Robin’s Last Act

Yesterday, Robin Williams killed himself.

I’m sick and angry and sad.

This happens too often to comedians.  I think of Belushi and Farley.  Farley makes me think of Hartman six months later.  Hedberg is another tragedy.   The list goes on.  There’s something extremely unsettling about seeing comic actors die prematurely.  Better that they get old and fade from memory before they go.  It’s just wrong when they’re still vibrant and productive and they suddenly vanish.

When I was in kindergarten, I was the only kid in my class to have a Mork & Mindy lunchbox.  As I grew up, I found myself perplexed and delighted by Robin Williams’ films.  Dead Poets Society is genius.  Toys is outright garbage.  I loved his “beard” films – Awakenings and Good Will Hunting.  I marveled at his standup routines.  He’d be so sharp one minute, then trot out a bad ethnic stereotype the next.  He was like a gatling gun, firing spaghetti against the wall to see whether it would stick.

Robin Williams was friends with John Belushi.  They snorted cocaine together hours before Belushi’s death in 1982.  And after Belushi died, Williams got clean.  He didn’t want to end up like that.  But he did.  I just took 32 years.

I have a theory about comics.  There’s something upside down inside most of them.  While “normal” people would hate to be laughed at, the comedian seeks laughter at his own expense.  Why take up public speaking – something millions of people fear – and hope to be laughed at – something almost universally feared?

Depression runs rampant among comedians.  Most learned to be funny as a defense against pain.  Baring those raw emotions on stage will bring you laughs and applause.  Observe Richard Pryor talking about setting himself on fire.  Say that to your friend in confidence, and you’ll get tears.  Say it on stage with some detachment and you get laughter.  Funny how that works.

Comedians are generally fragile people.  It’s a shame they’re in such a brutal profession where rejection is constant.  The loudest and brashest comics are
often trying frantically to distract you from their true selves.  Maybe that’s the deal with Robin.  When he’d stop the wild nonsense, grow a beard and act sad in a movie, you felt the real pain there.

Depression is very real and very scary.  Pharmaceuticals and therapy can only put distance between you and the demon.  It never kills the thing.  Creating something to share with the world is made exponentially harder when you have to fight your way past a bully to get your art into the world.  The fact that Robin Williams created so much while facing an enemy so  persistent is incredible.

It’s fine to do bits with your fellow performers off the stage.  Just remember to take a breather and be real once in a while.  Check in with your friends.  Let them vent.  Tell them you love them.  Tell them you appreciate them.  Confide in them.  Keep an eye on them.  If you see them isolating or drinking or smoking too much, say something.  All of us have a stake in the fight against mental illness, even if we are not mentally ill.

Just as Belushi’s death prompted Williams to change his course, I hope Williams’ death changes our futures for the better.  Do not end up like him.  Get help.  Talk to a friend or a therapist or clergy.  Rage against your demon and share the fight through your art.  You cannot give up.  Your demons sure as hell won’t.

Death is coming for all of us in time.  Let’s not make it easy on that black-cloaked bastard.  We’ve been robbed of all the work Robin had yet to give.  Plese, please, please don’t follow him.

The Last Days of Martin de Maat

I did not know Martin de Maat. To me, he was just a black and white photo on the Second City Training Center student newsletter.

Martin is best known for the quote, “You are pure potential.” It’s a lovely thought, and it encompasses all that improvisation can be.

As I was clearing out some old papers, I found all my student newsletters and I thought it would be a fitting tribute to share each of the “Notes from Martin” that graced the front of the newsletter. They are presented below exactly as they appeared.

March 6-May 14, 2000

Although the purpose of the Training Center includes preparing talent for Second City’s stages, we do not want to forget that the program has two other equally important goals – the exploration and advancement of the art form and the training of actors and writers. All three are in place to support you in your objective, be that Second City employee, improvisational artist, actor, writer, or conscious courageous human being. I write to suggest that the ends other than Mainstage are as valid as getting hired by us.

Yeah, yeah, easy for me to say. I’ve already got a job. The fact is that you do too. (I admit the pay could be better.) It is your job to be a student of this work. It is a powerful position. By definition it is “one who has yet to know.” It means that the moment you declare yourself a student you clear your slate, need not prove anything, and become pure potential. A position of authority contains limitation. Student leaves you wide open to make it up your way. You can improvise your future and the future of the art form. In being its student you are its future.

