Discovery: How a Long-Form Audience Gets Involved

In short-form improv the audience is with you from the get go. Frequently asked to participate with a suggestion here and there or asked to come up onstage and be a part of a game. Short-form has a way of keeping and audience participating and being a part of the show and it’s great. Audiences love to be a part of something. In long-form, the audience participation becomes a little tricky. Most teams ask for a suggestion at the beginning and then the audience watches their show for thirty minutes. The show can be great or the show could be a stinker. Now, I’m not about to say that an audience has to be pulled up in a long-form show or has to constantly asked for suggestions, that’s not long-form. But I always ask myself:

How in long-form do we keep the audience a participant in the show?

Sure you can say the basics like a team that listens to each other, has fun and wraps the show up in a nice bow is a way to keep an audience captivated. It can. But what’s the thing that is the magic of long-form? The thing that keeps the audience surprised and leaning forward in their seats? DISCOVERY. It’s the discovery that the improvisor or team make in moments. This is what keeps a long-form audience participating in your show. Because right when you make that discovery, they do too and that makes them feel a part of the experience. If your team is truly in the moment and on the same page then the audience is right there with you and with each discovery comes a laugh, a lean forward in your seat moment, a wow, or even an aww every now and then. If your show lacks discovery then most likely it’s relying too heavily on invention and audiences can sense that, they don’t know what it is, but it’s not real or funny to them. If your team is in invention mode, then the audience has a chance to get ahead of you  and most likely be disinterested or not care.

Discovery vs. Invention:

Discoveries are found in the true moment of a scene. It’s the discovery that your show has been in a pyramid the whole time, that the two of you are siblings, but didn’t know till the middle or end of the show, that Jane was actually the waitress from the first scene, but the girl buying groceries and falling in love with the checker in the last beat. The simple discovery of knowing your partners want. It’s a way a show magically comes together. Through a series of discoveries.

On the other hand there’s invention. This is a dirty word in long-form improv. Invention is used when you have nothing and really just have to make something up, going for a joke or adding plot. John and Sue are in a scene and they are two students in a high school hallway. Sue gives John a glance and a wink, John then says, “I know you’re an alien.” Now, this could be a discovery if that was a lead on from another scenes, but pretend this is a first beat. It’s kind of out of left field and Sue was trying to give John the gift that she likes him. John doesn’t take it and invents a plot point instead. Now the scene is an uphill battle. In a moment of discovery, John takes the bait from Sue and adds information back. Then they continue to discover together building off the last thing said.

So, what to do? Simple, don’t get ahead of yourself. Listen, really listen to your partners body language, tone of voice, what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. And then you can start to discover the true scene together. Don’t worry about getting it right in the first moments of the scene. Just stay true to your character and what they want and then have a fun time discovering the rest. Your audience will appreciate you more and so will your scene partner.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West as well as member of The Sunday Company at The Groundlings.  He has also taught many workshops around the country. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want.

To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

 

Improv Warrior: Rick Andrews

large_rickandrewsImprov Warrior (n.) Someone who goes above and beyond the call of duty. An improvisor, who is not just a performer, but lives and breaths improv, heightens the art, cares for the art and brings it to new levels.

Today’s Improv Warrior is Rick Andrews who is on the board and one of the organizers of DuoFest in Philadelphia. He is also a teacher and performer at The Magnet Theatre in New York. On the first night I was at DuoFest I saw Rick and asked him where he was staying in Philly while doing the festival he said, “I’m going back to NYC every night.”

So get this, Rick would do a show, Dwight D. Eisenhower which was one of my favorites at DuoFest, host some of the hours with crazy positive energy and then when the shows ended, around midnight, he’d hang out and go to the after parties, then he’d hop on a bus at 3 a.m. in the morning, get on a train to get home to teach by 10 a.m. at The Magnet Theatre.

I asked Rick why he had to get back to teach, why couldn’t he just get a sub. It turns out Rick was so concerned about his new level 1 class that he wanted to get back to them to make sure they were taken care of. Sure it would be easy to just get a sub for the weekend, but that’s not Rick.

I’ve always said that improvisors are a different class of people and when I met Rick in NYC about a year ago, before DuoFest, he solidified that thought even more.

Rick is the definition of an Improv Warrior. His dedication to DuoFest, his students and the art form are way above and beyond. Rick is definitely and inspiration to all improvisors. Rick travels to festivals around the country and is available for workshops.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E. 

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network.

 

 

 

 

DUOFEST Delivers!

DuofestLogoTwitterThree Years ago I met Amie Roe and Kristen Schier of The Amie and Kristen Show at the Seattle Improv Festival and they told me about DuoFest. Yeah it took me a while to get  to Philadelphia but I finally did and I was impressed! For those of you who have never heard of DuoFest it’s an improv festival with the sole purpose of showing two-person long-form improv shows.

DuoFest was an amazing and intimate experience. The headliners this year were Scott Adsit (30 Rock) and Jet Eveleth and they delivered! But DuoFest is more than just headliners. Two of the stand-out groups were Dwight D. Eisenhower with Russ Armstrong, not related, and Rick Andrews both out of the Magnet Theatre in New York who had a playful improv spirit, played fast and furious and wrapped the show up in a nice bow.

The most physical show you’ll ever see was the amazing 2-MAN-NO-SHOW out of Canada. I was lucky enough to meet this spirited duo at The Detroit Improv Festival last year and they did not disappoint this year. Were these guys ever onstage? They were on the walls, the audience and everywhere! They’re Improv Spidermen!

