Wrapping Up “Improv for Actors”

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Toronto Second City "Improv for Actors" class photo

Toronto Second City Improv for Actors class - celebrating at Gabby's

We did it! 18 students came together to embark on an improvisational journey at the Second City in Toronto, and 7 weeks later, our improv course is complete. I can hardly believe that 7 weeks went by so quickly.

I’m really glad I signed up for this class.

One thing I loved about “Improv for Actors” was the diversity of my classmates. A class geared towards students who are either working as an actor or have studied acting, we all had that aspect in common. But otherwise, our backgrounds, ages, experiences – were all so different, and I really enjoyed and appreciated this.

Another great thing about our class was our teacher: the amazing Chris Earle. Every week I came away with so many lessons (improv lessons and life lessons), that I was inspired to create this blog. Chris not only made the class fun, but he brought great insight and expertise and helped us all to grow as improvisers.

I met many wonderful and talented people. Some of us will continue with Improv for Actors II, which starts next week (stay tuned for my new journeys). Some are busy this summer working on acting opportunities, and some will move on to other improv programs. Hopefully we will keep in touch. All my classmates had a positive impact on me and I wish every one of them success in their endeavours.

I’ll discuss our last class and then end with some final thoughts.

Class Narrative 

In week 6, we worked in pairs to tell a narrative. This week, instead of in pairs, we did this collectively as a class.

Starting with “Once upon a time,” we went around a circle and each student contributed one word to the story.

After a couple stories, Chris gave us some ideas for more narratives (not necessarily beginning with “Once upon a time”). One was a letter of resignation. We decided what the company was (a fruit plantation), and we went from there.  Another was a call home from summer camp.

The challenge in this exercise is to keep the pace going steady and not hesitate or think too long to say a word, and to also give offers that help the narrative develop. Overall, I think we did a good job and came up with some very amusing tales. 

Building an Environment 

This was a neat exercise, requiring a group of four people (two pairs of two). There were two activities in this exercise:  1. The building of an environment, and 2. acting in the environment. First, two people from the group would build the environment. Then, the remaining pair would perform in the environment that was created.

The environment builders (Pair 1) 

Each person from the pair gives three offers, for a total of six environment traits. Of the three offers, two should be realistic, and one can be kind of whacky.

The environment builders do not act or improvise, they simply state their offer out loud, setting up an environment for the actors.

For example, an offer could be “there is a old dresser sitting on a street curb. It has five drawers and is rather old. The second drawer has some trouble opening.”

Steve and Mary built the first environment. It was kind of crazy: Downtown Toronto (King and Bay), on a street curb, with an old dresser and a condemned building, and a toilet somehow dangling from a rope. I think a dog was in the scene somewhere too.

The actors (Pair 2)

After Steve and Mary finished stating their six environment offers, Mark and Elise acted out in this scene. I was impressed with how they used the environment. Elise was a real estate agent, showing Mark an area of town he may be interested in. Of course, Mark was apprehensive with how things looked. It was quite funny.

Afterwards, Mark and Elise switched roles with Steve and Mary, where they built the environment and Steve and Mary acted it out.

BREAK

Feedback from Chris 🙂 

To end the class, Chris put two people together who he felt had similar strengths. He told them what he thought their strengths had been in the class and where they may want to focus more attention on, and then he gave them a premise for a short scene along with some side coaching.

It was really great to get Chris’ feedback. I was impressed by all of my classmates, and I feel a number of them will go far. It was really an honour to work with all of them.

The feedback I received was that I’m good at playing low-status characters, and that I’ve been funny in these roles. This surprised me. I actually worked on trying not to automatically play high status, so I was quite happy to receive this feedback. Kate and I played a scene where we were in a club, both starting off low status, and trying to get a drink from a bartender who wasn’t giving us any attention. The challenge was for us to switch to high status when this happened. It was a fun scene.

Two scenes that I really liked a lot were with Christian and Elise and Michelle and Mary. Christian and Elise were a married couple decorating their first Christmas tree. They started off happy but then they began to argue. During the argument, Elise saw a spider and insisted that Christian kill it as it’s the “man’s job.” Christian killed it and then quickly retorted that Elise clean it up, the “women’s job” – a quick-witted response to Elise’s comment. The argument and status contest was quite entertaining.

In Michelle and Mary’s scene, Mary played a single mother going on a date and Michelle her teenage daughter. Michelle was giving Mary advice for her date. Mary played the low status role wonderfully (she was nervous about the date and what to talk about), and Michelle was high status, giving her mother a pep talk and lots of encouragement, including advice on how to get physical with her date. Mary’s discomfort in the situation as the mom and Michelle’s positivity and excitement made the scene really enjoyable to watch. Chris suggested to Michelle that she play the role as if she were chewing gum, and suddenly there was a character transformation just with that little change.

Final Thoughts

We are all improvisers. Every day, we as humans improvise. It is how we interact with each other. As Shakespeare wrote, “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

I learned a lot in this class, not just improvisation lessons but lessons applicable to broader areas of my life. Learning to be in the moment, learning to breathe and listen, learning to relax, learning to take time, learning to trust my partner and to say “yes, and…”. These are important not only in improv, but to life beyond the theatre. I still have a ways to go to worry less and relax more – that is something I strive to improve. But so long as we are learning and growing and having fun, I would say we’re achieving success. 

"Improv for Actors" collage


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