You can use your experience as student here to move closer to your dreams, or you can put too many of your hopes in one outcome and limit your investment potential. I suggest diversification. Imagine other employment and pastimes to which this work applies and invest energy into those as well. Recognize how it can impact your current job. Research other improvisational groups and consider involvement. Collaborate with your peers to create a group with its own unique vision.

Actors cull a living in their art. A little income here, a little there, it adds up to a career. Think about participating in other theaters and schools. Involvement in more than one organization helps you become a more rounded artist. It also promotes feeling that you are part of the community. For many improvisers, being part of the tribe is payment enough. Ultimately what you are looking for is for a fulfilling experience offering your art and ideas. That canvas may well be Second City, but it can just as likely be elsewhere. Elsewhere is not less valuable, it is just different.

I do not mean to discourage you or to suggest that it is impossible to make it to “Mainstage”. Actually being hired in one of the positions we have for actors is highly possible, be it Business Theater or touring company. It is worth the shot if it interests you. What I do want to discourage is your being in “Level A” wishing you were in “C” or being in “C” in a hurry to be in “1”. This “where I am is not good enough” pattern is difficult to break. It goes on and on. You can imagine it as being in a touring company wishing you were in “etc.” or “etc.” wishing for “Mainstage,” or “Mainstage” wishing for “Saturday Night Live.” Everyone could be busy not doing his or her job. They would be missing much of the present experience while auditioning for the future. (Luckily, we do not have much of that going on.)

Be all right where you are. Commit to the process rather than worrying about the product of your investment. It is the same as improvising. The only way for the next moment to realize its full potential is if 100% of your energy is in this one.

Bless you and keep growing.

Martin de Maat,
Artistic Director


May 15-July 30, 2000

Contemplate this. What purpose does art serve? There is, after all, no harmless art. Each image, word or brush stroke creates an effect. All art has an influence. It can challenge the status quo and often begin rumblings that can, and sometimes do, transform social paradigms.

Stimulation of ideas through free expression is the basis for our strength. The artists’ insights are what define a Second City revue. Maintaining high reference levels acknowledges the audience’s intelligence and engages them in thought. Humor is simply the lubricant that makes our points of view palatable. It is necessary and honorable but not the entire entertainment. Don’t sacrifice a scene’s effect or ideas just to get an easy laugh.

Second City revues are a late twentieth century manifestation of Bertolt Brecht’s ideas about the purpose of theatre. He believed that the importance of theatrical offerings lies in stimulating thought and delivering the author’s message. He also believed that theater exists to improve the mass’s life condition. I add that theatre is responsible for providing the audience with some relief from their lives and considerations. Laughter focuses them in the moment. Humor softens the blow. Acceptably presented ideas stimulate, and the total experience provides them with satisfaction and excitement. We are responsible for what we say and how we say it to make sure that this happens.

A performer’s influence is defined by how individual audience members comprehend the presentation. Audience members orient their perception from their individual frames of reference. What they perceive is dependent on their experience and morals. This framework defines their interpretation. It is our responsibility to make offerings that are general enough to reach the widest audience while not losing the artist’s point of view. Herein lies our integrity.

Please remember that the expression “our” includes you.

Humor remains our primary delivery conduit. It is our promise to the audience, but shock, style, and cleverness can also be used to wake them as well. Enrolling the audience through emotional identification is also a substantial means of embroiling them in our notions. Brecht dislikes humankind’s propensity to identify emotionally, but we do not. It has been depended on from the ancients. If empathy and pathos are worthy enough for Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Stanislavsky, they are a good enough method for Second City.

Anything is possible if properly handled. And it is your job to see how close to the line you can walk. Here are several simple lessons to move you into a successful creative experience. Avoid an abundance of easy choices that exist simply to shock. Easy, repeated sexual references confuse a scene’s point of view. Discard language and subject matter that serve no purpose or threaten the audience’s willingness to receive a message. Remember our audience is made up of family and friends. Understand that the audience will hear what they want, and be certain that you are saying what you mean.

I invite you to ruminate on what you really want to say. I suggest a series of societal, political, and interpersonal reflections that demonstrate the ludicrousness that exists in our lives. That is what satire is, and satire is what we do.

If you have questions about this newsletter article, feel free to contact me.

Play well,
Martin de Maat, Ph.D.
Artistic Director


July 31-October 8, 2000

About what we do at Second City.

