvisation and American Comedy, Jazz Freddy was “less about format and more focused on content, style, and dedication to craft.”

“Members made the group their top priority, turning down other jobs and rearranging schedules around Jazz Freddy rehearsals, something that has rarely occurred in a form that for 99 percent of improvisers doesn’t pay any money.”

In an interview with Pam Victor, Brian Stack recalled, “One of my favourite memories of Jazz Freddy involved a recurring scene in which two old men were playing chess in a park, and another unrelated recurring scene that took place in a mediaeval castle. At some point late in the show, a reference was made during the ‘castle’ scene to the ‘strange, checkered landscape’ outside. It became clear that the action in the castle was taking place in the rook on the old men’s chessboard. It was one of those totally organic on-stage discoveries that I’ll never forget, and it still reminds me of why I love improv so much.”

Big In Japan

That same dedication to craft was shared by Toronto long-form legends, Big In Japan. Like Jazz Freddy, their line-up boasted future comedy royalty: Alex Tindal, Sarah Hillier, Julie Dumais Osborne, Bob Banks, Sean Tabares, Sean Magee, Kevin Thom, Adam Cawley, James Gangl, and later Ken Hall, Jess Grant, Alexandra Wylie, Paloma Nunez and Molly Davis.

Photo © Kevin Patrick Robbins

Photo © Kevin Patrick Robbins

While different from Jazz Freddy‘s slow comedy style, Big In Japan carved a name for themselves with memorable, experimental ensemble work that was fluid and highly thematic. It was astounding to see so many hilarious and highly intelligent people on stage at once, all pushing boundaries while supporting one another.

Kevin Thom recalls, “I can’t remember how long we rehearsed before we actually played on stage, but it was a few months anyway. We were rehearsing in the ITC studio on Wellington Street. I remember that we did break down the Harold and work on individual pieces of it for very long stretches. We worked on organic openings for months, different kinds of organic edits for more months, etc.

Sometimes we were forbidden from doing things KPR (Kevin Patrick Robbins, Impatient Theatre Company’s Artistic Director and BIJ’s coach) thought we did too often. Specifically, Sarah was forbidden from doing scenes about cats. We were collectively forbidden from shitting on stage. Whenever KPR wasn’t there, we would do all those things as much as possible.”

Adam Cawley said, “I just remember really wanting to be on BIJ. I wasn’t on the original. I joined when I was prob 20, 21? But I remember looking up to them as a team. Once I joined I felt like I’d joined an all star team. At that time there were amazing improvisers around, but not all of them were interested in the Harold. But BIJ felt like some of the best longform players in the city.”

Two sets that will forever be remembered by those who saw them were for the suggestions “Anarchy” and “Misogyny.” According to Kevin Thom, “I remember the Anarchy set really well. That was at the Diesel Playhouse. We were up in the tech booth messing with the lights and sound, pulling props from backstage, breaking chairs, running through the audience. I think the ITC had to pay for the damages we did that night.”

Sarah Hillier recalls, “I had that moment while playing with Big In Japan, the ‘Oh, this is what improv is’ moment. Where it all connected for me and I will never forget that moment on stage. We broke the organic Harold open with Anarchy and the Misogyny set. We let it take us wherever it was gonna take us and didn’t necessarily do a traditional Harold. I feel like we decided to be a part of the improv and not just play it.”

For the Misogyny set, the male members of Big In Japan wouldn’t let the women on stage. Sarah remembers “being in the audience and yelling at everyone so much and somehow it was still improv, because we all completely gave in to it.”

Sean Tabares: “I wasn’t an original member, but I was close. I do remember spending a lot of time on specific concepts, but I feel that was partly because we were sort of figuring it out all together as we went along. The feeling at the time for me was that these ideas were all pretty new to our community, and any visitor or any time we visited someplace was a wealth of new inspiration.

I remember the early days as a time of learning by watching other out-of-town troupes and trying to figure it out on our feet. That’s why we rehearsed so much. A bit like teaching yourself an instrument but with access to a radio once a month or so. Guest instructors and classes abroad were so huge. The Anarchy show period was the first time I felt we were really doing it. The elusive Harold that only shows itself if the players are in the right mindset. Going beyond the rigid structure that started to seem like a cruel joke. That only after mastering this ‘form’ do you get to do the real Harold which is whatever it wants to be. Oh man, I do love this art form.

I forget the suggestion, but I’m also remembering one where the first scene involved a pig mayor, and each scene that followed took place in the stomach of someone in the scene prior. Russian doll stomachs!

