Making it Wherque: Workshops!

By Mike Hammond and Polly Leger

One of the wonderful things about the National Festival is that our staff is a collection of some of Canada’s best trainers. Their improv biceps are bulging and their comedy abs are bursting….WITH LAUGHER. Woof, this joke’s getting sweaty. LIKE YOU’R IMPROV SKILLS AFTER WORKING THEM OUT! (I’ll show myself the door.)

During the National Festival students have a chance to take workshops to hone their skills on everything from building characters to learning new genres. And those are skills that you can work out any time of the year–  so here’s Part One of a workshop round up!

Using Your Suggestion: Master Suggestor Shawn Norman says you need to prove you are using the suggestion given to you… Start with a direct interpretation so that you don’t lose your audience. Eventually, you can move into the more clever and artistic variations on your suggestion. Use that suggestion in all five elements. On top of that, try and use your suggestion in the way you move, in the way to talk, in the way you narrate, and everywhere else you can. Shawn ‘the Hammer’ Norman (it’s his real middle name, look it up) stresses that you should find what the suggestion means. Instead of just using the ask for in the most basic sense, try to find the deeper meaning behind the suggestion.

Character: Don’t dream it, just be it! Spencer Dunn and Caleb Gilgan want you to get physical. Try creating a character by leading with one part of your body, or by developing a walk for that character before you do anything else. Don’t over think it! Sometimes when you go with an instinct a full character emerges. Think about trying scenes without speaking to really work on making things BIG.

Edits with Stef and Ember: Go on, be rude about it! At least that’s what Ember Konopaki and Stef Foran say when doing edits, or transitions in improv scenes. A key point to editing scenes is to do it on a beat, or a moment that feels like it arrives at a natural “spot”. Remember when I said “be rude,” well this is where that comes in. Don’t worry about cutting people off! They can always return to that scene later! Here are some they worked on!

  • The Classic Sweep: A player walks across the stage to signal to other players that a new scene is about to start!
  • Tap Out: A player offstage will run in and tag people out of a scene, but keeping the character that they didn’t tap out. The new player will do a new scene with the existing character.
  • Swinging Doors: Much like the tap out, but instead of starting a full on scene with the existing character, the people tagged out first will come back, and there will be a back and forth (EXAMPLE: The scene in Emperor’s New Groove where Koosko and Ezma are both walking back into the kitchen giving the cook orders (look it up. It’s great! And real!).
  • Scene Painting Edit: A player walks out to scene paint and zooms in on one aspect of the scene then zooms out a gives a brief description of the new scene. Confused? (EXAMPLE: Scene 1 is in a small kitchen. Zoom in on frying pan, zoom out on a frying pan over a camp fire in the middle of the woods (This turns into scene 2!)).

Longform: Justin Collette knows a thing or two about longform improv… You have to make people believe! Don’t be afraid to play things honestly, or think through your motivation. What’s at the root of your scene? Is it a game? Is it a story? Is it a relationship? Longform comes in all different formats, but even if your scene is 30 seconds long or 30 minutes, you’ll always find you’re playing one of those three scenes. The other big thing is that saying “no” isn’t always blocking, and sometimes saying “yes” can kill a scene. It’s okay to say no, as long as you’re still advancing a scene or expanding a game.

Relationships: Ember Konopaki is the woman to talk to about relationships… IN SCENES! Characters in scenes always have some sort of relationship, which simply means how they feel about each other. A great way to find out the connection between characters is to look at them. Look at the way they carry themselves physically and look in their eyes. Once you see their body language and what emotions they are conveying, it’s super easy to figure out how they feel toward you. Also, the name you give your scene partner and in what tone you say it will help define the relationship.

Has this got you in the mood to work dem improv skills?! Got you in the mood to ask a trainer? Why not do JUST THAT! Send us your training questions  on Twitter to @CanadianImprov with the hashtag #AskATrainer or to stories@improv.ca. Stay tuned for PART TWO next week: The Workshop Strikes Back.