We teach improvisational techniques and train actors through improvisation, mindful that the bulk of our stage work is the creation of a fixed revue developed through means of ensemble improvisation. This revue includes satirical sketches, scenes of various length and subject matter, music and other theatrical stylings ordered to become an entertainment. The material is developed in rehearsal and tested out at night during the improvised set that follows a show. Eventually, new material is filtered into the first two acts (we call these preview performances) until two new acts have emerged. We have an opening night, label it a different, hopefully relevant, title and continue the process. We proceed to experiment with new scenic ideas. They are stimulated either from the actors’ conceptions or audience suggestions. Any of these new ideas could develop into part of whatever the next offering will be.

A scene’s content and message is sometimes thought out prior to the first time it is improvised. The actors improvise to establish beats or with a goal. They improvise it two or three times and “keep” the beats they like. These beats are ordered in a sequence which makes sense, locked, and rehearsed as set material. Sometimes the actors improvise a scene and then figure out what it is all about. Sometimes they go home and write something. It does not much matter where the material comes from. What does matter is that it stays in some process of exploration and discovery for a while and that the actors know what they are saying in that scene.

The simple goal is to satirize that which we find ludicrous in our society and make it funny. The audience gets to laugh at the silly stuff and perhaps challenge their own belief structures and societal paradigms. It lightens their load and may cause reflection.

We also use improvisation as entertainment unto itself. We present sets and jams that are completely improvised. The seeds of new material are often discovered during these sessions. We also include games and spot improvisations in our sets and sometimes within our revues.

Our primary purpose for teaching improvisation is to prepare students to use it as a tool to create new material. This is the focus of the Conservatory Program of The Training Center. Yet we also teach improvisation to enhance acting techniques and to expand social skills. This is the focus of the Beginning, IFA and High School Programs. These are equally important endeavors.

Whatever drives you to study this work, enjoy the process of exploration, discovery, and growth. The performance (product) is important, but it wants to come second to the learning that can be culled from both the product and the process.

GLOSSARY:

BEAT – an ordered sequence of events or lines that maintain its own beginning, middle, and end, yet becomes part of and serves the whole scene.
CONSERVATORY – the upper levels of The Training Center. These students create material, perform on Sunday nights and eventually run a show on Monday nights.
SET – an act of improvised material or works in progress. The third act of our regular show.
SPOT – a totally spontaneous scene generally based on a suggestion from the audience.

Martin de Maat, Ph.D.
Artistic Director


Autumn 2000

I am privileged to have been included in the “we” of Second City since early childhood. I attended Second City’s shows in its first year of existence. But my first real exposure was through my aunt, Josephine Forsberg, who was studying improvisation there – and would eventually become Second City’s Director of Workshops. She called one day and wanted me to come to class. Josephine felt that the study of improvisation would benefit me, even though I was just a kid. “There is this woman,” she said, “teaching.”

That woman was Viola Spolin and those workshops changed my life, saved it, really. Valuable life lessons and a call to consciousness were the reward for an early morning train and bus ride and a walk along Lincoln Park to attend Saturday classes. Viola was in Chicago to complete work on her book “Improvisation for the Theater.” She used the class to settle on methods for speaking about the games. One of the great acknowledgements of my life is Viola telling me that a scene I had improvised helped her finally settle her thinking on the game “Explore and Heighten.” There I was, a child of nine and ten, improvising with adults and playing parents and bosses. I never missed a class.

Viola was gentle and kind, patient and accepting. She heard every word I spoke. I never felt in appropriate or disrespected. Viola loved children. She created her “Theater Games” for them. The games and exercises were then and are now a type of social work. They were meant to rescue us from the inconsistencies of childhood. They were designed to simulate self-esteem, self-confidence and courage. They taught communication skills that allowed me and others to know we are not alone. I am honored to be one of the children under her influence.

Viola died in 1992. There was a collection of funds for a memorial or such being carried out for her. My secretary opened the letter requesting donations. She said “They’re collecting money for Viola. How much do you want to send?” “Everything,” I replied.

It seems there is nothing I am that has not been influenced by her touch.

Martin de Maat
Artistic Director, The Second City Training Centers


February 13, 2001

I’m dictating this from my hospital bed, so forgive the informality of my newsletter entry this semester.

