Neil Casey 401 Notes Day Seven

Same deal: these are my notes hastily scribbled from my 401 class with Neil Casey, a great performer at the UCB theatre who no longer teaches improv frequently. Some of these may have typos, may not make sense, may be inaccurate, et cetera.

Use them for what they are worth.

On a personal note, this one was a fun class for me.



Meta moves tend to suck when they acknowledge the audience, and they can be fun and a jam, but you’ll never reach the heights you can get from the seriousness of a Harold. Generally, though Meta moves suck and cause your show to go out of control.

If you come in and initiate something that’s really funny and it can’t get any funnier it’s fine to have a 30-second scene. If you find yourself doing a lot of that, adjust, but those are fine.

You can’t be worried about whether someone has a good idea. If you’re standing there on the backline, it might as well you. If you are coming out cold even with nothing or a half-idea, that’s great. Step out with something more than “here you are on stage”.

A lot of time the reason that something is happening is why it’s funny, justifying behavior/the reasoning makes things on stage funny.

I maintain that there is nothing an improv scene that is said that cannot be made true to the logic of the scene, even if it’s inelegant.

From a stand-up, Chris Murphy, in my class: Never try to get laughs, try to give laughs. If you go up Trying to give the audience a good show, you’ll never feel bad coming off the stage.

Keep the pattern game precise, it helps to set the pace of the show.

Make sure you show your moves, people don’t want “instant” move any more than they want instant coffee. When they first cane out with instant cake mix, just add water, no ons bought it, because people want to feel like they’re baking. When they changed it to “add milk and eggs” it sold like crazy. Show your work in the scene for your game or else it won’t be rewarding.

I’ve said this a million times in this class, you’ve got to assume that people are stupid, we’re stupid, assume that we have limited bandwidth of understanding. The contract we make on stage with each other that whatever idea we establish on stage is the one we play. Everyone should be making strong choices but yielding to each other strong choices or finding ways of incorporating them.

Don’t load up the things you are going to say. Make sure you let your scene partner have their move and then fully have their reaction.

Watch out for group games that are self-aware: “Are we ready to do this?” I’d rather have you take big risks than be tepid. I want your group games to be really fucking giant failures rather than being 6 people in a line.


Bonus Note:

I have an improv class with Alex Marino, a great performer and teacher at the Magnet who does do both often, so you can take classes with him. I asked him a question about making wacky moves in improv, which can be alternately rewarding and alienating. This is what he said (as always, roughly):

“When you go to crazy-town in a scene, it’s important to take steps to there, showing a progression leading there naturally from the character. Think about Zombie movies. There might be one attack early on to tell us we are in a zombie movie, but the next half-hour is just character development, so we care about these people when they’re attacked. Otherwise, they’re just meat. So spend time making these people real for us before the Zombies come.”



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