I do know that I’ve never rehearsed with an improv troupe as I have with BIJ. Not just in terms of longevity. Density of rehearsals. Over my time with BIJ, I’ve been blessed to play with the best in the business, and the dedication to rehearsal has to be a factor. No coincidence there.”

Kevin Thom added, “We also did a set on the suggestion of ‘Palindrome’ where we started with one thing, did half a set and then started reversing everything until we ended up at the beginning again.

In general, I remember how much I loved playing with BIJ because of how everyone approached and studied improv as a serious art, giving it the respect it deserves, while still leaving room for the chaos and fun that makes it feel so good.”

1923401_14616905353_8295_n-1

Photo © Kevin Patrick Robbins

In conclusion, both of these teams were stacked with talent, but they didn’t just focus on how many shows they had booked. Instead, they put in months of rehearsals, sometimes multiple times a week. When they finally did set foot on stage, they were unscripted but incredibly prepared.

We think Del would have been proud.

For further reading on Jazz Freddy, we highly recommend Matt Fotis’s book and Pam Victor’s blog, My Nephew Is A Poodle.

In Part Three, we’ll explore more ways to think outside the black box in terms of format and show location.

If you stay in the improv community long enough, change will come. Sometimes it’s good (a new theatre opening, more shows featuring women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community). And sometimes it’s not so good (a theatre closing, a beloved performer leaving, your favourite burrito place shutting down).

Last week Toronto was shaken by the news that Second City’s Longform Conservatory program is ending. That means fewer Longform classes, no more stage time for grad teams, and the loss of a home for a strong and growing improv community.

There’s no way to sugar coat it: this is tough for a city with few outlets for long form, especially compared to Chicago, New York, or L.A.

When stuff like this happens, it’s common to feel the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, finding a new burrito place. But having been through upheaval ourselves a few times, here’s what we’ve learned. 

giphy

History Repeats

Whatever is happening in your community has already happened before. Institutions from Second City to iO to Annoyance to UCB have been threatened with eviction, lost their lease, teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, or worse.

Artistic Directors come and go, curriculums morph, and shows evolve. But as long as there’s a passionate group of people willing to play for the sheer joy of it, there will always be long-form nights.

“But how?” you might be asking if you’re in this situation. “Where do I start?”

Let’s begin with the basics: education. There are so many different approaches to long-form, you could spend years just learning them all. Ask your network for recommendations. Chances are there are some great long-form teachers who want to share their knowledge as much as you want to learn. (And could use the work!)

Don’t be afraid to look outside your home town for specialty classes. iO, Annoyance, UCB, Magnet and others have intensives year round from one to five weeks long. If you can’t get away, see if you can bring an instructor to you.

Isaac Kessler, Rob Chodos, and Mark Cotoia brought many A-listers to Toronto, exposing the community to a wealth of technique, forms, and viewpoints that enriched not only the students, but everyone they’ve since gone on to teach. Some of Cameron’s favourite exercises came from workshops he took with Jet Eveleth, Todd Stashwick, TJ and Dave, and David Razowsky.

If you don’t have an improv impresario in your town, maybe you’re that person. Ask your community who they’d like to learn from. Once you have a short list, contact them to discuss availability and rates. You’ll need to cover the instructor’s fee, plus transportation and accommodation. (Fortunately Airb’n’b has made the latter much easier.) And don’t forget to factor in renting a space for the class.

Calculate how many students you’ll need at what price to break even, and be sure to get payment in full up front. You don’t want to be left holding the bag because 20 people were interested and only four people showed up.

Finally, don’t limit yourself to improv. Acting, singing, clown, and mask are great ways to round out your theatre skills, so stretch yourself by trying something new.

Next, we’ll look at rehearsals and stage time, because you’ll need a place to perform. Before you book your parents’ basement, stay tuned for Part Two.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

Like many people, Cameron and I were stunned to hear of Tony’s Rosato’s passing. In addition to tears and sadness, there’s regret that we didn’t spend more time with such a wonderful person in our community.

When we started this blog, I made a mental note to interview Tony: about his life, his career, and his return to improv after enrolling in Level A at the Second City Training Centre. (I mean, he’d been on SCTV and SNL and he’s taking a Level A…who does that?!) But I was shy to start the conversation, and the post never happened. Cameron knew and performed with him, but both of their shynesses resulted in not hanging out much outside of shows.

