The Bare Bones

That was one hell of an interesting experiment in improv comedy last night ladies and gentlemen.  First, I was excited to get around 50 people to come out and see us on a 4th of July weekend with beautiful Anchorage whether.  When you expect to perform for 10, the sky is the limit!  Second, everything which could fail with our tech aspects of our show last night…did.  A blown fuse left us with only 4 stage lights (primary out) and cable connection issues in the booth left us with no sound.  Therefore our pre-show/intermission music and video had to be cut.  Tech is a work in progress as Urban Yeti explores its relationship with AET and comes up to speed on their equipment and we’ll be back to 100% for our upcoming shows.  This obstacle shows how important tech is to a performance and how it can help bring an audience into your performance mind set.  However, I am going to say something radical here:  I think this was a good time for this to happen and it actually helps our performance in the long run.  You’re CRAZY John!  I know, I know, but step back and look at it from a different angle.  Without all the tech what is the only thing you have?  The improv with no safety net.  Every laugh our performers worked for last night started deep in their own end zone.  No sound, house lights up and a warm theater on an 80 deg Anchorage day.  The Urban Yeti performers were given a challenge that is going to make the troupe stronger in the long run.  

I’m excited to say the troupe stepped up and performed well in this experiment.  Although we still have things to work out in our long form sets, I was particularly impressed with the creativity of our performers in the show.  From solid character interactions in Building Blocks to Evelyn and Janosz in the produce section, our performers came up with some very interesting objectives and were able to sustain great character dialogue in several of their scenes.  It was also nice to see an infusion of energy in several places when needed.  Although one could argue the breast feeding Wickedness scene was a lot of two characters yelling at each other, I would counter and say they stayed true to the situation, brought in some good detail (empty theater, 9:45 pm showing of the Notebook) and the energy was much needed.  I was also particularly impressed with our short form, especially Slide Show.  I will throw some props to Erik, who really made that game with a solid narration.  The funniest thing I have seen in a long time is his constant reference to that ‘ass hole’ Bob who judges.  Why is this funny?  Because going through a Las Vegas slide show is one thing, but building out complex relationships with the characters in the pictures strengthens the improv immensely.

Enough of this positive crap Hanus, get to the juice!  As a reminder to those new to the blog, we have been working in rehearsals on putting a structure to our longer form work.  Build a strong base reality with good characters, environment work and detail, then throw in an oddity identified by the team and elevate that oddity by asking questions about how it changes the world around them.  We didn’t do a great job of finding this structure in our performance last night.  It was not as easy for me to write down a series of oddities like our last shows and the strength of the performance last night was more found in interesting character interactions and objectives.  Two examples of the challenge were our Promiscuity and Indecency sets.  We continue to struggle through our Promiscuity set.  It is not because three suggestions are hard to juggle, it is because at it’s core it is the closest thing a lot of us have ever done to long form, it is our first true experiment of taking an empty palette and building a 15 minute scene with sustaining content.  In both last night’s show and previous performances we are finding situational quick sand.  We have an unhealthy attachment to resolving situations instead of exploring the world created.  There was way too much time spent on a basketball court in the set last night and way too much time spent on dwarf jabs.  When in doubt, we need to fall back on the world we created to find something better.  We created outs, but didn’t use them.  Some questions we could have asked to get to a better place:

  • What is the link between Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the initial world created?  It is kind of strange a back story to a seemingly normal environment included fairy tale characters, let’s explore.
  • What does basketball have to do with the initial offer which was really solid: Girls changing boys in relationships?

Overall, our Promiscuity set has yet again showed us we need a lot more play time in the long form arena.  It is also important to talk about our indecency set.  A solid story, some fun details (Russian occupation, torture, aging love), but if you step back you’ll realize the scene fell into crazy town.  The strong objective floated us for the amount of time needed in the set, but after the produce affair was over, we wouldn’t have had many places to go.  Why?  No one challenged an oddity which was there waiting to be taken:  All of this was over a simple recipe.  The humor of the indecency set could have been elevated much more if we had a straight character challenging the element of Russian conspiracy over a simple home made recipe.   

If you go back through my last couple of blog posts you’ll see similar elements being discussed about our long form.  It’s time to start asking myself what I need to do as director to help get us through a transition to solid long form quicker.  I’m going to focus on three areas in the future:

  1. Better play time.  Summer can get intense in Alaska, especially when you layer individual schedules on administrative prep for our third season.  We are going to bring more focus to the improv arena in the coming months.  In addition, I’ll be joining the troupe in playing some of these sets over the next couple of rehearsals to get fresh perspective on the challenges faced.  Rather than focus on our sets, we are going to focus on 10 – 15 minute longer form scenes based on single words.  More play will always equal a better product.
  2. Don’t just make it about a challenge.  Hey, if you are reading this, I’m rewarding you by giving you one of our big announcements now instead of making you wait!  We will be starting an Urban Yeti After Dark short form show in October.  The focus will be high energy, uncensored short form games.  The performers in Urban Yeti are amazing and I have no doubt in my mind they are going to kill these sets.  By allowing Urban Yeti to offer different formats and letting our team mix it up, it is going to strengthen all of our performance offerings. 
  3. Play AND watch.  It is no secret Urban Yeti shares performers with other troupes in town.  As a result, they put in a lot of time performing.  I would like to find more ways for our performers to watch improv as well so they can sit back and identify/assess just like this blog does.  This could include getting the troupe together to watch our own shows or finding some good internet/video content to offer a fresh perspective.

This blog focused a lot on improvements and potential change in the future, but I don’t want that to detract from the talents our troupe has and continually shows each performance.  I am very proud of the product we are putting up and the evolution of our improv.  A start-up company is allowed to find themselves over the first 12 months of their existence.  Another incredible aspect of this experiment is I am having some really great conversations with audience members and supporters about improv.  I really think we are elevating the understanding of the art form and starting to bring in folks who don’t just want to drink and hurl dick references on stage, they want to explore with us.  Thank you to the performers who are bringing it set after set and thank you to our fans who are continuing to come out and support.  We are truly creating change folks, can you feel it? 

Look to our social forums this week, we are about to make announcements which are going to change the game completely…