With Sunday came my second improv show and my second time performing on stage. This was the graduation show for Improv 201 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center. Another eight weeks of fun-as-hell learning went by and here’s what I have to show for it.
201 is a lot different from 101 in the sense that it’s a lot more challenging. 101 is about building you up, almost making you believe that you can do no wrong. 201 breaks you down with its rules and at times it becomes taxing on your confidence. It pays off in the end, but there are times when you get interrupted by the instructor mid-scene more times than you’d wish and it gets in your head.
The format of this show is different from the 101 show from two months back. 101 was suggestion, monologue, three scenes, monologue, three scenes, monologue, three scenes. 201 is suggestion, three monologues, three scenes (four in my team’s case due to having eight people, so everyone could get a scene in), second beats and third beats. Plus, unlike the random end-of-scene blackouts in 101, we’d “edit” ourselves, as the people on the back line would choose when to cut off a scene. This is a guessing game in itself that’s awkward at times in that you can edit too fast so that the performers don’t even get to the point or wait so long that the performers run out of gas and get a little desperate. Both of these happen during the show.
As for the whole “second beat” concept, the main focus of 201 is “game”. “Game” is the term for what’s funny about the scene. What’s the unusual thing being explored? Sometimes it needs to be said out loud to fully establish it and for both performers to agree on what they’re working towards, so they’re in full agreement. The “second beat” is when you return to that game later on and give it a different spin, whether you’re playing the same characters or not. For instance, during a practice run of the show, me and Matt were doing a skit where I made his favorite dish – spaghetti with meatballs – and it was a ruse, as I was trying to get him to enjoy my pot roast, which he hates. Later on, we did another scene where I acted like we were going to a baseball game, only to reveal it was an intervention as me and the others in the class aggressively got on his back about how he doesn’t enjoy the Sopranos. Then later on, he’s sitting in a chair, relaxing and we talk up how great this Jacuzzi is… until asking a priest to come into the room and give Matt a baptism against his will. First beat, second beat, third beat. Same theme.
So here’s the show. Up first is the Beetles with Two Es (Steve, Ray, me, Geoffrey, Sam, Megan, John and Dan) followed by Six Pack Abs (Kelsey, Jaimee, Norma, Nancy, Matt and Sean).
Some notes on stuff I was involved in:
Monologue: It may seem amazing that “superheroes” was the suggestion with me involved, but that was a coworker messing with me.
Nickelback: I fucked up here in that my character’s name was Jimmy, so naturally when I tried to come up with a name for another kid, I said Jimmy. Oh, well. Nothing too wrong with the idea of there being two kids named Jimmy. I thought this one came off well and I’m glad that Geoffrey instigated the scene, allowing me to play off of his concept.
In my opinion, Geoffrey is one of the two best performers in this class, so pairing with him worked out great. I remember this one class where we were doing really serious scenes and we had to do one where we were a gay couple and I was breaking up with him after being together for years. We were meant to play it without any humor whatsoever. It was really tense and strong, but while I gave him a made-up character name, he intensely called me “Gavin” during an angry rant, which blindsided me and made me laugh my ass off.
Also, check out how I hesitate to say “LMFAO” like a moron. Easier to type than say out loud in the correct order for a guy like me.
Asshole Batman: I probably should have done a better job establishing that I was supposed to be Robin, since neither Ray nor John figured it out. Maybe I’m just showing my age by thinking, “HOLY GUN SHOT, BATMAN!” was enough.
Twilight: I go from scared child “Jimmy” to petulant teen “Kyle” as we hit our second beat. I really liked this one, even though I went off in the wrong direction by making it an argument than playing up the whole drug metaphor. The Steve Harvey reference went over Geoffrey’s head, but he handled it like a champ. I should have probably gone with Fifty Shades of Grey, but that’s splitting hairs.
I wonder what Geoffrey had in mind for the third beat that never happened. Not that I can complain. Ray’s callback at the very end was too strong not to use as an ender.
The second half is worth checking out for Sean, the other best performer of the class. His puppet bits with Kelsey are golden. One of my favorite parts is how he matter-of-factly explains the rules of puppetry, which are blatantly the basic rules of improv. That’s why the others in the front row and I are laughing so hard at it.
Had a blast and I can’t wait until I start 301. A big thanks to the rest of my class and instructor Lydia Hensler for being awesome.