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: https://www.facebook.com/pvimprov
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 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.