New Multimedia Improv Book is the Future

He’s the Co-Founder of iO West and a member of the legendary group Beer Shark Mice and he’s written a new book that is one of the most comprehensive books I’ve read in improv. It is even multimedia. I had a chance to interview Paul Vaillancourt about his new book “The Triangle of the Scene.”

N: When did you start writing the book?

PV: I started actually writing the book about six months ago but it is something that I’ve been thinking about for years and that I’ve been practicing in my classes so when I finally put fingers to keyboard it went pretty quickly.

N: Why did you write the book?

PV:I have been doing this for nearly 30 years and I really love teaching so when I finally landed on the tools that make up “The Triangle of the Scene” I felt like I had something new and concrete to share with people so writing a book seemed like the next logical step.  I had been getting really great results with the triangle in my class and students had been expressing to me how much this approach helped them, so I wanted to share it with a larger audience.

N: Do you recommend this book to improvisors of all levels?

PV: I do.  I think that basics are really important and I always keep coming back to them no matter what level of improvisor I’m working with as a teacher or coach.  Most of the time when I end up coaching a team nowadays they have been around for a while and have kind of lost their way a little bit or are looking to sharpen up their work. When I work with them I try to bring them back and strengthen those basics and that seems to do the trick.  In this book are the approach and exercises that I use with my level 1 class all the way up to those more advanced teams I work with.

N: Tell us what you want improvisors to get from your book.

PV: Improvisors are going to get a set of specific, concrete, replicable tools that they can use over and over again for building better long form scenes.  Giving people notes on one specific scene doesn’t really help them get better because they’ll never do that same scene again.  We need to  identify the bigger lesson or strategy that they can apply to other, different scenes in the future.  I think the tools in this book will do just that.

N: You’re book has media elements in it, not just a book, which is different then any improv book I’ve seen yet. Tell us about that.

PV: I bought a book about film making which I really liked but then I saw there was an iBook version with embedded video and I was blown away by how much better and more understandable the concepts were when I saw them in action. I immediately thought that this technology was perfect for a book about improv.  In the past Charna wrote “Art by Committee” that came with a DVD but that interface always seemed a little clunky – are you going to read the book sitting in front of the TV?  But now technology have given us the option of seamlessly integrating the two so the reader has it all there in front of her.  And I think that being able to read through the principles and description of the exercises and then, right away see it IN ACTION will really bring those lessons home in a very powerful way.

N: You Co-Founded iO West. What made you want to do that?

PV: I was living in Chicago and I had done pretty much everything that I could do there.  I knew I wanted to move to LA, but I really felt like the iO was my home and I didn’t want to leave that community behind.  Then I realized that if I opened an iO in Los Angeles I could kind of have my cake and eat it too. How often do you get to do that in life?  So, I pitched it to Charna and we decided to do it.

N: What were the challenges of starting another branch in Los Angeles?

PV: I think there were a few challenges when we first started here. One, our name. Before we shortened it to iO we used to go by Improv Olympic.  So when I would talk to people about it they would always think of The Improv – the stand up club on Melrose.  That, however, has really changed and people have gone from “What is that?” to “I’ve been there.  I’ve seen shows there.”  That change has been really gratifying.  Our second challenge was that there wasn’t really any long form improv going here when we came out here.  The improv scene was dominated by The Groundlings and ACME.  So, there was a little bit of educating the audience that needed to be done.  And our third challenge was that the LA students were just different than the Chicago students.  At the time, Chicago was the Mecca for improv so the students were mostly improv pilgrims coming to the holy land – they knew some improv and they wanted to be improvisers; that was their end goal.  In LA, the students have different backgrounds and different goals – many of them are actors who want to learn improv as a means to an end (doing better in the commercial auditions or whatever).  Improv was (and still is) for them only part of the puzzle while in Chicago it was the whole puzzle.  Nowadays, though, with the explosion of improv in LA I think we see a combination of those two kinds of students and that’s a pretty interesting change to see.

N: Where do you see improv in 5 to 10 years?

PV: This is a tricky one.  I don’t know that I see improv being that much different per se – I mean the basics are the basics and the principles of a good show are sort of timeless, but I am interested to see how technology might change the way we use or consume improv.  Like now, when I’m teaching I can refer my students to a specific King Ten Harold on youtube.  I couldn’t do that even a few years ago.  That thing that used to the archetype of “you had to be there” is now captured and sitting there waiting to be viewed. I think that’s a big change in improv already.

N: Beer Shark Mice is one of the premier ensembles in all of improv. What’s it like being a part of the group and does it influence your work?

PV: Playing in BSM is great – super fun as you can imagine.  It is a team of alphas and veterans so you can really go for it with everything you’ve got and you know that everyone else is going to do the same thing.  You can play in a really fearless way and I think that has really been the biggest effect on my work outside of BSM.  For example, before playing with those guys I don’t know that I would have been fearless enough to do Man vs. Movie (the world’s only one-man improvised movie).

