Posts tagged Tom Vest

Improv teams come and go, but every so often one beats the odds and stays together for six months, a year, or longer. And the longer you stick together, the more you can heighten and explore what makes your team unique, both onstage and off.

Toronto’s Standards & Practices have been together since 2007. Over the years, they’ve developed their own style of performing. And as they’ve evolved, so has their image. We thought we’d share some, to inspire how you think about your own team.

In the beginning, S&P had 10 members. At some point Tom Vest took it upon himself to develop a graphic look and feel for the team, including fake merch (and possibly our favourite promo video ever):

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When Tom left, the group had whittled down to Matt, Cameron, Kevin and Isaac. They began using random images of foursomes to represent themselves on social media.

Spot the Isaac.

More recently, Kevin Whalen has steered the team’s image in an ever-more-imaginative direction where, like an S&P show, anything is possible.



When you’re committed to a team, you can have a lot of fun with how you perform, dress, write about, and present yourselves. Here are some more ideas to try:

• Get a professional photographer to take some team pictures. Bring a couple of changes of clothes, or even costumes.

• Make promo videos. They can be themed to tie in with your show, an ongoing series, or just funny one-offs. Use live action, finger puppets, stop motion, parody…whatever. It might be a 30-second gibberish scene with subtitles that you film on your iPhone. Experiment and see where it leads you.

• Don’t just write a straightforward description of your upcoming show; let your inner David Sedaris (or Steve Martin, or Hunter S. Thompson) loose. Here’s a sample S&P description:

Standards & Practices take you on a groovy trip through the silky smooth Dream Highway on the road to Laidbackville U.S.A. – RIGHTBEFOREWEFUCKYOURBRAINS – tonight – 9 pm – Comedy Bar.

Honestly, who could resist an invitation like that?

• Choose a theme song that reflects your team’s vibe, gets you in the mood to improvise, or just means something to you. TJ and Dave always come out to Commie Drives A Nova by The Ike Reilly Assassination. S&P shows start with the first few bars of Carmina Burana in total darkness, then the lights come up as they kick in to an upbeat song like Move Your Feet to blast the cobwebs from everyone’s minds.

Now, maybe you’re more Improvised Shakespeare than crazed comic superheroes, and that’s cool. Whatever your flava, just make sure you celebrate it.

“Conflict is the essence of drama.” – Aristotle
“Conflict is not the essence of drama. Agreement is the essence of drama.” – Del Close
“My head hurts.” – improv student


Some improvisers love it. Others run from it.

In most performers’ minds, the word “conflict” suggests that characters should disagree or fight.

Most discussions about conflict tend to generate their own conflict: Is it necessary? How does it get started? How do you avoid it? Should it be based on what the story needs or what the characters want?

In order to get a better understanding of conflict, let’s begin with the “Today is The Day” scenario that’s often taught.

Often teachers will frame scene work with the view that “Today is the day things change for your character…a scene should be about a life-altering experience.” Scenes that follow will be inherently interesting because we see the character in a new light.

After all, how exciting can it be to watch a character do the same thing they always do?

We want to see a character finally stand up to his boss, declare his love, get a divorce, get a job, get fired…anything to break the routine.

And I don’t necessarily disagree with this so much as I disagree with how it is handled.

For one thing, anytime you use the word “should” in an improv context, you (inadvertently) set up expectations. (A scene should be about…)

In the rush to get to a life-altering experience, performers get so caught up in the theory that something needs to happen, that they miss out on what already is happening.

Before we focus on “Why is this day different than all the others?” what if we asked “Why is this day the same?”

Life-altering often seem less life-altering when we haven’t even established the life that is getting altered.

When we place more importance on what needs to happen than on appreciating what is happening, we lose touch with an awareness of ourselves in our experience.

And when we lose touch with how we feel about what’s going on, we start to guess. Or calculate what “should” happen. Rather than be ourselves and play from a truthful place, we make choices based on our opinion of what’s best for the scene.

In order for a scene to be interesting, it really helps for the improviser to be interested in what they are doing or what is going on. If they aren’t, then why would the audience be? When an improviser believes in the moment, they open themselves up to transformation, revelation, movement, resolution, agreement, and breaking of a routine.

These events are sometimes referred to as “tilts.”

A tilt can change someone’s status or even change the balance in a scene without conflict.

As long as you are invested in the moment, there isn’t any need to introduce or create conflict. The pressure you place on yourself to find the conflict will remove you from your scene.

As a result, you are no longer inside the scene, but outside of it.

If you construct conflict in order to create a scene, then you are constructing rather than behaving.

Just be.

If that’s not enough, be more.

When in doubt, raise the level of need for your character. If you get lost in the scene, it’s because you’re not in character. Dig deeper into how you feel about what you are doing, or how you feel about what is going on and allow it to inform you.

You don’t need to CREATE conflict; your character needs to need.

Other characters have their own needs, therefore conflict will ensue whether you want it or not.

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional.” – Max Lucade