Improv workouts!

There are SO MANY workshops to take during nationals. Here are some things you can try out at home!

E-motion
Trainer Henri Gielis wants you to get in touch with your body AND your mind. Physicality can inspire emotional reactions, and vice versa! So ‘clown’ around and use your body!

Shaking down Shakespeare: Genres.
Often we see genres showcased in style events, but playing with genres is also a fun way to get you out of your comfort zone! Nicole Passmore led a workshop on Shakespearean form. Some pillars of that form are iambic pentameter, prologues, epilogues and fun wordplay. To get in the poetic zone, try partner games where you swap the following:

  • Metaphors, using “I am a _____”
  • Similes, using “My love for you is like ________”
  • Quibbling, which is a type of wordplay where you pick one word from a sentence and form a sentence based on its alternate meanings.

Shakespearean insults, or “Flighting” is all about accepting those insults with enthusiasm and throwin’ it right on back. For example: “Why yes, I DO have a pig-face, all the better to be that way as it keeps people from making my company based only on my appearance.”

When you’re working in a new genre, take your time and find what comes naturally to say. This is not only more natural, but easier as well. And above all, don’t be afraid of failure. Just fail gloriously!


Pirate, Ninja, Robot:
What kind of improvisor are you? A wildcard? Someone who subtly plants a bit of information? Or is your brain like Google and keeps all that information to make sure things get done. Check out this video to get a feel on the ideas of ‘Pirate’ ‘Ninja’ and ‘Robot’!

 

Work That Mind!
Cam Chomyn and Andy Parry want to bust your brain with some brain teasers! Work out that grey matter at home with some of these exercises! They’re tough, but totally worth it!

First up: Ah-So-Cah
Ah-So-Cah is sort of like Zip Zap Zop. Players alternate saying Ah, So, and Cah while passing focus to another player with a hand motion. Easy enough right? Just wait.

Next: clapping at the same time with someone else to pass the focus.
Step two: alternate saying that person’s name when clapping and just being silent when clapping.
Step three: pointing at somebody and saying someone else’s name with the energy going to the name and not the point.

It’s hard to keep it all straight! As Cam says, if you have an impulse — even if it’s wrong — just go with it! You don’t want to be tentative on stage.

Another brain workout comes from Andy Parry. It’s a partner game, so pair up!
How to play:
Pick a partner and have two conversations at the same time, and talk at the same time.

A: how was the roller coaster?
B: hey, cool shoes!

A: thanks, the laces are slippery though.
B: super fun, and I didn’t even feel sick!)

NEXT: tell two stories at once, one word at a time. Very hard. It would be like reading two books at once, one word at a time, and trying to make sense of it. Ever tried that?! Well if you work out that noodle of yours, you’ll have a big strong brain in no time!

Ask a Trainer! Owen Stanford tells a story

By Polly Leger

School’s almost out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on your story skills over the break! Ask a Trainer sat down with National Festival Director Owen Stanford to talk about sprucin’ up your story event! 

Owen Stanford wants to tell you a story

Owen Stanford wants to tell you a story

 

The Trainer: Owen Stanford

 

CIG Gig:  You may recognize Owen from his real life proposal during the live web-cast of the National finals this year. He was the 2013 National Festival director, former Toronto regional co-director and now he’s in Nova Scotia as the RD for the NS games.

 

Other Gigs: He’s performed with Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre Company, but he’s also the founder of Make ‘Em Ups Improv Co., and one half of the duo “Lumber Jack and Jill.”

 

The Chops: Owen’s played, trained and judged with the CIG, as well as performed improv all over Ontario. You may know him as a counsellor and trainer from Improv U and Improv Camp!

 

 

 

 

THE QUESTION: Henoc Senay asked…

“How easy is it to continue to be involved in improv? How can I be involved in improv after high school?”

OWEN’S ANSWER: 

Your whole life is improv! We’re making it up as we go every day. If you want to stay active you will. Write down stories — just free write.  To get your brain moving in any way, just write. Start talking about what was in your lunch and what that made you think of. Just getting friends to pal around, and of course, contacting your regional directors and seeing what’s around in your area.

STORY Q&A:

Q: How would you describe the key skills that you need to build a dynamite story event?

A: “I think the key elements are the five elements of a basic story. You actually use these in every event, this is just your chance to make it meatier.”

Q: Take us through the five elements?

