Saturday, February 16, 2013


For Christmas, my husband made me a lovely new home for my improv thoughts. Come find me here!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In the beginning ...

... my sketch idea was more boring than it was in the end.

My church is moving into a new building, and they asked me to make a video to promote one of our Consecration events: We're going to read the whole Bible aloud in a week, which should take roughly 24 hours each day. This means we need the whole church to take turns reading so nobody gets worn out.

I recruited my Flash Fiction partner, Brendon, to act in the video. My husband Blade helped with some of the technical aspects.* I wrote the basic outline for the sketch and edited the footage.

Rez Consecration Week: Brendon reads the entire Bible from Church of the Resurrection on Vimeo.

I had three ideas for the sketch, and they came to me in this order:
  1. Brendon signs up for all the reading slots, and I spend the video talking him out of it. I explain how the Consecration event actually works.
  2. Brendon signs up for all the slots and I coach him through it. He messes up a lot -- reads the verse numbers and all the footnotes aloud, for instance -- and I have to keep him on track.
  3. Brendon practices reading the whole Bible, and I just let him go.
The third thought ended up being the strongest. Del Close said** that an improviser's first and second thoughts tend to be knee-jerk reactions. It's usually a player's third idea that has life.

The first thought was boring, because why would I spend 3 minutes trying to talk Brendon out of doing something? It's always better to do something than it is to debate about doing something.

The second thought was based off the idea that we needed a straight man to ground the scene and set the record straight. Maybe we would need to explain more with some audiences, but our audience is biblically literate folks who like Rez on Facebook.

The third thought was the most energetic. It felt like Brendon and I were on the same team instead of him being on the Team of Fun and me being on the Team of Boring Reasonableness. Being on the same team is more joyful.

Also, my own role shrunk from actor/director/editor to director/editor, which felt better. Three hats is too many hats.

*Technical aspects include: Setting a camera up on a tripod, letting me know when we were out of battery, and teaching me how to use iMovie. 

**I can't find a citation for this, but I can find a lot of people writing, "Oh, yeah, a teacher told me that Del told her that ..."

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How to Spot a Healthy Improv Troupe

Maybe your dream troupe is patient and grounded, or maybe it's stylized and off-the-wall. Maybe it's short form, maybe it's long form.

Regardless, you want to be in a healthy troupe. Not just a funny troupe or an impressive troupe, but a healthy troupe. If you're not healthy, it doesn't matter how charismatic or witty or patient you are; things will get miserable.

What does healthy look like? In my experience, a healthy troupe is characterized by:
  • Eagerness -- The players are eager to try anything, eager to learn from critique and experience, and eager to support others.
  • Honesty -- The players are open and honest, both on stage and off. On stage, honesty often begets comedy. Off stage, honesty begets solid relationships -- which, in turn, creates good comedy. As conflict arises, players talk about it in person rather than gossiping or shelving.
  • Showmanship -- While practicing improv can be therapeutic, it is not therapy; it is preparation for a performance. Players work on technique to improve their shows and care for their audience.

This is the kind of troupe I want to coach.

It's the kind of troupe I want to play with.

So I guess it's the kind of player I ought to be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Walking in Neutral - or - Stay alive.

The last time I played "Standing in Neutral," my class told me I looked like:
  • a person who judges people in public places
  • a teacher who isn't friends with other teachers
  • a woman watching nervously out the window for gremlins
I wrote here:
That was four years ago. At the time, I was struggling with anxiety and depression. ... I'm curious to know if my neutral has changed since then. The best way to find out is probably to get into a room full of honest strangers and ask. 

So I was excited/terrified when Paola had us play a variation of Standing in Neutral* in our clowning class this week. I was afraid I'd be the same as I was back when Noah led the game.

Instead of just standing in neutral, we walked in neutral, and five people walked behind us. Paola told us that the leader was to think of these other five people as an extension of her own body -- not to ignore them, but not to worry about them either.

And instead of just commenting on what sort of impression we made, she made each of us do it again and again until we were truly neutral.

After the first few people had failed, someone asked, "Paola, what are you looking for? How is it supposed to look?"

Paola** said, "This is like you ask me how you ride the bicycle. I write you the book on how to balance, how to ride the bicycle, but that does not make you do it. You do not learn to balance with words from other people. You know when you see, and you know when you feel."

Then it was my turn, and I was resigned to failing a time or two at least. I walked across the room. This felt totally surreal. I was just thinking, "This is the strangest I've ever felt. I do not anything could take me by surprise right this moment, and also, I think I'm floating," when there was this odd little gasp from several people. When I arrived at the front of the room to face Paola, the gasps turned into little groans.

Paola said, "Alyssa. You do this very well. In neutral, you walk like a queen. We all see this and soe we understand what I say about the bike. But then you disappoint me. You disappoint the whole room!"

"Oh no! What did I do?"

"You apologized! You apologized with your eyes. You were a queen, and then you used your eyes to hide being a queen. This is like you apologize for being alive. You were alive when you walked, and you died when you stopped. Stay alive."

I told this to my friend Steve tonight, and he said, "She's right! You do that thing with your eyes!" (Someone please point this out to me the next time you see me do it so I can start breaking the habit.)

"Queen" definitely trumps "judgmental teacher plagued by gremlins." Now I have to grow into it and quit doing the thing with my eyes.

*I now see that "Standing in Neutral" would be better called, "Standing in Natural." Natural and neutral aren't even close to the same, apparently.
**Italian is her native language; she tells us that her brain translates from Italian to French to English before words come out of her mouth. Imagine her words accompanied by lots of big hand gestures.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

How to Play: Throwing a Stick

Throwing a Stick
Get a large stick -- a thick dowel rod would work well -- and throw it back and forth with your partner. 

While throwing the stick, tell a word-at-a-time story. Or talk about your day. Or just make noise. Whatever.

Don't hit each other in the face. Don't stop throwing the stick. Do this until just before the boredom sets in.

I've been told* that I have four choices for where to be in my scene: My head, my body, my world, or my partners eyes. Three of those things are awesome. One of them sucks. Guess which is which.**

To that end, my friend Brendon and I came up with this simple warm up game to get us out of our analytical brains and into all those other good things.

Another friend, Kevin, and I throw the stick before a show, as illustrated by my husband, Blade.

Throwing the stick makes us move around with our whole bodies.

It allows us to talk and listen without allowing us to judge, because our normal logic is being short-circuited be needing to throw and catch an unwieldy object.

It requires that we make good eye contact if we're not going to get hit in the face.

Throwing the stick puts us in just a little physical danger -- more than a little, if we're not attentive -- which prepares us to take risks.

*Probably by Jet Eveleth.

**It's the head. The head is the worst option. We all know that, right?