Recently my days are filled with doctors. Last Wednesday one of the young interns came in and said, “I have never seen this before.” When someone asked what he meant, he said, “I see hundreds of patients, but the people in this room never end, this kind of attention and respect, these visitors, flowers.” He paused. “I don’t have anything to do with your case, but I feel left out. So if I can answer any questions or help, let me know.”

In the last few weeks the outpouring of support has been wonderful. It is a comfort that cannot be described. I am unimaginably blessed by each of you.

My primary doctor and close friend returned from a trip to India this week. Imagine him walking into Cabrini’s Manhattan Hospital trying to find me. He asked the desk clerk downstairs to find my room number. It is a big place and I have moved. Without pausing, the person behind the desk said, “1124.” “Are you sure?” my friend said, “You didn’t even look it up.” The desk manager raised her head and replied with a heavy New York accent, “I’m sure. I’m very, very sure. All I say, all day long is 1124.”

This room is filled with endless messages, phone calls, stacks of mail and visitors. Please accept this note as thanks. It is important to me that you know that I know how you feel. You mean so much to me. I love each of you and I’m very, very proud of you.

Martin de Maat, Artistic Director


Martin de Maat passed away peacefully surrounded by family and friends on February 15, 2001 at Cabrini Medical Center in New York.

Requiem for a Building

The iO Theater I knew and loved is now closed.  After nearly 20 years at 3541 N. Clark, Charna Halpern is stepping aside for the Cubs’ bulldozer.  I’m sure the spot will make an excellent CVS or whatever.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been an outpouring of nostalgia on social media.  It feels like we’re all remembering our ex-girlfriend who’s getting married to some other guy.  “She was great,” we’ll say, thinking back on our relationship with rose-colored glasses.  And she was great.  But there’s a reason she’s not marrying you.

For a select few, iO has been all it’s advertised to be: a community, a family, a clubhouse, a springboard to fame.

For the huge majority, it’s been a place where they spent a year taking classes, spending thousands of dollars to chase a dream.  And then they were shown the door.

For me, it falls somewhere in the middle.  I always wanted to turn the corner and feel like it was home, but iO is a very fickle lady.

Last year, I had a conversation about this with Kevin Mullaney.  He spoke about Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point.”  Gladwell argues that organizations start to unravel once they get bigger than 150 people.  The social bonds necessary for an efficient group start to fray as more people get added.

In some ways, iO’s success is its biggest problem.  By the time the theater dismissed me last year, there were about 30 Harold teams.  Each team had ten players.  And there were a shrinking number of performance slots for those teams.  We’d get two shows a month.  It’s impossible to improve when you perform that infrequently.

Yes, a handful of performers got lots of stage time.  And they probably deserved it.  But I wonder if the theater would have been better served by promoting and nurturing the younger performers, trusting that the most veteran folks would have no trouble finding stage time elsewhere.

I’ll be damned if that place wasn’t magical, though.  It’s a beacon for brilliant misfits around the country.  Improvisers have a shorthand.  When I’m around them, I feel like I’ve been reunited with my long-lost tribe.  Plop me down at a dinner with non-improvisers and I feel like the conversation grinds to a halt.

For six years, I got to perform on iO’s stages.  I laughed so hard, my sides hurt.  I fell in love with those people and that death trap of a building.  It was a candle of originality amid the darkness of drunken frat brother Wrigleyville conformity.

Every time I think about that phone call where I was dismissed, my heart breaks.  Was I that bad?  Did I suck?  What could I have done differently?  Should I have spent more time at the bar, making friends who could have shielded me from that decision?  Or did I trust too much that this was, as advertised, a “theater of the heart” – one that would reward my love with loyalty?

I miss improvisation every day.  Specifically, I miss being with those teams on those stages.  There is no feeling in the world that compares to having your friend jump out and save you when you feel lost.  It creates an unbreakable bond of loyalty.  You want to save them in return.  And so it goes, back and forth – a daredevil trapeze act that gets higher with each performance.

iO is not perfect.  Moving to a bigger building may alleviate the problem of limited stage time, but the sense of community will fray further as more people pour in searching for a golden ticket.  I really hope Gladwell is wrong, and that there can still be intimacy and support and camaraderie in a larger venue.

Regardless of iO’s future, I loved my time as part of its past, and I spend an exorbitant amount of time thinking how I can rekindle that old flame.

Thank you, iO.  If you weren’t so special, these memories wouldn’t sting.

For two very polarized remembrances of that theater, check out blogs from my pals Ryan Dolan and Ben Johnson.

