Onstage at The Box Improv Studio
By David Wheeler
Can I be real with you for a second?
Like, really real?
About three years ago, I moved here from Kentucky to be a professor at the University of Tampa. And I love the job. I also love the sunshine, the palm trees, the Spanish moss that grows on southern live oaks, and the manager’s special at Jason’s Deli on Fowler. I’m a man of simple pleasures.
But something was missing.
My people. My group. My collaborative mission. And a goal to work toward with this group. Where would I find such a thing?
Enter The Box, stage right. Never in a million theater seasons would I have imagined that improvisational comedy would be the missing ingredient in my Tampa life, but it surely was. Turns out I fit in well with creative types who like to perform. And I’m starting to realize that the lessons you learn in improv class are equally applicable to daily life. These life lessons come from my fabulous Box instructors (in chronological order of when they taught me): Michele, Alain, Paulie, Crystal, Rebecca, and Andrew.
Give yourself a challenge.
In the middle of my first performance in my Level 1 student showcase, I was pretending to be a DJ at a radio station. But there was no conflict, no tension, no pressure in the scene. Only after leaving the stage did I remember that I could have given myself a challenge — for example, pretending that I got a call from the station manager saying this was our last day on the air. What would I do if it was my last day on the air? In a way, improv is like embodying the advice about “living every day like it’s your last.” The Box helps me remember to challenge myself.
Be more specific.
I’m always telling my students to be more specific in the papers and articles they write for my class. But how often in our daily lives do we remember to be specific? How often, in the stories we tell people, do we remember to add the “telling detail”? In one of our classes, Crystal gave a great example. If you’re on stage, you can hold up a cupped hand and say, “Look at this!” Or you can hold up a cupped hand and say, “Look at this one-eyed toad!” Only one of those spurs a flood of creativity. Specificity encourages creativity.
You can never “yes and” too much.
The Box also taught me what Jim Carrey’s character from “Yes Man,” has known since 2008: Saying “yes” to opportunities leads to an infinitely more creative life, with untold opportunities for growth. This tenet of improv is one reason why this form of comedy works with my personality more than other forms. Because it’s about teamwork. It’s about building something together. It’s about making each other look good. It’s about the community more than the individual.
One time my classmate Taylor constructively pointed out when I’d negated my classmate Anne in a scene. I didn’t even realize I had done it. But once it was pointed out to me, I made a conscious effort to say “yes” to new assertions as they arose. I made sure to accept — and add to — what my teammates gave me. That’s also not a bad way to live your life.
David Wheeler is a journalism professor at The University of Tampa and a frequent contributor to CNN and The Atlantic. Follow him on Twitter @WheelerWorkshop.
Good laughter is terribly infectious, yet you don’t see a lot of it in movies, and I’m guessing that it falls into the same category as complex special effects and scenes with animals, in that, time and money often force a director to think whether they really have the time in the schedule to get the scene.
Good laughter is also rare in today’s technological/social media age. Remember laughing so hard as a kid? Almost peeing your pants and not being able to remember what was so funny in the first place? Children laugh on average about 300 times a week, adults, 15. Acting /Improvisation relies on being in the moment, being able to play, on stage or in front of a camera. Laughter Yoga helps to get the actor/improviser there. Whether Laughter Yoga is used as a warm-up for performance, or as I do, a daily regime, it is an exercise for the insides, laughter helps create great bonds, enhances creativity, reduces stress, improves the immune system, and it even helps people to learn faster.
Yogic breathing techniques (breathing from the diaphragm) are integrated with intentional laughter practices, (object/space work) resulting in numerous benefits to physical and emotional health. Participants live life more joyfully and are better able to cope with whatever stresses life may bring.
The overarching reason to do Laughter Yoga is that it is fun!!! It’s really true what they say, “Laughter is the best medicine!”
2017 was a year of many transitions. When we look back at all we were able to accomplish, we certainly see that it takes passionate and creative people to make a humble theater like The Box successful. Thank you to everyone who supported The Box Theater in 2017-our students, audiences, staff, leaders, performers and friends. Without you, we wouldn’t have been able to complete almost 50 main stage events. We were able to put on shows, run drop ins, Playground Nights, Classes and more. What’s more, we moved our theater and in many ways it feels new again. Thank you for laughing at us and with us. We can’t wait to see what 2018 brings.
Take a look back at 2017 at The Box
Mention an improv festival to any improviser and they’ll always tell you two things: the shows you cannot miss and the workshops that will change your life. It’s a given; you go to the festival to immerse yourself in as much amazing improv as possible. But what happens when you don’t want to do anything improv related at an improv festival?
In June, The Escape Artisans had the privilege of playing at the UCB’s 19th Annual Del Close Marathon in New York City. “Del Close is generally considered the father of Improv. He was the driving force behind improvisational comedy in Chicago for over 30 years, influencing Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Mike Myers, John Belushi, Chris Farley, and the Upright Citizens Brigade, to name a few. After Del’s passing in 1999, the UCB started the Del Close Marathon to celebrate their mentor and keep alive his name and teachings for future generations.” (UCB, 2017) The Del Close Marathon is one of the largest, most famous improv festivals, encompassing 56 straight hours of improv on ten stages across New York City.
As soon as we announced that we had been accepted to the festival the suggestions started rolling in.
“Take as many workshops as you can!”
“Don’t miss the 3:00 AM bit shows!”
“The shows at the Chelsea theater are worth the two hour wait!”
It all sounded amazing. And absolutely exhausting. I’d recently started a new job and was required to get a specific industry license ASAP, so every free minute was filled with studying. The week leading up to the festival was a whirlwind. My licensing exam was that Tuesday, I was teaching multiple classes at a conference my job was hosting on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and then immediately flying to New York and playing in the festival that night. While I was excited that my team would get to play in NYC, what I really wanted to do was crawl in bed and binge on Netflix and ice cream.
