Saturday, November 2, 2013
On September 23rd, I went to an Improv Theater Workshop hosted by Richard Regan Paul at Christ Church Unity Orlando (771 W Holden Avenue, Orlando, Fl). This workshop now meets on the second and fourth Mondays of every month. I sketched at this church once before at an outdoor barbecue held for homeless families. Actors gathered in a small room to the right of the entry lobby of the church. Thankfully, Richard knew of my work and was glad I was there.
Everyone gathered in a circle and began a game of throwing an imaginary knife. The person throwing would glance at another actor, throw the knife and make the "Pffft" noise of the knife slicing through the air. The other actor had to catch the knife by slapping together their bare hands. This would be a bloody proposition if they had used a real prop. They then started throwing a screeching cat and a baby. With all three being juggled by the group, hilarity ensued.
The second part of the workshop focused on default game playback. The actors were split in two groups, the performers and an audience. One actor was interviewed and their experience became the seed for a group improvisation. For instance an actress has been offered a promotion yet she was uncertain about the extra time that the new responsibilities would entail. The group recreated her uncertainty in an improvised scene.
A long form improv followed. As the scene unfolded, actors would jump in one at a time. Once they committed to a character, they had to remain as that character for the duration of the scene. Richard explained that actors had to focus on forwarding the idea. Once that shinny idea was established if needed to be followed. It was important not only to commit to the character but to ramp up the characters energy and drive. It was important to throw yourself in. One actress jumped in as a sassy prostitute which was quite hilarious given the stained glass window setting. Each actor had to give themselves a gift which they could develop and heighten. Actors were encouraged to ignore the big picture of how the story developed. Instead they focused on the person they were interacting with.
A week later, as my wife and I were leaving the movie theater, having just seen "Gravity", I heard a couple behind us having a similar animated discussion about a fatal flaw in the movies plot and reasoning. Two astronauts are at the end of a tether one astronaut holding on to the others line. It is a typical movie cliffhanger moment. He unclips himself and he quickly floats away. But there is no gravity! The slightest tug on the line would have caused him to float back towards safety. He sacrificed himself for no reason, while defying physics and logic. It was an annoying oversight, a suicide wish from someone who was otherwise persistently optimistic. It turned out that Richard was discussing the same point with his girlfriend Kate O'Neil behind us. By the time I recognized his voice, they were half way back to his car. Kate had a neck brace on. Her car had recently been totaled by someone running a red light. She had to be cut out of the wreckage. I should have shouted out, but I let them float away.