New Class, Same as the Old Class

Hey everyone! We are excited to be presenting our newest class, TRIO, which focuses on the skills, tools and techniques for a successful three-person improvised scene.

We hope to see you there – this seven-week run begins Thursday, September 12. Sign up now on our Classes page.

Some Teaching Wisdom

This is Brad writing, and I wanted to talk about the process I see learners go through when encountering new games, ideas, or tools. The rule of threes seems to appear in the course of learning new things.

Typically, when the new material is encountered, the first phase is to fail and find the boundaries and the feeling of going through the process to understand how the pieces or process even works. People like to look something over before they step into it for a ride.

The second phase is the competence round. The learners have gotten a sense for the process, rules, or notion, and they’re standing on their own two feet in the middle of this new thing. They are sitting in the drivers seat with their seatbelt on and mirrors checked.

The third phase is the confidence round. The rules, process, or notion have become familiar and habitual, and the learners are entering into a flow. This is the point where real bona-fide play begins to happen. They’ve put the pedal to the metal, the top is down, and it’s a sunny day on an open highway.

I think knowing this process puts even more importance on ‘having to fail’. If you never fail, you’ll never get to that point where you’re cruising, confident, and playful. Teachers, let your students do something new at least three times. So fail fast and fail often on the road to confidence everybody!!

Class Location Update

NEWSFLASH: All classes will be held at 623 SE Mill St. The folks at Willamette Cultural Resource Associates have generously invited us to teach in their space, and we’re super excited for our next round of classes to start this Wednesday!!

New “Along the Path” intermediate Saturday session

Hey Folks! Due to high enrollment, we’ve added an Along The Path/Intermediate class session. 7 weeks from 1:00-3:30pm beginning Saturday, May 19. Check out our Classes page to sign up.

There is still room in our Wednesday 7:00-9:30pm Beginners’ class, too! Yep, over to the Classes page!

Improv and Memes

This is cross-posted from Brad’s own blog:

Variation, one of the essential parts of the theory of evolution, is all about mistakes. Selection is about those mistakes being discarded or used. Reproduction is how a mistake or variation is normalized, or how a normalized form proliferates. In improvisation, whether a mistake is useful or should be passed on depends on the social and contextual environment of the current or past play situation within a single performance. In biology, when a mutation/mistake serves to improve things for a particular organism in a particular context, it is selected for and becomes normalized through replication/reproduction/reuse. In improv it would be reincorporation and further exploration/integration of the themes and/or ideas in a single performance. A mutation/mistake that does not serve to improve things, is selected out, diminishes, disappears. The same could be said in an improvised piece of theater.

Effective improv players behave like cellular RNA through taking pieces of ideas, behavior, dialogue, and mime to knit together a meaningful and entertaining performance with form, substance, function, and some kick through the use of the tool of ‘yes,and’. However, when talking about active/ongoing processes like evolution and improvised performances, there are also issues of generations over time and changes in context/environment that occur due to the degree of dynamism in a context or environment. The biological processes of genetic mutation, selection, and reproduction are echoed in human interaction with memes, which is an idea pioneered by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976). Memes are also acted upon by the abundance or scarcity of interaction, as well as the quality and depth of interaction. Learning how to improvise theater is one way to observe and experiment with the process of meme flow, in regards to relationships and identity, and become an engaged and aware producer and consumer within that system of memes.

In personal relationships, I would consider emotions, compatibility, and history as the context/environment that relationship and identity memes inhabit. This applies to developing character relationships in an improvisation; especially when being able to understand, react to, and embody emotions, as well as recognize chemistry, and rapidly develop/imply a history. These are all parts of the program in any kind of improv training. These are the variables that are mutable, which can fluctuate between being easy to adapt to or difficult depending on how dynamic the forces are affecting the relationship between the three factors: emotion, compatibility, and history.

