A Committment to Creativity and the Art of Listening

Welcome to 2015 ladies and gentlemen! It’s going to be a hell of a year and I’m already feeling the energy from last night’s set of performances. Over 110 people came out to see our shows, which sets a record for attendance at the Alaska Experience Theater for Urban Yeti. Even on the holiday weekend, Anchorage came out to support in full force and you have no idea what a relief it is to business owners like Mal and myself. To start out the year with this energy is inspiring and we are very grateful for your support. But as always, we want even more growth, in both the business and with-in the improv. Let’s talk about last night’s sets.

I enjoyed the short form improv in both shows last night. The audience had a lot of positive energy/feedback from these sets and the performers did an excellent job converting the energy into some positive scene work. After Dark was definitely the raunchiest show we have had to date in the troupe, served up by an audience ready to push the boundaries. To be honest, though, I appreciate that. It is nice to be reminded we sometimes have to work in ‘that space’ to make it creative and be given the opportunity to do so. The players responded well. If you look back at the scene work, there were no easy way outs taken and every performer tried to inject a unique spin on some crazy topics. I particularly enjoyed a solid game of moving bodies. Props to some skillful audience members who paired with our performers to create a relationship with tension and a scene with nice pacing. I enjoyed both sets of Four Square which had a mix of strong objective and character commitments with a sweet moment when the performers from the back of the square peppered the ongoing scene with audience heckling. The improvement aspect I will focus on is a matter of stamina.  I’ll focus on two games, Late for Work and One Act Marathon. We must never quit and we must never lose our composure, plain and simple. I threw a big challenge to our performers with the ‘yum, yum’ pull and which caused an end muddled in confusion and frustration. What do we do to improve these situations? Reset, look your scene partners in the eyes and start with direct instruction to get through it. Not as creative, I know, but every now and then you got to hit the eject button with-in the boundary condition of the game. In One Act Marathon, there was a strong scene initiation and oddity with a mother proud of her 15 year old son ‘in da club’, but a resistance to freeze and a struggle to listen to scene partners caused a difficult landing. One set of partners set up a scene where a 15 year old got in too deep with a girl who wouldn’t leave the house, the other partner came in to play the exact opposite of being trapped in the house. Both of these notes are minor in affecting the overall good quality of the shows, but points I want to make sure are improved upon. I agree, two shows, one night, same performer set is tiring, but I know we’re a team that could go all night because we love improv god dammit!

Let’s talk a bit about our Love Is Blind long form set. There were some good examples and fun moments throughout. Highlights for me were moments of nice creativity by our performers. A casual walk through to say ‘Nice shoulder spread’ to tie the scene back to the monologue, a solo scene to introduce the oddity of loving sweat smell, a nice ensemble moment of using Queen in an audition, solid teamwork to create a movie theater with an eclectic mix of characters. There was also a nice oddity elevation moment between Erik and Mal in a world where parents dress their kids old school for college that was capped by a fun moment using dialogue like ‘that is quite the get-up you got on there’. Slower and more fruitful. Strong characters, listening and creativity led to these moments.

Overall, however, we needed more listening and exploration to create a stronger set. I also feel we lacked in these areas because of a struggle to rehearse during the holiday season. I don’t say this to whine, deflect or air out dirty laundry. I say this because I strongly believe our long form set, although composed of strong performers with a lot of skill, was affected by lack of rehearsal and it is evidence highlighting the importance of the rehearsal process, especially when tackling long formats. Overcoming this is something I need to work on as a director to set up our performers for success. We will have to get unique with our exercises and more intelligently plan our rehearsal schedules.

There were a lot of instances where 1 or 2 person scenes weren’t given time to develop and a lot of moments where all 4 performers were in the scene without a distinct reason for being there. A fun moment of a solitary wrestling manager cleaning the mats was barely allowed to develop before another performer jumped in to layer another idea. A mother trying to dress her daughter for college using an antiquated dress code and a father who jumped in without fully understanding the oddity and idea. Several performers continued to jump in without fully understanding the ideas trying to be introduced by scene partners. Although I am a huge proponent of ensuring the scene goes in a strong direction with energy and objective, we need to give it a minute to figure out the offer on the table. On the creativity and exploration front, a lot of scenes were direct replications of monologues and there were minimal wipes before another monologue was introduced. We spent too much time on drinking topics, which is often time a crutch, the same as using expletives to drive laughs. I’m very confident rehearsal throughout January is going to iron out these issues and get us back on the right track.

Mal asked me this morning if there is something other long form troupes have that we should consider. In our discussion, a unique point arose that further supports the importance of ensemble time in the dojo. A lot of bigger improv organizations require main stage players to go through several levels of training courses that can span years. We don’t necessarily have this training luxury. Is this a problem? Nope. I believe we have performers and directors that put up great improv products in Alaska without it. Does it put perspective on commitment required to become a better long form improv artist? Yes.

As always, I’m excited for the opportunities arising in 2015. Look to our upcoming show schedule and come out to support our PAC and Eagle River performances. In the end, our team is having a blast and I want to bring you along in our development. Come laugh with us, come learn with us, be a part of Urban Yeti Improv.