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Drumpfprov

A small black box theatre. The stage is bare except for two folding chairs, and an ornate gold Louis XIV knock-off, stage right. A dozen or so mostly Caucasian students sit facing the stage. They each have name tags in gold Sharpie.

As dry ice fills the house, DRUMPF enters to the strains of Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

Drumpf:          Welcome to Drumpfprov. You made a great decision by coming here today.

I have the best class. I have the best rules. Believe me. You’re very fortunate. Until now, you could only learn Drumpfprov at one of my resort theatres, or from The Sharper Image.

(scans the audience) I see we have a lot of minorities. Minorities love me. Bigly. I’m tremendous with minorities. We’re going to build a wall. OK, let’s do a warm-up. Who knows one?

JANET, a slender woman in her early 20s, speaks.

Janet:             I like Big Booty.

Drumpf:          Disgusting. That’s disgusting. I don’t like a lotta junk in the trunk. (squints) Janice–

Janet:             Janet.

Drumpf:          You wouldn’t be able to play anyway, Janice. You’ve got a great piece of ass.

Besides, we don’t need warm-ups. I have the best exercises. Believe me. Let’s do some scenes.

Drumpf sits in the gold chair. CLAIRE and ZOE start a scene.

Claire:            Hi boss, I typed up those forms you wanted.

Drumpf:          Excuse me…excuse me!

They stop.

Drumpf:          Can anyone tell me why this scene is a disaster?

JORDAN, a 30-something black man, raises his hand.

Jordan:          There was no emotion?

Drumpf:          Wrong. The boss should be a man, and the secretary is like a 5 at best. Next!

MOLLY and DUSTIN start a scene.

Molly:             Dad, I’m going to school now.

Dustin:           Have a good day, honey.

Drumpf:          Excuse me…excuse me! You need to show her more affection. A lot more. Remember, she’s your daughter. OK, next.

DANA and JAKE sit centre stage. TOM enters, miming a tray.

Dana:             I’m really enjoying this first date.

Jake:              Me too.

Tom:              Here’s your mojitos. Are you ready to order?

Drumpf:         (turns to audience) Who has status here?

Janet:             Is it Dana?

(Drumpf rolls his eyes)

Dustin:           Tom does.

Drumpf:          Are any of you paying attention? I have status. I have the highest status. Always. Believe me.

Now I’m gonna teach you how to raise the stakes, Drumpf-style. I call it Drumpf Stakes.

Drumpf walks centre stage.

Drumpf:          Janice, get up here.

Reluctantly, Janet joins him.

Drumpf:          I love cats.

Janet:             Here, I brought you a kitten.

Drumpf:          I don’t like cats. I think I’ve made that very clear. I’ve never liked cats.

(to audience) See what I did there? OK, now everyone pair up. I want you to look at each other and tell me who you are to each other. Go.

Sara:               I’m a Harvard professor, and Matias is my student.

Drumpf:          Is that a joke? Did you even look at him? You’re obviously a receptionist, and Matias is a drug lord.

Drumpf turns to MATIAS.

Drumpf:          Where are you from?

Matias:           Buffalo.

Drumpf:          Yeah. But where are you from?

Matias:           You mean my parents? They’re from upstate New York.

Drumpf:          (sighs) Fine, Lyin’ Matias. If that’s the way you want it. I’m just saying play the scene a little more real. They don’t all have to be rape scenes, but a lot of them will be.

All right, we’ve got time for one group scene.

Zoe walks on stage. She clearly mimes being a scientist, using test tubes in a lab. DANNY enters.

Danny:           Hey babe, when’s dinner?

Zoe:                Uhhh…soon. I’m just mixing the salad dressing.

Matias enters. He starts to speak but is cut off by Danny, who throws himself in front of Zoe.

Danny:          Don’t rape her!

Jordan enters.

Jordan:           Whoa, what’s with all the screaming?

Danny points at him with rage.

Danny:            You’re the worst President!

