Neil Casey Advanced Study Harold Notes Day Two (w/guest teacher Will Hines)

This was a challenging day for me and for most of the class I think.

I have my said my statements about Will Hines here on this blog frequently and made my opinion known: in short, I have a lot of respect for him as a performer and a teacher and he’s one of the bigger influences on my style of play.

But when Will came to sub for our intensive, I still put on myself that onus of “I’m performing in front of Will” (which was less serious in front of Neil, because I felt like/was such a better improviser when I took his class as opposed to when I took Will’s).

Also, we were doing a difficult thing for me: playing realistic scenes.

It seems like for me and for most of the class when you hear: play realistically at the top of the scene, don’t try to be funny, you forget you are an improviser and forget all of your skills there.

I felt like there was a lot of this in this class, a lot of the pain that comes of exercising like your trapezoidal muscles or getting your balance right.

Maybe that second analogy is right: as people, we can walk around unbalanced for most of our lives. Our legs still work and we walk pretty well. But later in life, as we mature, we find ourselves more and more unbalanced because of the lack of work we did in our youth, having problems all through our bodies or just hobbling.

As improvisers, we can improvise without playing truthfully necessarily at the top of the scene or without focussing on that muscle, because a lot of what we do as performers is based on ourselves, because we’re not smart enough to think of a lot of random stuff instantly for every situation. But by isolating that “truthful” muscle and making it stronger, we help make our scenes more real and powerful.

But that’s a hard day at the gym as everyone knows, working on balance, working small muscles. It tends to make you very sore and you fall a lot.

So that’s what I did in class, this class.

And then the next day, had a great practice using exactly the muscles I’d worked on here.

Thanks, Will.

Without further ado, the hastily scrawled, incomplete, inaccurate notes of my 501 class, subbed by Will Hines.

***

Your first mission as an improviser is to make realistic scenes, truthful

Don’t make problems where they don’t exist, like passing a fork or opening a refrigerator. Those wouldn’t be a problem in real life so not here either.

Ok to be boring at the top of scenes.

Basic scenework:

Truthful scenes that move forward are key.

Those things are hard because they can oppose each other

A confession is an active choice to make

A want is active, care about something, even if you don’t in real life

Doing something/object work is often helpful. It almost never hurts. Being active is almost always good.

Making the people on stage the center of the action.

Make a decision that the naturalistic conversation you were having actually was much more serious, justify/contextualizing a naturalistic scene five lines in

Not talking about future/past too much

With The Stepfathers, when I come out with an opening line, I’m just trying to be truthful, not funny, just make the audience believe it make sense and hopefully make it involve someone else.

Example, suggestion “Bakery”: “Yeah I’m glad you got me a cupcake, but I’m worried about how I’m going to look.”

Any first line can work but better hit percentage with truth.

Truthful scenes should be what we aim for, looking for more opportunities to make stuff active.

We need an opportunity in our scenes for people to care.

A problem many improvisers run into: You get a game, you play it, but that second game move can seem false or forced.

So to be the best improviser you can be, how can you find something active that is also truthful for that second move.

The move to make something more active will be the same as a second game move

So that way you’ll have something true when playing less real or grounded

Not every scene needs to be like a great play, but you need to have those moves in your satchel, a confession, making something theatrical and important.

We tell level 1 students not to ask questions. Questions are ok, but being surprised is a passive choice. It just makes the people restate their choice. Always better to remember, to contextualize.

Giving a shit, knowing about it, having an opinion, being affected those are all active choices.

You don’t always need to do that but you need to be sensitive about it, those forks in the roads when you come across them.

If you mess up a second-beat, acknowledge it, clean sweep, contain it and do a clean second beat. Don’t let every scene bleed into each other, maintain poise.

Kitchen rules of good improvisers from del close: good improviser accepts offers, makes active choices, good improviser justifies

Doesn’t have to be the whole point of the scene just an aside or one line.

If you do everything right and it doesn’t work, what do you do? Nothing. That’s why we have openings. If you accept every offer, make active choices and justify it will be funny most of the time.

Often the justification is the game, a little piece of dream logic that doesn’t necessarily make sense.

Be funnier, look for places for things to be funny, use your sense.

I have had a boring first beat in a Monkeydick show, but it was real and we ended up blowing it out to be huge. You don’t always want that, but trust your team to make it work.

You’re at the stage now where the rules contradict. Salt is delicious but too much is bad. Use your judgement as to your own ingredients. I can tell you what the ingredients are but we’ll all still have wrong amounts.

A team that knows each other may not use an opening because their months of knowing each other is their opening, knowing that they trust each other to discover the scene.

But even the Stepfathers might at some point. If we could ever agree on one.

***

P.S.- See Will Hines teach people improv on TV right here (pretty cool)!

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