Showing posts from April, 2020

Being in Agreement

The essence of improv, business, church, our life; is the ability to be in agreement with one another. It's all about how we get along in community. Whether that community is a scene, our management team, or our congregation, it begins with the first rule of improv. Yes, And. In improv, the rule of Yes, And says that we must accept whatever our scene partner gives us and then build upon it. An actor cannot deny the reality that has been given her or him. If I say the sky is a lovely shade of orange, my partner cannot come back and say, "No it's not, it's blue." An appropriate response would be, "Yes it is, and that's because God is a Bronco's fan." (That's a joke for my Colorado friends.) Stephen Colbert, in his introduction to Improvise: Scene From Inside Out  by Mick Napier, writes, "Agreement is not really verbal, it's really emotional and that an improv scene is really about following the first thing anyone onstage cares abo

Take a chance

Most of you probably do not remember Elaine May and Mike Nichols. Certainly you know many of the movies directed by Nichols; The Graduate, The Birdcage, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, to name a few. Before he went on to direct, however, Nichols and May were regarded as the best comedy team in America. Wasson in his book,  Improv Nation, tells us that Elaine May had a motto, "The only safe thing is to take a chance." He explained the motto thus, "I think she means that if you stay safe, and don't take a chance - don't do something that's different from the last thing, something that makes you nervous and holds dangers - if you keep trying to do the thing that worked last time, the encrustations of mannerisms begin to take you over. And pretty soon you're no good at all - and therefore not safe at all." Of course Wasson is talking about improv and art, but again, what is true in improv is true in life. When we allow ourselves to play it safe or

Chose Fun

In his history of improv, Sam Wasson wrote about the comic genius of Bill Murray. Bill came to Second City and was bombing. No one wanted to work with him. The audience wasn't laughing. What was he to do? Take extra classes? Give up and go home? What he decided to do was "shift his inner magnet away from himself, toward chance, the other person, and wait for their invitation to transform again." Bill realized he had become paralyzed by fear; fear of dying on stage. One of my favorite things to do in my improv workshops is to push the actors into making better and smarter choices. When an actor makes a choice in a scene, I will ring the bell and say, "Make another choice." I don't just to it once. I takes until the third try, when the actor has given up being funny and just lets go, that it gets good. So what Bill Murray did was make another choice. He decided that with every thought and action, he had to choose fun. The more fun he had, the better his scen


For the next few posts, Spiritual Improvisers, I will be sharing insights from Sam Wasson's book, Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art . The book is a history of improv going back to the beginning of Second City, the Groundlings, Upright Citizens Brigade,  the comedy team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols, and the mother of improv, Viola Sporin. One of the anecdotes Wasson  shares is about the pairing of two improvisers at Second City, Barbara Harris and Alan Arkin. The two of them worked on a long-form skit which came to be known as "The Museum Piece." The piece was killing it in live shows. It because so popular that a Canadian TV show  wanted to film a stage show of them. The pressure was on and the team began to choke. The pair was about to cancel the TV appearance because the skit no longer was working. In a last ditch effort, Alan Arkin changed his mind set. He stopped thinking about the "performance" and just began to love his scene partner. No