SFX:               (slow clap)

Drumpf:           Great.

(Lights out)

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

How many times have you felt an unmistakeable emotion from someone – sadness, fear, joy, rage – without a word being uttered? Vibrations are powerful. Before you open your mouth on stage, try listening with your whole body and tune in to the feeling that’s already there.

Conor Bradbury is a member of Sex T-Rex, one of Canada’s foremost comedy troupes and winners of Second City’s Outstanding New Comedy Award at the Toronto Fringe. The following post is reproduced with permission. 

Well it’s the end of another Toronto Fringe Festival and I’m feeling all of the feels right now. This community is so full of lovely, talented people who produce exceptional work and are insanely fun to get drunk with. This year at the Honest Ed’s beer tent there was a coloring contest, a makeshift tarp roofed bonfire, a stolen brick and far, far too many Steamwhistles. There was also a ton of sexual assault.

I know this isn’t a new development at fringe festivals (or in the theatre/comedy community in general), but it’s one that I’ve become more and more aware of over the past few years. I guess I used to think that not actually witnessing these assaults meant that they probably weren’t happening. I mean, how could a place so full of wonderful people, a place where I had always had such an overwhelmingly positive experience, also be a place where my friends were being sexually harassed and assaulted on a regular basis? It didn’t make any sense. It still doesn’t, really, but it’s happening.

Not to oversimplify things, but there are basically two categories of perpetrators: The ones you know and the ones you don’t. While there’s plenty to be said about both groups for now I’d like to focus on the ones you know.

Let me start of by saying I have absolutely no idea what the best way for a woman to react to a sexual assault is. It seems like there isn’t really a right answer and the fact thay we spend so much time focusing on the victim’s behaviour I find truly baffling and disturbing.

So that brings us to the men. It seems a lot of my male friends in the community (and I am very intentionally using the word friend when I say this) are a bit confused as to what actually constitutes sexual assault. So let me give you a few tips on how to avoid being a creep in the future.

1) Keep Your Fucking Hands to Yourself.

This covers everything between unsolicited groping to “overly long hugs.” As a general rule until you know otherwise, assume women don’t want to be touched. Because they don’t. At least not most of the time, and not by you. Physical contact is a mark of intimacy and it needs to be earned. Obviously touching can be part of flirting, but there’s a big difference between putting a hand on someone’s shoulder to gauge their reaction and grabbing their ass. A lot of what you consider harmless flirting is making women seriously uncomfortable. Which brings me to my next point…

2) Stop Assuming Every Woman Who Talks to You Wants to Have Sex With You.

They don’t. It seems like that should be obvious, but a lot of you seem to be having real trouble with this one. I don’t care who you are, how charming you think you are or how many N’s your show got. MOST people still don’t want to fuck you. If a woman laughs at your jokes, puts her hand on your arm or smiles at you when you walk by sometimes she’s just doing that because THOSE ARE THINGS THAT NORMAL HUMANS DO. Granted you’ve probably had a few too many pints and your ego is in overdrive, but you know what?…

3) Being Drunk is Not a Valid Excuse.

Everyone does dumb shit when they drink. Not everyone sexually assaults women. You are legally responsible for everything you do NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU’VE HAD TO DRINK (believe me a recent “urban exploration” of an abandoned factory taught me that much). If you truly can’t control yourself when drinking you have three options 1) Stop drinking. 2) Drink less or 3) Treat yourself like the werewolf that you are and lock yourself in a basement until you sober up.

This is obviously a huge and complicated issue that we could talk about forever, but if my male friends could just focus on those three points I think that would be a great start. I don’t even care why you do it. You can do it because you genuinely want to make yourself a better person, or you can do it just to save your own reputation. Because you know what? This is a small community and word travels fast. There are already so many whispers out there about which men in the community to avoid and the more whispers there are the louder they get.