The David Razowsky Method (Video)

In this video, David Razowsky shares his method for navigating a scene.

This method has its merits.  We’re often told to “heighten and explore.”  Following Razowsky’s pattern would heighten emotion, but I’m hesitant to say you could lay this template over every scene.

Leading with emotion is great.  Heightening that emotion is great.  But heightening regardless of what’s being fed your way seems odd.  You can get great mileage by going away from a bit, then returning later in a scene.

I also disagree that once an emotion is heightened, it changes.  Going from anger to sadness feels like a crazy u-turn.  How about going from anger to calm, back to anger, back to calm?

This method also advocates starting with your emotion at a “1.”  If you start that subtly, it would be easy for your partner to miss the vibe you’re sending out.

Consider modifying this method to resemble the kids’ game, “Hot and Cold.”  You seek something while the other person in the room says whether you’re getting hotter or colder.  When you’re really far away, you might hear, “Ice cold!”  When you’re really close, you’ll hear, “Burning hot!”

Starting a scene, you’ll discover certain likes and dislikes about your partner’s character.  When you know that, you can control their emotion.  I coach my group that whenever someone says, “Don’t do that,” it’s a giant green light to do that.  The audience wants to see you misbehave.  They want to see the consequences.  But a savvy improviser doesn’t just keep doing the forbidden activity over and over, harder and harder.  They’ll do it a little bit, then let the audience forget about it, then do it harder, then go away, then come back and do it as hard as possible.

Obviously, there is no right or wrong with improv.  Whatever helps you navigate the scene and have fun is the right way to go.  What do you think of David’s method?

Got an improv question?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com

5 things I learned by taking a year off between improv shows

Nearly a year ago, the iO Theater killed off my team and didn’t reassign me.  Although I love improv with every molecule of my man-suit, I had no team to fall back on.  So began my 351-day improv exile.

During my time off the stage, I continued coaching an independent team.  And last weekend, the lovely KC Redheart invited me to sit in for a show.  Here’s what struck me during that first performance in a long, long while…

1) Your weaknesses never really go away.

I’ve always struggled with listening.  I get impatient and race to find the next thing.  Even when I was performing regularly, this was an issue.  But when you have more reps, you’re able to lessen the effects.  I believe your weak spots will always be weak, but there are degrees of weakness.  With a ton of rust, your trouble spots just feel much larger.  With practice, you can manage their symptoms.

2) If you can commit to something at the top of the scene, everything else flows.

That initiation is so important.  My favorite improv teacher, Mark Sutton, advocates taking a brief pause after the first ten seconds of a scene.  Whatever you’ve done to that point – that’s your promise to the audience.  You need to double down on that.  In the scenes where I gave myself a point of view or a physicality, I had tons of fun.  When I led with plot, I fell flat.

3) Don’t say stuff just to say stuff.

Improvisers are terrified of silence.  But I’d wager 25 percent of our dialogue is totally useless.  We’re just talking for the sake of talking.  Use your words to convey your emotion or point of view.  Provide information that will be useful to your scene partners.  If the words in your head won’t push things forward, don’t let them escape your lips.

4) Your teammates are the answer to every problem.

A younger me would walk on stage with entire scenes mapped out.  If I could just initiate hard enough, I believed I could drag my scene partner through the maze.  What an idiot.  Instead of white-knuckling every scene, I simply brought one idea to the party.  I looked at what my scene partner brought, and then we fit those ideas together.  Audiences go bonkers when they see you making the connections in real time.  Embrace that danger.  See how hard you can celebrate the gift your partner brought.  Give them gifts in return.  Watch the perpetual energy spin.

5) Improv is perhaps the most fun activity on earth.

I had so much ridiculous, stupid fun.  I’ve got to get back on stage immediately.  Don’t take those shows for granted, my friends.

What this awful scene can teach us about improv

According to this video’s description, the woman was told to say, “I want a divorce,” as her first line. Nothing else was planned.

Holy crap, this is terrible.

It’s not hard to explain why.  The acting is stiff and unnatural.  The actors don’t bother making eye contact until more than six minutes into the scene.  The guy rambles on in monologue mode, oblivious to his partner.  You’d be hard pressed to find two lines of dialogue that even correlate to one another.  Rather than playing it real, the man thinks laughing at his wife will make the scene funny.  He’s very wrong.

