Scene Work, Shows, Teams

The Improv Life: Why Red Door Rocks!

An Improv Masterclass

The Improv Life: Why Red Door Rocks!

Well my first post-Covid show is in the books!

I booked Red Door at the Glendale Room, and they crushed it!

Pro-tip: you gotta watch great improv if you want to be a great improviser. And every time I watch Red Door I feel like I learn something new and unknown while being wildly entertained and engaged the whole time – that’s a standard we should all aspire too.

Every show is a masterclass in character work, space object work, transitions, editing, how to throw in jabs and pimps to throw your scene partner off but you low key know they can do it, and the power of having fun playing with someone you just really like fucking with.

Red Door rocks!

I encourage you all to go watch them ASAP!

And remember: you gotta study your craft if you want to master it.

#improv #theglendaleroom #reddoor #masterclass #theater #craft

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The Improv Life: I Wanted to be a Musician, But Comedy Came Easier

The Improv Life: I Wanted to be a Musician, But Comedy Came Easier

I wanted to be a badass lead guitarist who plays Marty Friedman like guitar solos, just one after the other, a flurry of fretboard genius and virtuosity that the guitar and I merge into one being.

Alas, that was not for me.

Comedy came easier to me. It was a more natural fit. I knew what I needed to do without being educated about what I needed to do. The instinct was there.

Years of watching movies on HBO, SNL reruns on Comedy Central, and tons of Simpsons had given me enough examples of what was funny and how to execute it.

My parents were funny too (in their own way) but I just didn’t know it. They would argue and dissect everything, throwing jabs or inserting jokes wherever possible.
They were also great observers of human behavior, always looking for the awkward things beneath the surface, trying to sniff out who was trustworthy or not.

So I did have a comedy education of sorts. But I still wanted to be a lead guitarist! I’ve tried on and off throughout the years, and it is fun to play, even more rewarding to learn a song or see progress.

But my growth in comedy compared to my growth in music was like racing to the Moon in a rocket ship designed by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four versus a mule pulling a wooden cart with stone wheels, and one of the wheels is wonky because of a chipped edge, making the ride off kilter.

But like that’s life. You have to accept your weaknesses to embrace your strengths. It’s a parodox. Not that you can’t develop a weakness into a strength, but it will take way longer, longer than you imagined, and if you put that effort into developing your strength instead, your strength will explode, more than you thought yourself capable of. I know, it’s a parodox.

Anyways, I’m going to go listen to Steely Dan now because I’m in my 30s. Cheers.

#improv #music #strengths #weakness #growth #progress #rock #metal #journey #class #nature #nurture #life #paradox #steelydan

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The Improv Life Ep.4 with Mike Ransom – Fernando’s Improv Blog Podcast

Talking with Mike was a blast.

Ep.4 of The Improv Life with Mike Ransom

Welcome to Episode Four of the Improv Life! 

My wonderful guest was Mike Ransom! A dude I’ve known for a very long time! Damn, I’ve actually known Mike for over 10 years, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for him. 

I’m a huge fan of Mike. I’ve been watching this guy crush it on the improv stage for years, bringing the audience to tears with his outrageous characters and spot-on choices. At first glance, you might think this guy is just naturally funny and goofy – which is partly true – but there is a lot of thought and intelligence in his improv. Mike thinks deeply about what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. If the audience laughs, it’s in response to Mike’s deep focus and attention for what he’s doing on stage. As an improv philosophy discussion, this has been my favorite discussion yet. 

I feel like Mike and I got closer in this interview. He opened himself up to me in a very honest and vulnerable way, and I’m glad that happened. Mike is a super talented, wonderful guy, and I hope this dude performs forever. As a friend and an improviser, three cheers to Mike! Thanks for doing the interview, brother! 

You can listen on SoundCloud too.

Here’s What Mike Ransom and I Talked About 

  • The long history we have in the Orange County Scene
  • How his long running team Instant Improv makes it work 
  • How respect and shared history leads to friendships and future partnerships 
  • How Mike, Improv Collective co-founder Jeff Ambas, and OC Improv OG Ryan Keel started improv at Marina High School with help from no one 
  • How Mike was a huge fan of Improv Shimprov, and then years later, found himself as a member of the team, and how he transitioned to playing their style 
  • Mike and I get deep on improv philosophy, how to add to a scene, the power of gifts, Mike’s Method for playing characters, and why people break  
  • How Mike and Instant Improv are transitioning to this new world of Zoom Shows
  • How Mike adapted to being an improv coach and teacher 

Links 

You can follow Instant Improv on Facebook and Instagram.

They do a show every Thursday at 7pm on Facebook Live. Their content is family friendly, so bring the whole family! You can watch their latest episode here. 

The Improv Collective is also on Facebook, and they are also doing live shows. 

