improv tips

Sick Puppies Comedy Cast Q&A with Nick Henriquez!

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Get to know the one and only, Nick Henriquez in this week’s Cast Member Q&A!

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How did you find out about Sick Puppies Comedy?

I was taking a stand-up class when one of the other students mentioned Sick Puppies, which had just opened. It was too far for him to drive, but he recommended it to me. Shortly after, I joined in with the first class group Sick Puppies ever had.

What got you involved and interested in improv?

I’d watched tons of Whose Line, but it was improvised podcasts that really locked it in for me. I remember discovering them near the end of college and actually burning them onto CDs to listen to in the car. This was before I got an iPhone and the adapter that would broadcast your audio to the radio like a Mr. Microphone. So glad there’s bluetooth now.

Tell us about your first improv show ever. What was it like?

I wish I could remember details. It was a big group of students and we had a lot of fun. We wore matching t-shirts, so that right there tells you I still had a lot to learn.

What’s your favorite game/form of improv? Why?

I enjoy a long-form narrative. I like the humor and creativity involved in creating new situations to move our characters into and the feeling of accomplishment of having told a story.

What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had based on your life in comedy?

I love the sense of community among performers and how approachable everyone is, and I love meeting other performers from around the country and world at festivals. You can meet people with so many varied backgrounds.

Newer improvisers might be surprised by how much you continue to learn from improv, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. What’s something you recently learned, or that you’re currently working on?

I love learning a new form and then seeing all the ways there are to twist it and make it your own. There’s never enough time for all of them! I still have a parallel universes form I came up with that I’ve only been able to scratch the surface on, but I know there’s incredible depths to reach.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to new improvisers?

Besides the basics, find the thing you’re good at (big characters, bringing energy, spotting connections, etc.) and become the master of that realm. Love and enjoy it, find different twists on it, innovate, thrill and surprise everyone. Then start branching out on improving your weaker areas. Don’t try to do everything at once. See the photo of me putting this into practice at a recent DCM (Del Close Marathon), playing the unflappable worker unaffected by the craziness going on around him.

You can catch Nick with SPC’s musical improv team, Shallow Howl this Saturday at 9:00 p.m. at Sick Puppies Comedy in Boca Raton, Florida. Get your tickets online at: http://bit.ly/NickH2018!

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How Can You Pay Attention to Everything In An Improv Scene?

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A scene can get away from you quickly if you’re not paying attention.  Character names, details suggesting where you are, your name, your back story and a number of other clues are flying through you at the speed of now.  Simultaneously, you are also throwing out a bunch of information for your scene partner to grab onto as well.

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There are a few ways to capture this information, but nothing is a better technique than practice.  The more improv you do, the more you practice.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in front of an audience or with a single scene partner by yourselves.  The more you practice, the more your brain will develop a better set of senses.

Instead of trying to capture every detail in your scene, stop providing more information.  Use the information you have.  If your scene partner offers that you’re at a pizza place, get into the Pizza place.  Make yourself at home.  Touch the things around you so that your mind can begin to map out where you are.  It also allows your scene partner to see it too.  Two people in a Pizza Parlor don’t just talk the whole time.  They sit. They look around.  They pick up a menu.  They get a knife and fork and napkin.  They pour a drink.  Slow down.  While the two of you prepare to eat, you’ll start to get a feeling about the other person without saying two words.  Slow down.  Stop adding unnecessary information.

Repeat what you are hearing.  If you pick up a name or give a name, use it often.  Find a way to rephrase what you are talking about in a way that adds more context.

“How was your day today, Marvin?”

“How was my day?  You ask me about my day?”

“Yeah, Marvin.  How was your day?  You don’t have to be angry.”

“It was fine.  My day was fine.”

How much information do you have to process when you are emoting on a couple of pieces of information?  If your scene partner becomes a run on sentence, stop talking.  Listen.  Process everything and keep listening.  Let go of the ordinary and hold onto a few of the shiny words that capture you.  React to the very last thing they say while holding onto those shiny words.

There are an unlimited number of ways to capture what’s happening in a scene, but it all comes back to practice.  Pay attention as much as you can while staying connected to your partner.

