The Improv Life: Del Taco Nights

No one beats Del Taco nights.

The Improv Life: Del Taco Nights

On almost any given Friday or Saturday night, I could roll on over to STAGES Theater and catch whatever improv show Spectacles Improv Engine was putting on that night.

If it wasn’t packed, I’d sit at the very last row and watch. If it was IFL, I knew I was in for a treat. Austin Floyd and Matt Thomas would be hosting, the field reporter would take suggestions, and the teams would be doing improv, and we were just living up the magic of each other’s company.

I remember there was this one time where the improv was amazing, Austin was on fire with his quips, he was even responding to my heckles from the top row, where I took off my shoes because no one was around, and I was exhausted, and then when I felt safe and vulnerable, I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to last forever.”

I don’t know why I thought that. It was a thought that came to the surface when I was off guard. I looked at the stage and got a little sad.

I then immediately buried the feeling and tried not to think about it. I just knew that I was witnessing a really cool moment that would stay with me from then on.

Once the show was over, I think I went down the steps to shake hands and give hugs and let everyone know how amazing of a show it was.

I had just had a long day in LA and hadn’t ate in more than 8 hours. I had a terrible diet back then, forcing myself to go without food until I couldn’t stand the hunger.

So I went to Del Taco, the one on State College and Chapman, ordered whatever, and then ate it in my car.

It was a very Orange County thing to do: eat Del Taco after a super late show.

Being an improv comedian in Orange County meant late nights: late shows, late dinners, late karaoke jams, late hangs in the parking lot spilling your guts to your peers, or opening your heart to a new friend; you let the day linger to its last second because you wanted to feel like you did all you could that day to squeeze every ounce of value and joy from this day that would be gone forever.

Del Taco was just part of that lifestyle.

I lived late, laughed late, and ate Del Beef Burritos after midnight.

I ate Del Taco to cool down my mind, body, and soul after an epic day.

To get some calories for the drive home.

To begin to let go of a day that had to end.

When I was at Specs, even when maybe it wasn’t the best or it was phenomenal and people would quote that shit forever, I did not want it to end.

I wanted the night to continue and go on, to see more improv, and do more improv; to just laugh like a dumb kid and throw out suggestions that were also bits; to see my friends and marvel at their skills.

Del Taco was necessary for me to end the day, accept it was over, and go to bed to not be too exhausted for the next one.

And you can substitute Del Taco for Norms, Denny’s, whatever post game late night meal to draw the day out a little longer. The bonus about those places was that you ate with friends.

I miss Specs. I don’t know if I have fully processed it’s over (despite playing in a show that was labeled as the Last Specs Show). Maybe I’m not good at processing reality or dealing with trauma, but not eating Del Taco at the State College and Chapman location for over a year finally convinced me it’s over.

Love you Specs. Thank you for all the good times and memories, the friendships and lessons, the feeling of being alive. I will forever be in your debt.

Love you too Del Taco.

#improv #ocimprov #specsimprov


Standard

A Poem For Orange County Improv

A Poem For Orange County Improv

Look man
We taught ourselves improv
In people’s living rooms
And coffee shops
And at as many shows
As we could possibly have

I mean as many shows as possible
In front of great fans
Half who were your peers
Friends and family
And half real fans
Born from someone else’s
Friends and family
And more peers

Nobody was better
Than anybody else
Except for the perception
You had in your mind
Which told you
You were better than everybody else
Because you were insecure
Or that you sucked
Because you were insecure

But we were all geniuses
And we all sucked
Just depended on the night
But we were all watching
Hoping for the best

It was all of us
Behind the Orange Curtain
Doing it for fun
For community
Because it made us feel alive
And because it gave our life: purpose

If you’re looking for purpose
That’s what you need
Fun + Community
+ Making you feel alive

And we had that
And you lived for
Your once a week practice
Your once a month show
And all the other shows
Where you would hug everyone
You know and you called them: brother

Like pro-wrestlers
Because we were brothers
Because we prioritized
This art from and our community
Over own families
And other communities
And the love we gave each other
Was the love you give family
So it became a family by choice

And yeah man
There was bullshit
Petty petty petty grudges
And cliques that made people
Feel alienated
Fake friends and shit talking
Favoritism and discrimination
Problems all communities face
Regardless of size

But man it was different
Because we had to
Teach each other basically
I mean like literally educate each other
About everything
Build civilization from scratch
With trial and error
As our brick and mortar

And yeah, LA was just next door
But what we had down here
Was special
Not because it was local
Okay because it was local
But because all these amazing people
Came together
To do something they love
And from that love
A community was born
And what is a community born in love
Home

Thank you
for making me
The man I am
Orange County Improv

161.20 #poem #improv #sketch #ocimprov #specsimprov #improvcollective #man #growth #community #family #home #artist #comedy #goodtimes

PC: Jas Sams

Standard

The Improv Life: How Spectacles Improv Engine Saved Me

The 2015 Improv Cup changed my life. And I got to meet one of the coolest dudes ever, Austen Floyd.