N: Where can we get your book?

PV: The book is available on iBooks and there will be a Kindle version coming soon.

N: You perform a one-person improv show called Man Vs. Movie. Can you explain the show and tell us how it is just being you out there?

PV: Man vs. Movie is an improvised one man show that I do.  Inspired by an audience suggestion of a line of poetry or a lyric from a song I improvise a feature film complete with characters, plot, special effects and camera angles – everything you would see in a regular feature film but improvised on stage by me.

Being out there solo is scary and thrilling.  The most tense part is right before I hear the suggestion because I have no idea what I’m going to do for the next thirty minutes, but once I start, the show moves pretty fast and I don’t really have time to think or be nervous or any of that.  Things start happening and I’m really in the zone, discovering the movie along with the audience.  A lot of times I’m finding out what’s going to happen at the same time the audience finds out.  I like the show because it’s a little bit of a feat with a little ta-da at the end – like a magic trick.

N: Where can we find out more about your upcoming shows?

PV: You can follow me at any or all of the following:

Instagram: @whatsupwithpv

I really recommend this book because it’s so different and very hands on with the multimedia aspect. You visually get to see what he’s talking about and makes it easier for you to comprehend and even teach. To purchase the book you can click HERE. Enjoy!

Nick Armstrong
Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia a non-profit improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.

Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book

So it’s happened. Tj and Dave have written a book: “Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The TJ and Dave Book, with the help of  Pam Victor, you might know her from her wonderful blogs “My Nephew is an Improv Poodle.” This is a huge step forward for the improv community. TJ and Dave’s work has influenced modern day improv and now we get to take a look inside to see how they do it.

There are a lot of books about improv out there but this one promises to be about the experiences and thoughts about improv from the masters themselves.  The National Improv Network was lucky enough to get an interview with TJ, Dave and Pam here is what they had to say:

What prompted you guys to write the book after all these years?

TJ: We found that the books that were out there about improvisation were all well written and helpful so we decided to do something about that.

Is the book biographical, instructional a little of both?

TJ: Closer to a little bit of neither. I would say it’s primarily a collection of thoughts about improvisation. What has worked for us and how we think about it.

With the improv world expanding more than ever, there’s practically a theater and festival in every state now. What do you see happening to improv in the next 10 years?

TJ: I really don’t know. I’m guessing it will keep getting bigger. It seems that more people from every walk of life are finding it somehow. It seems to be a word that more people understand now. It’s so damn good I don’t know why it would ever get any less known than it it now.

Dave: I imagine it will follow the trajectory of the proliferation of stand-up in the 80’s and the housing market in the early 2000’s: boom and bust. Though with more economic impact than the latter.

What do you hope improvisors get out of your book?

TJ: Any little thing that helps or clarifies or excites.

Dave: Maybe a different way to think about this stuff that they have not yet been exposed to. and hopefully it will be helpful for those improvisers…and not merely be confounding.

Pam: Speaking as an evolving improviser, the book has been all of the above for me.

Is this book for improvisors of all levels of experiences?

TJ: I think so. I think at its heart it goes to the basic basic center of how you can improvise and in that, I think anybody might find some benefit from it.

Dave: I think it’s for folks who are interested in improvisation.

Pam: Personally, I tend to think of the book as a PhD in improvisation. Although improvisers of all levels will hopefully find interesting and helpful stuff in there, I am excited that this book could really be useful for experienced improvisers who have been around the block a few times. I have been performing for over a decade and I learned a tremendous amount from getting TJ and David’s approach to the page – more and more each time I went over the material. So I hope it will be useful for people to refer back to as they progress through their improv lives. I know that’s how it’s been for me.

Are you guys different players outside of your duo? Or do you commit to the same philosophies?

TJ: The same philosophies are at heart but different shows are made to do different things. An Armando is not a Harold is not our show, so the player is still the same but the job of the player may be different.

Dave: I think improvisation is improvisation, so for me, the principles stay the same regardless of the specifics.

You have your own theater space The Mission Theater. How has that been going and what has been your biggest challenges having your own space?

TJ: The biggest challenges are getting people to come and figuring out how to run a business. Outside of that, artistically it’s going well. We are really proud of the shows that go on in there. We are working on our second sketch revue, Undressed, and they’re awesome. The house ensemble is incredibly strong and good. We really like the people doing shows in there right now.

Is there going to be any book signings or events we can catch you at?

Pam: On April 1st at The Mission all three of us will be signing books and doing a Q & A moderated by Kim “Howard” Johnson. Tickets are free and can be reserved through the iO box office. More info at Howard, by the way, is the editor of Truth in Comedy and the author of The Funniest One in the Room, among other terrific books. He also was on one of the first Harold teams ever at Improv Olympic, Baron’s Barracudas, with Dave. Oh, and he helped edit our book too. Good guy.

Where can we purchase the book?

Pam: Our book release party is on April 1st at 6pm at The Mission Theater in Chicago, where the book will be on sale from that date on to forevermore. It’s currently available for order online (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.).

