Admiration and Realities

Once again, Urban Yeti appreciates Anchorage for coming out and making our second show another sell-out!  We had a great time last night and we hope you did as well.  Looking at the business side of Urban Yeti, we really like what we are seeing.  Hits on the website are up, our relationship with AET is solid and last week we unveiled the Urban Yeti at the Fur Rondy parade.  It was a blast and we took dozens of photos with folk who couldn’t get enough of the Yeti.  Be on the look-out in the coming months.

Let’s talk about last night’s show.  The performers have once again gained my admiration for putting everything out there in front of a hundred people.  I can see the team working skills we have been rehearsing and having a lot of fun doing so.  Some of the areas of focus have been strong, detailed scene initiations and using natural motivations to progress scene work.  I particularly appreciate their support with the failing health of their host/director.  This resulted in tougher transitions, scene cuts and missed admin things like thank-yous and future activities.  No excuses, I’ll be back to 100% next show, folks.

It is a challenge when you ask an improviser to clear their head at the beginning of a long set and approach their scene partners with an open mind, walking off that cliff and having faith everything is going to be okay.  I have chosen to take the director spot with these folks and I find one of the toughest things to do is push them into better, cleaner creativity when you yourself could be in their same shoes.  None-the-less, notes are notes even if you have to work them yourself, and I invite you to join me in this deep dive.

What did I like about last night?  I enjoyed the high energy short form in the second half of the show.  We have been working ID symphony hard this week and I was happy to see the performers find the beat with one another.  Four square, stand-ins and half-life all went well and the players found some good story lines and characters to play off of.  I rather enjoyed the variations created on opening the jelly-fish tank in our last game of the evening.  I also like paddywax.  I love it when no one in the room knows what something is as it creates a clean palette on which to build something new.

I was very pleased with two out of the three set-ups for the frigid affair sequence.  The scene inspired by not saying I love you was a particular success for the performers.  Strong relationship connection in the beginning, finding the game of avoiding the term ‘I love you’ and how far the girl would go to get what she wanted was really fun.  Very nice cherry-on-top of ‘I love you Xbox’.  The sequence inspired by the headline regarding someone being ok after they got thrown in a dump truck from a dumpster had a fun theme of enforcing ‘stench’ rights in the state of Alaska.  After a couple of sitting scenes, the performers responded nicely by doing some good dumpster pantomime work.  That’s right, I just said good dumpster pantomime work. 

But the audience didn’t choose these sequences and opted for the scene inspired by obscene 911 calls.  It is here we find some opportunities for improvements and areas we can focus on in the next couple of rehearsals.  I think the performers would agree out of the three sequences, this storyline presented the biggest challenge of folks getting on the same page and finding some good games to play.  The challenge was present from beginning to end on this story line.  The basis was two kids prank calling a 911 operator, who in turn got so frustrated with the continued harassment she took the issue to her sergeant, who offered to handle it personally but instead focused on training the boys to be better prank callers.  The scene quickly developed the qualities of quick sand.  The original unique game of someone in authority playing to his immature side could have been fun but suffered when not enough time was spent building the sergeant character prior to the immature being introduced and then the players struggled to elevate the immaturity (several dropped prank call opportunities).  Two nice moves were introduced in different middle variations.  The first, if we can prank call the 911 operator with no consequence, who else can we prank call.  The second, if the sergeant doesn’t follow protocol, what else might be going on that is questionable at the station (phone sex).  However, the quick sand sucked us back in as the team felt beholden to characters and ideas which were not working out initially.  Rather than letting go of these weaker ideas and expanding the game, we got sucked back into them.

But why do we fall Master Wayne?  We sometimes struggle in scenes and that is okay.  Not only okay, it is natural.  The important part is the lessons we take away to work, the ability to show we recognize the weak and strive to make it stronger.  What can we take away from last night’s frigid affair sequence?  We can certainly take away letting things go when they aren’t working.  It’s okay if one of the characters is inexplicably dropped from the story line.  It is okay if we leave the sergeant behind.  It is okay if we trash something that doesn’t work.  Elevating a scene can often times mean not looking back and we could have use more of this last night.  We can also take away the need to rehearse finding the game and playing it together.  We will be working this over the next couple of rehearsals by starting open scenes with strong base realities.  Nothing odd, just characters staying true to their motivations.  Then we will work on dropping in the odd and elevating it.  But most importantly, we will work on everyone recognizing the oddity and joining each other in the game.  I as a director have danced around what I have been reading for inspiration in an attempt to find a unique voice.  I still think we create a unique voice, but I want to try some of the lessons more directly.

Also, an important thing we need to emphasize, regardless of format or long form / short form is holding our characters.  It is tough in rehearsal to crack down on something like this because it is typically a sign your performers are having fun.  No one wants to throw the birthday cake on the ground when folks are singing happy birthday.  But 2 -3 times is cool for the audience to connect with the performers.  5 or more times and the perception of skill level starts degrading away.  We need to take this more seriously.

I love this environment we have created and adore the team we have.  I’m excited to rehearse with everyone and see our development as we finish out the first season.  We are also close to announcing our second season of shows, which in itself is a success for Urban Yeti Improv.  Thanks for reading and I have enjoyed this journey immensely.  Don’t be nervous, tell me what you think.