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?

Notes: Ric Walker's Speed of Response Workshop

Ric Walker

I took two amazing workshops last weekend. The first was Ric Walker's Speed of Response. If you have the chance to study with Ric, I cannot recommend him highly enough. He has a very light and fun approach that I appreciate.

This workshop was not what I expected, but I loved what I got. What I took out of it was a a better understanding of how my brain works -- particularly how it learns -- and what I can do to help it learn better and faster. With the eventual goal being to improvise smarter faster.

Here are some high level (paraphrased) quotes that stuck with me:

  • Throw yourself at the edge of failure
  • Asking why helps you learn. Adults don't do this as much and it causes brain calcification.
  • If you are struggling, rather than use filler (e.g. "uhhh"), just take a breath. This reminded me of Susan Messing's gem, "Umm is the pause for the thought that will never come"
  • Being good at argument is counter to good brain function (uh oh)
  • You want ego in the product and none in the process
  • Self-awareness is another thing that helps your brain function improve

Ric said at the top not to expect a huge improvement immediately, but that he would provide us with individual and group exercises we could work on over time. And he certainly did! Here are some of my favorite new ones or new takes:

  • Individual exercises
    • Jump Rope
    • Fast finger pointing
    • Ear prompter (to the radio)
  • Pair exercises
    • Hot hands/slap
    • Ear prompter (with a partner)
    • Simultaneous talking
  • Group games
    • Hamburger
    • Chiminy Chee

We did an exercise at the end that I really liked as well. It was about literally walking through these steps with each line/response in a scene:

  • What did he or she say? (my scene partner)
  • How do I feel about it? (emotion word, not in terms of narrative)
  • What am I going to do about it?

I use a somewhat similar exercise I learned from Kevin Hines' where the first player delivers a line, second says what she feels about that, then the first says what he feels about how the second feels. But Ric's add that extra layer of action which really had a profoud effect. I definitely want to keep exploring this with my own work as well as teaching.

Thanks Ric for a fascinating 3 hours!

Posted with permission from Ric Walker.