The first time I encountered Viewpoints, I thought it was a class about character point of view, which I’ve since discovered is many improvisers’ assumption when they first hear the name.
Viewpoints are a set of elements that are always in play, whether or not you’re paying attention to them, but that can be easily manipulated by the actor through training and awareness.
It was February 2013 and the workshop was Improvisacting I with David Razowsky. Dave had taught in Toronto the previous year and Isaac Kessler, my coach, hadn’t stopped talking about him since.
I’d never been the funniest comedian, but I’d always been a decent actor, and that was what carried me through my first four years of improv training and performance. I played committed characters, but without much direction. The majority of my games were emotional heightening, but I often let the emotion overrule the scene. The few times I tried to be witty and aloof to stretch my boundaries, I forgot everything else I knew and played for cheap laughs that even I didn’t like. It worked sometimes, but it wasn’t consistent, and the biggest compliments I usually got were that I was high energy and had good stage presence.
In hindsight, the biggest mistake I made was taking improv scenes personally. I found it very difficult to separate myself from the character. I was immersed, as any young actor thinks they should be. I was so immersed that I often couldn’t see the scene beyond my character. Was there potential for a status shift? What move got a great reaction from the audience? When should I enter a scene? What was my scene partner actually saying when their character was talking? I’d been taught all of this in classes and rehearsals, but never truly absorbed it, and found it difficult to apply onstage in front of an audience. I allowed myself to get lost in the character instead of making the character work for me.
Viewpoints was what finally pushed me to separate the actor from the character. In turn, it made me, the actor, more present in scenes and backlines versus when I’d been getting lost in characters. Finally, I felt like I knew what I was doing. I began remembering scenes I’d been in, which made giving myself notes much easier, and made the notes more objective. I finally understood what people meant by “nice move,” because instead of throwing offers at the wall to see what stuck, I started making moves. Not always great ones, but I was able to recognize when a scene needed a move to be made, and was ready to provide one. I began to see improv through the eyes of a director and a content creator.
Viewpoints is a “technique of composition” created by Mary Overlie as a method of dance improvisation, then adapted for stage acting by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, and interpreted for improvisation by David Razowsky. It breaks down time and space into nine tenets: Tempo, Duration, Kinesthetic Response, Repetition, Shape, Gesture, Architecture, Spatial Relationship, and Topography.
This may seem like a lot to pay attention to all at once, but the beauty of it is that they are already happening at all times, so even if you just want to try playing with one tenet at a time, the rest will follow.
As someone who’d always loved a practical approach, the idea of breaking down space-time seemed like a delightfully scientific method for improv. At the same time, the heightened awareness of my surroundings, the constancy of the tenets, and their malleability awakened something very spiritual in me as well.
If all I’m expected to do is define and use what’s already happening, I’ve eliminated the need to invent. I’ve eliminated the need to create funny, because the funny already exists and now I know how to simply reveal it to the audience.
One of my favourite things that Viewpoints gave me was the ability to outpace myself. With so many new things to react to, and so many new ways to react to them, I started reacting faster than I could think, and that got me into trouble. Lots of trouble. And holy shit was that fun. I no longer had to worry about “staying true” to a character or making the right move, because by the time I thought about it I was already making the move, which then further defined my character.
You know that high you get from having a great improv scene? I now had the tools to reproduce it and prolong it. Viewpoints is the science behind the state known as “flow.” It’s what’s generally known in the improv world as “having fun.” If you’ve ever been told by a teacher or coach to “have more fun” or “get out of your head,” this is exactly what they mean. Make moves before you’ve thought of them, and as long as you’re listening to yourself and reacting to everything your partner’s giving you, your character and scene will create themselves.
My newfound awareness on stage opened up a whole new world of possibilities. It made me realize the importance of taking classes. Suddenly I wasn’t taking classes to “get better,” which sounds like an exercise in humbling the ego. I was taking classes to add more tools to my tool belt. Nobody was right, nobody was wrong, everyone just had a different approach, and now I had an approach that worked for me, so I could take what I liked and forget the rest.
It also changed my approach to acting with a script. This isn’t surprising, as Viewpoints is already an established acting method. I stopped caring about finding “the character,” and started letting the words guide my choices. I started learning the words before rehearsals began, so I could spend my time in rehearsal experimenting beyond the script. “Beyond the script” meaning improvising everything else around the words, allowing myself time to try different moves and see what works best. (Believe me, your director will appreciate this as well.)
Viewpoints changed the way I play. The way I listen. The way I respond. It doesn’t replace other schools of improv, in fact it enhanced my ability to apply onstage what I’d previously learned. I already had tools, but now I was more proficient at using them. Viewpoints can work for you, and you can play with the exercises and philosophy for the next five years until it finally becomes a part of your being. Or you can forget the majority of it a month later because it’s too much to think about while you’re having fun. But if you’re lucky enough to find a class or workshop that’s accessible to you, I suggest you take it and find out. David Razowsky introduced me to a whole new religion that was, incidentally, based on science, and I’ve been living it ever since.
Oliver Georgiou is an actor, improviser, and comedian who takes himself way too seriously. He is the founder of SODA School Of Dramatic Acting where he produces SODA Theatre, SODA Underground, Hat Trick Comedy, and specialty improv classes, including an Intro to Viewpoints.
Every once in a while something comes along that makes us go, “Fuck yeah!” Case in point: The Yes And Journal. It’s a new way to bring a little improv joy into each day, with exercises and affirmations you can do at home.
Since not everyone can perform or take classes on a regular basis, it’s a great idea for keeping creative wheels greased and freeing yourself of judgement.
You can pre-order now on Kickstarter. With just five days to go, it’s almost fully funded. Kudos to Matthew Beard and everyone involved for making it happen!