Follow them here to stay on top of their latest announcements. 

My improv conversation about Mike made me think about some improv philosophy blog posts y’all might enjoy 

How To Unpack & Prove Gifts: Specs Friday 03/15/19 Drop-In – When I was a drop-in teacher for Spectacles Improv Engine, I would write a blog post for every lesson. Here I wax poetic on my philosophy for gifts. 

How To Make & Play Big Characters – Specs Drop-In Class 03/08/19 – My mantra and philosophy for playing characters.

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The Improv Life: Start Where You Are With What You Have

Where We Are Now Is Not Where We Began

I was driving on one of America’s worst highways yesterday at one of the worst times: The 405 North at rush hour in the South Coast corridor bleeding into Huntington Beach and Westminster.

This part of the 405 is a wall of traffic. It’s like driving in jello. Six lanes provide no relief. If anything, being surrounded by so many vehicles moving at a sun dials pace sets in existential dread.

You think to yourself, “Fuck this traffic, fuck this drive. Why am I doing this?”

What’s funny is for years I did this drive to learn improv.

Every Thursday night, I would drive from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa to a coffee shop in Old World Village in Huntington Beach.

A group of us were hungry to do more improv than our once a week, 3-hour class at Orange Coast College.

We banded together and taught each other improv through instinct, experimentation, and ambition to be the best.

It’s like we all had this feeling of what good improv was, and what it could be, but we lacked the skill and experience to execute it.

Until then, we we’re going to have to just practice like hell and have patience with the process, and to have faith that one day we would be good.

We probably sucked. I don’t know? All we had was each other as our judges of taste.

However, we were in that stage of learning something called Unconscious Incompetence – we weren’t aware that we were bad (if we were at all? Probably).

We knew, Yes-And, don’t ask questions, don’t deny, and commit.

It’s like we were a bunch of cro-magnon cavemen with flint spears and a whiff of a nearby Woolly Mammoth – we were hungry and wanted to test ourselves.

We just played every short form game over and over because we liked them, unaware that every game reinforced some core improv concept.

New Choice taught you to listen, commit, and adapt.

Good, Bad, Worse taught you how to create a character and commit to living as them.

Countdown taught you to silence the voice in your head and just commit.

We didn’t know we were learning core skills, embedding them into our improv muscle memory. We were just having fun.

All the other stuff would come later –

wanting to start a team,

The slow drift into factions,

feeling insecure about yourself so you talk shit behind other people’s backs;

the petty power politics of the local improv scene and thinking you’re more important than you are;

The toxic improv groups nobody wants to leave because everyone is too chicken shit to talk openly about their feelings.


But good things we’re also waiting for us in the future:

Sold out shows to standing room only audiences,

Hanging out at Norms at midnight with your crew,

The endless parade of bits that made you feel connected to your teammates;

those breakthrough moments on stage where you bring the house down with a crazy character, genius support move, or heart felt monologue;

that moment outside after a show when you look at your friends and know you’re both thinking, “We did something amazing.” All that was in the future.

Right now, all we had was doing improv once a week at a random coffee shop in Huntington Beach.

It’s where we needed be.

It’s where we set the foundation for our future.


Cheers to all the friends front back then, and thanks to Amir the coffee shop owner for letting us play on his patio.

#improv #student #orangecounty #ocimprov

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Baseball & Improv, Or How A Good Two Person Scene Is A Game of Catch: My Notes from The March 29th 2019 Specs Friday Drop-In

I love it all: teaching, performing, writing, and more. Picture by Jasper Sams.

These are my notes from the Friday March 29th Drop-In on Building a Scene One Line at a Time. Enjoy!

By Fernando A. Funes

One of My Big Improv Turn Offs

I think one of my biggest turn offs in improv is when a player comes in with an agenda.

An agenda is an idea for the direction they want the scene to go in

The consequence of that is that a person comes into a scene ready to force their idea onto others.

Because they’re locked and loaded with their idea of what the scene should be, they are closed off to their partners and minimize the contributions their scene partners can make.

I don’t know what you would call this type of person because we’re all guilty of it.

If you’re a veteran, maybe this could be called directing the scene because you think you know better and the person should just follow your lead.

If you’re a newer person, maybe this could be called channeling a scene because you’re directing the course of the scene to a destination only you can see.

Regardless of what we call it, it’s a problem. So my Friday March 29th Drop-In Class was geared towards solving that problem!

Improv Is A Game of Catch

If you ever got a pair of baseball gloves and just threw the ball around for a bit with a friend, you know how it is to play a game of catch.

The ball is thrown. You track it’s speed and trajectory with your eyes.

You set your mitt up to be where you think the ball will land. You receive the ball in your mit.

And then, depending on the energy behind the pitch — a soft casual throw or a hard ball aimed straight to your chest — you respond in kind with your own throw.