And yet, Tony had the ability to make everyone feel like a friend. He would genuinely listen fully with people, even for a short chat, and let you know he cared about this moment together.

The outpouring of emotion for him has been so beautiful, we asked to share some of the remembrances. Hearing the stories, and thinking of our own experience, our take-away is: Don’t wait, connect. Thank you Tony, for making us all laugh and feel loved.

tony-rosato

“Last night we lost one of the greats. Our friend, Tony Rosato has passed away.

I had the pleasure of working with Tony on many occasions, most recently while coaching his long-form team, Janice. It always warmed my heart to watch him play. I know he was so thankful to be a member of this community and find improv again after overcoming many challenges in his life.

He was an incredible performer. Tony’s medical condition made comprehension and day-to-day interactions challenging for him. But onstage you’d never know. He would navigate complex forms, dissolve completely into the fabric of scenes, and parade his favourite characters: Italian hothead, Mafia brute, or put-upon straight man. Characters that were assembled with a craftsmanship you don’t see anymore on improv stages. Huge, hilarious, but also real and lived in.

Sometimes when leaving the theatre, I’d compliment his set or thank Tony for playing. He never gave a glib response. Instead he would smile and say “I love you Rob.” Not in a showbiz way. In a quiet, understated way. Tony was worried that I would leave the building without knowing how he felt.

As the son of a British dad and passive-aggressive librarian, it made me uncomfortable at first. I didn’t know how to respond. But Tony kept saying it to me, until I started saying it back to him.

Tony’s incredible courage could be seen in his vulnerability both on and offstage. To reach out. To connect with the people that mattered to him.

Thanks for everything Tony (and I love you too).” – Rob Norman

“So many comedians and improvisers expect laughs. They get up there and are pissed when the laughs don’t come. They blame the audience, their team, whoever! But Tony Rosato always seemed shocked and grateful that the audience would howl with laughter when he was on stage. He would get a little smirk as if he was thinking “Whoa, they like what I’m doing? Awesome!” He was that humble. I had the pleasure of teaching Tony three or four terms and he wore a suit every week, to every show and to every class. Every class! He always wanted to be professional and respectful of his craft.

He found a special place at The Second City. Twice! He was a MainStage member, SCTV cast member, SNL member and then went through some tough times. But years later, he returned. And he once again found a family of people who welcomed him as if he’d never left.

It was a special thing to watch Tony perform. It was exhilarating to share the stage with him and it was lovely just to know him. I’m very happy and spoiled that I got to do all of it.” – Adam Cawley

“I am heartbroken to hear about the passing of Tony Rosato. In the improv community, and especially the Longform community, we have so many kind souls, but Tony was one of the sweetest among the sweet people.

Me being a newb, the first time I met Tony he was sitting outside a Second City student show 40 minutes early. I judged him immediately as some oddball who knew nothing about the place. Little did I know this man knew more about Second City, improv, and the comedy scene than I may ever know.

Some of us fall into problems with ego and competition in performing in this community, I certainly have. Tony was sincerely a man with none of that. Despite his incredible level of experience, he would never bring up his resume, or explain anything to anyone. He acted like a student even though he was a master, and respected the people he performed on stage with.

I can think of so many times this rang true, but one in particular was when he was accidentally standing underneath a photo of himself performing on Mainstage years ago. I asked him, “Tony, are you standing underneath that photo of you to make sure people know you’re a bigshot?”

Of course I would think that way, that’s how jealous people think. You should have seen the face he made when he noticed it! He looked at me like he didn’t understand at all. Of course he didn’t. Tony would never consider something like that. He was so sweetly appalled at the idea. It was the furthest thing from what he was.

I could go on about all the kindness Tony showed me, but he was just someone who always made me feel noticed. He would light up when he recognized me, and for someone who performed like he did to act so genuinely loving to everyone, without any care about crap like ‘status’, meant a lot.

I will miss seeing you perform so much Tony. I wish I could tell you that myself but I can’t, so this sappy Facebook post about how great you were and how much I promise to learn from your kindness will have to do.” – Geoffrey Cork

Photo © Denise Grant

Photo © Denise Grant

“Tony Rosato performed on SCTV, worked on SNL, but he got nervous to do an improv show in a basement. He hugged the back wall for the first few scenes, but when he finally stepped out he brought the house down with just one look. I’ll miss you Tony.” – Kevin Whalen

“I had the great pleasure of teaching Tony Rosato last term at The Second City. Every single class I fought the urge to scream to the rest of the group “DO YOU GUYS WHO TONY IS!??!” But he was there to learn, and I didn’t want to embarrass him.”