A: “The first one would be the beginning, or the “platform“– characters, relationships and a location. Then you move on to develop those relationships. Next is the “What” of the scene. I don’t like to say conflict, because it’s not always about fighting something, but it’s the action, what’s moving the scene. Then it’s the “Matter,” the “Why,” the “Stakes”. This is what makes us care about the story. We need to know why we’re doing these things so it’s not just random actions. And then of course, there’s the conclusion, where everything comes back together in a nice little package.”

Q: How can players make their story events more sophisticated?

A: “Remember. Remember everything you can, from the beginning of that scene, and throughout. The more you can recall from past events within that scene, the more entertaining it is. The more the audience will love you. They’ll go ‘Wow, they’re not just performing, they’re also thinking.’ It’s how you can layer and marry suggestions for call backs.”

EXERCISES:

Owen says that working on memory games can really take Story events to the next level, so try bring mind-benders and memory games into your regular practices.

“Think of making up games as you go. For example, when you’re playing ‘Armchair’as a warmup game and you tell people to remember where they were in the room specifically and who they were with to create that machine. Throughout a workshop, maybe around hour one, you just yell out that machine again and get them to call back to it. Just little subtleties of memory games that you can call back. Even characters sometimes, if it’s your own original character, it’s great. Use the quirks you might default to, and use them in a different context. Working on these skills really falls both on the players as well as the trainers  or whomever may be directing an exercise.”

Thanks to Henock for the Q, and keep on tweeting your CIG-related questions to @CanadianImprov with the hastag #AskATrainer. Have so many questions that you can’t squeeze ’em into 140 characters? Email them to stories@imrpov.ca or leave a comment!

Workshops Strike Back: Round Up Part 2

By Mike Hammond and Polly Leger

Last week we brought you Part One of a round up of some of the workshops our staff put on at the National Festival. Because CIG Nationals is about more than just competing… it’s also a haven of improv workshops and forums. Staff from across Canada helped players and coaches flex their improv muscles, and so can you, with a few tips from this workshop round up, sequel edition.

Yes and more!: Everything is an offer! It’s our job as improvisers to find the information that our partners are giving us and turn it into s omething great. It’s very important to remember that offers come from everywhere, not just the direct things people say (Let’s play hockey!). The tone of someone’s voice is an offer, the way they are standing, if they sneeze, the look in their eyes, the way they task, everything! All of these are offers and the only way to accept them is to take the offer and run with it in a way that is going to advance the scene and set your partner up for success. One way to do that is to react to what is said to you. Be emotionally invested in what the other person is saying to you. Justin calls this “Pinching and Ouching” (A strong offer is given by player A (Pinch) and the reaction and building from player B (Ouch!). In order to pick up on all of these great offers by our scene partners we need to HYPER LISTEN! We need to slow down so you can really digest what your scene partner is saying and doing so you can react appropriately to push the scene forward!

Silence and Sincerity: Sometimes you need to just slow things down and let things get quiet. Silence can be really powerful. Being comfortable in the little moments is key. It can make for a great Life event, but that comfort and confidence in the quiet moments translates into strong skills you can use in any scene. Try playing some scenes in silence, let the rest of your team dictate your actions instead of moving or speaking yourself. Not only will it help get over the giggles when it comes to being serious and help your listening skills, it’s also crazy zen-like.

 Tiny Offers: Mike is watching you… So he can get information to further the scene! Sometimes we miss the forest through the trees in that we only focus on the obvious offers that we get, but we miss the little things that give so much information. Things like tone of voice, body position, distance between the players, eye contact and how they all interact to help tell the story. As improvisers we are hard wired to be impulsive and if we experience any sort of silence we react to fill that void with dialogue. DON’T BE AFRAID OF SILENCE. All silence means is that the physical offers are telling the story rather than the verbal.

Judgin’: Curious on how scenes get scored? Head Judge Katie Bowes had a lil’ sit down to explain the incredibly hard task of assigning a number to art. To help judges make an informed decision on the score they give there is a rubric. The judging sheet and the events are designed to teach and enforce the basic skills of improv, but be vague enough to allow creativity. As for the scores themselves, there is no way to “fail” a scene. The judges award points based on what they see in a scene, it isn’t a passing or failing grade. One of the most important jobs for a judge is to remain consistent. If they score a scene a certain way, they have to apply the same standards to every scene after. There may be a variety of numbers across the judging panel, but as long as the judges are consistent, it doesn’t matter what the actual numbers are.

And just one final word from some of the players at the National Festival.

