Alright, so I have done this once before.
I was lucky twice: mostly to take level 4 at the UCB with Neil Casey and then to a lesser extent to pass the class (my 3rd attempt at passing that level at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and only successful one).
For those of you who don’t know, Neil Casey is a performer, director and writer at UCB who is generally considered to be at the top of those fields there. He rarely teaches classes nowadays and even more rarely full-length improv classes.
When I took his level 4, I made a decision I would write all the notes he gave down for posterity and then later to share with my friends who couldn’t take the class. This ended up being a popular idea both for my classmates and my improv friends and I received thanks even from performers I respect.
So, I now find myself incredibly luckily in Neil Casey’s Level 5 (Adv. Study Harold) class which sold out in 60 seconds. I am going to employ the same methodology, trying to write down and post my notes, for my own help and others.
I should note that I have other incredible improvisers that have taught me (Christina Gausas and Armando Diaz come to mind) but that their notes are highly personal, spectral, going like bullets past your consciousness into your acting in indelible magic.
These are not those notes because I cannot recreate magic. I can give a man’s philosophy though and here are those notes.
A final disclaimer: these are hastily scrawled notes, grammar is barely existent, there are misspellings, much may not make sense, or might be patently wrong. Use this for what it is and I apologize for what it’s not.
This class- How to figure out how to do no bs improv stuff and still make fun stuff happen.
Maintain emotional commitment while not a boring conversation
Invocation as opening
Pass an object, a story why its importaht then a philosophy based on
Character or truth
Playing you as yourself and you’re not at your house, but looking for game
Don’t deny but keep tone/personality
There’s plenty of time when it does serve the scene to play goofy characters but it’s never your best work so try not to do that
Let’s not be pissy to each other without a reason, only people who have slept with each other are that pissy
Improv monsters need to be shot like:
Raised voice above it all people criticizing are improv monsters
If we can keep tone realistic, play versions of ourselves and other people
Don’t let your silly goofballs out
Don’t treat your ideas at arms length, talk about what we want to hear you talk about, deal with ideas, as opposed to reestablishing
There are so many ways to play against our conceptions- the attitude of an actor vs. background actor
Keep pace slow and steady
The minute the characters are self-aware it loses hilarity.
Never tip your hand in a scene, it really takes the air out of the scene
If we have a three-dimensional game, choose it over a two-dimensional one, it’s richer/truer to play.
No take backs in improv, if I mishear you and do something different it’s a denial unless you are positive the audience has seen something
It brings the show to a full halt, we want to get through those moments without apologizing for them
Someone calls you the wrong name, “my friends call me ___”
Acknowledge that it happened and move past it
I want to be able to see you roll with problems without dwelling on them
I never like to see a scene go badly with 6 people on the back line especially in the group game slot
When I see a bad 2 person scene and everyone is on the back, all sink together with the shop, it keeps you honest.
At worst case you’ll all have a thing to laugh about at best you make it good
You guys should be in such a hurry to be in each others bad scenes, even to fail harder. I want to see you struggle like rats, it’s more fun to fail together then to let people hang.
Don’t be sensitive to side-coaching, being a good improviser isn’t about not doing bad scenes it’s about navigating out of them
Everyone does them even me
The trick is getting out of these traps
The best improvisers in the world regularly shit the bed on stage, you just don’t notice because they don’t betray it to the audience and their teammates help you the fuck out
It’s always better to remember than invent, play the person you remember rather than something random, remember knowing someone who was like something wacky, an analogue, it will make your reactions truer and vice versa, try to remember something real you can play even if it’s absurd, otherwise we’re in weird land and itll never be funny
The crazier it is the more I need you to play it real and that’s something you can always adjust during a scene.
If we don’t give a shit in a scene, the scene is meaningless until we justify that with a philosophy
Find a real analog for situations, i.e: Taking a first date to a hanging=analog, taking to a baskin Robbins, etc
Starting scenes with “well here we are at the ____” is fine, the audience is grateful, but as advanced improvisers we can be more elegant.
An over thought second beat happens, which is fine, but back line if you remember what is fun about the first beat I want to see you fail trying to bring back the magic
We see people all the time, pros, be like “well it will be my turn next to do good improv” so don’t be like that! Die fighting!
Even if the scene is never going to work, instead of having two half- laughs we’ll have 6 half-laughs and that’s better for our show.
If we’re in a bad scene and it’s not working you can end graciously. But you can also come in there and take some of the blows.
Maybe it’ll just look cool, who knows?
In these classes and in improv you are not expected to not get noted and do scenes that suck
You’re always going to get in the sand-trap so are you going to give up or get the wedge and try to get it out?
I don’t like to see people give up
I’m not side coaching to say this is terrible, just to help you get out of it.
It’s not that anything’s ruined when I say it’s not working, just let’s get in there helpful.
The difference between Good teams vs. bad teams is not not stepping in shit just how fast they get it off.