Sunday, May 2, 2010

My life in "Yes, And"

When I was newly resuming my studies in improvisation I spent a lot of time at the library printing out as much as I could find on the subject. Originally I intended to post a lot of those links here as well as a video clip or two for my fellow students. Before that I'm going to do a little navel-gazing.

It had been easily fifteen years since I performed comedy improvisation on stage. Nearly twenty years had passed since I floundered in my occasional performances with the Santa Barabara ComedySportz team. Let's be honest, I wasn't a great performer or team player in those early years.

I wasn't really sure what to expect on my return. In many ways things had changed, but who knew what would be the same?

I had dabbled with going out to the local improv houses in town through the years. I'd taken in shows at The Groundlings, Acme Comedy, IO and UCB. It was funny stuff, but it certainly had a different feel to the stuff with which I was most familiar. I hadn't really played or seen any long form improvisation in my early years. Harolds were something I heard mentioned in a sort of "have you heard of..." hush. All of the improvisation I learned at ComedySportz were short form games, improvisations that rarely lasted longer than five minutes at a time. Meanwhile, folks had been developing and building on the stuff that I didn't even know about when I was first performing. Yeah, it's nice to have a mountain to climb.

Even if I'm ambivalent about my own early performances and teamwork, I have to admit that improvisation became a very important part of my life. The "yes, and" impulse for as many years as it took me to learn and understand it formed a pretty strong portion of my worldview. The skill of listening took me even longer... is still taking my work. I could go on longer, but I really want to post some of those links.


The Skinny on LA's Impov Training Scene, by David Valdez. This is an article on Brains of Minerva, a cool site for actors in the Los Angeles scene.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised at how much I found on Wikipedia. The links I found there at the time aren't visible now, but here's one of them:
The Living Playbook, edited by Randy Dixon. This is a catalog, up-to-date through 2001 in this version of various improv games and forms.

My earliest readings in improvisation were the books of Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin. I've written about Johnstone in previous posts,

Here's a video of Viola Spolin, circa 1987:

From my own experience with ComedySportz, I'd suggest that there isn't really competition in so-called "competitive improv." It's really more of a hook to sell a show to an audience.

One troupe that rose to prominence over the last decade or so is the Upright Citizen's Brigade. This is from their televised Bravo performance that I only caught because I had my DVR programmed to look for Tina Fey.

I'm really glad that this was on YouTube, since I lost the show recording that I made years ago. I've also got the ASSSCAT dvd, which appears to be a show shot directly for DVD at the UCB Los Angeles stage. I really dig it.

And lastly, since I wanted my Monkey Butler friends to see the game Five Things played, here's this:

I really dig the annotations. This game is slightly different than the version I played, but the skills are still the same. This seems like a pretty decent representation of the muscles I was hoping to get students to flex last week.

And again, Monkey Butler. Loving the classes I take each week. It's good to have a place to work out.

edited to add:


I love Tina Fey.

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