Directing Maestro™ Impro by Timothy Redmond
“Players four and twelve please…”
And a pair of number-bibbed players stand before the director awaiting instructions for their scene - and thus, Maestro begins. Players are called up randomly. The audience scores the scenes. The lowest scored players are eliminated – Maestro.
But a director? I mean, how do you direct an improvised show? It seems counter-intuitive. If a show is truly spontaneous, how can a director call actions and scene beats? Isn’t that planning?
You see, the director is improvising too, they're just using different tools. While the actor is focused on their scene partner as a source of their ideas, the director has the good fortune of witnessing the whole scene as it develops. In that way, they’re the audience advocate and even the two players rising from their cast seats when called has the potential to become a scene if a director is really watching. It’s about using what’s already there.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Shakespeare was right. While an actor may employ gesture, sound and movement to explore and advance narrative, the director’s primary tool is their voice. (and an occasional waving hand) Their task then is to sculpt the drama in front of them in as few words as possible. A pithy direction can spark a player’s imagination and create action and consequence. A laboured direction can confuse and burden a player and they may feel there is nothing for them left to discover. The joy of discovery keeps us in the moment.
Let's say the two above players felt bold and began a romantic scene beneath an oak tree. That's all we know. Perhaps the scene has motored along nicely enough, but then an offer is missed, something goes astray, and they begin to look a little lost.
A director could call, "see each other" to respark the connection they’d already created..
Or, perhaps player twelve just happens to be gazing up at that moment, up in their head trying to figure out the scene. The director can use the expression and gesture and say,
"Remember her..." to perhaps spark an emotional change.
Or "It begins to rain..." to spark physical connection
Or, "tell her..." to spark revelation and change.
The key is that the direction, like any offer, is born from the moment. That the direction excavates what is already happening to heighten the drama that is already there. With a snappy direction, the players are reminded of what they’ve already created, and so the next step, the next action, the next beat, can feel obvious and playful.
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“Was that scene a fail? Or a complete?” Amy scans the crowd expectantly. Behind her, fellow improvisers Rik, Jenny, Rama and Tim await their fate. They’ve just gone deep into a wonderfully bizarre scene titled “I Jinxed My Wife” which involved a witch, a wailing villager and are understandably unsure of their futures. And then comes the roar. Like a bloodthirsty coliseum, the mob cries out “fail!” and a sea of thumbs pointing downward are duly presented. And so it goes for these brave souls. They’ve failed. Horribly. On opening night. In front of a full house who know their power. And how do our heroes react? They’re bloody delighted.
Grand Theft Impro is a deceptively simple concept. A small cast asks the audience for ten scene titles. Anything will do. Tonight’s collection runs the gamut from ‘First Day in the Army’ and ‘The Never-Ending Burrito’ to ‘My Rubber Ducky Sank’. The cast’s goal is to perform ten scenes that do justice to each title within an hour. After each scene, the crowd gives their verdict: ‘fail’ or ‘complete’. Failed titles will be repeated ad infinitum until the audience is pleased with their efforts. It’s part democracy, part firing squad.
The crowd is beginning to test out their powers. The first ‘fails’ are called softly, reluctantly, perhaps not wanting to hurt the players’ feelings. But this ensemble doesn’t want their pity. It’s not about completing their task. It’s about genuinely finding that magic moment. It’s about pushing themselves to higher and higher levels creativity, madness and glorious stupidity. The half-hearted ‘completes’ are rejected by the team. “Oh, that was definitely a fail!” Rik exclaims.
Suddenly they’re really in the groove. Amy and Rik present a a star-crossed couple whose passion seems to rely on their interest in rare coins. Rama sells those never-ending burritos, with fatal consequences. A hairdresser takes revenge on an unfaithful client in the case of ‘The Accidental Mullet’. Jenny is brought back from the dead in ‘I Fought Lightning and Won’, her hair standing wildly on end.
One of the last titles, ‘Magic’, captures the spirit of the whole endeavour. There are three or four quick-fire fails here. Time is running out and the cathartic notion of failure - the big bad wolf that stalks our daily lives – has been fully embraced. Tim and Rik are poking that wolf in the nose, their efforts are almost comically pitiful – Tim pulls a rabbit out of a hat and whispers, ‘magic’! Rik and Amy follow suit ending their tries with the same whisper, now a running gag. The ‘fails’ are gleeful and unanimous. As an antidote, Rama comes to the fore and (accompanied by musical wiz Pan) sings an earnest song about her belief in magic. With a childlike, Artful Dodger accent she implores the crowd to affirm her belief that she can disappear, or find your card, or best of all, fly. Rik counters – magic dreams are futile, gravity and the laws of physics will thwart her every time. But not tonight. Rama rises, her feet leave the floor. She is delirious to have escaped the predictable bounds of this earth. It doesn’t matter that we can see Tim and Jenny lifting her up, we’re with her. We’re flying.