A couple weeks before the festival I told my teammates that other than our show, I didn’t want to do anything improv related while we were in New York. To my pleasant surprise, everyone felt the exact same way I did.
Fast forward to Friday, June 23rd. We arrived in New York that evening, climbed eight flights of rickety stairs to our small Airbnb, went to dinner, and rode a wave of adrenaline through our show at 11:00. After the show, the entire team went into vacation mode. For the next 72 hours we didn’t talk about or think about improv. Completely the opposite of what you’re supposed to do at a festival. And it was one of the best decisions we’ve made as a team.
After miles of walking, numerous boxes of wine, amazing meatballs, Josh blurting “My ride is here” every time we heard a siren, and two ridiculous restaurant experiences (you’ve never lived until you’ve been accosted by the manager of an Indian restaurant or chased down the block by a server demanding a larger tip) our team ended up closer and more connected to one another than ever before.
One of my favorite things about the trip was each night at the Airbnb, drinking (or, if you’re Matt, spilling) wine and talking about our day. Between trips to the roof and random walks to the CVS down the street, we’d recap where we went, who we saw, and what we did. Chelsea was an early riser, so she would go out exploring while everyone else was sleeping, Chris and Dale spent Saturday shopping while the rest of us explored the financial district, and Elyse just started a new job, and wasn’t able to come to New York at all. But none of us felt left out of the adventure. Improv is about creating a world, digging into the details, and bringing that world to life for the audience. In this case, we were each other’s audience.
The payoff for a weekend of ignoring improv was huge. Our team was refreshed, inspired, and more in synch; and our shows were funnier and more cohesive. While talent and skill are important, a successful improv team is built upon a foundation of friendship, trust, and shared experiences. Sometimes this looks like seeing shows and taking classes together.
Other times, you have to throw everyone into a small Airbnb in a new city and have a weekend of ridiculous adventures.
We are excited to be opening The Box Improv Studio located inside The University Mall.
We will be hosting classes, workshops, and rehearsals in this space. Soon we will be using the Underground Theater (located upstairs near the food court) for shows. Classes will begin August 2017.
Coming off of Fowler-Park between Dillards and Sears, enter the MAIN MALL ENTRANCE next to Famous Footwear. Walk straight back towards Burlington. The Box Improv Studio is on the left.
Submitted by Charles Harrelson–a working actor and an ensemble member on The Box House Team, “The Light Bulb Society”
“Improvisation is essential if the actor is to develop the spontaneity necessary to create in each performance ‘the illusion of the first time.’” -Lee Strasberg
This is the crux of acting. Spontaneity.
I’ve been an actor for almost nine years, and believe me, I’ve given my fair share of listless performances. Most of the time it wasn’t on purpose, either! When it did happen, it was usually because I was in my head to the point where I would convince myself there was no other way to approach the scene or say a line that I’ve been performing for weeks on stage. It’s an even worse feeling in film and television, because the director may ask you right then and there to give them something different than what you’ve been doing, and ff you don’t have an answer, you run the risk of looking unprofessional and boring.
Luckily, actors have this cool device in their toolshed called improvisation. It can usually be found just passed the tangled garden hose, behind the empty flower pots, on a shelf of old paint cans and extra motor oil.
Careful, though… most likely, there’s a stray cat lording over it!
Although you may not be able to improvise on set (some directors will let you), you can still use improv to discover the natural or sensible behavior of your character when you prep, therefore, giving you a mixed set of logical responses when the director does insist on a different read. It acts as a safety net for those situations.
There’s no two ways about it. Acting is hard, hard work. Remembering lines, hitting your mark or finding your light, pretending there’s no audience or ignoring a camera that’s two inches from your face is tough when you’re trying to be “private in public.” The amount of homework you have is no walk in the park, either. Breaking scripts down into objectives (overall and scene), unraveling your character’s obstacles, finding beats and actions, fulfilling historical, thematical, and subtextual obligations is all a part of the job, and by the time you get on stage or on set, you got all this stuff in your brain, which you’re supposed to just “let go” when you perform. Mr. Strasberg calls this “conscious preparation – unconscious result.”
This is where improv can save you. It gets you out of your head, plain and simple. Thinking becomes secondary, and we trust our creative impulses will meld with the work we’ve done beforehand.
The great thing about this particular tool – improv – is that it’s so closely related to acting that they’re almost one in the same. Technical differences aside, the core of acting and improv is listening and reacting. A parity of giving and taking. If you “let go,” and drop any preconceived ideas of how the scene should play out, and make it about your scene partner (relationship), then the outcome, whether it works in the context of the play or film, or not, will be truthful, and the truth is always more interesting.
Mind Map of Razowsky’s Teachings by Bob Kodzis
If you love improv you don’t want to miss this! David Razowsky, improv giant- is coming to our humble improv community in Tampa for 2 days only.
David Razowsky is the respected former artistic director of The Second City Los Angeles, and the host of the podcast ADD Comedy with Dave Razowsky. David is based in Los Angeles where he teaches a weekly Wednesday drop-in class when he’s not on the road. His travels across the world in 2015 alone brought him to over a dozen states plus Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK. At Second City David worked with Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Dratch, Chris Farley, among others. He’s directed numerous Second City revues. He is a consultant for Dreamworks, a teacher for Steppenwolf Theater, adjunct faculty for California State University, and he directed two productions for Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago Theatre. David’s a member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company and performed in their Kennedy Center run of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Abridged. (Bio from SecondCity.com)