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The Improv Life: The Biggest Benefits of Keeping an Improv Blog

The Improv Life: The Biggest Benefits of Keeping an Improv Blog

I’ve been blogging about my improv journey for almost 7 years. Here’s what I’ve learned after all that time.

1. I’d be lying if I remember every improv show, every set. What I remember most are moments and lessons – this blog is a way to record those moments and lessons.

2. You can be really affected by a class, show, or lesson, but it’s easy to forget it. Insights are transient. They arrive, blow your mind, and then they’re gone.

2a. Writing them down will make sure you retain some part of it.

2b. Plus, you can share your insights with the larger community and put some good out there.

2c. General rule for putting good out there: just do it, then do it again when you can, and repeat. Under no circumstances expect anything in return.

2d. Also, my insights are valid. Not saying they’re all game changers, but imposter syndrome will trick you into thinking that your experience has nothing of value to share with the world.

2e. My experience has value, so does yours.

3. Besides blogging about my insights, I also write about my journey.

3a. The specific is the universal. Meaning, I hope you can relate to parts of my highly specified, very personal journey.

3b. The more personal, the more people can connect to it. (That’s a rule applicable to most writing).

4. There are things in this journey that surround improv, things that happen off stage – rehearsals, team dinners, karaoke nights, driving up to the Clubhouse with Frankie Estrella, doing bits and talking wrestling the whole time. These and more are part of the journey, and they leave me affected, my art as well. It’s all connected I guess.

5. This blog, therefore, is a notebook to jot down my insights before I lose them, and a journal to archive important moments of my journey.

6. Basically, this blog is for me, to chronicle my journey, where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I’ve learned.

6a. That’s a great reason to start a blog.

7. I encourage you to chronicle your journey as well.

See you next time,

Fernando

#improv #impro #writer #lessons #notebook #journal #diary #insights #teacher #director #wisdim

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The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo – Fernando’s Improv Podcast

Lots of insights and revelations in this episode. It’s a good one! Check it out!

The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Improv Life Podcast 

Man, today I had a very special guest. Literally, one of my favorite people in the whole world – David Escobedo, global improviser. Also, this was my first international podcast as David is in England!

Me and David go a ways back since we were both producers for Spectacles Improv Engine, a now defunct theater in Orange County, CA, USA. David and I produced a show called Ladies and Gentlemen, and ever since then I’ve been in awe of the guy. 

David is simply amazing. David is on the front lines of the global improv movement. He’s connecting with improvisers from all over the world, connecting with them and collaborating with them, discovering new ways to play and work with another. 

His Facebook page, The Improv Boost, is one of the most active and visited Facebook pages for improvisers across the world. David is a community builder, and The Improv Boost is proof of that. 

In this podcast, we talk about his improv journey, his recent experiences in the UK Improv Scene, his most recent insights and revelations, and much more.

Listen on SoundCloud

Here’s What We Talked About

  • Why it’s nice to have your name pronounced correctly 
  • The Mexican Food in England and where the good spots are
  • David’s experience as a Mexican-American man from San Diego in England
  • How there is a lack of awareness of Mexican culture in England, and how this ignorance causes people in the UK to celebrate Mexican culture with the things they know about it, which unfortunately are stereotypes, and how David has to educate people about his culture
  • David’s journey to becoming a global improviser
  • How David walking away from a theater that did not give him back the love he was pouring into it may have been one of the best things he’s ever done
  • Why he started The Improv Boost, and that by starting The Improv Boost he has transcended whatever box or finite boundaries a singular improv theater may have wanted to confine him to
  • Powerful quote: “When they mean family, they mean kingdom.” – Me, reflecting on David’s idea of theaters weaponizing the idea of family to keep students in line. 
  • David’s experience in arriving to the England Improv Scene and how it was five years behind the American Scene in terms of some of the community standards of holding people accountable and dealing with toxic leaders and their “petty empires.” 
  • Powerful quote: “It’s so important for people to realize that their journey in improv is not as someone’s student, but as their own journey in improv.” – David talking about why it’s important for people to study with a lot of people and focus on their development as an improviser, not as a disciple of a specific teacher or identifying with a certain community 
  • David’s encounter with tribalism in the UK Improv Scene and how he combatted it 
  • How the sense of classicism is different in England and how that affects how improv teams and communities develop
  • David leading by example in England and showing other groups how they can work together to elevate each other
  • How the British Improv Scene is developing independent of influence from the American Scene
  • How the Keith Johnstone school of improv is more prevalent in England and how that’s influenced the style over there 
  • How David’s experience in England has opened up his eyes to new ways to doing improv 
  • Individuality vs. Dividuality = Western culture vs Eastern culture 
  • Dividuality – your actions affect a larger community 
  • “Status is expressed how we treat other people” – David Escobedo 
  • You can’t learn to be more creative; you’re just as creative as you are. But you can unlearn to be uncreative – David echoing Keith Johnstone 
  • How people seek gurus but how they should be their own leader 
  • Some of the turnoffs David experienced while studying at some of the big LA improv schools 
  • How David to learn improv on his own, and reflecting on how he could create space for others 
  • The pitfalls of teaching, coaching, and directing 
  • The kind of teachers you should avoid at all costs 
  • The relationship between skills and community, and how Gurus sell one more than the other but how you have to have both 
  • How the UK improv scene is beginning to have conversations about boundaries as being inspired by the Me Too movement that happened in the US and forced improv theaters to have conversations about sexual harassment and create policies to combat it and create safe and inclusive spaces
  • Key quote – “You can have vulnerability without having boundaries” – Brené Brown 
  • How England’s long history and tradition creates a conservative environment that makes it hard to have open and direct conversations about difficult topics like sexism and racism 
  • Key quote – “Allow yourself to suck at something new…in the risk is where the genius happens” – David Escobedo
  • How Americans have to have more humility about our improv and how we relate to the global improv scene 
  • David’s overall experience in the UK, how it is being an American in the UK and having to explain America’s politics to UK folk, and the next parts of his journey 