The Improv Life: How Spectacles Improv Engine Saved Me & Why Austin Floyd Is The World’s Greatest Improv Host

UPDATED: This blog post has been updated with new content since Austin Floyd left a comment on my original Facebook post. Enjoy! 

A Life Changing Night

I almost quit improv in 2015.

I was broken, defeated, and wondering what the hell all this was about.

And by “this” I meant my comedy dream.

I was showing up physically to events, but my heart wasn’t in it. I was running off of habit and instinct.

My energy and ambition exceeded the environment around me, but I was not ready to go to LA. I didn’t know what to do.

Then, an opportunity came up to do the 2015 Improv Cup, Orange County’s biggest improv tournament.

I signed up with my friend Tee Zaang, and told myself, “This is it. If I don’t do good here, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

And that first night on the Improv Cup Stage at STAGES Theater, I felt something come over me.

We played a game called “Emotional Heightening” and my character exploded into the physical embodiment of rebellion.

I gave a powerful monologue as a student calling out their teacher for holding back the truth from them.

Every line was bigger and bigger

There was an exchange of energy between the audience and I.

The more I gave to them, the more they gave to me.

The more I get lost in my performance, the deeper the audience got immersed. They walked with me as I climbed the heights of this shared emotional experience to arrive at a peak even I did not know exist.

I pushed myself to extremes, and the audience rewarded me with their energy and laughter. I peaked and they popped, and everybody was different after.

I had a great show in front of a new audience in a new space with a new energy.

I felt my power return to me. I felt my fear melt away and my love for improv return in one instance.

I found my heart again and it was inside of me the whole time. I just forgot it was there.

I felt like a return to purer self I had forgotten was in me. My love for improv was rekindled, and I felt renewed purpose.

I was reminded why I loved improv, why I had given my life to this path, and why I had this comedy dream. Specs gave me all that, and for that I will always be grateful.

Bonus Section: Austin Floyd Remembers That Night 

When I posted this on my Facebook Feed, Austin Floyd commented on what he witnessed that night. 

Here it is: 

“I believe there’s a scene in Unbreakable where Bruce Willis isn’t sure how strong he is so he starts bench-pressing weights. When he runs out of weights, his kid goes to find more stuff for him to lift and just watches him lift everything they can find. If this photo is during emotional heightening, I’m smiling in it because I’m watching someone power lift absolutely everything I’m throwing at them on stage. I’m happy you were there.”

As I started to read this, my eyes watered up, and a few tears dripped out.

This is probably one of the best compliments I’ve ever been given.

I know that scene from Unbreakable. It’s where the hero can no longer hide from his strength. It’s where he begins to accept who he is. So because Austin said that, I was touched. 

That moment would’ve not been possible without Austin.

He’s a great host who can read a scene moment to moment, directing where necessary or just letting it be.

He knows when to add a “New Choice” or say “Oscar Winning Moment” or when to call “Scene.” It’s an intelligence that not everybody has, and it’s born from paying constant attention to everything that is happening. 

It’s like he’s reading a seismograph and he knows when and where to predict the next great big earthquake. 

He’s the Air Traffic Controller at LAX, directing planes where to go, when to land, when to take off, making sure that everything runs smoothly and that everybody has the best flight experience possible. 

He’s truly one of the best improv hosts I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with and to watch. 

Some of my favorite moments at Specs where watching a late night short form show from the bench seat in the back row and just screaming “Robocop” at Austin. Austin always knew it was me, and he would always acknowledge me with a quip.

He’s so fast.

His wit is instant and spot on – his jokes and puns are always on the nose for whatever was just said.

And even better, he’s able to start a conversation from that quip, have fun with it, and then guide the audience back to the show. He does it so seamlessly that you don’t appreciate it until you see someone who isn’t Austin and not be as good. 

And that night was the first night I got my taste of Austin Floyd, the World’s Greatest Improv Host.

Without his help – he was the one guiding me during Emotional Heightening – I would’ve not had that breakthrough moment that saved my improv journey.

You know sometime life sends you friends and guardians to help you out in life changing moments – sometimes people call’em angels – and I think life sent me Austin to help me out with that special Friday night at the 2015 Improv Cup. 

Love you Austin and thank you for everything. 