I was in awe of the courage and humility it took for Tony Friggin Rosato to show up to an improv class. But he was curious, attentive, and present every time. And so good on stage. He was a master in the process of remastering.

I liked you a lot, Tony, and I’ll miss you very much.” – Ashley Botting

“The year Tony first came to Second City, at Halloween I put on the movie Halloween, and he walked in and there’s a scene with actor, Donald Pleasence, who to me is a very famous actor and was a very famous actor in the 60’s-80’s. He calmly said, “Hey that’s Donald, he did SNL back in the day with us. He was a very nice guy. I wrote a few scenes for him.” Then he left the room and everyone just looked at each other in awe. Oddly enough, the movie that got Donald the SNL gig was Halloween.” – Paul Aihoshi

“I remember when Kevin Frank told me that Tony Rosato was taking classes at the Second City Training Centre. As someone who grew up watching SCTV and Saturday Night Live, the chance to meet and talk to someone who did both was amazing.

A month later, after a weekend class, I walked into the SCTC washroom and there was Tony, I took the chance to in introduce myself with the brilliant statement of “Hey you’re Tony Rosato! I am a big fan!” He laughed and shook my hand and then I apologised for the awkward washroom meeting. He asked my name and every time I would see him at the training centre he would say “Hey Jon how’s it going” or something along those lines. He would also say something nice about my performance. It meant a lot to me and was a big deal.

He was humble, nice, supportive and so talented watching him perform in the old JCB was an extremely lucky privilege. It’s amazing when someone meets and greatly exceeds your expectations. My condolences to his loved ones.” – Jonathon Bernstein

“I had the pleasure, and honour of playing with him a few times, and always had a fun time. He would always remember your name, was always polite, and even though he had the kind of career we all dream to have, he never acted like he was better than us. He just wanted to play. I remember being blown away when he told me he thought I was funny, and liked what I did. I will miss him, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. Rest in peace, Tony.” – Andrew Haggith

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

There are many different, passionate schools of thought on plot in improv. If you’re doing a narrative form like The Quest, or a musical format that requires you to hit certain plot points, it can lead to great shows. But for “regular” long form, it’s always been a stumbling block for me. So when this appeared in my newsfeed via David Razowsky, I had to share:

Hey, improvisers. I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and he has a great paragraph on the need for plot. As many of you might remember, I’ve said “Fuck plot.” He, of course, said it in a more elegant way. (At the final sentence, please replace “writer” with “improviser.”):

“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can –– I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow…”

Improviser Dave Clapper added:

Both as a writer and as an improviser, I couldn’t agree with this more. Here’s another favorite quote that applies to both:
“Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic. So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.” – Ray Bradbury

Thanks, guys!

fireworks-giphy

After an emotionally charged 2016, we wanted to know people’s thoughts, goals, hopes, and wishes for the year ahead. Some are funny, some are profound, and all of them are inspiring. 

Laura Salvas: Take action on my secret plan to write for TV. This means facing my fear of being a nuisance or learning that I suck and asking people for advice or to read my original pilot. My 2016 plan of shyly waiting around in an artistic coma, hoping to simply be discovered like Snow White, didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.

James Gangl: In 2017 I want to use my experience to help people. Right now, I bring my life experience to the stage primarily to entertain and primarily for me…folks get something out of it, gravy. In 2017 I’d like to devote time and talent to causes focused on those dealing with childhood trauma, and use storytelling to give voice to those who haven’t been given the opportunity to be heard. That and find a nice coffee table for my new apartment.

Nelu Handa: No one really has any of this figured out. So maybe just get real quiet and ask yourself for the answers instead. Feel like an imposter if you must, but get over it faster. Tell your cynicism to fuck off.

Colin Munch: This whole “2016 was the worst” thing is bullshit. It’s chaff, a distraction. Beautiful and terrible things happened this year like they do every year, and all we can do is carve out a little life for ourselves in the maelstrom of life. I resolve to spend 2017 the way I’ve spent the last 10 years: I will bring the people that matter to me closer, grow distant from the people that don’t, work hard, make art that matters to me, and learn more about the universe while keeping my own fragility in perspective. That’s all I can do.

Erin Goldsmith: In 2017 I’d really love to learn a new language. Not half-ass it; fully commit. I want to be double valuable.

