A Cause To Laugh!

Come out this Friday and Saturday to The Box Improv Studio. The Box will host 10 improv teams over 2 evenings on November 8th and 9th (7pm) . We don’t have much, but what we do have (A humble stage and friends who are talented improvisers), we will use for good.

Help us make an impact.

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“The Box, Tampa, and Me”

By David Wheeler

Can I be real with you for a second?
Like, really real?
Yes?
Okay, good.

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

 

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.

Laughter Yoga for the Improviser and all Creatives

laughter yogaGood 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!”

Victoria Headshot 2Submitted by Victoria Dym, actress, storyteller, published poet, Certified Laughter Yoga Leader, ordained minister, and an ensemble member on the The Box house team, Dear Aunt Gertrude. Twitter Handle @vicdympoet
Sources: American Journal of Medical Sciences, Alternative Therapies, Psychology Today, The Scientist of the University of Maryland Medical Center (as cited in The Orange County Register)

 

Using Improvisation as a Working Actor

Submitted by Charles HarrelsonCharles Harrelsona 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!

Here, kitty-kitty-kitty…

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. 

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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.

Humble beginnings

I love Chicago. There is something that draws me to that city, improv aside, it calls to me like a siren and I am easily wooed. Last year when I visited, it was the dead of winter. I always think it is somewhat miraculous when you can be in warm beautiful weather and bitter freezing cold in the same 24-hour period. The one environment makes you forget the

FullSizeRender 2other exists.

For this visit, I was on a mission. I wanted to see countless hours of improv. I wanted to be moved, to be inspired, and to remember why I fell in love with theater in the first place.

My first visit to Chicago was probably 15 years ago. I remember dragging my
older sister through the streets of the city from one humble venue to another until the wee hours of the morning. My sister, a non-performer and mother of 2 or 3 kids at the time-(I honestly can’t recall), was a willing companion. At the time, we visited each space. There were no frills. The performers lit up the tiny stages. I remember being packed into a crowded IO Theater and being so close to the performers, I could touch them.  On another trip, when I begged my brother to come along, we visited The Annoyance Theater. It was a simple room with plain folding chairs and an old piano on the side of the audience. The players were the shiniest thing in the room. They breathed life into these ordinary spaces.

The words of a college professor echoed in my mind, “Theater is created with a space, a performer, and an audience.”

Seeing those small spaces and raw performances, it was clear these artists redefined the boundaries between stage and audience, and without all the bells and whistles-they made art. No excuses. It was small and simple.

When I first started doing improv, I read everything I could get my hands on and fast learned that behind the scenes, these small movements had starters firing the gun to initiate creativity-an improv maker.

In much of the U.S. I’d argue that some of the most innovative improv happens in small obscure spaces such as these and whatever visionary is “behind the curtains,”-people pay little to no attention to them, but they are there.

So when I returned a year ago, I was struck by the explosion of improv. All of these humble beginnings have turned into beautiful facilities with multiple classrooms and theaters in each space. I had to push through people to get in. Being there, I almost forgot there was something small years ago. The one environment made me forget the other ever existed.

But it did. Small things grow into bigger things. There was a visionary, seen or unseen- and now I was witnessing the fruit of their work.  I couldn’t help but be encouraged. There is something special in the small, a kind of intimacy, that prepares for the bigger. The self-effacing visionaries in the work of improvisation understand this. 

When I heard about Jason Chin, passing away, I read an article that said he would sweep and mop the IO stage floor before shows. I was struck by that. Chin, a greatly loved improv giant, made the stage ready for creative genius. He swept the remnants of the previous night’s improv shows and yesterday’s classes-to ready it for something bigger.  He was an improv maker…making a way for the small to transform into the big and for me to witness yet another performance so I can be reminded why I love improv.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones…” Luke 16:10

An Emergency Lesson in Improv

paramedicWhat do we do when an emergency happens? We improvise.

It began like a normal improv class, but little did we know what was about to happen would require everyone to think fast on their feet, and work as a team — because someone’s life would depend on it.

Last night I was teaching class 2 of our Improv For Everyone series at The Box Theater. I love teaching new students because there is a unique wonder and hunger for learning that often allows them to be truly captivated and engaged. I’m always surprised at how quickly I am enamoured with my new students. This class was no different.  We met last Tuesday for the first time and I couldn’t wait to see them again this week.

Like most beginner improv classes, we also focus on the core principles of improvisation each week. Last night, we were talking about the importance of listening, giving good gifts and supporting one another. About halfway through the class one of my students asked if there was a water fountain and I let them know that there was,  but quickly pointed out that there were some bottles of water in the theatre.

He picked one up and turned towards me when I noticed something was clearly off. Like I said, this was only week 2 but from what I could tell-this student was already taking the concept of commitment to heart. He participated in exercises in the first hour with full vocal and physical commitment so when things went awry, we had a split second to decipher if he was acting or if this was indeed a serious condition.

When we realized it was serious, the whole class zipped into action. One student called 911. Another student offered a sweater to prop his head up, and still another stood as a guard so he wouldn’t fall.  One person from our class rushed to the main door of the building to await the arrival of the medical staff. I quickly ran to another part of the building to solicit help from two friends who work in the medical field as well.

It turned out that the student was ok in the end.  Though we were all shaken up a bit, we managed to take what life threw at us, listened and supported one another. We improvised.  Much like improvisation, we never know what is going to happen in any given moment.  So for week 2, the values of improvisation stayed true even thought my lesson plan was completely useless.   I believe this at the center of all of improvisation lessons. As instructors of improv, we are equipping people with essential tools for life.  I couldn’t have planned for this.  The students worked together, focused on their partner, and listened to what was needed for the situation.

Life sometimes throws extreme situations our way.  When this occurs, living in the moment is essential because occasionally someone’s life hangs in the balance.   We don’t have the luxury of time to make a strategic plan.  We have to improvise.