So what am I trying to say here? Go to DuoFest or at least submit to it if you have a two person show it’s definitely a fun time and in such a great city!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E. 

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network.

We Didn’t Get Into Improv to Play It Safe!

bunny_slope_hidI’ve been coaching for around 10 years now. iO teams, indie teams and workshops across the country and I find one of the hardest things to try and teach improvisers is the importance of taking a risk. Jumping and hoping someone will catch you.

 

This, I feel, is one of the most important things in improv. Why we get into improv. When I first started skiing, way back when, my instructor told me, “Hey if you don’t fall down you’re not trying.” It seemed silly. I didn’t want to get all wet and nasty. I’ll just take it easy and hit the bunny slopes so I don’t get messy. Well that was no fun and I eventually stopped skiing because that’s all I ever did. I never tried to fall and get messy and therefore lost interest and never got better at it and always stuck to the bunny slopes. I feel this is the same in improv. The biggest thing students and some performers have a fear of is being afraid to fail, to fall flat on their faces in front of an audience or an instructor. Why? What will happen? You won’t land that huge sitcom? You won’t get that agent? That girl or guy you’ve been eyeing will get up and leave? You’ll embarrass yourself? We didn’t get into improv to play it safe. Live dangerously onstage and great things will come to you!

You should be doing improv to make yourself a better performer, a better artist and better ensemble member. Stretching, evolving and pushing the boundaries of everything you’ve been taught and then breaking through that. The wonderful and awesome teachers and coaches have given you a great foundation now it’s time to put your stamp on it. What do you think about the world? Tell us in your characters.

I can guarantee you that your favorite improvisers have fallen on their faces a thousand times over. I bet the reason those improvisers are your favorite is probably, not just because they’re funny, but the fact that they are doing something extraordinary and taking a huge risk and a huge leap off of a cliff knowing that their fellow ensemble will catch them. And even if they don’t get caught they know how to land on their feet.

Do yourself a favor don’t just stay on the bunny slopes, every time you go to rehearsal or do a show make sure you hit the black diamonds! You’ll have more fun and surprise yourself.

Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Improvisor and Writer living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick is currently on AMC’s Story Notes and has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Parks and Recreation. Recently, Nick received a development deal for a TV Show he created for A&E.

Onstage Nick has trained at The Groundlings and iO West. You can catch him performing regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA on the famed genre-based group Kind Strangers and LA’s Longest and Critically Acclaimed Harold Team King Ten. Nick is also the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community.

Improv is Spreading Like a Wildfire

boise-wildfire_91_600x450Gone are the days of major cities owning all of improv. Those days are gone just like rotary telephones and one dollar gas. The improv community in the United States reaches far and wide now. Last year alone, I was able to visit improv communities in Phoenix, AZ (The Torch Theatre/NCT Phoenix), San Francisco (SF Improv Festival), Roseville, CA (Blacktop Comedy Theatre), Detroit, MI (Detroit Improv Festival/Go Theatre, Denver, CO (Voodoo Comedy Lounge, Group Mind Foundation, Bovine Metropolis Theatre), Cedar City, UT (Off The Cuff Improvisation) Los Angeles, CA (iO/LA Improv Festival) and last but not least Camp Improv Utopia in California. These are just some of the ones that are out there now there are a ton more.

 

It was mind blowing to see the great work being done in other cities that aren’t Chicago, LA or NYC. I was almost envious at some of the stuff that these groups were doing. Taking it to the next level, experimenting and taking huge risks. Sure sometimes it fell flat on its face but other times it was brilliant. Such is improv. We are wrong to think that the best improv can only be done in the bigger improv cities. That’s just naïve. There is great work being done outside the walls of those great cities and I’ve seen it and am continually impressed by it.

 

I think there is a lot we can learn from these thirsty improv communities too. Passion, commitment to the art form and taking risks. It seems that improv in Chicago, LA and NYC are more focused on industry vetting then experimenting and growing. And it’s not their fault. Improv has become and industry standard in the casting and TV world. They come and take players and writers from these institutions all the time so it’s going to attract that kind of student, writer and performer. And they should because there is some amazing talent there. But it also makes it extra hard to have time to rehearse, experiment and do something new because the focus is elsewhere.

 

I leave you with this, Del Close said to treat your audience like poets and scholars. Shouldn’t we still honor that no matter what? Improv means it’s all about taking risks and making bold choices, so shouldn’t we live that way too? If people didn’t grow their art we would have only been introduced to Picasso’s Blue Period, The Beatles cover songs and the Harold. We would have never had the chance to see Picasso’s Cubism Period, The Beatles own material or forms like the JTS Brown and the Deconstruction.

 

Be bold, follow your fear and see improv everywhere!

Written by: Nick Armstrong

Nick is an Actor, Writer, Improviser and Director living in Los Angeles, CA. On TV Nick has been on the Emmy-Award winning shows The Office, Parks and Recreation and Grey’s Anatomy. He has also made regular appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Onstage you can catch Nick performing and teaching regularly at the world-famous iO West in Hollywood, CA with LA’s Best Harold Team King Ten and The touring Genre-Improvised Show Kind Strangers. Nick has also trained at the famed Groundlings Theater. He is the Founder and Camp Director of Improv Utopia an annual camp for improvisers. For more information visit www.nickarmstrong.com orwww.improvutopia.com

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