Kaitlin Morrow and Conor Bradbury in Sex T-Rex presents WasteLand

Kaitlin Morrow and Conor Bradbury in Sex T-Rex presents WasteLand

Cameron and I saw True Blue at the Fringe festival, and five days later, it’s stayed with me.

The show is an hour of unscripted theatre in the style of NYPD Blue or True Detective. The pace is slower than most improvised sets, but it’s every bit as compelling. Unlike most improv, the actors weren’t going for laughs (although there were plenty to keep us entertained). But what was really refreshing was seeing improvisers sit in scenes long enough for nuances to emerge, and dialogue to breathe.

One of my favourite performances was by Shanda Bezic, an actor who I was surprised to discover only started learning improv last year. Her characters were grounded and authentic, yet still playful.

At the other end of the scale was Anders Yates’ hilarious turn as a coroner. It was clear he didn’t know much about coroner…ing, but scene partners Colin Munch and Amy Matysio used this gift to their advantage, and the audience’s delight.

I came away thinking how we don’t have to know everything, or be “expert improvisers,” as long as we commit fully to each tiny moment, and each other, on stage. And how being different – in format, style, or approach – is a wonderful thing.

True Blue was named Patron’s Pick, and there are still two more chances to see it this Sunday.

Photo © Connor Low

Canada is having a moment.

It’s not just that Steve Martin curated a Lawren Harris exhibit. Or that our PM makes headlines with handshakes. It’s not even the fact that we’ve got Drake, The Weeknd, and Bieber.

It’s the sudden explosion of Canadian comedy, on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the ‘90s.

Whether you’re a maple syrup-slurping Mountie, or just someone who googled “How to move to Canada” recently, here’s our unofficial guide to some of the funniest stuff from these parts. First up…

Baroness von Sketch

Unless you’ve been orbiting Mars or on a social media fast, you’ve probably seen the “Locker Room” sketch, which racked up over a million views in a matter of days.

Sketch after solid sketch, this laugh-out-loud look at modern life is a breath of fresh air on the male-dominated airwaves. It’s also a middle finger to the face of anyone who says women aren’t funny.

The series was created by and stars comedy powerhouses Aurora Browne, Meredith MacNeill, Carolyn Taylor and Jennifer Whalen.

Improv fans will also recognize Ann Pornel, Lee Smart, and Kris Siddiqi, among others who make guest appearances. And with additional writing by Jennifer Goodhue, Dawn Whitwell, and Monica Heisey, Baroness is a showcase of Canada’s fiercely funny female talent.

Did we mention Reggie Watts is also a fan?

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Catch it Tuesdays, 9:30 pm on CBC, or view online.

The Whole Truths

Jim Annan, Scott Montgomery, and Kurt Smeaton (a.k.a. Falcon Powder) have been killing it in the comedy community for over a decade. Their new series for CBC digital, The Whole Truths, brings their rapid-fire, surrealist humour to a wider audience starting July 4.

If you’re not already a fan, we promise that after watching this trailer you will be.

This Is That

Also from CBC digital, This Is That is “a current affairs program that doesn’t just talk about the issues, it fabricates them.” The show built its fan base on CBC radio, beginning in 2010.

Long-time fans will remember Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring from their improvised web series Good Morning World, which was picked up by Comedy Network. And judging by the first few promos, this new series will be coming soon to a TV near you.

Keep an eye out for appearances from some of our other favourite improvisers, including Kayla Lorette and Caitlin Howden.

Tiny Plastic Men

Edmonton improvisers non pareil Mark Meer, Chris Craddock, and Matt Alden have written and starred in this part-sitcom, part-sketch series for the past three seasons. The story revolves around three man-boys who work in the testing department of a toy company. In other words, nerd nirvana.

You can watch it on Super Channel in Canada, or stream it on Hulu in the States.

People of Earth

While not a Canadian production, we had to give this a special mention. Whether he’s doing a solo show, or climbing all over Isaac Kessler in 2-Man, No-Show, Ken Hall is loved by the improv community. So when People of Earth was announced this year, starring Wyatt Cenac, Oscar Nunez, and one Ken Hall, well, the community went a little crazy.