Fear is to Comfort as Famine is to Feast. These are the extremes that cause all the turbulence in a natural system/human relationship. As you would guess, most of the time we’re somewhere in the bell part of the curve and don’t pay much heed to our routine. I think the processes of evolution and extinction come into play as adversaries in times of stress and abundance. Stress is a top-down force of change (rapid extreme environmental variability or a depletion of energy sustaining resources for an organism or dealing with emotional extremes and self-centeredness in any relationship, professional and/or personal), and abundance being a bottom-up force of change (Easily acquired energy for an organism or strong cooperation/collaboration in a human relationship), which is what Kieth Sawyer has asserted about improvised theater with his notion of collaborative emergence.

One could also extrapolate this thinking to the technological advancement of plant and animal domestication as ‘collaboratively emerging’ from the meme flow of our ancestors. This may also suggest that prevailing social and cultural forces would affect the rate of flow, variability, scarcity, interaction and abundance of memes, depending on the levels of fear or comfort present in any particular cultural system (where fear is an inhibitor and comfort is an enabler). Improvisation, in order to fall on the side of regularly successful, needs to happen amongst people that are in the zone of comfort. This would seem to suggest that one of the requirements of the rapid evolution of memes takes place in stress-free or minimal-stress environments. This might lend some more credence to the advice to ‘not panic’ in crisis situations. Stress constricts blood flow to the brain and diminishes our cognitive capabilities.

In my opinion, play is the opposite of panic. Strangely, they are both conditions that exist on the outer edges of reason and logic. Panic is a stress induced abandonment of our reasoning faculties, and play is a pleasure induced acceleration of the same faculties. For years, the fact that improvisation can bring people into or close to this state of heightened creativity and communication has led to the growth and expansion of the applied improvisation training industry for business clients. Applied Improv Professionals get called in to help people and organizations evolve to fit new challenges and new niches using the same basic plan, skills, and cognitive architecture that our ancestors used to weather changes and difficulties in the ancient environment for reasons of survival. Humans are built to do with memes what the rest of the organic universe does with DNA over time.

Introducing Phil’s Phrases

Hey Circus Bears!

In addition to an information hub, Brad and I intend this website to be a place where we share our thoughts and experiences about teaching, learning and doing improvisation. I’m kicking that off today.

If you’ve taken a class from me, chances are you’ve heard certain things over and over again. I’m going to introduce and elaborate on them in a series called ‘Phil’s Phrases’.

Phil’s Phrases are little shorthands I’ve arrived at after years of coaching improvisers of all levels. They summarize a few of the most important things to focus on in scenework and I think they are worth exploring a bit, hopefully with your participation.

Here are some off the top of my head, please add more that you’ve heard in the comments:

  • The audience wants you to succeed
  • Simple, not easy
  • Nice versus Generous
  • Don’t make up rules
  • You already have everything you need

Like everything in improvisation, none of these ideas are brand new or mine alone. As Joe Bill says, “It’s all Open Source.” Hopefully, you’ll find these interesting to think about and helpful in your time on stage in shows and rehearsals, alike.

In the next couple of days, I’ll start with: The audience wants you to succeed, which will answer the question, “Why did he just call us ‘Circus Bears’???”

Tonight’s pre-Beginner Class is Canceled

Hey folks, sorry for the cancelation, but due to circumstances and the like, we’ll be starting our classes next week and have two drop-in sessions. Buy ’em both, and pay only $10 a class; an incredible deal! Sign up or get more info.

Reading This On Your Smartphone?

If you’re using an iPhone or Android phone to read this, please note that the “Menu” button in the upper left corner is where to find all the goodies like class info, etc.. We’re redesigning our website and will have something better (and better looking) for all up soon. Thanks!

Contact Form Snafu!

Hello wonderful people. It just came to our attention that our classes contact form was not routing messages properly. The problem has been corrected!! If you contacted us and heard nothing back. That is why. Please resubmit a message if you left one, or email us directly at email hidden; JavaScript is required. Thanks everybody!!

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Launching Happy Improv Fun Time in 3…2…1…