Now he’s written a new tome on creativity and collaboration, and he’s sharing it online. Says Mick:
“Over the past few years I wrote a book about creating. It covers all aspects of creating, from meetings to brainstorming to how to drink coffee. It’s a large book that I haven’t published. I decided to get my site up, and use it to publish a chapter every once in a while on a blog. I would love comments, as I’m going to cut the book in half and publish it. If you are interested, it’s at micknapier.com.”
“As an improv teacher, I’m much more interested in the therapeutic value than in the show business angle. I find teaching beginners to be the most fulfilling, ’cause it’s where the greatest personal transformations occur. There is a trajectory of joy in the first few classes that will never be repeated; they’re discovering that they, and the others in their new tribe, have magic powers. Literally – magic powers.”
It’s Say Day. A chance for improvisers to show our gratitude for the teachers, mentors, teammates, friends, and classmates we’ve had the joy of knowing, playing with, and watching perform. Wherever you are, we hope you take a moment to think about and thank someone who’s played a role in your improv journey or community. We’d like to thank our readers, guest writers, and everyone we’ve interviewed over the past five years, and a special thank you TJ Jagodowski for creating Say Day.
David: To behave consistently and reasonably is the gift. If someone comes up to me and says I’m their cousin with one arm – that’s not a gift. That doesn’t have anything to do with anything.
TJ: It’s like, “Sister Theresa, everyone here at the convent has heard about your abortion.”
David: Yeah. That’s not a gift. That’s a sentence I have to serve.
From Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ & Dave Book by T.J. Jagodowski and David Pasquesi with Pam Victor
Congrats to all the first-timers and returning teams, and thanks to Ms Poehler and Messrs Besser, Walsh, and Roberts for celebrating Del and throwing the world’s biggest improv party.
We hitched a ride with Chad Mallett a.k.a. Matt Folliott and Ted Hallett to talk about touring, the unreliability of pants, and their new Fringe show.
P&C: Your show is about two characters on vacation. Any stories you’d like to share from your travels together?
Matt: On a trip to Montreal, Ted fell down trying to put on a pair of pants. His excuse was that there was too much room.
Ted: Yes! There was! I didn’t have anything to grab onto. Honestly, there was too much space.
Matt: The sound of Ted hitting the floor was deafening. Like being next to a bomb going off or when someone drops a sack of hammers.
Ted: Here’s a fun story: every night before bed, just before I hit the light switch, I’d whisper to Matt that I was going to masturbate on his shower towel.
Matt: Yeah that was a lot of fun for me.
Ted: Me too.
P&C: What’s the most memorable show you’ve done?
Matt: It was one we did in Kensington Market. About 20 minutes in to a really fun show, Ted split his pants. Now if you know Ted, you know he never wears underwear. The audience may or may not have gotten an eyeful.
P&C: We’re sensing a theme here. Your show is inspired by an audience members’ vacations. What is it about real experiences that audiences love?
Matt: I think the audience enjoys seeing how we use specific details of their travel experience to inform the comedy.
Ted: It’s relatable. We all have crazy travel stories and I think an audience is invested in the performance when it’s connected to something they’ve seen, experienced or dreamed of themselves. The crowd will always give us a cool travel destination to go to, but for me, the fun is playing the multiple characters in the world we’ve created based on their memories.
Matt: What Ted said.
P&C: You’ve been a duo now for five years. What’s the secret to your longevity?
Ted: The secret is to just keep doing it, ’cause what else do we have going on? That and we also make great roommates. He drives me nuts sometimes but I genuinely like Matt and that’s important when you pair up with someone. They have to be able to stand your strange habits. What do you think, Matt?
Matt: It’s a secret and I’ll never tell.
P&C: Toronto Fringe is a great way to expand your audience. Do you think it’s getting easier or more difficult to attract people to improv?
Matt: I think we’re in a golden age of improv. I know that sounds corny but people are just excited about the art form whether they’re watching shows or taking classes.
Ted: I agree. Improv is hugely popular with a younger crowd which helps a lot. It’s in the zeitgeist. I think TV shows like Key & Peele, Drunk History and Rick & Morty which cast improvisers and use improv to create content have really made the art form an intriguing dish to sample for all ages.
Matt: Intriguing dish? What is it with you and food?
Ted: I love food more than life itself you little meatball.
P&C: The show is directed by Mark Andrada. What does he bring to Chad Mallett?
Matt: I trust Mark’s comedic mind 100%. He shares our vision for the show. He just gets what’s funny and his experience as a comedian, director, and theatre tech are invaluable. He’s our Filipino Yoda.
Ted: What Matt said.
P&C: You’ve both been part of the improv community for more than a decade. Who inspires you, either here or in the U.S. and abroad?
Ted: I love The Sufferettes and hero worship people like Bob Martin, Linda Kash, Paul O’Sullivan, and Lisa Merchant. I’m also really into David Razowsky, TJ & Dave, and that whole slow style of improv that developed over the years in Chicago. I’m also into S&P, a group right here in Toronto that Matt is a part of.
Matt: That’s nice! Thank–
Ted: –Don’t interrupt me. Okay, I’m done. Carry on.
Matt: Thank you Robert. I love local duos like Coko & Daphney, RN & Cawls or local shows like Matt McCready’s $12 Beer Beer. On the national scene, I’m really into The Sunday Service and anything happening at Montreal Improv Theatre is a pure joy to take in. Internationally, I adore IGLU Theatre from Slovenia. Peter, Vid and Jus from IGLU are just some of the funniest dudes you’ll ever meet. Also check out Ted & Lisa. They’re pretty damn good.
P&C: Any plans to take your Fringe show on the road?
Ted: If the road calls we will answer.
Matt: I like that Ted.
Ted: Me too. High five.
Matt: I can’t reach that high.