We hope this helps. As always, let us know your thoughts.  What do you do?

 

Making a Strong Character and Holding It

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As we teach our students and direct our teams, we are often asked about characters.  How do we create them and how can we hold onto them?

There are a number of ways to instantly create a character.  You can start outward by using your body shape (position) to determine what you feel like, you can start a gesture that might inspire the type of person you are or you might create some sort of movement that dictates what your character does.

Creating an initial character is easy as long as you give yourself permission to be someone that you normally aren’t.  Part of the human condition is to act in a way that keeps you safe.  In order to stay safe, we are often quiet and unseen.  We are polite.  We stay safe when we don’t approach people or contradict others.  We stay safe by being boring.

In order to be an interesting character, we have to do and say things that we normally would not. Doing this is not as easy as it sounds. You don’t want your characters to be 100% combative or argumentative.  Vulnerability is a key factor to developing a full bodied character.  It’s okay make yourself the King as long as you have a way to be “gotten”… maybe you have a secret nobody should know or a fear that can become your undoing.

We can also work our characters from the inside out.  Start with an emotion and come into a scene charged with that emotion and justify why it applies to the scene you are in.  You can also approach a scene with a mantra.  Say a line of little significance to yourself like “I want it to be green” and see how that affects a character.

If you’re having a tough time holding your characters in an improv scene, repeat yourself.  Let your character step back into the last moment you felt them inside you.  Often, we will mimic our scene partner’s choices or we’ll be so focused on what’s happening, we’ll begin to letsickpuppies28 go of all of the exterior characteristics to concentrate on the scene.  We can get lost easily.  The best thing you can do is stop, reconnect with your character, then immediately connect with your scene partner.

If you happen to consider yourself more advanced and are looking to be more “organic” in your approach to character creation AND be connected to your scene partner, look at how your scene partner is looking at you and act like the person they are staring at.  I know, sounds really weird.  But think about the number of times you’ve walked into a room and felt like people were mad, happy, sad, anxious or surprised you were there.  Now you have permission to be the person your scene partner thinks you are.

I hope this helps. Let us know if it does or if we are totally off our rocker.  Any tips you can share always helps!

 

David Razowsky’s Secret is His Service to Others

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Sick Puppies Comedy had another great show with guest star and improv legend, David Razowsky, last night.  This was the 4th time Razowsky has been to South Florida in as many years and the 3rd time he’s performed with Sick Puppies Comedy.  In the past, we held workshops for cast, students and the public, but I asked this year that he coach just a small group of us to drill in some concepts that might not be possible in a larger group setting.

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It’s not my place to try to put into words the concepts that Razowsky taught us, but there were moments where I wanted to disagree with everything.  I felt uncomfortable and sometimes frustrated.  It’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize your fundamental theory of Improv is wrong.  “Say NO all the fucking time.  Talk about people not there.  Ask Questions!  Is there anything more fun than talking about people not in the room?”  He’s been saying these things for years, but I clearly let them fly over so I could pay attention to other skills and techniques.  This year it landed.

I had moments yesterday that made me want to rewrite our curriculum from scratch and other times I said to myself “This is it.  This is the last year we have David here. He’s lying to me.”  It’s the first time in 2 years I felt uncomfortable improvising.  I was lost and unsure.  It was an incredible feeling.  I had some moments during the coaching session that provided more clarity to my work and the mission of our company.  It was the best improv experience I’ve had to date.

Watching Razowsky serve everyone is the real treat.  It’s what makes him such a fascinating character and good friend.  I witnessed him interact with those around him with care and precision.  He wanted to know as much as he could about all of us individually as though it was his job.  Each time he visits, he makes deeper and deeper connections with us and sets the standard for improvisers in general.  Be present.  “We get to be the Santas of Nowtown.  Be the problem not the solution.”  Be generous, serve others.  David Razowsky’s secret to success is his service to others and the unlimited amount of passion he has for the art of improvisation.

We can’t wait to see him here again next year.

What Pixar Movies Taught Me About Improv

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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.