By Kim Lee
When I tell people that I’m a stage manager for a full-length improvised play, they usually react with the same set of questions. Mostly involving the word “how?” This is fair, especially for anyone who has ever seen a play, or has an inkling of the amount of effort involved in such productions. How do you stage manage a play when you haven’t worked out the blocking beforehand, when you don’t know when scene changes will happen or where these scenes even are? When you learn who the characters are, and what the plot is, at the same time the audience does? Do you even rehearse? What exactly do you do in rehearsal?
We don’t run through lines or blocking in rehearsal (our actors are all off book, because there is no book). What we do is run through a gauntlet of exercises, designed to drill elements such as the basics of play structure, character relationships, staging and environments – with the net result that these become reflexive to our cast of actors. Armed with these tools, the possible worlds our actors can create on stage are limitless.
If you’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing an under-rehearsed play, where it’s painfully obvious that the actors don’t quite know their lines, and the scene changes are sloppy – do not worry about coming to this show. Trust me when I tell you that those of us in Unscripted will take good care of each other on stage, and you, our audience members and guests to our world. We may not know exactly what we are doing yet, but we know how to do it.
Alternately (and now I am speaking for myself as an avid theatre-lover) I have witnessed performances wherein the actors seem too rehearsed. Yes, they’ve 100% nailed their lines, moved where they were supposed to move, and made appropriate shapes with their faces conveying the proper emotions. Yet sometimes – and I have even seen this with those whom I consider to be great actors – there can be some element of staleness in the delivery of words. A lack of some essential spark, or perhaps a sense that the words themselves are props borrowed from someone else.
I can’t tell you what you’ll see on the night you choose to see Unscripted . There are ten nights of shows, and subsequently, ten different plays. You might see a play about vampires who fall in love with Ostrich Kings, or a time travel adventure featuring complicated machinations involving potatoes. What I can promise is that every word, and indeed every idea, is freshly formed on stage right then and there – created especially for you (and with your input). You’ve never seen anything quite like this play, and you’ll never see it again.
Kim Le, stage manager for Unscripted – a production by the Baltimore Improv Group.
Unscripted runs Thursdays through Saturdays from 4/27 – 5/13 at 8:00 (with a special Sunday matinee on 5/7 at 2:00), at Single Carrot Theatre. Tickets and more info at http://www.bigimprov.org/unscripted.
By Terry Withers, BIG Managing Director
(Inspired by a recent professional development workshop BIG designed and provided for a corporate client’s sales department.)
One of my favorite improv exercises is really just a stupid little children’s game. You get a small group of folks together, maybe 8 to 16 people or so and you have them stand in a circle. You tell one of them that they have a clap. If they turn to their right and look whoever is standing there in their eyes, then both people are supposed to clap at the same time. Now the person on the right has got a clap. And they can turn to their right and pass it too. After people do that for a bit they can start to pass it back to the person who just gave it to them. Soon people can pass it to anyone in the circle. The best part is when everyone breaks out of the circle and walks around the room in no particular pattern while passing a clap between themselves.
I can watch that exercise for a real long time and be very entertained. I think of it as the smallest piece of pure improv. Just like an atom of any element is the smallest piece of that element, this exercise contains all of the key properties of good improv. You can’t succeed or fail by yourself. (If you clap together with a fellow participant then you succeeded together. If only one of you claps, then you’ve failed together.) You have to pay very close attention to what is happening around you. And it’s pretty stupid with a high chance of giving you the giggles.
Also, just like in an improv comedy show, teamwork counts for more than speed when playing the clapping game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen groups get really good at this game and start passing a clap so fast it almost sounds like a machine gun is firing. Behind the back passes, over each other’s heads, bouncing claps off of walls to others who aren’t even looking at the passer but clap with them nonetheless. And that’s all great. But at the end of the day, clapping in unison is still more satisfying then any of that fancier stuff done in discord. So it’s no wonder this game serves as a common improv warm up exercise when the same dynamics are evident in improv: teamwork is better than speed or other showboat-y accomplishments. Two improvisers cooperating to build a simple scene with a simple comedic premise is better than a scene with two improvisers trying to top each other with spectacular moves that are not supported, created or received with cooperation.
Here’s the thing, sales people should be warming up with this exercise too, not just improvisers. Sales teams that want to improve their performance should come into the office every morning, drop their stuff off at their desk, have a cup of coffee and then meet up in the large conference room for a quick round of the clapping game. Think of the instincts it would reinforce. The clapping game would remind you:
1) To pay very close attention to what your clients are saying, not just out loud but also nonverbally.
