The Next Step -Part 1 -Michael Scott

So last week I took the dive and took along my imaginary scuba diving gear to the improv scene in London. Since i was  also starting a new job last week it was really hard to decide which one to go to and ended up choosing the drop in of short form just to get reacquainted with improv, so that I wasn’t doing it on my first day at a new job and because I felt it would be better jumping into a class where I can find my feet.

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Jules (on the right) was teaching the class last week, Heather on the left is his other half of their double act.

The one thing that was great with this drop in lesson which is what I was not expecting was all the games apart from one, were completely different to what I trained in for 10 months in Newcastle. They were all team building but all different.
The first thing we did I wasn’t a fan of to be honest and they told us it is what actors do and it’s a breathing exercise when you have to focus on your breathing in a circle and then allow the noise to break through. Then people stand in the middle of the circle and you “massage” them with the sounds that you make changing them from high to low, loud to quiet.

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The next thing we did was a name and pattern game whilst it was a good thing to do I actually found it hard to remember people’s names. The name games we did in Newcastle you did it a few times and I could tell you who every single person was in the room was. This one you pointed across the room at someone and instead of saying their name you said yours. Which I found wasn’t helpful as to learning others names as you are so focused on who came before you in a pattern. The next part of this game was that we would high five someone in the circle that we didn’t point at before. We then mixed these two patterns together and had to remember the pattern. We then added one more pattern to the game which meant that there were people everywhere.
The next warm up game was another one we haven’t done in Newcastle either but I found a good one to help you focus. You have a group of four people one person in the middle, one in the front facing the person in the middle and two people either side facing the person in the middle. The one at the front makes movement that the one in the middle has to mirror and then the ones either side ask questions – one is the personal questions and the other is factual – they all happen at the same time so you are technically bombarded with everything but it’s a great way to start becoming focus and lead to some hilarious outcomes. For example, in my team on one go – the factual question, Alison got messed up with everything and started asking the person in the middle what job a pirate does.
After this we did a game with numbers – I was worried it was going to be the style of number games I hate – trying to get to 20 without people all saying the same number or the 1,2,3 game that helps you focus. Instead we were put into groups of 4 or 5 and had to create two people scenes with no dialogue apart from counting the numbers 1 to 20. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it but actually found it a great format for scene training.
The scenes just like when you do open scenes, naturally create a scenario that by the time you get to 20 you are in full swing of characters due to the emotion that you give to the scene. We then mixed it up and Jules (our trainer for the night) made one of the people in the scene go into the next room to get given a personality trait that we had to bring to a scene and the other improviser had to just go with the flow and work out what we were.
The emotion I was given was fear – make the other person fear you. Now for anyone that knows me, when it comes to first meeting me I can come across as a tad shy and a little bit quiet at times especially if I am I a huge group. Now, until this suggestion I had been like this – being in a new group of improvisers I always get a bit nervous and a bit shy to show my true self. People who know me and how I improvise, will also know that when I get given an emotion (especially in one scene three emotions) I will go completely to factor 10 and go flipping mental. My performance I gave the other night, my fellow improviser and three scenes besty, Peff, would of been proud.

When I went into room I went in character and had the idea in my mind of being a crazy sergeant in the Army and literally screamed in anger the numbers 1,2,3,4 – the guy in the scene with me called Robin sunk down the wall. I later found out after the game that I had literally scared the hell out of him and everyone in my group and they completely believed I was really angry at them hahahah. (I think it made a few people jump too as it was a quiet room and I literally shrieked it down.)

After doing these scenes we then applied the same rule of someone having a trait in an interview situation so the first one was a Pervy teacher at a parents evening and then a telephone sales person who was always turning on the customer.
We then went onto do a bit of scene work and made up a little stage area. Two people would be given a location and then one of them will be elected to think of a trait they will have in the scene. We had a scene where one of the guys called Thierry was a barber who was trying to make his customer, Josh feel sorry for him, then we had a scene at a flea market where Robin would have a sort of OCD about his products.
Me and a girl from Chicago called Heather, were given the location of life guards at a swimming pool. I was nominated to come up with a quirk, I thought of some of the games we played in Newcastle and what would provide something to a scene and decided that no matter what was thrown at me i would only answer in questions.
This lead to a challenge for myself in how to word things which lead to some timing between the conversation. It started as a scene where I asked the other lifeguard what time does she finish which had an innuendo attached to it which then lead to me asking her does she know what happens if she leads late and me asking if she reads the manual. As the scene went on I found it harder to answer only in questions and it lead to me talking about people hanging themselves on the diving boards and do you know how it feels to have the blood and water on your hands of someone who died – I know they both sounds really bleak but these two lines got really big laughs. The first one because why would people hang themselves when there is water and the second because I forgot to mention water first which made the comedy in the scene.
For my first improv lesson in London I felt it went well and whilst I didn’t know what to expect I really enjoyed it and met some interesting and fun people who I have already started to make friends with and keep in contact with.  The one thing I am starting to notice and like about the London scene which I was worried it may not be like, is its really friendly and even on the first few meetings you feel part of a family.
Last week I decided that to delve in as I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to in London, I applied to help with lighting tech and presenting at improv shows as Hoopla have increased the number of performances for the next year. This seemed like a great opportunity to delve right in. It seems like people are very open and eager to be part of troupes down here which is what I desperately want to do as I love performing on stage and that enthusiasm of creating a troupe was a tad lacking in Newcastle – even though we had foundations it never went anywhere due to other people’s commitments where as down here people make time for it which is the way of London life anyway – life is never that busy you can always squeeze in a bit more!

Case study – Michael Scott 

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I promise you over the next few weeks the case studies will go back to being serious and real comedy and improv related (got some corkers up my sleeve so really hoping that they relate I what I learn ) but I felt this was relative because anyone who knows me first knows I am a big Steve Carrell fan and that I love the American Office.
When i started doing improv I said in the last set of features, the Improv Diaries, that I didn’t want to go in and do a Michael Scott and hold a gun in every scene (read it here) however ironically his character relates to me and how I was feeling a bit about moving cities and continuing improv.

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The first is this quote which makes me laugh when I watch it but still relatable –

” I’m not going to start improv at Level 1. And I don’t think my credits are going to transfer” – Michael Scott

This is sort of relatable about how you feel about transferring cities and doing improv – you worry that you will have to prove yourself all over again and that you may have to start from the bottom to the top again. The worries that come over you is that the improv will be completely different to what you already know which is so silly because improv is the same everywhere, whilst the games can be a bit different all the elements that you learn originally can be applied to everything.

I felt that throughout my lesson last week, that i was constantly imagining Ian and Bev there reminding me in the background about certain rules of improv, which i felt was a great thing to have as they taught me so much it’s great to be able to imagine them there telling me to do things and to think of the things that make a scene.

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Another reason why Michael is a good case study for this week as it sums up how i was feeling entering a whole new improv community. Michael Scott has a tendancy as coming across quite awkward in social situations and I was worried that was what was going to happen to me. I was worried that everyone knew each other and that it could take a while to feel part of it or to show my true colors. I don’t think i would of done the crazy Fear emotion or the question thing in the scene work if i didn’t feel comfortable.

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