Austin Day 0: An Institution

Before I get real improv-y, let me just say that people in Austin are the NICEST. Throughout the day, people just kept striking up conversations with me, just for being in the grocery line for example. How fun!

The Institution

Anyway, I signed up for Asaf Ronen's Drop In Diagnostics Class at The Institution. This was a great experience and such a cool idea. Students from Institution (or the 4 other schools) can drop in any week for some personal attention. It was intense. The class is designed to quickly find weaknesses and provide some practical tools. I left feeling energized but I get that it's not a "good" feeling.

Then was the Rubber Room. This is The Institution's weekly jam. When I told Asaf how well I enjoyed the format, he thanked me and told me a lot of thought went into it. Here were the main features I enjoyed: 

  • Big group warm up that was a) led by one of the teaching faculty b) quick c) involved most of the people most of the time (no small feat for a group this siz
  • Teams did sets. These had music and lights (mine even had bubbles drop). Really felt like a show.
  • Teams edited (tags, sweeps), but a teacher would clear for a whole new scene every so often (in a super fun way)
  • Then the teachers did a set together. It was informal and full of joy!
  • Then the lottery: each teacher drew a raffle ticket and the winner did a longer scene with them, they agreed on the format at the top.

A really fun night. Ok all for now.

One week in Austin: hopes and hideout

I just arrived in Austin, 2 days early for my intensive at The New Movement. As I understand it, the intensive (called Training Camp) is a lot more like boot camp than improv class. It's a small class, we have 6 hours of class each day which focuses on reps, then a show each night for a paying crowd (the game in this analogy). 

Why am I here? I don't perform much anymore with groups that rehearse regularly with a coach. So I wanted to focus on my performance, even if for a week, with teachers who don't know me very well.

And why wait until Monday? Tonight I went to the Hideout Theater (which is right by TNM, easy for us improv tourists). It's got a cool vibe, store front, coffee shop out front (with a decent urbanspoon rating), and they have cocktails. 

The Hideout Theater (and coffee shop)

I saw a show called The International Improv Experience. There are 3 layers to this thing, all of them (in my opinion) delightful. 

  1. This idea that Roy Janik from came up with after doing a lot more international shows and workshops--how to bring more of that to Austin? The show features videos from improv troupes throughout the world. 
  2. A sort of technological whimsy that is loosely related to the theme (I'm told Kaci Beemer is responsible for the look of the show). The show features a talking computer (the person in the tech booth with an 1980s era animated computer head), a button that spins a slot machine-esque spinner to pick random cities, a giant lever that starts scene, and the best part: dozens of shapes that make up the "virtual reality" allowing the "computer" (improvisers) to create any location in the world. I cannot overstate how beautiful this was to watch. I tried to do it justice with the photo below. 
  3. The final is the show mechanic itself. The show was in two acts with a short intermission (for coffee and happy hour priced cocktails). The first half was ComedySportz-esque. There was only one team and the challenges came from the International improvisers. That's what all those videos are. Anything from "give examples of what this poorly translated English means" to "do a scene at tea about how to make cricket more interesting to Americans." The best scene by far (IMO) was in response to a Japanese video that was a scene in Japanese gibberish (it really was gibberish, not just my inability to speak Japanese). The second half was long form inspired by a story telling technique also provided by video prompt.

"Virtual Reality" mayhem is created during the International Improv Experience at the Hideout Theater.

Overall, totally aligns with my expectations of Austin! Creativity in droves, asking what have we not seen improv do yet?