Summer Improv Intensive 2 @ Annoyance Theatre

Annoyance Theatre, based in Chicago, USA, does Summer Intensive classes in Improv that last a full work week, Monday to Friday, 10am to 4.45pm.

Last year I did the first Intensive with a good friend. It was a real mix of humans from all over the planet. This year I took the second. Less than half the class were from America, some were doing it in a second language!

I personally like the Annoyance for both its principles and philosophy around its teaching. Its’ focus is often on holding a character, and not letting “Yes And..” become a mechanism that forces compromise or a form of consent that allows the loudest/tallest/most toxic male/first to speak to control or dominate the scene or you.

Annoyance cares deeply about you becoming the best version of you, playing to a position of strength or taking care of yourself or holding your shit. It feels like one of the safest spaces in Chicago for most minority groups, whilst at the same time working to push comedy further..

On top of that I have mostly enjoyed the teaching and the teachers. You get a LOT of feedback from teachers, which I love, even though sometimes it’s exhausting.

Over the week I played 40+ different characters, some strongly and some weakly, I am using this as a reference for along with the feedback (FB), to see my patterns and things I need to evolve.

WARNING – ALL THE NOTES ARE MINE, THEY ARE MY TAKE AWAYS AND NOT ALWAYS WHAT WE WERE TAUGHT

I am still early in my journey in Improv, with less than two years under my belt. I completed Level A-E at SecondCity. I did the first Summer Intensive at Annoyance last year (2018), I loved it so much that I followed up with doing AP2, AP3, AP4 (weekly classes over 8 weeks) and I am now in AP5 (One week in).

I will keep adding to this as I reflect more

Day 1

I think that comedic-wise this was the most diverse sense of humors I have personally worked with. Everyone in this group brought something powerful.

Cassidy Russell was our teacher today. You can see her in Sight Unseen.

The group got to know each other a little as a group. Our group was really varied both in experience (I think the most was 14 years and the least maybe two years) and where they live. We had people from New Zealand, Poland, Germany, Netherlands, Canada and USA. Only two of us live in Chicago.

The reasons that people came were wide: Play low status all the time and want to expand, play to the next level, find my voice, troupless and wanted to play, want a lot of feedback, want to be better at committing, make more interesting choices, experience new things, want to stick to a choice, be better at listening and build scene together, want to evolve beyond short form games, here to play, want to be less supportive in scenes and define them more, have fun, make wider choices and commit harder.

Some of the class has done the first Summer Intensive, the week before.

Notes:

  1. You are creating a promise with the audience and the other players
  2. You should have clean choices – people understand where you are coming from, from physicality, face, tone, and language
  3. Object work, consider the triad you are working i.e. top of the bookshelf, the middle of book shelf or the bottom – which do you default to
  4. Consider where you are “reaching:” and what ideas emerge from it
  5. Create the room/space from an object
  6. Consider what is different, what type of chair is it, what hair cut do you have
  7. Move to discover things, stand and invent things – Move and discover
  8. Emotional Wheel – Play with emotions you do not usually, act the ones that you do not “know”
  9. Questions OK if they give information
  10. Vary the emotional tones
  11. More fun to REACT and take things personally from the characters perspective
  12. Use real life i.e. yours to bring specifics into your scenes
  13. Specifics are fun, use them i.e. what kind of car, what kind of food mixer, what kind of knife
  14. The more you interact with the world the less you have to invent
  15. Allow your character to have a vulnerability so others can interact with your character
Emotional Wheel

Characters Played

  1. Hogwarts wizard, sweeping with Broom and fly out on Broom
  2. Player Card Thief
  3. Find Body parts -> Help Student President get elected
  4. Child, first day at school Fear/Anxiety FB Vary level of Emotion
  5. Monologue on Tabletop Roleplaying
  6. Loves to do new things vs Scared
  7. Hiking in the woods, caught in Bear Trap FB Big bold choice
  8. Education is Bad FB Make your characters more vulnerable

Day 2

Rosie

Today we had a new teacher Rosie. She is an amazing teacher, who has the ability to really push and empower. She was my AP3 teacher. You can see her in Sight Unseen.