2) That you can’t close a sale without a client agreeing to it. You either close the sale or lose the sale in concert with your client. Rushing your client won’t help.
3) That your day will probably go better if you don’t take anything too seriously and infuse your work with a sense of fun.
I remember when I worked in Ad Sales I had a VP who used to wander around the sales floor and ask reps who their hottest prospects were. After listening to a rep run through the particulars surrounding a given prospect this VP’s advice was invariably the same, “Why don’t you ask for their business by faxing over a contract?” The idea was that assumptive confidence would close sales. I think it ruined relationships, you ask me. Just like clapping at someone before they’re ready to clap with you feels aggressive and disconnected.
Great clappers, like great sales people are marvels to watch. I remember there was a guy in one of my intro to improv classes who couldn’t clap in a predictable rhythm. He’d keep his hands apart way too long, even as his eyes grew wide in terror as he watched someone else passing a clap to him. Slowly the person passing to him would close the distance between their hands, hoping he’d match their speed. And then with no warning his hands would slam shut while the person who initiated the clap would stare at him, stunned and slack-jawed by the unbelievable suddenness of his decision! He was impossible to clap with! At first his other classmates would roll their eyes and scowl when “he” messed up. But this class was a very supportive group and somewhere along the line they stopped blaming the guy who couldn’t clap in an easily anticipatable way and started trying to succeed with him. And seemingly against all odds they figured it out.
I remember one student in particular figuring it out first. She clapped at him real fast but then right before her hands met she pulled them apart again. This would trigger the “bad” clapper to realize he was going to miss the clap and so he would begin to clap himself and as he did that she would finish her clap, real quick this time for real. It had the same rhythm as a basketball pump fake and it worked like a charm. Soon everyone in the class was using the same trick. They had met this “bad clapper” where he was. They had figured out how to succeed together with him.
How many times have you heard a sales rep tell a story about a big sale they almost had, if only their client weren’t an absolute idiot? Whenever I hear a story like that I know who the real idiot is. A salesperson trying to change a client’s beliefs, behavior or list of priorities will never be as successful as a salesperson who seeks to understand their clients and then use that understanding to build strong, successful relationships by working to harmoniously succeed in concert with them. What point is there in selling a client a product they don’t want or pressuring a client to make a purchase before they feel organically ready to? It might help your numbers one month, but in the long term that’s a great way to lose clients.
No, if you want to be a great salesperson then you need to act like a great clapper. Pay careful attention to your client’s idiosyncrasies so you know whether you should close a sale real fast, real slow or with a pump fake.
Baltimore Improv Group (BIG) has teamed with The Arlington Drafthouse and Drafthouse Comedy in DC for a unique, improvised take on a holiday tradition, A Christmas Carol.
For seven nights in December the audience can “choose their own Scrooge” as four improvisers from BIG perform an almost entirely improvised take on Dickens’ tale. While major plot points of the original remain the same, most of this retelling will be made up on the spot based on audience suggestions. Throughout the show audience interactions will help shape the direction and details of the story– with some audience members getting the chance to play a few key roles.
Each night’s audience will get a daring and hilarious reimagining of A Christmas Carol unlike any they’ve seen before.
Thirteen performances are scheduled at two locations in Washington, DC and Arlington, VA. Tickets are $20 each and can be bought here for the DC show or here for an Arlington performance.
WHERE AND WHEN:
Drafthouse Comedy in DC
1100 13 th St NW
Washington, DC 20005
Performances 8 p.m. on 12/8; 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on 12/9 and 12/16; 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. on 12/10 and 12/17
Arlington Drafthouse in Arlington, VA
2903 Columbia Pike
Arlington, VA 22204
Performances at 7:30 and 10 p.m. on 12/22 and 12/23
New classes are posted for BIG University for January! Now is the time to bite that bullet and give improv a try! All 7 week classes are available for a $20 discount when signing up for classes on cyber Monday, NOVEMBER 28! Use the promotional code ‘bigmonday’ when you sign up. Now is the perfect time to buy an improv class as a gift for the holidays! Questions? Email BIG’s Education Director, Michael Hartwell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for classes here: http://www.bigimprov.org/big-university/
BIG wants to give a huge thanks to everyone who stepped up to the stage at our latest auditions! We were blown away by the wonderful and growing talent in the Baltimore improv community and, with a record turn-out, decision making was harder than ever.
