Day one, part two: Intensive Long Form with Messing and Mason

The second half of class was with Rachael Mason, a lady who gives off fierce but is actually more fiest. She and Susan, together in one course, this truly is the Mecca of improv.

Rachael starts by talking to us about character and relationship scenes. In Second City, they advise that students come to auditions with a couple of specific characters directly out of the bag, “go to” identities to play around with. Rachael suggested to us that this is a good thing to do, to have a character who’s motivations, background, temperament we understand, go Stanisavski on it, get it down pat, and then from there, we can use this as the basis for all other characters. The character flaws of this character are what makes it interesting, so embrace all its evil, its foibles, its shortcomings, its stupidity.

Rachael’s Nuggets
Follow the fear. We are our most organic when we are outside our comfort zone. Dare to suck. Not quite, but almost the same as “Try to die”.

Short form is about direct use of the suggestion given. Long form is one suggestion for a much longer period. The word is a whole world, there is great depth to it and it is to be explored.

In long form the whole is very much more than merely the sum of its parts.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so the physical is so important. The physical can tell a story, paint a picture; the words are only the glitter. We don’t talk about what we are doing normally, we are people who live in worlds. Take the obvious.

Second City uses improv as a tool for sketch
iO uses improv as an art form in and of itself.

Each scene is unique, so make sure to take advantage of the licence to play! It can be as wild as possible, so why not, any failure to make it so is a lost opportunity.

If it scares you, go for it even harder. Turn off fear, turn off judgement. Make everything important. Make everything important! Go for it with guns blazing.

If you are going to fail, fail spectacularly. Spectacular is something we want to watch, hence the word.

Get the book “Something Wonderful Right Away”

Exercises
We played 3 games together. Word association (one person says one word to the person next to them, they say an associated word back and they both repeat the two word phrase, then pass to the next person in the circle), Zip, Zap, Zop (each is said in sequence, in the direction of a person, who passes the next in sequence to someone else), and “You, Yes” (you say “You” to someone, and when they have said “Yes”, but not before, you cross the circle to stand in their spot, which they must vacate by saying “You” to the next person).
Complicated, interesting, lots of listening.

We then did 3 line scenes that are the “beginnings of worlds”. The first line of dialogue is the only one given in a scene. Everything else is received and reacted to emotionally. So we did who, what, where, but also yes, and, and because – after yes, there must be a reason for things, so what is it that we feel emotionally? Detail, specificity.

Rachael’s Nuggets
Most of the joy of improv is recognition. People go to the theatre to see their own lives through the lives of others.

Either start a scene with a huge, bold physical choice or give an incredibly premiss heavy first line of dialogue.

Fortune favours the bold, so fail spectacularly.

Susan Messing “If you are not having fun, you are the arsehole”

I got you, I’m confident in what is happening. All is good, I can handle it.

Rachael Mason’s 4 steps to starting scenes (starting with a strong character choice)
1 Start an action
2 Mirror the action (this gives greater scope for the scene and buys more time to create a relationship)
3 The first person who speaks is giving a gift – the scene (location / scenario); themselves; their partner.
4 The emotional response. (Steps 5 to infinity is all just more emotional responses)

If both partners have strong actions, each can have an emotional response to the other – the first line can be your feelings on your partner.

Exercises
Starting with strong actions, we worked on opinion based discussions. These were real discussions about politics or popular culture, while the actions continued.
A scene full of action and having a real opinion based discussion about something else entirely creates a very interesting scene. These scenes were both interesting and funny, despite the discussions being real.

Rachael’s Nuggets
Comedy is a magnifying glass to real life.

Start scenes in the middle, don’t discuss what you are doing or what is happening (the scene is in the middle, any discussion about that already occurred 10 minutes ago, before the scene started)

To make a great scene, start with person A and person B. Choose a character and mirror it. Choose an emotion. Choose a location.
Have a strong Character.
Have a strong Emotion.

Depth in a scene is from discussing something unrelated to the actions of the scene. Choose opinions and emotions, come to the table with those.

And remember: Players with strong, mirrored characters, with strong emotions / opinions, in a location, mean that you have a strong scene.

Exercises
We then did a montage, coming in with strong characters so that the character spoke for us. This made it very simple. The character did the work, we didn’t have to try, just speak.

The key was to amp up the acting and the theatre.

Rachael’s Nuggets
The rookie two step – when someone makes as if to edit, but then chooses not to. Once you make that choice, commit to it and do it. It will not be wrong (but the two step is)

There is no need to justify any actions of physicality – interpret it, but the scene is not about it, the scene is about the opinion and the emotion. So be aware of your opinion and your emotion, feel it and vocalise it.

Use the action to do the work for you.

It is worth creating a character that you know. Build the character, get to know him or her (start with one, but maybe have a few in the end). Learn what your character feels, would do. The character’s reaction is easy to understand, so have the character tell the story, this will take all the effort out of it.

Remember, the interest is in the character’s opinion and reaction in the form of action / how s/he relates to the world. It is not in the talking about what s/he is doing.

There are 3 places to edit:
Just before something is about to happen.
Just as something is happening.
Just after something has happened.

If you have a go-to character, you can always go to it! This character can morph into any other character, it is still a version of it, not of you, you are therefore protected. Find out its point of view. Work it all out.

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