We here at NIN are excited to get a chance to read this. We will be posting our review of it soon and would love to hear from our community and see what you think so please drop us a line when you read it.

To purchase the Improvisation at the Speed of Life: The Tj and Dave Book visit HERE and get it today!


Nick Armstrong

Nick  is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia a non-profit improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings. He has also teaches improv throughout the country.


Spotlight On: The 13th Annual Phoenix Improv Festival

I met Bill Binder in an iO West Class over 10 years ago. He would drive from Arizona to LA to take his class each week and then drive back home the same night. He finished classes at iO and went back to Phoenix to help created the Phoenix Improv Festival and The Torch Theater.

My first ever improv festival was PIF in 2004. Among the improvisors there were such improv vets as Craig Cackowski and Jack McBrayer. I had no idea what an improv festival was or what it was even all about. But I have to say I was the luckiest improvisor alive to experience PIF. It really was a game changer for me as an improvisor and improv in general. It paved the way for a lot of things including NIN. Celebrating their 13th year as a festival I interviewed Executive Producer of PIF and Co-Founder of NIN Bill Binder about the upcoming festival:

You’re celebrating 13 years of the Phoenix Improv Festival. How does that feel and what are your goals this year?

Reflective. We have such a huge wonderful community, but some of us have been here since PIF 1. It’s interesting to see how the community and we, as people, have grown and changed in the past decade. We’ve learned so much and we’re always excited to have new people and ideas help it grow even more.

Logistically we have many internal goals that are related to growth. The last two years we played it a little safer than we had in the past because there were so many things going on in Phoenix. Dearing Studio and The Torch opened, NCT and Theater 168 both expanded. Weddings, babies. So much. But this year we can put a lot of our focus back on the festival growing again. We want to push our comfort levels a little. We’re right on the cusp of becoming a much bigger cultural event here.

Our other big goal is becoming another hub for communications between improvisors. Our first festival was designed solely to get the theatres in our town together to learn from each other. We’re really at a point where we can be doing that on a national level. If we’re all in one place, why not use that time to share ideas as theatre owners and festival organizers outside of just having shows?

What can improvisors expect at your festival outside of performances? Workshops? Conferences?

We’ll have a few workshops for sure this year. We haven’t nailed down exactly who yet. We will be bringing back the unconference this year after it’s success last year. Every festival has great discussions during after parties, but we’ve moved them into the daytime as well. Saturday afternoon will be set aside for organized discussions in the hotel on coaching, marketing, improv theory, you name it. Last year, the breakout panel was a discussion on gender issues in improv across the country. We’re really excited to be host to these conversations so that we can all grow.

We’ll also be having a photo shoot and probably a few other things to announce. Oh, and the after parties will be pretty great this year.

Talk about your venue? Where does PIF take place?

We love playing in The Herberger Theater Center. I honestly believe it’s the most beautiful venue in our state. We all love our respective theatres in town, but it’s nice once a year to dress up nicer and present our art to an audience that might not think to see improv otherwise.

What’s there to do in Phoenix?

It depends what you’re looking to do. Our venue is about 1/4 of a mile from Chase Field where the AZ Diamondbacks play. We’re also just south of The Phoenix Art Museum, Opera House and The Deck Park. There are plenty of good places to eat around Phoenix too. Visitors almost always love Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles and some folks want to go visit Pizzeria Bianco ever since Oprah named it The Best Pizza in America. (If you want to avoid the four hour wait, ask a local for the secret to get in fast). We are also in old-west territory, so we have plenty of mountains and deserts nearby for hiking and views. Of course, past festivals have shown that plenty of people just love hanging out at the pool or playing basketball at the hotel. (Did I mention we put all of our performers and instructors up in a hotel a block from the venue?)

What makes PIF different then any other festival?

Wow. That’s a great question. I think the big difference I see between PIF and other festivals which I love is that most festivals are really connected with the passionate people at a particular theatre in town. Phoenix takes more of a Green Bay Packers approach. I don’t think the people of Phoenix associate the festival with any particular group or theatre. It’s part of the cultural landscape of the city. People get excited talking about it eight months before it happens because they know it will be a celebration for everybody. As much as we use the festival to promote improv all over the city year round, people know the festival as part of this city’s traditions and they come out to see great art. We take that responsibility to heart to show them great art and that means treating our visitors like the artists they are. I know – as a traveling performer – that sometimes you feel a bit like a vagabond, but here you’re an artist. And I think that respect leads to great shows and great times. We still use one venue because if we invite you to come play, we want to see you. and we want other troupes to see you too. I was honored by the quote from Dave Hill in our local paper last year.

There are a couple of festivals that have been around for a while that have become a little more corporate, a little long in the tooth. And that’s why the PIF is so unique. It’s grown, but it feels like both a grass-roots and a big-time experience.

Submissions for The Phoenix Improv Festival are now open and you can instantly submit on NIN today! Submit HERE.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!