Ithamar Enriquez is a writer, actor, teacher and performer. He is an alumni of The Second City, writing and performing shows with the MainStage, ETC and the Second City Touring Company. Jimmy talks to him about physical comedy and his wonderful one-person silent sketch show “Ithamar Enriquez Has Nothing to Say.”
Dylan Rohde is the founder and co-owner of The Backline in Omaha, NE, and the producer of the Omaha Improv Festival. We talked to Dylan about studying at the UCB and iO West and why he moved from LA to Omaha to start a comedy theater. Dylan also demonstrates an improv game that you will definitely want to use!
How many times have you started a scene by saying, “How are you doing?” or “What are you up to?” If you’ve done that, you know that the scene goes absolutely nowhere. If you have a good teacher, director, or coach, he or she will usually say, “You need to start your scenes in the middle.” You may look at them glassy-eyed, not quite understanding the concept or how it applies to your improv. This is very common. Don’t panic.
The goal of starting your scenes in the middle is to get into the action that happens after the formalities of “Hi, what’s up?” and begin with a strong statement that addresses what’s going on in the relationship. More along the lines of: “I can’t believe you just asked me out at work.” Or: “Your mother found this pot in your bedroom.”
I can tell you that I’ve been saying, “You need to start your scenes in the middle” for so many years that I’m forgetting what it means myself. So I’m writing this blog for the both of us.
Lately, I’ve seen students in my Art of Slow Comedy improv classes struggle with this issue, and instead of trying to explain this piece of improv theory (which only leads to more confusion), I have found it much more helpful to give them an exercise to practice it. So, I will do the same for you and give you three exercises that’ll help you start your scenes in the middle. I’ve found these exercises to be very simple and effective, and players have a lot of fun doing them.
1. Read Your Partner
Have two players come out and face each other in silence for a couple of seconds. Then ask each player to say what emotion they’re getting off the other player. Primary emotions — such as happy, sad, anger, fear, or a variation of these — work best.
Once the players have named the emotion, ask them what their relationship is to each other. Then ask them, “What just happened in your relationship?”
The emotions will lead the scene. For instance, if two players say that one looks sad and the other looks afraid, and they determine that they are mother and daughter, they can do a scene where the mother is sad and the daughter is afraid because the mother just found pot in the daughter’s room.
I let the players do this multiple times to build this muscle. For more advanced players, I let them start by naming the emotions, relationship and what just happened, and then go into a scene one line at a time.
2. 60, 45, 30, 15, 10 Second
This is a great exercise that helps players instinctively discover for themselves where the middle of the scene is. Get two players up to do a 60-second, two-person scene. Then they will repeat the scene in 45 seconds, then in 30 seconds, then 15 seconds, and then 10 seconds. By incrementally decreasing the time of the scene, players are forced to get to the meat of the scene quickly.
3. Name Repetition
Two players come out and name each others’ characters in the scene. Beth, Fred, Beth, Fred, Beth, Fred… They keep repeating this until one of the players feels that it’s time to speak with an opening line. “Fred, I can’t believe you showed up for my graduation! I thought you were going to be in Hawaii.”
Once the opening line is spoken, one of the players then drops the repetition and goes into the scene. What’s great about this exercise is it helps the players build tension in the scene, which typically leads to a strong opening line.
Do you have any games or exercises that you use to help you start in the middle of a scene? Let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to register for one of my two upcoming Summer Intensives if you want to learn more about how to start your scenes in the middle — spots are filling quickly!
Improv Nerd, the live comedy podcast hosted by Jimmy Carrane, begins its new season this summer, featuring some of the funniest and most well-known improvisers in Chicago. The show will run on Sundays from July 5-26, with a special preview show on June 20. All shows will be held at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago.
This season’s guests include Saturday Night Live writer Katie Rich; Second City Mainstage cast members Scott Morehead and Rashawn Nadine Scott; iO Chicago teacher Jeff Griggs; Jorin Gargiulo of the improv group Revolver; and Rush Howell of the improv group 3033!
Also, Carrane will be doing a special interview with Jeff Bouthiette, head of the Second City Training Center’s Music Program, at the all-new Chicago Musical Improv Festival, which will be held Aug. 13-16 at iO Chicago (specific date and time TBA).
In each interview, which is recorded as a podcast, Jimmy talks with an improv icon about his or her creative process and career in comedy. Then laugh along as Jimmy performs a totally unscripted scene with each of his guests and learn how they created the scene in a revealing interview and question-and-answer session.
Since the live show and podcast began in September 2011, Jimmy has released more than 130 episodes with interviews of such guests as Key & Peele, Bob Odenkirk, Broad City, Jeff Garlin, Andy Richter, David Koechner, Rachel Dratch, Tim Meadows, Scott Adsit and others. The show is hosted on FeralAudio.com, a Los Angeles-based podcast collective that hosts shows by comedians such as Matt Dwyer, Chelsea Peretti, Dan Harmon and more.
Don’t miss your chance to see this podcast live!
All shows at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago
June 20 – Katie Rich, 4:30 p.m. (as part of the Women’s Funny Festival)
July 5 – Scott Morehead, 4 p.m.; Jorin Gargiulo, 5 p.m.
