The Improv Life: Pushing Through the BS When the Show Must Go On

The Improv Life: Pushing Through the BS When the Show Must Go On

I’m a positive dude, and I really don’t talk about the negative stuff of comedy unless I’m really angry and need to vent, or if the moment calls for it, like last year when BIPOC comedians were talking about their shitty experiences at primarily white led theaters.

But there is a lot of bullshit in comedy, and how you handle it will determine your happiness in this field.

You’ll try to put a show together, and it seems as if everything is against you in having a good show.

People will flake, drop out, abandon you, make unreasonable demands, not carry their share of a project, disrespect you and your name, waste your time and leave yourself asking, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

And this is just at my amateur level; I can only imagine how it is in Hollywood when real money is involved.

But somehow, someway, I push ahead and put on a show. Win, lose, or draw, the show must go on. And I think that mantra is what’s kept me from failing to deliver a show.

Once you advertise a show, that’s a pretty big point of no return. The word is out there. People will schedule their lives around coming to your show. People are investing their time in you now, and you have to give them a show worth their investment.

That promise of putting on a show has been one of the biggest motivators for me to push through all the bullshit and deliver a program worth people’s time.

I’m telling you: something about “the show must go on” theater producer attitude gives you the strength, resilience, and flexibility you need to rise above challenges and put on a God damned good show.

I mean it’s business as well – you will lose money on a space if you don’t put on a show. But it’s also an artistic challenge to rally your team and resources to put on a good show that genuinely entertains people and provides them with a good time.

Trust me, seeing a happy audience during the show and after is plenty validation for going against the odds and delivering a great show.

See you tomorrow,

Fernando

#improv #producer #theater #writer #actor #show #showmustgoon #program #time #audience

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The Improv Life: Dance Like No One is Watching

The Improv Life: Dance Like No One is Watching

Here’s a tricky improv principle to ponder: dance like no one is watching.

So like go out there, give it you’re all (win, lose, or draw) and who cares how the audience responds to you.

Now that last part is what makes it tricky. How can you do improv and not adjust your performance to the audience’s real time response?

Damn, I don’t know! Maybe I just wrote myself into a corner?

I guess what I mean is this: whenever you’re performing 1). Have fun (that’s my no.1 rule for all creative endeavors), and 2). Withhold judgement of yourself (and of your teammates).

When you judge yourself, you’re telling the audience you’re not comfortable with yourself. If you’re not comfortable with yourself, they won’t feel safe watching you, things will get awkward, and everyone will want the scene to end ASAP.

Believe me, I’ve been that uncomfortable performer who made the audience feel awkward in his self rejection. But I’ve also been that performer who has connected with the audience by just going out there and having fun.

There’s a strong negative correlation between judgement and fun. The less you’re judging yourself, the more fun you’re having. I really wish I said that in the beginning, but I was going with the flow.

Thanks for reading and see you tomorrow.

Fernando

#improv #performer #fun #judgement #dance #critic #performer #performance #performancetheory #technique #awareness #awkward #theimprovlife #theater #comedy #sketchcomedy #comedy

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The Improv Life: What I’ve Been Thinking About After 4 Days of Performing – Thoughts on Bad Improv Shows, Being on the Backline, and Purpose

I got a lot on my mind that I want to share.

I’ve just done 4 shows in 4 days, and I’m awash in knowledge!

I was so lucky to play and learn from so many amazing people, and I got all these thoughts and insights that I need to share right now before I lose them to the tide of time.

Thoughts on Bad Improv Shows

*Was lucky enough to not have a bad show in this little run I just did!

1. You can’t predict a bad show; they kinda just happen, and you deal with it as it happens.

2. Good shows go by too fast, and bad shows take forever to end.

3. Not respecting your teammates and their choices is one of the root causes of bad shows.

3a. You don’t like a scene partner’s choice, so you try to course correct by adding a new idea to the scene. An idea you think will save the scene, thereby by saving the set.

3b. It’s disrespectful, condescending, and happens more than you think. I’m thinking of a specific person as I write this, and I’m wondering if there aware of their arrogant behavior. In their mind, they think they’re helping.

3c. And I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t confess to doing this myself under the guise of “helping” when it was really a matter of taste.