But if you asked two competent improvisers to try reenacting this exact same scene, I’m sure it would be side-splittingly funny.  It’s not hard to mimic total failure.

One of the most beloved improv exercises is to play badly deliberately .  I recently coached my team to play a scene as though they were an improviser they loathe.  The results were fantastic.  Then I asked them to play a scene as an improviser they admire.  The results were not as enjoyable.  The players explained that they felt pressure when playing as their heroes, but felt free to be awful.

This falls into the entire psychology of performance.  When we fully commit to a character, we feel freedom.  Committing to mimicking a terrible actor is easy.  There are no wrong moves.  But when attempting to commit to doing a good scene or emulating your hero, you’re plagued with doubt.  Doubt erodes commitment.  The scene unravels.

When watching the scene above, you see the actors grasping to commit.  Even they don’t believe the words they’re saying.  Have you ever acted that way on stage?  Have you ever said something halfheartedly/flippantly/winking to the audience?  It may feel fun in the moment, but you’re selling out the scene.  You’re basically the guys in this video.

So no matter what you do on stage, commit the hell out of it.  If you’re gonna be sad, be sad.  If you’re gonna be angry, unleash the rage.  And if you’re gonna act poorly on purpose, have fun and play as hard as you can.  Commit to something concrete and the scene will be easy.  Try committing to a moving target like “a good scene” and you’re in trouble.  Just play the character and the scene will come to you.

And if you’re one of the two actors in this video, abandon improvisation immediately.

Got an improv question?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com

Polite Improviser Syndrome

Some improv training centers beat it into you – “Support your partner!”

So you do.

And you spend so much time supporting your partner that you eventually become a blank slate.  You’ll hit the stage focused only on your partner, hoping they’ll do something you can “support.”  And if they don’t, you just stare blankly at each other.  No one makes a move.

It’s called Polite Improviser Syndrome, and I’ve suffered from this disease.

We think we’re being helpful this way.  Coming out totally empty means we’re ready to do whatever our partner wants to do.  And that’s good, right?

Wrong.  In fact, it’s one of the worst moves you can make.  Coming out totally blank puts all the pressure on your scene partner to come up with everything for both of you.

Don’t do that.

The sooner you make assumptions and declarations about yourself and your partner, the sooner the scene gets started.  Have an emotion, have a point of view, start in the middle of a scene.  Just don’t spend those precious seconds at the top of the scene waiting for someone else to save you.

Have you seen the movie “Gravity”?  In the film, Sandra Bullock plays a spacewalking astronaut who’s cut off from her tether.  She’s just going to drift into space and die unless she takes action.  When she’s able to push herself toward something, her momentum carries her until she hits something else.  But without that push, she’s totally adrift and totally helpless.

Similarly, if you start with any kind of emotional or physical momentum in a scene, it’s enough to carry you until you bump into another bit of scene information you can push off.  Start angry and you’ll quickly learn something that allows you to get even more angry.  Start blank and it feels weird to get angry at that same stimulus.  More than likely, you’ll stay blank.  And who wants to watch that?

It is not cheating to start a scene with a decision in mind.

Read that sentence again.

Teachers warn against pre-decision and tell you to “support your partner” early in your training to prevent you from starting a scene imagining yourself as a doctor and your scene partner as the patient and you have a really hilarious way to deliver a cancer diagnosis.  But once you’ve improvised for a month or so, you realize that kind of play is totally dumb.  As long as your early scenic choice is malleable, it’s totally fine to make.

For example, you can start imagining yourself as a sad king.  And if someone calls you “Mom,” you can still be sad and regal.  That declaration doesn’t negate what you’ve established.  As long as you’re not the dummy who says, “I’m not your mom.  I’m the king!” you’ll be fine.  Sad and regal can work in any scene with any character.  And if your scene partner doesn’t name you, you can always establish that you’re the king very quickly.

Those kinds of decisions work because you’re going to play the energy of that character, even if you’re declared to be a turtle or a gang member or a lawyer.  Coming in with any kind of energy helps to fuel a scene.

The only time a pre-scene decision gets you in trouble is when you start predicting your partner’s actions or you predetermine where you want the scene to go.  But you’re not that guy, are you?

Start your scenes confidently, as if you’re pushing off an object in space.  I promise your scene partner will enjoy playing off that energy.  Otherwise, you’re just being polite… adrift… and on your way to a slow, slow death.

Got an improv question?  E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com