BIG is pleased as punch to introduce you to the newest members of the Baltimore Improv Group. Look for them on a stage near you (our stage, at Single Carrot Theatre):
RUDY TWO SHOES
And, joining some long-time BIG performers to form a whole NEW TROUPE:
Education Director Position Now Open! Are you passionate about improv? Do you have experience in improv or theater education that you want to apply to BIG’s mission of advancing the art and appreciation of improvisational theatre in greater-Baltimore? Want to help BIG thrive and grow? The nonprofit Baltimore Improv Group is seeking a part time Education Director to lead the organization’s school into our next decade. Submission deadline is 10/28/2016. Click below for the full position description and information on how to apply.
Wild times for the Baltimore Improv Group with a new Managing Director, a new home theater, new shows and more.
As we embark upon our 13th year bringing the best improvised comedy to Baltimore, we want to reach out to Baltimore’s performing artists. Over the years, we have done collaborative shows with Body Painters, Beatboxers, Dance Companies, Musicians, Burlesque artists, Cartoonists and more. So, for the first time, BIG is reaching out to all of Baltimore, looking for collaborators.
Have an idea for a show that combines improv and other art forms? Have a vague notion and want to talk it out with BIG’s artistic staff? Just want to keep Baltimore funky? Then click the button below, and let’s start collaborating!
Pitch a Show!
October 30 at Single Carrot Theater (2600 N. Howard St.)
5pm start time. Callbacks to immediately follow the first round of auditions.
Baltimore Improv Group is looking for YOU!
On October 30 we are auditioning for new members of our performing troupes, and we hope to see you there. Auditions begin at 5pm at our performing space at Single Carrot Theater. Callbacks to follow immediately after the first round of auditions. Typically the first round of auditions runs in 4-5 groups and takes about 90 minutes. After deliberations, we will post a callback list, most likely around 7pm. Callbacks will follow shortly after the list is posted.
To register for the audition, please fill out the form linked here:
To answer the most frequently asked question: Should I audition? While there are no prerequisites to auditioning for BIG, we can assure you that without a combination of having taken several classes and/or having extensive improv performing experience, your chances of auditioning successfully are very, very slim.
If you have other questions about the audition, please contact BIG’s Artistic Director, Mike Harris at email@example.com
BIG’s 12th season saw the end of our tenure at the Mercury Theater and a wildly successful season of hilarious performances, awesome classes, outreach with kids and adults in our communities, and the joy of spreading improv to Baltimore and beyond. As we get ready to join our teen years, we couldn’t be more excited for some BIG, exciting changes.
The Baltimore Improv Group is excited to announce the appointment of Terry Withers as the Managing Director of the Baltimore Improv Group. Terry brings a dynamic background which we feel will be a tremendous asset to the organization as we work to enhance the quality of, participation in, and appreciation for improvised theatre in the Baltimore region.
Over the last decade Terry has been an avid student, performer, teacher and senior employee for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York City. He began his professional relationship with UCB seven years ago as a Booking Agent eventually serving as the institution’s Director of Sales. In this role he built and led a team of ten sales professionals, substantially increasing multiple revenue streams. While leading his department Terry also served as a UCB Training Center Teacher and UCB Performer. Prior to his work at UCB, Terry worked in both fundraising and sales for a diverse range of companies including The Manhattan Theatre Club and The New York Times. You will certainly be meeting Terry in the coming weeks and we welcome him to Baltimore and our improv community with wide open arms! Terry joins the BIG Leadership team of Mike Harris, Artistic Director, and Bridget Cavaiola, Education Director.
We are also thrilled to announce our new residency at Single Carrot Theatre in Remington! BIG is partnering with the 10 year old, innovative theater company, to share their space and continue to promote and grow the theater community along the Howard St corridor. Look for announcements soon regarding our first shows in our new space and a special kick off weekend in October!
First off for our 13th Season, a unique collaboration! Cohesion Theatre Company, Spotlighters Theatre, and Baltimore Improv Group are proud to announce The Political Cabaret, four nights of improv, sketch comedy, and musical satire as we wrap up this insanity filled election season. Grab a drink and join us in the theatre for hilarity filled send ups of every issue, person, and lizard in a human suit that has plagued us and made our blood pressure climb for the past year. Staring and created by the talented actors, performers, writers, and musicians from Cohesion Theatre Company and Baltimore Improv Group.Performances will be Friday and Saturdays, September 9, 10, 16, and 17 at 10:30 PM at Spotlighters.
Are you passionate about improv? Do you have experience in arts or theater administration that you want to apply to BIG’s mission of advancing the art and appreciation of improvisational theatre in greater-Baltimore? Want to help BIG thrive and grow? The nonprofit Baltimore Improv Group is seeking a full time Managing Director and a part time Artistic Director to lead the organization into our next decade of improvisational theater, performances, classes, festivals and more. Click below for the full position descriptions and information on how to apply.
Various BIG members and friends contribute to the blog. Enjoy!