Notes

  1. What is your deal?
  2. Your deal is your filter
  3. Do not fix things, make them worse
  4. Add Intensity and Heighten
  5. Do not ask questions, make declarative statements
  6. Show Why something is important
  7. If you are talking about fighting, FIGHT!
  8. Accept the reality, make it like this was always going to happen
  9. Start in the middle

Characters played

  1. Professor Ralph Wunderflikin –
    1. Choose something you do not believe in -> Climate Change does not exist
    2. Scientist for Hire Coffee Selves are evil
    3. Golfing, supporting Evil Venture Capitalist
  2. Protect the Freak
    1. Precision/Details educating on Coffee
    2. Fight scene with Daddy with weapons

Mick Napier

After Class in the Evening we had the founder of Annoyance (Mick Napier) impart some of his current thinking. Over a couple hours we did a lot of quick scenes to practice. Each one had Things to “remove” from your scenes, the moment they happened the scene was cut.

  1. References to Time e.g. yesterday, 5 mins ago, last decade, tomorrow, now
  2. Good, Best, Great, Welcome to, Love, Thank You, best ever
  3. Numbers or quantify e.g. First, second, third

Characters played – I really do not remember many of them

  1. “Fucking Pineapple” character
  2. Little boy on a fishing trip with Dad

Day 3

Today we had a new teacher Jimmy Pennington. I had just finished AP4 (a couple weeks), where Jimmy was my teacher. He is an incredible and fast Improver can you see him Sight Unseen. His feedback is direct and always about how you could improve. So, for the next three days it would be all Jimmy, this was to ensure we got a LOT of feedback over a lot of scenes.

From this point we did longer scenes, with clear individual feedback. Initially focused on having stronger character choices before opening up the scene.

Notes:

  1. Show do not tell
  2. Do not reveal motivations, show us, filter with your motivations
  3. Talking about Future/Past can “fuck Up” scenes
  4. Leave space for discovery
  5. Once you got the character dig deeper
  6. Invisible people, avoid them, especially if you are not defined
  7. cannot get stuck on something lost
  8. Make sure to move forward, do not get stuck
  9. Initiate characters not scenes
  10. Offers can define the “game”
  11. Know who you are before making an offer
  12. Be playful in your character
  13. Be Vulnerable, leave open so you are accessible to others characters/players
  14. Politeness kills improv
  15. Do not live in conflict
  16. Conflict about other things, not with the other actors
  17. Loose Arguments, humiliate yourself
  18. Get passed the angry to understand the root
  19. Do not let objects take up your whole scene, get to the relationship
  20. Vagueness and coyness kill scenes
  21. Transaction scenes boring
  22. Game if the scene is brought back later
  23. Do not over play the game
  24. Push comfort zone to discover new things
  25. Given failure, take it and use it

Characters Played:

  1. Monologue – Suggestion Robot
    1. Lonely -What is happening to humanity with Social Media, the disconnection
    2. FB get beyond the POV to the character
  2. Suggestion – Station Wagon
    1. Elderly person fixing car/ Object looking for right part in manual and toolbox FB spent too much time on the object “car” get to the relationship
  3. Suggestion – Knight
    1. Anxious person for their first date – too many choices Blouses, Shoes FB Good scene painting, object work and emotion
  4. Servant FB Tweak, show more personalty, lower status characters
  5. Kneeling/Praying – Pretending to be calm -> Stuck CTA Train going to a presentation/pitch FB great
  6. Weight lifting – Mans man
  7. Camper

Day 4

Notes:

  1. Co-dependancy is not good – Need to fix, Control or manage others
  2. Yes And can be abused to remove consent and enslave others
  3. Push to be independent
  4. Do not take away Agency from another actor, let them be who they want
  5. Do do not undercut and remove their Agency
  6. Repetitive Object work, can stop you from discovering other objects, or parts of the world
  7. Have a lot of objects
  8. Have a lot of spinning plates
  9. Character has to have attitude
  10. Multiple Characteristics 1-3
  11. Characters often have characteristics that contradict
  12. BIG Characteristics give you endurance in a scene
  13. Environment, as you discover its like the camera is pulling back showing you a wider perspective
  14. Consider When and Where in the world
  15. Accept Influence from other players
  16. Restarting in a scene
    1. Declarative statements
    2. Use a gift push off against