#improv #ocimprov #specsimprov #improvcup #orangecounty

Standard

Top of Scenes: Scene Starts, Initiations, & Suggestions — My notes from the 05/10/19 Specs Drop-In

I love teaching improv just as much as I love doing it.

By Fernando A. Funes

The Top of Scenes

Starting a scene can be a scary thing when you’re a new improviser.

You feel pressure to come in with a fully developed idea in a gift wrapped box with a big red bow on top.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always make for the best improv.

Although the top of the scene can be intimidating, there are things we can do to make that less scary, and, dare I say, fun!

First off, take off that pressure.

Our work is important, and we should always treat it as such, but don’t put the entire weight of the scene, show, and audience experience on your back and shoulders.

Make it important, but relax.

Okay, so let’s do this!

What do you do first?

Ask for a suggestion.

*Also, feel free to filter suggestions so you’re not forced to take dildo or condom as a suggestion, or whatever other phrase from the audience that is for the enjoyment of the person saying it. This is probably another improviser doing a bit of some kind or a long time fan participating in an established bit when it comes time to take suggestions. Filter suggestions and don’t feel bad about it.

Let’s say someone says “Banana.”

Ask yourself these questions:

How do I feel about bananas?

What’s my opinion on bananas?

Does the word banana elicit or provoke any emotion?

Do I love bananas? Hate them?

Is there a specific person, place, or thing that I associate with bananas?

Whichever of these questions and answers is at the top of your internal search engine, use that as your inspiration for the scene.

Here are some examples:

How do I feel about bananas? I love them!

Therefore, I might come out and play a character whose in love with bananas, and not just bananas, but all things banana related like smoothies, gyms, working out, potassium, being healthy, etc.

What’s my opinion on bananas? I think they’re awesome!

Therefore, I may come out and play a character that is super positive, high energy, and just stoked about life. To try to bridge back to the suggestion in a way to connect it for the audience, I might do some space object work at a blender and make a smoothie, and say something like, “Protein banana milk shake, baby! I’m getting ready for the bench press, dude!”

Is there a specific place I associate with banana? Yes! My home and my mom!

Therefore, I might come out and play my mom being like “Well Fernando, make sure to eat your banana at work today, so you get all your vitamins.”

Is there another thing you associate bananas?

Yes! When I was in high school, a German exchange student named Benno stayed with my family for a few weeks.

He grew up partially during the last days of communist East Germany, The DDR.

One day, his mother sent him to the market to get bananas.

When he was there, he was astounded by the amount of fresh bananas available.

He then told his mother about it upon arriving home. She responded by saying, “Why didn’t you get more? Who knows when they’ll have them again!”

Turns out banana shortages where a common thing in the DDR, so when you could get them, you had to because you didn’t know when the government would have them again.

Does that mean I have to go out and do a scene about banana shortages in late 1980’s Communist East Germany? No. It just means that I have that to inspire me.

So I could literally come out and start a scene and tell my scene partner, “Where out of bananas,” and just take it from there.

How long does this take?

This process varies per person, and it just depends on what’s easier for you.

Characters are easy for me to play, or starting with spacework too. It really is a matter of personal preference.

Know your preference and proceed from there.

Where did you learn this?

Just years of doing improv, long form improv especially.

In long form, there are whole exercises at the top of scenes dedicated to creating ideas for scenes.

These are called “openings,” and they range from simple storytelling to elaborate rituals involving the entire ensemble.

During the opening, your job is to generate premises — ideas for scenes — for the rest of you show.

For the opening, you may be asking and answering the questions I listed earlier as an ensemble; that way, you’re all on the same page.

A good opening is an extremely rewarding experience because and your audience get to see where you got your inspiration for scenes from.

Can I use long form techniques for short form?

Yes! The key to improv is to be malleable, changeable, and adaptable.

The top of scenes are to establish a firm ground on which to build the rest of the scene.

And the scene is a collaboration between you and your scene partners.

Honor their choices and contributions, and you will have a scene neither of you could’ve created on your own.

One final question: why is the suggestion important?

The suggestion is there to do two things:

1). Inspire the scene

2). Prove to the audience what there there about to see is not scripted

Beyond these two things, the performers have no other responsibility to the suggestion.

That’s a controversial opinion in some circles, but the suggestion is there to serve us, and we are not there to serve it.

The suggestion is just the door that opens the room of the scene; you then have to walk through the door and see what world you will live in; never forget that.

Hope these notes help!

Fernando

Spectacles Improv Engine host drop-in Improv Classes every Friday from 12pm to 2pm and every Sunday from 11am to 1pm at STAGES Theater in Fullerton. Classes are $10, and every class is different from the other. Check it out!

Standard