July 12 – Shithole’s Kevin Gerrity and Zach Bartz, 5 p.m.
July 19 – Rashawn Nadine Scott, 4 p.m.; Rush Howell, 5 p.m.
July 26 – Jeff Griggs, 5 p.m.
General admission: $10, $8 for improv students
To purchase tickets, call Stage 773 at 773.327.5252 or purchase online at http://www.stage773.com/
Rob Belushi and Jon Barinholtz comprise the duo group Sheldon and perform improv around the country. Jimmy caught up with them at this year’s Chicago Improv Festival, where they talked about their brotherly relationship and how they use it on stage, who they named their show after, and they set Jimmy straight on the whole topic of fame and coming from famous families.
Dianah Dulany is an improv institution. She is the owner and producer of ComedySportz in Houston, where she is a wonderful teacher-director-actor-improviser. She’s also the President of ComedySportz Worldwide, and a 28-year veteran of the improv comedy scene. Jimmy Carrane talked to Dianah Dulany at the Houston Improv Festival about what makes the culture of ComedySportz special, why short form gets a bad rap, and how to tell one of your performers they need to take a shower. Special Introduction was provided by John Thompson’s Renaissance Academy Charter School of The Arts Kindergarten class from Rochester, NY!
Photo credit: Michael Paulsen
R. Kevin Doyle has been involved in improv in Hawaii since 1989. He is a member of On the Spot and a founding member of Loose Screws. In this episode of the Improv Nerd podcast, which was recorded at The Actor’s Workshop, owned by Wayne Ward, Jimmy Carrane talks to R. Kevin Doyle about what it was like improvising in Hawaii back in the day, his unique approach to improv, and how he dealt with depression.
Ali Farahnakian is the founder of the Peoples Improv Theater (PIT) in New York City. An improv legend, Ali studied at iO-Chicago and Second City, was a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade and wrote for Saturday Night Live. Now, Ali Farahnakian sits down with Jimmy at The New York Improv Festival to talk about his amazing career in improv.
Centralia is an improv group from New York that has developed its own unique style of improv. Jimmy sat down with this legendary group at The New York Improv Festival at The PIT and talked to them about the evolution of the group, their influences and what the New York improv scene was like when the were starting out back in the ’90s. You are going to love this one!
In the world of improv, we all, including myself, struggle with showing up on time. Improvisers are not known for their punctuality or their professionalism. I can’t tell you how many times students have run into class late, or how many times I’ve barely made it to a theater before I was supposed to go on.
This is not a good way of showing respect for yourself or the other people you are working with.
There are a million reasons why we are late, but what we may not realize is that being late sends all sorts of passive aggressive messages that people can misinterpret. Anything from “My time is more important than your time,” to “I really don’t want to be here,” or “I am scared,” “I am angry,” or my favorite, “Fuck you.”
I am late for all those reasons and more. One key reason I am always late is that I am addicted to shame. It’s mood altering, and it’s one of my favorite ways of not owning my power. I use it to sabotage myself. Noting puts me in my head faster than showing up to a show late. I end up using up all my energy rushing to get there on time that I am spent by the time I get there. That means I barely have anything to give to my improv scenes. I don’t do my best work, and I get angry at myself, which is what it is design to do, so I can continue to get high off the shame. Welcome to my world.
The sad part I am still doing it, especially with my own show: Improv Nerd Live.
This season we found a great new director in Sam Bowers. The guy is ball of positive energy and has great people skills. He makes everything work. He takes his job seriously, more than I do. As a director he made the call time 4:15 p.m. for a 5 p.m. taping.
For the first seven weeks of the show, I didn’t hit the 4:15 p.m. call time once, and instead waltzing in around 4:40 p.m. Consciously or subconsciously, I was undermining him, myself and the whole show.
Because I was walking in late. I thought I was the star and thought they should have everything under control. Instead I was saying “fuck you” to my own show, a team that I assembled. I was the problem.
I would put this in the self-sabotage category. Here is the thing I did not even realize until I pulled Sam aside a couple weeks ago and asked him if there was anything I could do to make his job easier.
Thank God he was not afraid of me. He said, “Yeah, show up on time.” He was right.
It was not easy to take. As my friend, Dave, says, “It was like I was just hit by a two-by-four across my forehead.”
I need to be on time to help make decisions. They needed some leadership. Me showing up late was not only a “fuck you” to the cast, it was also a “fuck you” to myself. I don’t need anyone to take away my authority. I am doing a pretty good job of that myself.
I am grateful Sam was honest with me and that he helped me keep learning a lesson I felt I had already learned. This past week, I tried my best to be on time. I made it there by 4:20 p.m., which is pretty good for me. I realized that things always go better when I show on time or early, because I am less stressed out and much more relaxed. With three live shows left this season, I hope Sam doesn’t have to tell me again.
Want to study with Jimmy Carrane? His next (Fun)damentals level of the Art of Slow Comedy Class starts Jan. 7. This class is limited to 12 people, and it’s only $249 if you register by Dec. 24. Sign up today!
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