It was awesome having David on the show, and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. Thank you for being on the show, brother! 

Resources 

Here are some of the different Facebook pages David mentioned at the end of the show. Check them out! 

The Art of Yes – [From the Facebook Page] “Welcome to The Art of Yes! Our goal is to inspire others, share knowledge, and provide a forum for asking questions about improvisational theater (otherwise known as improv). All posts will be moderated, and we kindly ask you to refrain from advertising any shows or local events. We encourage you to invite friends, family, coworkers, basically anyone who is or may be interested in improv, to join the community. Hope you enjoy reading the Art of Yes as much as we enjoy creating it!” 

Today Improv – [From the Facebook Page] “Today Improv is a Los Angeles based company teaching improv for actors, improv for business and improv for everyone else. Change your life”

Improv MKE [From their website] – “What if you opened an improv theater and school that brought teachers from all over the country and the world who can teach others some of the things you’ve learned over the years and continue to learn yourself? That’s what Improv MKE LLC is all about! The organization is designed to create access, both in-person and online, for people to have fun, learn, grow, and play together in ways they never thought possible! Thanks for coming by. We hope you stay to play with us. YES AND, we also do corporate stuff! Entertainment, workshops, and custom-created programs and training are available! We do it ALL!! Mainly because Michelle is no longer a baby, and has a team.”

The Black Improv Alliance – [From the Facebook Page] “The Black Improv Alliance provides a space for improvisers of African descent to build worlds and tell their authentic stories unapologetically! We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in improv, one scene at a time.”

Thank You for Listening

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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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Confidence vs. Arrogance: Notes from the May 17th Specs Friday Drop-In

It’s been a long journey on the road to confidence, but I’m glad I got here.

By Fernando A. Funes

Confidence Vs. Arrogance.

Confidence is one of the key elements of a good improv performance.

Every improviser has experienced pressure to be funny.

It’s scary at first to go out there in front of a bunch of strangers under the pretense that you will make them laugh.

It’s part of the contract when you sign up to be a performer.

Although it takes time to become comfortable on stage, there is one indispensable component to becoming a great stage performer: confidence.

Confidence is what makes this whole thing less scary; it gives you the strength you need to go out there and put on a show without knowing what the hell is going to happen.

Don’t get me wrong. You still need good improv fundamentals, empathy, listening, responding in the moment, and every other quality needed to be a good improviser. All I’m saying is that confidence is an important component under-girding all of those.

What is Confidence?

Confidence is your belief in your ability to execute the task expected of you — put on a show, do a scene, be yourself and respond like a human being.

Confidence is what allows you to go out there and do a strong choice even if you don’t know where that choice is going or why you did it. It’s the bridge between your training and instinct.

It’s your relationship with yourself and how you feel about your abilities.

When it comes to improv, confidence is a way of saying: “I may not be in control of things, but I am in control how I react to them.”

Although people on the outside can influence it through trying to bring you down through insults or building you up with compliments, confidence is internal.

It’s just in you, and it’s expressed in how you express yourself on stage and how you interact with others off the stage.