Check out the trailer below.

Other great series created by Canadians include White Guys, Doing It! with Brian and Darla, and Womanish. It’s exciting to see so many improvisers and sketch comedians bring their talents from stage to screen.

Hopefully this means network execs are finally wising up. After the sudden and short-sighted cancellation of Picnicface and more recently, Sunnyside, it’s time someone besides Lorne Michaels promoted Canadian comedy, in all its flavours.

As Obama said, “The world needs more Canada.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-02 at 10.56.27 AM

When Ted Flicker saw the Chicago Compass Players in 1955, he said, “I knew improvisation had great potential, but I saw that they were doing it wrong.”

He went on to open the St Louis Compass Theatre, ushering in a louder, faster, funnier style of improv. But when Chicago founder David Shepherd saw it, he said, “You’ve turned it into entertainment. You’ve ruined my dream.”

Now, few improvisers would say they’re against entertainment. But the debate persists. Is improvisation art? Comedy? Unscripted theatre? Is there a right or wrong way to do it?

It’s like religion. Some people worship Del Close, others revere Keith Johnstone, while others are staunch followers of iO, UCB, Annoyance, or The Groundlings. Which is cool. The problem is when you try to convince someone their religion is wrong.

And it’s not just theatres that have differences of opinion. Even tight-knit teams or instructors at the same school sometimes disagree.

My friend Alanna Cavanagh says “Creative people are brats.” When you tell them “No,” they rebel.

Image © Bansky

Image © Bansky

These days you can see fast, game-focused improv, slow comedy, musical improv, improvised Shakespeare, Chekhov and Mamet, ComedySportz, and even a mix of short and long form in the same show. Different theatres use different techniques, but the end result is the same: laughter and satisfied audiences.

But isn’t there “good” and “bad” improv? Sure. You can see a crappy improv set any night, even with seasoned performers on stage. Most likely it’s because the players weren’t committed or connected, not because they weren’t following rules.

TJ and Dave are at the pinnacle of this art form, and they’ve said that you don’t “master” improv. Great improvisers – great artists – are constantly learning. How then, can there be one right way to improvise?

We asked some people who consistently knock it out of the park to weigh in with their thoughts.

TJ Jagodowski

If I try to think of people who thrill me, I can’t think of one who I would describe as always having done something correctly. “Oh boy, were they right!” doesn’t even sound good.

But I have been thrilled by both improvisers and other types of performers who I would describe as unique, unafraid, generous, interesting, fun, truly themselves, or free. All of those states are very difficult, if not impossible to achieve, if there is a chunk of your mind in some deliberation over whether you’re doing it right. What is right is what your partner needs, your scene needs, your show needs. Do it right that way.

Jimmy Carrane

Since improv is an art form, that means it’s subjective, like music or theater or comedy. Some people love Will Ferrell and think he’s the funniest thing ever, while other people can’t stand him. It doesn’t mean Will Ferrell’s style of comedy is right or wrong, it’s simply just that: a style, a matter of taste. And in a way, the fact that there are so many differing opinions about how to do improv actually proves that it is an art form.

We said in Improvising Better that there is only one way to improvise: yours. And I still stand by that statement. Your job is to find what works for YOU. It’s a personal art form, so what works for one person may not work for another. If finding the game in the scene works for you, by all means keep using it. If it gets in your way, throw it out. There’s no right, and there’s no wrong way to improvise, unless you are not having any fun, then you have a problem.

Susan Messing

Rachael Mason and I did a four-parter for Second City called I’Mprovising RIGHT, which totally sends up those who insist that there is a right way to get there – which is so ridiculous. To me that’s like having sex right. Isn’t the job to get off?

Are there suggestions that I could offer as a teacher to support you in getting off sooner, and your partner as well? Sure, but the ultimate responsibility is to have more fun than anyone else, and if your partner’s having fun that’s even more of a turn-on in terms of this work.