3d. Agreement on taste is something improv groups don’t talk about enough. We call it style when we mean taste. Style is how you do something and taste is the product.

3e. People can have similar styles but different tastes.

3f. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in a situation where your taste is different from the majority, and you’ll have to leave (or someone will ask you to).

4. Bad shows can also come from insecurity.

4a. You’re insecure about your abilities, or don’t trust your teammates, so you project that insecurity and lack of trust onto your scene partners, and you poison the energy of the show in progress.

4b. I was on a team where every single member did this, including me. We were a bipolar team going back and forth from grand slams to big losses.

4a. The audience won’t always tell you if you had a bad show. Sometimes it’s your teammates in the vibe they give you after a show.

4b. But the audience will let you know you’re bombing. You’ll know. You’ll feel it in your posture and go into a silent panic asking yourself and your teammates through eye contact, “How are we going to get out of this.”

4c. Talking to a show audience after you bombed is soul crushing. Their lips say “Good show,” but their eyes say “You sucked.”

4d. It’s the eyes, man. The eyes say it all.

5. After a bad show, you just want to get the hell out of there.

5a. If it’s a good show, you go out to eat together.

5b. The more you do this, the higher your batting average gets with good shows vs bad shows.

5c. But it’s also on you to be conscientious about your style and growth, and how your choices (or lack of them) can lead to a bad show.

6. Bad shows are going to happen. Don’t let them get you down. And if you have a good show, celebrate it, but don’t let it prevent you from going out there and doing it again for fear of failing.

7. Every show is a sandcastle that will be washed away by the rolling tide of the ending day.

8. One last reason for bad shows: Chemistry: sometimes you don’t vibe with someone and that’s okay. Play with other people.

Being on the Backline

Just so many insights.

9. I’m always listening, listening, and listening, and then when I’m done listening, I listen some more.

10. I’m paying as much deep attention as I possibly can, always asking, “Am I needed here?,” “Can I add anything?,” and “Is the scene fine as is?”

10a. In your mind you’re thinking, “How can I help?” And that’s the million dollar question for me every time I’m on the backline.

11. One of the best lessons I’ve learned about being on the backline is to let scenes breathe. Give your teammates the space they need to find their scenes, develop their characters, and figure stuff out for themselves.

11a. The stronger your teammates are in their characters, the stronger they’ll be in their scenes.

10a. In your mind you’re thinking, “How can I help?” And that’s the million dollar question for me every time I’m on the backline.

11a. The stronger your teammates are in their characters, the stronger they’ll be in their scenes.

12. But if you have to edit because the scene is asking for it (your teammates are asking for it) then you have to edit.

12a. Tag someone out and start a new scene with the remaining person, sweep edit to wipe away the stage, take edit to start a scene with someone else without knowing where it’s going.

12b. Editing when helping your teammates get out of an awkward position is always a good choice.

13. I like being on the backline for a lot of reasons.

13a. If I’m playing with new people, I’m learning their style, thinking about how I can compliment it, add to it.

13b. But sometimes you just want to watch a hilarious person crush.

14. It’s also learning about restraint. You might have a really funny idea, but it would  interrupt whatever is happening or take away focus from your teammates as they develop something. Plus, you don’t want to take away stage time from them.

14a. I guess part of me being on the backline is wanting to help and protect my teammates.

14b. Rich Sohn’s voice just popped up in my head telling me that, “That kind of attitude is condescending towards your teammates because it presumes you don’t trust your teammates to take care of themselves.”

14c. He would then add, “Take care of yourself first and then worry about your teammate,” meaning know who your character is and take it from there (that’s how I interpreted it at least).

14d. Everyone should study improv with Rich Sohn at the Pack Theater. Dude knows what he is talking about.

15. But I still want to practice restraint.

15a. My ego and my humility are constantly arguing whether I want to join the scene because I want to add to it or because I want to become the center of attention. That’s a real question. Always.

Purpose

Insights on insights on insights.

16. Improv is a gateway to other types of comedy.

17. Start with improv, and then go try standup, sketch, clown, character, whatever – let it be your door to trying new things.

18. Trying new things is about exploring parts of yourself that need to be discovered. It could be something you find is not for you, or you may stumble upon a key to unlocking parts of yourself you didn’t know existed.

