Today I had my first class at ComedySportz, a very different affair from yesterday’s call at the Annoyance. Whereas Annoyance is about looking after number one in order to look after everyone else, ComedySportz is all about short form games.
This morning I got up sprightly and early, finally well rested and in the right time zone. I wrote up some notes this morning, some emails, got my life in order. There is an immense freedom of having very little here to encumber me, just a few clothes, a fair amount of electronics and very few admin tasks except go to classes and ensure that my life is suitably hacked into simplicity.
I brought Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong leaf tea to America with me, and with that I feel I have brought my own corner of civilization, with that I feel at home. Had I brought a kettle, I wouldn’t have to boil my water in a saucepan, but hey, it’s like luxurious camping. The kitchens here lack kettles as standard, and I’m told that generally the kettles that you can buy don’t turn off when they boil. Do they know nothing about tea?! Well, no.
Actually, that is not entirely fair, as, bizarrely, Hillary, one of the flatmates here, works in a tea shop in the Sears Tower. Apparently everything at her work is a tea related pun. Amusing when you first hear it, however she tells me that all the puns refer back solely to the word “tea” rather than a broader mix of all the other tea related words. For someone who works in such an environment, she is remarkably calm. Maybe they are putting bromide in hers.
With a breakfast of Earl Grey and a couple of boiled eggs on toast, I was fortified to attack the day, and attack it I did. After yesterday’s storm, it was a more pleasant temperature today of 29 degrees, but still warm enough for this man to cycle topless. To be fair, I’d be happy to cycle topless if it were snowing. Out of sympathy for the Naked Rambler? Due to my exhibitionist tendencies? Because I like the cool air on my body? Whilst all the above are valid points of view and ones for which I have much sympathy, it is possible I just do it because I’m a bit of a dick. Maybe. (Go, Naked Rambler!)
I made my way down to the ComedySports class rooms, just down the road from the iO, and went in. This room has no air con, although we were informed we’d have it by next week. That would be nice, both because it was so hot and also because, with the windows wide open, the noise of the train that rides the elevated rails around the city was coming directly in through the window. A lesson in projection today.
There were only 6 of us in class, led by the lovely Mel Evans. Mel is the lady who was living in the room I’m staying in and just moved out (she was totally right in selling it to me, I am perfectly located and the rent is very reasonable). The class was 3 girls and 3 guys, and we started off the class with a quick discussion of the shows people have seen during the past week. This will be our standard opener to our sessions, talking about what we liked and particular things that interested us about the improv that we have seen.
One chap in the class saw a show by Octovarious, and was taken by the way they played with tension, building it up so that the audience were anticipating what was happening and how it made everything more interesting. Mel advised us to also check out Chaos Theory as being similar. It is clear that here in Chicago every team is trying to do something slightly away from the norm, so that they will mix up the long and short form, bring their own games and form to the art, creating their own individual niche. With most people in America studying improv at school, and with so many people coming out of the different improv schools here, there really is a vast variety. I have yet to see a show, so I have lots to look forward to.
Another girl mentioned watching a show to a bunch of teenagers and how she saw a very strange game. Mel instantly knew she was referring to Toots Magoots, as teenagers are “too cool to laugh”, so this game is designed to get you through the show. In this game, at the end of every line you make a fart noise. There may be more to it than that. There may not be either!
We then started into games, firstly a naming game where we would say our own name and then a word that rhymed with it, that word being accompanied by a gesture. Then we would say our own name and word and gesture, followed by someone else’s name and their word and gesture. Then we just did the word and gesture. I must confess, I don’t recall all the names of that class yet though. I am sure that my memory is one muscle that will become fitter while I am here.
The next game was one of noticing, so we closed our eyes and would be asked by Mel to use our fingers to indicate the number of people in the room who were wearing x, y or z. Then we did one word sequential stories, round in a circle we tried to tell a story rapidly, each adding to the last word. With so many of us doing this, it was fairly interesting. Mel pointed out that when the story was told in the third person, is was easier to build it, and it did prove so.
Next game was a little more complicated however. It was a word association, where we’d point at someone and say a word. They’d then do the same. Easy enough, however we didn’t realise that this was a memory game, and the next thing we’d to do was to do it backwards. The final version of this game was to move one spot clockwise before doing it backwards and taking over the position of the person who had been there (i.e. saying what they would have had to have remembered had they been there).
As well as memory, all of these games were about teamwork, either helping build what the others were creating, or helping them out when trying to remember the sequence going back.
Next we did simple two person scenes. Note to self, what kind of people are these? Why are they doing what they are doing? Embrace what you have, keep it simple, new layers don’t need to be added.
After this, two people imitated the scene just done. The key to pick up on was the beats, the most important parts, to give a relatively accurate rendition of the earlier scene. Observation.
The swapping game
Starting with a two person scene, the director calls “swap”, and two from the other team take over the characters of the first team to continue to develop the story. Then swap back, at which point someone else joins the scene. Swap back, now with 3 characters, and someone else joins in the scene, swap back and add to 4, to 5, to 6. This is a great fun game, observation is essential to keep aware of what both of your own characters are doing as well as what is happening to them. It is key to remember that the new person onto the stage needs space to make an entrance and be allowed to take a moment of focus.
Starting with a 3 person scene, the audience votes who to eliminate. The remaining two must repeat the scene, including the missing person. Then eliminate one more and last person recreates the whole scene and all the characters.
Big characters are needed here to ensure that it is distinctive.
Strong spacework is also useful.
Being distinctive and active forces the final person to work very hard, which makes the audience laugh
“Weekend at Bernie’s”
The same as the above, but each time someone is eliminated, the don’t go, the just “die”, so the remaining people must manipulate a corpse. How much of a dead weight the corpse is is up to the individual. Dead weight or puppet?
Standing in a square, each side has a specific scene game, which is played out when they are at the front. Rotating clockwise or anticlockwise, the next couple have a different scene game, etc. So these may be a relationship, a genre, a location and a time in history. Each rotation goes to an entirely separate scene, a scene on its own, and the director calls “left” or “right”.
Played with 3 people, we take 3 distinct locations. i.e. somewhere every city has, somewhere only read about in a book, somewhere where it is impossible for a human to be. Using big actions, these must be justified in each location, so a lawn mower may become a railing, may become a skewer in an orange. The bigger the actions and the bigger the risks, the more fun and interesting. More action to justify, more to play with.