What’s the best workshop you’ve ever taken? Write and tell us about it at  stories@improv.ca Craving more improv tips? Ask us allll about them! Tweet us your q’s @CanadianImprov with the hashtag #AskATrainer!

 

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. 

Ask a Trainer! Shawn Norman explores the theme of THEME

By Averie MacDonald

Just in time for Nationals! Ask a trainer catches up with veteran CIG Judge and Trainer Shawn Norman for some hot tips on the Theme event! 

Shawn Norman Headshot

Vancouver’s head judge Shawn Norman is gonna rap to you about themes

 

 

The Trainer: Shawn Norman

CIG Gig: Head Judge and trainer in Vancouver’s Lower Mainland tournament, and long-time judge for the national tournament. He was previously the Regional Director for the Victoria tournament, and is a Social Media Ninja for Canadian Improv Games!

Other Gigs: Trainer and performer with Vancouver’s Instant Theatre Company, member of local improv troupe “The Bobbers”, and one half of “Psycho,” an improv duo with the great Warren Bates!

The Chops: Shawn’s travelled far and wide as an improviser with Instant Theatre, including appearances at the Seattle International Improv Festival! And btdubbs, he got his start in the CIG, just like you!

 

 

 

 

 

THE QUESTION: Connor Lewis asked…

“In the Theme event, a common improv game is the Harold. Are there other games that work just as efficiently as Harolds? My team has been struggling to find a game that explores a theme in as many ways as possible but also provides story and character.”

 

SHAWN’S ANSWER: 

Most Theme events are just miniature Harolds — collections of scenes, games, and monologues. But  you could do a Character event and make it a Theme (event), or you could do a Style event, for example, and make it a Theme (event). If you want to bring story and character into your Harold, absolutely do that! Maybe have a couple scenes that you come back to. We want to see characters that we care about in the theme event, definitely, and we want to see stories that we care about in the theme event. One thing that we rarely see in Theme is stakes, if you can have a character say ‘I need to do this because these are the consequences if I don’t,’ you’re already at a higher level.

THEME Q&A:

Q: Can you describe the theme event at it’s best?

A: “The theme event at it’s best is when the team has all agreed to ‘play the game’ of making the scene about that theme. So, rather than just showing a list of examples of that theme, we’re seeing scenes that are perspectives on how the theme affects certain people or … how it plays out in different genres, or how it plays out in history — what it means to people, not what it is. So the whole team, is looking, watching, and supporting that idea, with smooth transitions between the scenes, and a variety of tones, pacing, and types of scenes.”

Q: Does it matter how many scenes teams can fit into their four-minute theme event?

A: “I’ve seen great Theme events that are just one scene before. What we’re looking for is a breadth and a depth of exploration. You can show a theme from many different angles in just a few scenes.”

Q: @lisahac asked, “Is use of puns in Theme good or not so good?”

A: “The theme that you’re given is what we want to see explored. We don’t want to see a play on the word itself. That’s not an exploration. NO PUNS, unless the scene is about puns!!”

Q: What can teams do, physically, to improve their Theme event while on stage?

A: “(Maintaining) eye contact with each other is huge. Also, if a team can create a physicality that is inspired by the theme, that’s amazing! If they can create an editing style that’s inspired by the theme, or a pacing that’s inspired by the theme, that’s huge, high-level stuff! But also, we want to see variety … so we want scenes where there’s a flurry of movement, followed by a scene where there’s stillness and silence.”

EXERCISES:

To practice generating ideas from a theme, Shawn recommends this game!

Shawn says, “Another great exercise would be to get the players in a back line, give them a theme and have them one by one explain what that theme means to them or how it affects them, and a time that they have seen that theme affect others, or how the theme has made an impact on the world. The goal is to make the players focus on the theme beyond the surface level.”

PARTING WORDS OF WISDOM:

Succeeding in the Theme event is all about committing to the moment:

“Make sure that you’re listening to the scene that’s happening now, and not thinking about the next scene,” says Shawn, “Also, don’t be afraid to jump out without any idea because if your whole team is playing the game that this scene has to be about the theme, your team will help you. If you just come out and shape some space and start tasking (miming an environment/activity), your whole team will make it about the theme.”

Big ups to Connor Lewis and @lisahac for sending in some Theme-related q’s! Keep an eye out for our extra special National Festival edition of Ask a Trainer. Keep on tweeting your CIG-related questions to @CanadianImprov with the hastag #AskATrainer. Heck! Even email them to stories@imrpov.ca or leave ’em below in the comments. Go Crazy!