18a. It goes the same with people. The more people you open yourself up to, the more likely you are to find some compatible collaborators.

18b. Honestly, it’s always fun playing with someone new when your energies align.

18c. Doing improv with someone you vibe with accelerates friendship. Truth.

19. If you can, help out the next generation of improvisers. Share your knowledge and experience with them. Do shows with them, play with them, but I understand that this is not everyone’s bag, and that’s alright.

19a. Just don’t be a dick to new people.

19b. Your tenure at a theater, status in a community, or years of doing improv doesn’t give you the right to be disrespectful to people.

19c. I’m guilty of invoking all three at some point to be rude to people, and I feel sorry for that. I’m trying to be better every day.

19d. Still plenty of people who do this. You know who you are.

20. Look, just be nice to people and don’t be a dick.

21. This community has a long memory. You won’t forget the people who did you wrong. However, you’ll always remember who helped you out.

22. Be someone worth remembering for good reasons.

Take care, y’all.

#improv #shows #performer #theater #writer #actor #bts #cast #ensemble

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The Improv Life: Getting Over

You never stop working to get over.

My Journey Getting Over

My biggest concern as a performer (even since my first show) has been getting over.

“Getting over” is a term pro wrestlers use to describe the experience of being embraced by the audience and becoming a fan favorite.

If you’re a wrestler, getting over is the end-all and be-all. You want to get over, and do whatever you must to stay over.

I didn’t come from a proper theater background. I grew up in a working class immigrant neighborhood in Santa Ana, CA, which is practically Mexico.

The closet theater to me was a movie theater. I grew up with no arts except for the movies I saw on HBO, the music I heard on the radio, the comic books I collected, and the tons of pro wrestling and sitcoms I watched on every television channel possible.

Pro wrestling felt different than all the other art forms. It seemed real to me (and for the longest time I thought it was) because of how much the wrestlers hated each other in ring, which was proven through the brutality of their matches.

In addition, I was sucked in by pro wrestling’s long running angles and narrative arcs anchored by strong characters I could emotionally invest in.

Wrestling gave you a reason to keep tuning in every week, to cheer the good guy, boo the bad guy, and hope justice would prevail.

The first live performance I ever went to (if you don’t count Mass) was a live WWF show at the Long Beach Convention Center in the 1993. It impacted me. It made me a life long fan and gave me a way to understand life. Shit, I did amateur wrestling my freshman year of high school because I loved wrestling so much!

Okay, what I’m trying to say is this: pro wrestling was a performance art I could understand; therefore, I could draw from it and use it to shape and inspire my own artistic journey.

So as a reminder: I love pro wrestling and have no proper theater background because I grew up in the hood.

Okay, next part. Because I felt this performer in me waiting to get out and I had no theater or role models to help me out, I channeled all this energy into wrestling.

I became a mega fan and started doing impressions of all my favorite wrestlers. I could do Stone Cold, Hulk Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ric Flair, Paul Bearer, Vader, and more. I annoyed the hell out of my family for a few years there.

Finally, I got some improv training. And for a year, a dedicated few of us practiced every week with the hopes of one day doing a show. Then, a date was booked, and we were mere moments away from becoming comedy legends.

But wait! All this improv training did nothing to equip me mentally to perform for a live audience. Don’t get me wrong. I knew about yes-and, never deny, and don’t ask questions, but I didn’t know anything about the mental game for performing unscripted comedy theater. Who was going to help me with that?

Well, I think you know the answer: pro wrestling.

My first show is here. I’m nervous as hell. What am I going to do once we’re out there, live on stage with no script and nothing but our training and our wits to get out alive, with all eyes on us.

I needed some confidence, and fast.

But in lieu of actual confidence developed over a long time of performing show after show, building on a string of repeated failures that lead to real and measurable growth, I needed fake confidence, and lots of it.

Unfortunately, our improv training did not address the mental aspect of performing in front of a live audience.

So I looked to pro wrestling for guidance and inspiration. I literally put together a “Show Outfit,” a dedicated stage garb exclusively for performing improv comedy in front of a live audience.

My hero was Bret “The Hitman” Hart, so I leaned towards pink and black for my stage attire.

