Day: August 24, 2016
What Pixar Movies Taught Me About Improv
By Alyssa Feller
This summer, Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios released Finding Dory, the much anticipated sequel to 2003’s Finding Nemo. Despite being an adult, I’ve always enjoyed seeing Pixar films. About 80 percent of the time (sorry, Cars and The Good Dinosaur fans), their films are creative, heartwarming, and technically stunning, and Finding Dory was no exception. However, it was only recently that I discovered why I enjoy these films so much.
I just completed my Improv 101 class at the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center in Los Angeles. Before this, I spend years in improv classes and rehearsing with improv troupe in Florida, including my time with Sick Puppies Comedy in Boca Raton. Going back to a level one class, I relearned a lot of beginner improv skills that can occasionally slip through the mind of a regular performer. I learned and practiced things like “yes, please,” playing to the top of your intelligence, and showing, not telling. However, one basic concept that I always have trouble with is exploring a scene.
This concept is about having the characters in a scene explore and play in their environment, instead of standing or sitting still and simply talking. For example, a great scene initiation might be a performing looking around and saying, “When I agreed to go camping, I didn’t think there would be this much dirt.” In this scene, the game would be about a camper who didn’t realize he or she would have to walk through the wilderness and get dirty on their trip. This would be a funny scene, since the audience would accept that this is clearly an unusual idea. However, the scene would quickly become boring if the performers stood around on stage, simply talking about the dirt and the wilderness instead of exploring the woods around them.
So what does Pixar movies have to do with this concept? In all of their films, they take a relatively simple concept (What if toys can talk? What if there really were monsters in your closet?) and explore. When details about Finding Dory where coming out, I got a little nervous. Pixar announced that at least part of the movie would take place inside an aquarium, and I thought that this could be a potentially terrible idea. After all, in Finding Nemo, Dory and Marlin explored the entire ocean. How can this be replicated in a fish tank? Of course, Pixar surprised me. If you’ve seen the film, you know that Dory doesn’t just stay in one tank or pool – she explores the entire aquarium park. Much of the time, we follow Dory and her new friend, an octopus named Hank, as they swim and jump between a large whale shark’s pool, a kid’s touch tank, an isolated quarantine area, and a huge coral reef exhibit. Marlin and Nemo even find their way into a gift shop. Not only are each of these areas visually stunning, they are great ways to showcase a good character and to even add more to their personalities.
In improv, a scene isn’t great if two characters sit on stage and stare at each other. Pixar realized this. Imagine if Joy and Sadness in Inside Out talked about the various parts of the brain instead of journeying through it, or if Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. just spent time inside their workstation. What makes Pixar movies so captivating for audiences of all ages is they think of a strange concept (the unusual thing in the game) and explore how that concept and their characters react to different scenarios.
So how can you use a Pixar movie as inspiration in your next improv scene? Create great characters, find an unusual thing, and then go out and explore. Going back to the camper scene, imagine if the camper and his or her friends explored what’s around them. They can canoe down a river, meet a group of camping Girl Scouts, or even fight a bear. Imagine all the possibilities, and explore. It can make the difference between a good scene, and a great scene.
The X-Files are coming back for 6 episodes. Enough shows for audiences to realize this isn’t a good idea and enough money so that we don’t have to hear about David and Gillian for another 10 years.
My Father in Law said “Life is a series of adjustments” as part of his speech he gave to my wife and me on our wedding day. He said it so casually that it scared me. He had just successfully beaten cancer and referred to that as an “adjustment” too. Of course, in his humility, he never actually referred to cancer in front of the room of people. Instead, he said nothing but nice things about everyone and made us all feel like better people.
If Courtney’s father taught me the importance of adjustments, Improv has shown me how. If I am willing to deal with my reality and work within it, I will have successful scenes and relationships. Week after week, night after night, you get bombarded with ideas that aren’t yours and slowly learn how to not only accept them, but begin to love them. Ideas generated by others are ideas that you don’t have to generate on your own. Collaboration and adjustments are the key! Distractions become GIFTS! Yes, I can use this. Perfect! That noise inspired me! I “get” to do this replaces I “have” to do this.
My day job became easier. I plead guilty. I would lose and move on. The push back came from people who needed to be right. I let them. “You’re right. I don’t understand this product. I’m sorry about that.” Be wrong even if you think you are right. In most circumstances, it’s more important to deal with what’s next than it is to be right.
Congratulations to Chris for joining the cast of Sick Puppies Comedy. Chris has a deep South Florida Improv background and we are excited to have him join our team. He was brought in just a couple of months ago as a technical director, but clearly after rehearsing with him, he should be in front of an audience as soon as possible.
If you’d like to see Chris perform, his next show is April 10th with the main stage cast. Get your tickets now! CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE
After nearly a year of classes, hard work, attendance to nearly every show, incredible technical work on our shows and even a brief stint of direction in last month’s Experiment Show, we’re proud to announce Ben Brouckaert as the newest cast member of Sick Puppies Comedy.
Ben is one of our favorite members to play on stage with because he always listens, always stays in the moment and never judges input. Welcome to the team Ben! If you’d like to see Ben in his first main stage cast show, BUY TICKETS for the April 10th show at Center Stage.