Once you’ve had a few back-and-forths with your partner, you can intuit what kind of relationship you have in that moment with that person.

The same goes for a good two person scene.

You throw one thing around back and forth, focusing on that thing alone, and depending on the energy of that interaction, you can probably intuit how these two people feel about each other in that moment.

If you do that consistently, chances are you’ll have a good scene.

Well that sounds good and all, but how do I actually do that?

Just say one thing at a time in a scene.

Let your partner receive the piece of information, be affected by it, and respond.

Repeat that process and see what kind of relationship you develop. Be patient with it and have fun. Just like playing catch!

Whey you say multiple things at once, or speak in paragraphs, your scene partner may not know what to respond to and may get lost. Or at the very least, they may get overwhelmed with the buffet of options to choose from.

Back to the playing catch analogy: in catch, if you got multiple baseballs thrown at you at once, you wouldn’t know which one to focus on, and you would probably duck and cover to avoid getting hit by one. In general, it’s easier to catch one ball than dodge 12.

Hmmm. I feel like I’ve heard this before?

You have!

At multiple Specs drop-in classes in the past they have preached the principle of “Bring a brick,” an old Del Close quote about how to build a scene.

Basically, to create an amazing, collaborative scene where both partners are equal contributors, let each person speak one at a time, and build the scene one line at a time.

If you stick to this process, at the end you will have a cathedral that neither of you could have built on their own.

Cool! So how do you actually do this?

For the drop-in we did one line scenes where each person could only say one line at a time.

You would say a line, your scene partner would receive it, be affected by it, and respond according to whatever that line stimulated. And the process would be repeated until I called scene.

How did it work out?

Not as planned! Speaking one line at a time is not a natural thing to do.

Without me on the side capping players’ sentences, players had hard time self-regulating. They spoke more than one line at a time, and scene partners were often not sure which line to focus on or explore.

Although I side coached to enforce the principle of the exercise, too much side coaching can get disruptive and take a person out of a scene. And that happened actually.

Honestly, I hadn’t prepared for the impact of this limitation.

So what did you do?

I decided then and there that the best solution was just for me to do the one line scenes with students and enforce the one line rule by adhering to it myself.

I had to demonstrate it basically.

Why did you do that?

The concept was not coming off across because there hadn’t been a good example to follow at the beginning of the exercise.

The principle and lesson of the exercise — building collaborative scenes one line at a time — was important to me as a teacher, so I did what I had to do to communicate this concept to my students.

What was the end result?

Amazing Scenes!!!!

All the scenes were just the students and I going back and forth one line at a time, not forcing a direction on the scene, and just seeing where each line took us in terms of character development, informing us about our relationship, or details about the world we lived in.

It was a lot of fun! I promise you every scene was something I nor my scene partner could have ever dreamed up in our heads.

I think it was the combination of playing with an authority figure and of me adhering to the principle of only one line at a time, thereby being an example for the students to follow.

By being an example, the students watching from the audience now knew what I expected from them and how to execute the exercise. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a teacher.

Was it necessary to do that?

In the moment, it felt like I had to do that. And I’m glad I did!

Back to another baseball analogy.

If a hitter is working on their baseball bat swing and something is wrong with it, you don’t let them continue practicing their wrong swing and develop bad form.

You stop them, and you show them where they have to work on their swing. If you correct their swing, you increase their likelihood of hitting the ball and getting on base.

*I got this analogy from when UCB Improvisers Mark David Christenson and Jonny Svarzbein were guests on the Pack Podcast with Miles Stroth. You can listen to it here => https://www.packtheater.com/tpt-podcast/

For improv, like in baseball, we want to develop good form — listening, being affected, being in response — because good form will increase the likelihood of good scenes and good shows. And who doesn’t’ want that? But it all begins with good form.

Is the only way to do good scenes?

No! It’s not!

Again, like everything I’ve taught before, there is no one way to do good improv.

Improv is subjective.

Good improv scenes are a matter of taste and preference. Also, your local improv scene and community will dictate what a good improv scene is. Basically, when in Rome do as the Romans.

On top of that, most improv scenes are not in this fashion. They are much faster with more lines spliced in between. The goal of this exercise was to get people to learn how to listen and respond in the moment from the person across from them, to learn to not force their ideas on the scene.

This is just one method I’ve learned the past few years at tons of Specs drop-in classes I’ve taken over the years with Josh Nicols, Joey Shope, Sam Forbes, and Matt Thomas.

Side question: what’s up with all the baseball metaphors?

Baseball makes sense to me and I recently saw a documentary on the life of Ted Williams on Netflix, the greatest hitter to ever live. You should check it out!

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you at a Specs Drop-In Class in the future!

Fernando A. Funes

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!

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