What is Confidence’s relationship to Commitment?

When we talk about commitment, what we mean is having confidence in your choices, character, and ability to roll with the facts of a scene.

Commitment is a euphemism for confidence. It’s a softer way of saying “be confident,” while removing any implications of arrogance attached to confidence.

What is Arrogance?

Arrogance is not confidence. Arrogance is a way of saying, “I’m better than you are, and you need to catch up to me, not the other way around.”

Arrogance is usually a mask for insecurity.

What is Arrogance’s relationship to Insecurity?

Insecurity is triggered when we are around others and we feel concerned about how they feel about us.

We may want people to like us or form a favorable opinion, and that want — to be liked, to be loved — manifests in different ways behavior wise when it’s coming from a place of insecurity.

We may shrink (that’s one of my go-to’s), act tough, go silent; do whatever negative things that turns people away. And for some people it’s arrogance.

Arrogance is almost a way of pre-rejecting people before they can reject you. People have to prove themselves before you have to prove yourself to them.

They put the burden of proof on you, and that means they can hide in their insecurity a little bit longer.

What is the key difference between Confidence and Arrogance?

While arrogance is directed outward in how you relate yourself to others, confidence is directed inward. It’s about how you relate to yourself in the moment and your belief in our ability to perform at a competent level.

Arrogance = outside

Confidence = inside

How do you know this?

I’ve been accused by people of being arrogant in the past.

And you know what? Maybe they were right.

I wouldn’t be able to talk about this subject with such confidence if I hadn’t experienced it a bit myself.

I guess my arrogance came out in the form of me being unfazed by anything and having the air of supreme confidence of being able to perform anywhere at anytime. In reality, I was eager to hit the stage and want to blow everyone away because I had something to prove.

Maybe this need I have to prove myself comes from a place of not feeling worthy enough? Maybe I need the validation of outside people in order to feel good about myself?

These are deeper questions. And these are things that I think every performer has wrestled with at some point in their journey.

We all have our baggage and insecurities and triggers and things that make us put up our guard in front of others.

There is an old saying that goes, “Wherever you go, there you are,” and I think what that means is that you carry your baggage and insecurities with you wherever you go.

So if you’re insecure in your real life, that might come out on stage and how you conduct yourself in a community.

And if you are aware of that, you’re better off to dealing with that.

Confidence is internal because if you have a good show, you own it, but you don’t ride that high too long. If you have a bad show, you don’t let that bad show define you. You say “Oh well,” and move on to the next one. Basically, you keep doing shows and keep trying to learn and grow.

Whereas with Arrogance, your internal self-worth is is based on every show. A good show makes you feel like a god and a bad show makes you feel like kitchen floor scum. It’s not a healthy way to live.

Developing your internal self worth takes time. But believe me, it’s worth the effort. Spend some time on yourself. Journal. Go see a therapist. Exercise. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit. Learn to love yourself and so will the rest of the world.

So how do you cultivate genuine Confidence? Or at the very least, how do you fight off Arrogance?

There are a few ways to do that:

1). Stay Humble

Humility teaches you that you have a long way to go, and that there is always room for growth, and there are things you have not yet learned, and that there are others out there who know more than you and that you should learn from them.

It’s also a reminder that things can change. One day you’re on top; one day you’re on bottom, and it’s accepting that this is part of the cycle of life. All the confidence in the world won’t get you booked if you’re somebody people don’t want to work with because you’re an asshole. So be nice to everyone!

2). Keep Studying

Never stop learning. There is more knowledge in the world than you’ll ever be able to comprehend. Learn something new and be humbled by the fact that you will never know everything there is to know.

3). Be Kind

Confident people are comfortable with themselves, so it’s easier for them to be comfortable with others. Be kind, meet new people, listen to them, talk to them, pass no judgments, connect. Learn from them, or share with them something you think might benefit them.

4). Gratitude

Just be grateful for everything you have and everything you know. Embrace where you are currently as an opportunity for growth, and have patience and compassion with yourself on your journey.

I know these are all kind of hippy-dippy, New-Agey kind of stuff, and I know that it comes off as dime-store psychology, but it goes back to what I said earlier: confidence is about your relationship with yourself.

If you want to be confident, you have to have a healthy relationship with yourself. I know that’s a big ask of people, and it won’t be easy for everyone, but it’s something I think everyone should look into.

It’s cheesy to say this (and I hate that I’m saying it), but you have to love yourself before others can love you.

I hope these notes helped out and I hope to see you at a drop-in sooner than later!

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!

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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!

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