This weekend, The EndGames had the great honor of hosting and performing alongside Bill Arnett. I had the distinct pleasure of spending some quality time with the former training center director of iO Chicago as well as participate in his series of workshops over the past few days. It was a uniquely insightful experience to geek out with someone who’s seen the best of the best go through Chicago.
I found his style of coaching refreshing. It was a perfect storm of lovingly uplifting, shockingly efficient and at times, delightfully manic. Improvising for 15+ years in Chicago with his self proclaimed “left-brain” has earned this seasoned veteran an amazing gift of wrapping up complex ideas into bite sized drops of brilliance. Below is a breakdown of each workshop and some great Bill Arnettisms and overarching insights gained from each. Enjoy, and improvise!
Scene Work Assault:
This workshop drilled two-person scenes and required players to use slice of life initiations and emotional reaction with sounds. This helped us to notice our gut reactions, ground them and play them. The workshop also drilled 3-4-5-6 person scenes by boiling them down to TWO perspectives amongst different grouping of players.
- Treat it Real: The audience is willing to suspend reality if you are
- “Engine of Improv is fueled by the logic of morons”
- Say what you see: Point out the strange and weird by reacting emotionally. Don’t ignore the inappropriate, that’s just another form of negation.
- “In a world of Nazi Vampires, a Nazi Vampire Shoe Salesman is just a Shoe Salesman”
- Commit: Be the person you promised to be at the top of your scene
- “Don’t be emotionally bulletproof”
- “Frustration is more interesting than Anger”
- “Just for funsies!”
- When at an impasse, LOSE. But lose as yourself.
- “A Strong choice is a Clear choice”
- It’s not the number of players that makes a group scene confusing, it’s the number of perspectives.
- “Characters arguing can be interesting. Actors arguing SUCKS”
- When reasoning as a Straight Man, don’t make the reasons external (situation, others, environment) internal reasons are better. Why does it affect YOU?
Characters Inside Out & Outside In:
This workshop explored the idea of left brain vs right brain improvisation. The former describes an improviser using information to build a logic of a character whereas the latter describes an improviser using the viscera to build a character. The best improviser can do both as The Complete Improviser
- Character = repeatable pattern of behavior
- Two easiest characters you can play are yourself and someone you know
- A little psychoanalysis goes a long way
- “You know you’ve got a character if you can divorce them from their situation”
- Make a behavioral choice rather than a situational choice
- “Don’t explain away the fun, play with it”
- Why/how do we bitch about people? “Too Chatty, Too Co-Dependent, Too Lazy”
- “We bitch about people because we’re STUCK with them”
- Hammer (Obnoxious Character) Vs Anvil (Reason to stay)
- “Say Yes, Do No”
- Get a simple, clear label for your behavior: “Petty, Condescending, Creepy”
- Tap into a psychological gesture (Eeyore) “Home Base Stance” - helps you get back into the emotional response of this character and what that means about his point of view
00:30, 03:00, 30:00
This workshop used the last two days’ lessons of clear choices, emotional reactions and playing the reality and learned about the pace of a show. We purposefully slowed it down to listen for interesting “distractions” and chose to follow some and chose to let some go. An extended and slower version of finding the game that culminated in justifying riotous absurd lines.
- “Always treat scenes like they are actually happening”
- “Using a suggestion creatively is good for exactly ONE laugh”
- Breaking the rules: Stop getting caught up in improv-isms. Start scenes with the worst “improv initiations” and play that scene for real. PLAY INTO a choice instead of trying to EXPLAIN IT AWAY.
- “Listen and be in a specific mundane world”
- Do your best to set a believable scene. Ignore the urge to inject conflict
- General Agreement Scenes: Play it same at the top, if reacting honestly the distractions will come naturally. Choose to explore it or choose to let it go. Make it your choice and stick to it.
- “In a still pool, the smallest ripple is apparent”
- Emotionally juxtaposed lines: Train explaining INTO the juxtaposition instead of explaining it away.
On a personal note: I got to play a really fun scene with Bill Arnett on Friday during our show “Your F!#&Ed Up Relationship” and it is true what they say about the good improvisors - they do make you look good they are easy to play with because they make clear choices for you to respond to. In our scene, Bill pulled a premise from the opening where two “bros” were in Cancun and his “bro” was leaving 3 days into the 10 day trip. At the top we didn’t know why he wanted to leave but we treated it real, we set a believable scene and we followed the organic distraction which led to a great reveal that he was two-timing with his ex-GF Kelly the whole time. Hope these notes help your improv as much as it did mine. Thanks Bill!