The Courage of Exploration

The beginning of 2015 has been insane for Urban Yeti Improv. After we left you at our first Saturday shows in January, we got in a performance at the Alaska Fine Arts Academy in Eagle River and a special, sold-out performance of After Dark at the Performing Arts Center. Both shows left the audience wanting more Yeti and have been great boosts for our relationships in the community. We continue to exhibit our favorite quality of improv comedy, connecting with people. The next month will see a special Valentine’s Day PAC performance, travel to Talkeetna for some throw downs with Iditaprov and preparation for our new season being unveiled in the next week: Urban Yeti presents The Harold. We can’t stop, and you keep us driven. As always, and with a sincere heart, thank you for your support.   Last night we saw some awesome audiences brave the cold and come see our first Saturday performances of Love is Blind and After Dark at the Alaska Experience Theater. I was impressed with the turnout given we are sandwiched between two heavily promoted PAC shows and the weather was not ideal for downtown journeys. Our After Dark show was a riot and I am continually impressed with our performers finding unique ways to explore uncensored themes. I particularly enjoyed fun games of Story, Story Die, Slideshow and Your Place or Mine. Each of these games embodied some unique scene work elements, ranging from a frat trip with a lot of character depth to a portrayal of several elements of the population of Lion King’s Pride Rock. We need to continue our pursuit of uniqueness, energy and connection in our short form, but I hardly worry about it given the performance opportunities in Anchorage are very short form heavy. It was a good idea for Yeti to get in the market, but ask anyone in the ensemble what our true focus and goals are, and they would point towards our longer form development.   Today I am a conflicted director of improv comedy. I believe our Love is Blind product from last night’s set was worthy of an audience and showed some excellent creativity. In our last rehearsals we have been working on more reliable improv comedy through an emphasis on stronger scene initiations. We re-hashed lessons on starting in the action rather than at the introduction and clearly putting the initial offer on the table to internalize before jumping in. In the realm of scene offers, character work, energy, the troupe last night excelled. There were some great stories built, ranging from a little girl who hated all mythical holiday creatures to the creation of a male empowerment self help group. There was a beautiful moment, possibly one of the best I’ve seen on our stage, where a plane full of people erupted into a rendition of ‘Let it Go’, beautifully executed and wiped to become this novel, small vignette floating on the wind.

But the audience didn’t connect as much with our product last night and we ended up selling them more on our short form improv aspects in the second half over our longer form aspirations. Stay calm everyone, this is okay. In short form, I can do improv with a 6 out of 10 score and the audience will think we nailed it at an 11 given so many games are played (Don’t worry, we’re always a 10 folks). In long form, I can do an 8 out of 10 and the audience will critically think about the 2 left on the table. It’s a different product, a different experience, a true challenge. I love it. Yeti feeds on it.

So what makes me conflicted? I’m conflicted as a director in finding ways to hold lessons together and bridge it to 10 out of 10 long form. From our last couple of rehearsals, the players nailed what I asked them to do. Strong initiations, interesting worlds, nice use of environment. Soul quotas, letters to Santa, a brutal non profit world, physical portrayals of the Northern Lights, all fun. We even saw limited use of plot drive our stories, which is an excellent direction to be headed in. But just as quickly as I saw the wins, they were wiped away. Literally wiped, as in that was the most scene wipes I’ve seen in a long form set we have done to date. In the past, I have directed our performers and encouraged more use of transition and less fear to wipe a product if it was not going well. But last night’s wipes were used after high moments in the scene. They were cut like a short form game, rather than explored like a long form set. The beautiful skills and quality of our performers are lost on the audience when we do not come out of our long form set with full bodied scene work. We struggled to find a group mind and thus succumbed to the nervousness of continuing the world past the laugh. I am left as a director asking what we need to do to build on lessons, rather than something which needs to be constantly re-visited. The improvements needed from last night boil down into an easy concept to explain, but very difficult to practice: We needed more why questions asked and explored. Why does this little girl hate Santa, Easter Bunny, etc? What would happen if the Tooth Fairy died? What are the Girdwood souls used for? Why such an aggressive quota? Why is the non-profit world so cut-throat? We might not answer them all, but it only takes one line of exploration, one character development, to open up a beautiful, enriching, full bodied scene.

We also need to continue exploring our confidence in monologue work. Rehearsals for monologues went really well, but I believe the fast pace of the show with multiple scene wipes left the performers a bit dazed when the bell was ultimately rung. Slowing the scene work down a bit and a few glances at the board when out of the scene can help this easily.   Once again, rehearsal and vigilance, the broken record of the artistic director. We should also be moving back to more shows with the entire ensemble, which I’m excited about as I believe one person’s absence in our core team makes the climb steeper. I’d like to try some workshop intensives over the next couple of weeks to connect the troupe together through playing as we build our art work towards our biggest challenge yet: The Harold.   I keep it 100% real in this blog so you can better understand the beauty of improv comedy, the connections we strive for, the awesomeness of success and the trials of improving. Regardless of the notes, never doubt the Yeti is out there having fun and winning. This is quite the rush, thanks for joining us in the ride. See you at the PAC this Saturday!