I would always shower and shave, and have a moment alone before every show to check in with myself and pump myself up with hypewords and positive psychology. In my mind, I knew I wanted to get over, and I was going to use every trick available to do that.

Did I get over? At the time, I felt like I did, but I was pretty delusional back then. Honestly, before I was going to get over with the fans, I was going to have to get over with myself.

Basically, if I was going to expect an audience to get behind me, I was going to have to present a performer who had genuine confidence. But how do you get that?

But how do you get over? Or rather, how do you build genuine confidence that gets an audience to emotionally invest in you and wants to see you succeed?

It’s pretty simple: training, shows, patience, humility, and the belief you deserve to be on stage

Training – there are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially the technical know how you’re going to need to go on stage and know what you’re doing, along with the personal breakthroughs that come with consistent practice.

Shows – Look, you got to test yourself in front of an audience. There is no substitute for performing in front of fans who are watching you with eyes wide open and giving you energy you have to acknowledge and respond to in the moment.

Patience and Humility – your growth will take time, so you can’t lose hope. And once it comes, you can’t let it give you a big head and make you feel like you know all there is to know about improv.

Belief you deserve to be on stage – okay, this one goes back to wrestling. Dusty Rhodes, the American Dream and wrestling legend, once said, “That if you don’t want to be number one in this business, you got to do something else.”

How I interpret it is that if you don’t want to be on stage, if that’s not of the upmost importance to you, you’re probably not going to get a lot of stage time, so what’s the point.

I understand that this position might alienate people, but I’m a performer, and that need to perform has driven so much of my growth as an artist. You don’t need this drive to do improv, but it is part of my drive, and I encourage you to reflect on how important performing is to your improv journey. Performing is essential for me, and that’s why I think it’s important to get over. How are you going to get over if you’re not doing a show?

So what does getting over mean to me now?

You know, the deeper I’ve gone into this art form, the more parallels I see with pro wrestling.

In pro wrestling, a proven way to get over is by having a veteran talent put you over, meaning they lose to you in a competitive match.

Beating an established star gives you the rub and you can startup getting some heat for a push, a concerted and intentional effort to build your brand and make you a superstar.

And you see it all the time too. The veterans help the next crop of stars by putting them over.

And I feel – and I have always felt – thar’s how it should be in improv. The veterans help put over the next generation by doing shows with them, training with them, sharing their knowledge, and doing whatever they can to build the next generation.

Yes, you should still focus on getting yourself over as in meaning never stop growing, taking risks, and challenging yourself as a performer. BUT also put over others wherever you can and however you can.

We serve the art as much as we serve as ourselves, and we owe it to the art – to its perpetuation, growth, and evolution – to share what we know with those who want to learn.

So, last question: am I over? Yes and no. I’ll always be over as long as I keep working hard to stay over; to stay committed to my craft by pushing myself to never stop learning and growing, and helping out whoever I can along the way.

May you get over and help put others over whenever you can.

#improv #sketch #prowrestling

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12 Things I Don’t Like About Bits

12 Things I Don’t Like About Bits

12 Things I Don’t Like About Bits

1. People who don’t get bits

2. People who don’t respond to bits

3. People who are threatened by bits
Because they don’t understand them

4. People who think you’re being serious when you’re just really commiting to a bit, and that seriousness forces you to double down on your commitment.

5. People who like to do bits in front of others without taking into account people’s reaction to it, not knowing how to turn the dial from high to low or vice versa depending on the response.

6. People who laugh at their own bits while they’re doing them, but who get mad when you don’t laugh at them to

7. People who think they’re funny telling you they’re funny, and then proceeding to do nothing funny at all, disproving their claim as soon as they make it.

8. Office clowns who win the position by default because they speak up the most while being oblivious to how people respond to them.

9. People who claim to like bits in theory, but don’t know how to emotionally react to bits in fact.

10. People who use bits to attack others, but then get hurt when the heat is turned on them.

11. People who think they’re funny but are not.

12. Bullies

*I’ve been all these people at some point in my life.

112.2020 #poem #poemaday #nationalpoetrymonth #bits #jokes #routine #act #comedy #writer #stevemartin #orange #sketchcomedy #standup #improv

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