Characters Played

  1. Suggestion for your perspective of the relationship -> Life Guard, Suggestion for Scene Hot Dog
    1. Dressed up as a pirate FB Be a Pirate not pretend to be one
  2. Suggestion for relationship Co-Workers, possibly barista, Suggestion for Scene New York
    1. Frustrated Transportation Official
    2. Stuck on Train System with Finance/Bank Guy FB Dig into relationship faster, use familiarity
  3. Family Meetup – Suggestion Teachers lounge
    1. Elderly teacher, with strong belief in that Education is the solution FB if its difficult to move, MOVE, do not stay static, Add Names
  4. House Party
    1. Caroline setup – Excited party friend
    2. Peter setup – Thug visiting a gallery FB Great
    3. My setup – Witch Coven, object work for spell, and cauldron – Good

Genre

This class was an extra $40 and after the day (5pm to 7pm). It was really good and taught by some of the Hitch*Cocktails Ensemble. Genre really makes Improv easy. This class was worth every cent/penny.

Notes:

  1. Warm up games in that genre e.g. Kitty Kat Career, One upmanship
  2. Define the archetype characters and the Troupes
  3. Play Montage with Archetypes and Troupes
  4. Genre make decision making really easy
  5. Gives you desires and wants
  6. Gives a lot of cognitive space for discovery and comedy

Characters Played

  1. RomCom – Love Interest in Boxing Ring
  2. Horror – Police Officer
  3. Horror – Freak
  4. Horror – Evil Voice

FishBowl/Sight Unseen

After the Genre class a bunch of us went for dinner. Bumped into Mick Napier and had drink. Than we headed back to the Annoyance Theatre to see the FishBowl and Sight Unseen.

Fishbowl all the students put their students IDs into a bowl and a couple are pulled out to play with some veteran improvers. Sight Unseen is part teachers and part veterans. As Improv goes it can be pretty dark at times and will certainly play on the boundaries, but it is incredible.

Day 5

Notes

  1. Always bring something, an idea
  2. Clearly show it
  3. Leave stage if it is authentic
  4. Yes and, presumption of consent
  5. Mumbling can be fun, ask them what they are saying
  6. Use BIG ideas for yourself rather than give them to others
  7. Avoid talking over people at the beginning of scenes, a lot of men do this to women
  8. Do not get tied to objects
  9. Accept influence, do not become a bully and ignore all the suggestions/gifts
  10. People who acknowledge who you are, are much easier to play with
  11. Rich scenes are much more fun to play in, e.g. Museum over Seven Eleven
  12. tag outs should heighten
  13. Do something do not just talk
  14. Comment and move
  15. DO NOT SOLVE, make it worse
  16. avoid therapy sessions
  17. Consider your ratio of doing what you know vs new e.g. 60% Old/ 40% New

Characters Played

  1. Walk ons – Location – Bouquet – Darling/Wedding Planner
  2. Customer – Walmart – Looking for Crushed Tomatoes
  3. Archeologist- Museum – Straight man character to other extreme characters i.e. a real mummy and self centered helper
  4. Group 3 – Suggestion Blob
    1. Walk on – News Flash
    2. News Station Owner, warning News Caster
    3. Mortician
  5. Show – Suggestion Greek Mythology- Ditch Digger, Pluto, Cultist, Party Host, Deliverer (Death Star), Food receiver

Notes for me

  1. Get passed POV to character
  2. Ask less questions
  3. Try out Monologues of characters I would like to play well e.g. Pirate
  4. Ask for a clarity of the Suggestion given by audience, if you do hear it..

Summary

I am exhausted (its the day after we finished). This week was fucking intense. I learned and started enacting an incredible amount of things. The students taught me a LOT. The teachers taught me a LOT. Was it worth a week of my life and $450. Fuck yea!

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