Posts from the Object Work & Mime Category

When you treat your objects like they’re real, the scene becomes more real – for you, and the audience.

In this scene, Cameron tries to move an industrial stove. Instead of just sliding it across the stage in two seconds, you can almost see the hernia developing. (Now that’s comedy.)

Screen shot 2013-10-02 at 10.30.50 AM

Photo © People and Chairs

Photo © People and Chairs

We can improvise anything we want on stage. Anything at all.

So why, as TJ points out, do we so often reach for the same old clichés?

“Experience what’s happening now, and make your surroundings real. You don’t have to invent an environment: it already exists.” – TJ Jagodowski

When you stop playing safe and really focus on what you and your scene partner have established, you’ll open up infinite new possibilities.

Cheers to that.

Photo © Kevin Thom

Photo © Kevin Thom

We’ve all seen shows where someone decides to use a real prop on stage.

It’s usually small, like coins or a cell phone. And once it’s introduced, everyone tends to fixate on it: the players, as well as the audience.

I’ve seen seasoned performers kill it with props, but more often, props kill the scene.

Props work well in shortform games, like the one from Whose Line Is It Anyway? If everyone knows up front that they’re part of the show, the results can be frickin’ hilarious.

But using props in longform tends to throw players and audiences off a little. When everything else in the scene is imaginary, bringing in something real is a bit like shining a light on shadow puppets. The magic and mystery disappear.

Besides, as I’ve learned from writing for radio, it’s way cooler to let people imagine their own version of your world.

Of course, there are exceptions, and the photo above is one example.

Revel Theatre hosted a show recently where there happened to be books and a table on stage. Kevin Whalen literally stumbled on his character. When the lights went up he stumbled a little, and reached out to steady some books that were falling.

“Sorry! Soooooorry!”

His character was born in that second, when he organically reacted in the moment. Kevin’s scene partner, Reid Janisse, endowed him as an author.

As the scene progressed, Kevin alternated between haughty high status befitting a new author, and the grovelling apology he established in the first few seconds.

The scene worked, for two reasons:

1. Kevin didn’t decide to incorporate books into the scene. The prop more or less incorporated itself by falling over, and Kevin simply reacted to and embraced what happened.

2. While Kevin occasionally picked up a book, the scene wasn’t about the props. It was clearly about a weirdo author and his relationship with his agent, the bookstore owner, and his fans.

It definitely helped that Kevin and Reid are both pros.

Bottom line? When in doubt, leave it out.

A lot of crazy stuff happens on stage. But what happens when improvisers go home?

That’s the premise Chris Besler, one of my teammates on Corgi In The Forest, threw out in rehearsal one day. “I’ve always wanted to make a video about bad object work,” he said. My eyes lit up. “We are gonna shoot that video!”

And we did. All in one day, with the help of a crazy-talented bunch of friends. Stay tuned for the sequel. And to learn more about Mime/Object Work in improv, click here.

Update: When Chris posted the video Wednesday morning, we had no idea it’d be on Jimmy Fallon’s tumblr by that evening. Woot! Thanks to everyone who watched, Liked, shared and tweeted.

Image © Late Night With Jimmy Fallon

What’s the difference between American and Canadian improvisers? Some say Canadians are “polite” on stage, but there’s another dead giveaway. For our improv friends south of the border, Cameron demonstrates.

Holding A Starbucks, vs…

 Holding A Tim’s (That’s Tim Hortons for the uninitiated)

Got any other international mime tips? Post a comment below. For more on Object Work, click here and here.

Object work is a simple way to take your scene from meh to mesmerizing.

Watch a master improviser onstage, and you’ll swear you can actually see the banana they’re peeling, the stick shift they’re driving, the roll of duct tape they’re wrapping around Grandma’s dead body.

On the other hand, bad object work can destroy the reality of a scene like nothing else.

We’ve all seen tables get walked through, floor mops that come and go, and razor-thin cigarettes inhaled between two fused fingers.

When you give your objects weight and mass, it instantly grounds you and makes your movements more deliberate. It also paints a more vivid picture for the audience.

One of the biggest go-to’s in improv is drinking (insert AA joke here). For some reason scientists have yet to explain, we drink improv beverages through our thumb.

“Watch how you actually drink from a can or glass, then watch how most improvisers mime it. Just try drinking with your thumb in your mouth.” – TJ Jagodowski

Become an observer, starting with yourself. Notice how you do everyday tasks. Practice the movements with and without the physical objects.

When you’re bored with that, go people-watching. Someone who holds their cigarette with their index curled over top is very different from someone who holds it cupped beneath their palm. We all have our little quirks. Try on someone else’s for a change.

A lot of people try to get through object work as quickly as possible in order to “get to the scene.” But if you take your time and invest in whatever activity you’re doing, it can actually inform your character. Or become the scene itself.

Which is funnier: A guy taking off his clothes in two seconds, or watching a guy unbutton his shirt, unbuckle his belt, unzip his pants, and finally remove his underwear while his doctor puts on gloves, one finger at a time?

It’s the anticipation.

When you take your time with objects, your scene partner has time to process what’s happening too.

Say you’re in a scene where you’re on a date. Instead of flipping a pull-out bed instantly and throwing your scene partner on it, the struggle becomes turning the couch into a bed. Removing the cushions. Trying to lift the rusty metal frame. Smoothing out the wrinkled old sheets while your date – and the audience – watches.

As Joe Bill says, “You don’t have to put a shelving unit together in ten seconds.” In their workshops, he and Mark Sutton teach that, “Improvisers spend a lot of time on stage moving things around, and not enough time letting things move them.” That’s great advice.

Like the song says, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Look at TJ holding a glass while he’s on the phone (below). The way he holds it speaks volumes about his character (in this case, a housewife with a fondness for cocktails).


Photo © Sharilyn Johnson