And then you win and the audience was in the moment with you, so they got off, too.

The audience, guaranteed, will never look at your show and say, “Hmmm. They are doing correct improv.”

However, they will see the insecure, overlooked, overbearing, condescending, judgemental players and immediately disconnect from the scene because they are either worried about the performer, or hate them for their in-scene judgement.

The Improv Police needs a hobby: like getting off more onstage, and stop worrying about the “rightness” of it all.

I’ve heard all the rules. I play major nice with my friends. Our assumption is we are respectful to each other in terms of basic agreement, et al. That said, I’m going to get off and it is contagious, and I don’t overthink it, because ultimately it’s simply getting to play like kids but with grown-up sensibilities, and if we’re lucky, maybe a piano player. The end.

We turned this shit into rocket science/brain surgery/physics/chess because we wanted to give it so much integrity to match the joy we felt when we did it. But this does not need to be as complicated as many have made it.

As a matter of fact, I am quite sure that if I can be a fucking improviser, anyone can, because I just didn’t give up.

There are so many schools of thought and all of them I have worked for or with, and they’re all only opinions.

And they’re all great.

And it might infuriate you because one day you’ll be given a note, and the next day you will receive the equal and opposite note from someone else, and that will drive you crazy.

But you’re an improviser and are malleable, and ultimately you’ll be the kind of improviser you want to be, doing the kind of work you want to do with who you want to be doing it with. But you will be able to do everything, and hopefully evolve and not be a tiresome, closed, right-minded little shit.

Isaac Kessler

A quote from my Dad:

“If someone says their way is the only way…run the other way.”

You can’t do improv wrong.

You also can’t do improv right.

You can, however, improvise.

Doing something right or wrong denotes a failure at achieving a final goal, and there’s no final goal in improv. There’s no princess to be saved or sunset to ride off into if we get to third beats in a Harold or defeat The Hepatitis B-Boys (last week’s shortform champs).

Improv is a process. It’s about the current moment, and this moment now, and oops-ya-just-missed-it-but-don’t-worry-it-was-behind-your-ear-the-whole-time moment right here.

So my question is thus: What fuels you through each moment? What’s pushing you off the back line? What’s truly driving you into the unknown?

What would happen if you tried Joy on for size? Not the kind of joy you get when meeting a puppy, but the Joy and excitement of tapping into your true potential. To be driven by the pleasure of exposing your love and your pain. Show us your laughter and show us your tears.

Don’t be right and don’t be wrong. Just be You.

Anyways, that’s the only way to improvise.

(please don’t run away)

“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.” ― Walt Whitman (not my Dad)

David Razowsky

Whatever works for me, works for me. Whatever works for you, works for you. I will be vocal in expressing what works for me. Please remember that my expression of what works for me has absolutely nothing to do with how much you should enjoy your approach to improv.

If asked what reaction I’d like you to have when you hear my enthusiastic rantings of what works for me, I’d tell you: “However you want to react, react that way. It’s how you feel. Knock yourself out.” If you’d like to argue how what works for you is the correct way, well, go right ahead. Please express your well-thought out opinion. The more you talk about it, the more you voice it, the more you understand what works for you and how best you can express that. Please don’t expect any reaction from me outside of, “Cool. Go knock yourself out.”

I get onto the stage, I look at my partner, I react in that moment. That works for me. Should I play with you and you don’t play the way that I play and I don’t care much about how our show went, please know that it’s very likely we’ll not play together anytime soon for I didn’t have fun, rather I had work. I’m not here to work. I’m here to play. Your play is your play and my play is my play. I’ll express my joy at having had the chance to play with you for I am grateful for that. I’m grateful for all chance to play.

Most likely I’ll walk off that stage and think, “How cool. We both have our own style. That’s what art’s all about.” I’ll then move on and knock myself out.

Joe Bill

If we’re going to use religion as a metaphor, then I guess I would be a Unitarian/Universalist. I think the consideration of right or wrong within improvisation depends on the context in which you’re doing it.