Calamity strikes. Time’s up and there’s still two titles left. Tim is singled out to perform the ‘forfeit’ – a mystery task in a red envelope. His punishment? To ask God to make him a better improviser. He sings a heartfelt plea to God, to be given the gift to “create without fear”. Tim’s prayers are answered not only by God, but also by Vishnu, Buddha, Kanye West and the Easter Bunny. Fear of failure. In impro it’s often unavoidable, even inevitable. But with these playful and dedicated clowns of Impro Melbourne, failure has never been so much fun.
Written by Rhys Auteri: member of the Impro Melbourne Rookie company
Book Tickets for the final shows of Grand Theft Impro at the Comedy Festival
After the exhilaration that was Improvention 2016, Melbourne performers could have been forgiven for rugging up and returning to regular life for a week or two. Instead, we were thrilled to welcome a number of Improvention guests who travelled south to see more of the country and share their knowledge and skills with improvisors who couldn’t make it to Canberra
Among our guests were two - Joe Bill and Gary Schwartz - whose own teachers (Del Close and Viola Spolin, respectively) were influential in modern improvisation.
Having two students of these improvisation greats in the same place at the same time was too good an opportunity to miss. A room was booked, the Facebook event created, and on July 13, 2016, a delightful, informal evening of stories was shared. Hosted by Patti Stiles (herself a student of Keith Johnstone), Gary and Joe shared their personal experiences learning from and spending time with Viola and Del. From their class time idiosyncrasies to their bigger inspirations, the insights Gary and Joe shared and the questions they answered opened a small window into the worlds that Viola and Del inhabited, created, and taught in.
Impro Melbourne is excited to share this recording of Joe and Gary’s stories and experiences studying and working with Del Close and Viola Spolin.
Here is the link: An Evening with Joe Bill and Gary Schwatrz
We are improvisers. Bleeding creativity for your amusement. Attempting to harness the untameable. We are side by side in a sea of possibility, standing on a surfboard of spontaneity, catching waves of inspiration towards the beach of artistic satisfaction. But look out for the sandbar of confusing analogies. Hit one of those and you will lose your surfboard. Limited edition surfboards like that are hard to find. It was made of Spontaneity for goodness sake. That stuff is hard to refine into suitably buoyant materials that are required for the manufacture and sale of surfboards. And now you're stranded on a sandbar, surrounded by Sharks of Insecurity!
Which sounds bad because Sharks! But Sharks of Insecurity are actually a confusingly named type of porpoise. And as we know, porpoises are just a type of dolphin. And, little known fact, dolphins are just a type of tuna. And tuna is delicious. As are tacos. And Bunnings sausages. But the only way to defeat the "Sharks" is to use the Flying Spin Kick of Teamwork. Followed by the One-Two Punch of Bold Character Choices. But sometimes just before you punch a shark you look into its eyes and see a glimmer of intelligence there. A hint of emotion. A shred of empathy. And the two of you end up chatting for hours about Jungian theory and about a possible second season of Jessica Jones and whether or not you should send a joint email letting Lin-Manuel Miranda know how impressed you are with his mad skills.
He probably has heaps of surfboards.
Made out of all sorts of stuff. Like disappointment. And you're like, why do you have a surfboard of disappointment and he just points to a cross-stitch above his dartboard which says "There are no small surfboards, only small actors". And even though you don't get it you smile and say "Good one Lin-Manuel. Good one" . Then you close your eyes and throw your third dart. You NAIL it and Lin-Manuel Miranda makes up a quick rap where he rhymes "One Hundred and EIGHTY" with " Secretary of STATE-Y"
Its a pretty great night and you can barely remember how it all started.....then you blink and wake up. You're still on the sandbar....you're dehydrated....close to death.
IF YOU TRY TO RIDE A SHARK TO SAFETY - TURN TO PAGE 39
IF YOU TRY TO FASHION A SURFBOARD OUT OF FLOTSAM - TURN TO PAGE 122
IF YOU TRY TO FASHION A SURFBOARD OUT OF JETSAM - TURN TO PAGE 14
IF YOU LIKE BARN DANCING - BOW TO YOUR PARTNER
IF YOU LIKE COMEDY - COME TO OUR SHOW !
Grand Theft Impro @ Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Friday and Saturday nights to April 22nd.
And what a year it's going to be...
Not one, but TWO workshops now open to book with this incredible professional improvisor & teacher, website creator, blog editor, Canada's largest scavenger hunt-organiser and lover of fireplaces, cakes and high-fives.
IM company member and teacher Tim Redmond shares his advice on Songprov.