Oliver Georgiou: I’d like to start working on a lesson plan for my own specialty improv classes. An expanded one for a 4-8 week course, but more immediately a condensed or specific three-hour workshop with which I can travel to festivals. 2016 has been a period of significant growth for myself as a comedian and artist, and I feel like I have much to share with anyone who’d be willing to listen.

Isaac Kessler: In 2016 I had about seven emotional breakdowns, compared to zero emotional breakdowns that I had never experienced. And ya know what, even if I was a time traveller with a cool car alarm laser weapon, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. In 2016 I also experienced more miracles than ever, and not some sea-parting-for-a-cool-chase-sequence miracle, I’m talking step-out-of-your-comfort-zone-real-deal-self-created miracles. And sure, maybe in 2017 I don’t want to shower in my own tears as much as I did this past year, but I certainly am going to keep leaping into beautiful growth and making sure I spread joy as far and as wide as I can. I wish for all of us a year filled with creation and learning and discovering the beauty that we possess, and how to share that beauty with the world around us.

Candace Meeks: My personal goals for the year are to write more, and simplify my wardrobe. 30 is creepin’ up, y’all! My community goals include encouraging women and LGBTQA persons in comedy to live fearlessly in 2017, myself included. I don’t want anyone to worry about what they look like or how likeable they are on stage. Instead I want them to not give a fuck what other people think and just go for it!

Nug Nahrgang: In the coming year let’s focus on supporting each other in the real world, much like we do on stage. Wouldn’t it be great to feel like you can do anyone with people supporting you all the time?

Jimmy Carrane: My wish for improvisers in 2017:

That you keep performing.

That you become even more comfortable in failing, because that is how we get better.

That you try out things that scare you and you don’t care about the results.

That you understand rejection is part of the process and there’s no need to take it personally.

And to realize you are enough. Because you are.

We need your unique voice today more than ever.

Rob Norman: This is an impossible job to do without community. Everyone wants to help you make cool things. Engage. Reach out. Ask for help.

Wayne Jones: In 2017, I’m focused on making smart choices, and supporting great people around me. Whether it’s a friendship, or a creative/business relationship, I will motivate and encourage people by being the best example I can. I will collaborate with wonderful and talented people to reach new heights and exciting achievements. Efficiency is another major key. Getting things done in a more concise manner. Focusing on a smoother, faster, more productive effort. I won’t work longer, but clearer and more organized. This will lead to a higher success rate, and greater number of accomplishments. I will forgive more, be kinder to all, and protect the ones I love. Live with love in your heart, compassion in your soul, and strength in your body and mind. God bless every last one of ya.

Chris Moody: I want to make Improv Utopia East, West, and Yosemite the most anticipated improv weekends of the year.

David Razowsky: In my lifetime there hasn’t been a time where my art and my fellow students have meant more to me. We share the language of connection, communication, and collaboration. What I will continue to do in 2017 is to keep being the change I’d like to see in others: to keep being aware, alive, fierce, focused, passionate, open, empathetic and honest. I will dare to be lovely, I will dare to be kind, I will dare to be vulnerable, I will dare to keep listening, and I will dare to be moved. In other words, I will continue to live my life by the tenets of compelling scene work.

Dani Alon, Chris Hannay & Val Perelshtein: In 2017, no matter what else is going on in the world, we know we can make our space one in which people feel safe to express themselves, practice their art, and laugh.

Carmine Lucarelli: If I start it, I’ll finish it.

Thanks to everyone for sharing their insights. Eighteen people. Eighteen visions. Now what about yours?

Douglas Coupland makes incredible Lego cityscapes, like this one he built through crowd-sourcing. We’ve all got used to buying those kits where each piece goes in a pre-determined order. These colourful structures are a reminder of the power of imagination and collaboration.

Let’s all think outside the box again, and make 2017 the world we want to live in.

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

Cameron and I saw the Chihuly exhibit with our friend, Nadine Prada, yesterday. It was like walking into a glass wonderland, filled with colour and light.

Part of the exhibit was a film where the artist described his career in glass-blowing. He spent the first 10 years, he said, just “making mistakes.”

A decade is a long time to keep failing. And yet, the result of all those mistakes is now enjoyed by millions, in museums, gardens, rivers, and hotels worldwide. We wouldn’t have these breathtaking sculptures without all the crashing and burning.

As improvisers, we have the opportunity to make mistakes every time we perform. Chihuly’s work was a brilliant reminder of just what a gift that can be.

Photo © Nadine Prada

Photo © Nadine Prada