I taught Harold for the first time in a couple of years at summer intensive last year at iO, and coming back to it after not teaching Harold for probably three or four years was really interesting, because of the perception that the kids in their 20s have now. Which is more rigid, which is more rooted in this proposition of what’s right or what’s wrong.

I don’t believe in my heart, in my artistic heart, that it does the players any good while they’re doing Harold to think about what’s right or what’s wrong.

I don’t remember Del talking about a right Harold or a wrong Harold. He just spoke of Harold and not knowing what Harold was going to be until Harold’s here. He DID say things like “Play to the top of your intelligence” (for my money, the most overrated note in improvisation) and “Wear your character like a veil,” which could lead people in the direction of assessing the rightness or wrongness of a move, in that moment.

I think what’s right or what’s wrong really is rooted in an objective point of view to what you’re subjectively engaged in. And if you’re being objective to what you’re subjectively engaged in, then you can’t engage fully to experience what the magic of the piece can be, because you’re in primary conversation with yourself, and you’re in secondary conversation with your cast mates and the piece that’s unfolding.

When I see UCB Harolds, like strict Harolds, it’s like watching nine or twelve analysts on stage, analysing their way through a living writing process, as opposed to, once you advance your way through UCB, you get to what Del claimed Harold was anyway, which is, “Eventually if you give a group of people a suggestion which they theatrically brainstorm on for five minutes, and then that group of people improvises based on that exploration for 20 to 30 minutes, you come to some type of conclusion You’ve done Harold.”

I’ve been with Charna where a perfect, textbook Harold happens on stage at iO, and they hit all the things and connections were made, and you look at it and structurally, that was a Harold. But it was like a zombie Harold because there’s no soul, there’s no heart; the acting within that – that is, the theatrical proposition that we are here to affect each other, and we are going on an emotional journey, or one or more characters in this piece are going on an emotional journey as much as they’re going on an intellectual journey – if that magic doesn’t take place and we don’t see a transformation of spirit within the piece, we don’t really care.

If you’re improvising with people that have gotten to a point where you know that improvisation is just a state of being, and it’s a state of mind, and it’s a state that you’re in, that there’s nothing that can be wrong. There’s nothing that can throw you off. There’s nothing that can violate anything.

There’s the academic exploration of improv, and then there’s the practice of it. And I think in the practice of it, right or wrong are built into some contexts [like short form], that serve the audience. And in the academic pursuit of it, there’s right or wrong that can keep us drinking beer or coffee together.

There’s a fork in the road when you’re improvising that quickly comes up, and it is, ‘Are you pursuing comedy, or are you pursuing truth?’ And the pursuit of comedy, psychologically, is a masculine proposition. The pursuit of truth is a feminine proposition, if masculine equals goal and feminine equals process. And regardless of what you’ve got between your legs, we all have both in us.

But we’re wired, we have synaptic channels in our brain that tend to wire us towards one as our alpha personality and one as our secondary personality. And comedy is goal; the goal is laughter. Truth is a string of moments. And comedy doesn’t exclude truth, and truth doesn’t exclude comedy, but they may come up in different ways.

A big cornerstone of my teaching is, “What’s organic?” And it’s just, “Discoveries are instantaneous decisions we make that are unencumbered by the day-to-day self-judgemental bullshit that we walk around with in life.”

I teach the idea that “Obligation and inspiration are inversely proportional.” And I think people want to see inspiration in theatre, so the fixation on right or wrong puts you into a state of obligation, and you don’t want to be obliged…unless you’re doing short form, where obligation is a color of mindset and behavior paint on the improvisation palette to help you deliver laughter.

But the other piece is, would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?

“Let’s say you shook hands with 20 people today, and 19 of them shook your hand in a way you expect. If the 20th person shook your hand and then pulled you in close and licked your neck, you would remember it long after you forgot the other 19 people.”

Kisses 2

Image © People and Chairs

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