There’s one concept my improv coach, Brad, has tried beating over our heads for nearly a year. It wasn’t until last week that it finally made sense to me. To paraphrase:
“Every scene,” he said, “is based on a platform, tilt and then a resolution. In other words someone sets something up, something is done to make things weird, and then something resolves the problem.”
An example could be:
A man goes to the grocery store for milk (platform)
The clerk insists drinking eggs are just as good and that’s what the man should do (tilt)
The man decides this clerk is right (resolution)
A wife is upset at her husband for being late to come home (platform)
The husband says he was late because he needed to save orphans from a fire (tilt)
The wife accepts that excuse (resolution)
All good scenes consist of a series of platforms, tilts, and resolutions.
In a ‘crazy man/straight man’ scene the straight man will give the platform, the crazy man the tilt, and generally it’s up to the straight man to resolve it.
In ‘peas in a pod,’ the two people find it in a single voice.
When I first heard this idea, I thought it was exactly the same as other improv framings. I thought of the tilt as finding the first crazy thing and the resolution as the end of the scene. I saw how each resolution was the grounds for the next platform and how each move was a shift in status.
It didn’t hit as a new concept until last week when we ran two exercises.
In the first exercise, two players started a scene and the coach stopped it after fifteen seconds, thirty seconds, forty five seconds, a minute, or two minutes. Because none of us knew how long the scenes would last, we started with huge ideas, but not ideas so ridiculous that we couldn’t play them for two minutes if needed. It was far more fun than our normal scene work, and it set the stage for the next exercise.
In the next exercise we were asked to edit the scene whenever there was a resolution. In other words, a scene could be as short as a guy picks up a pen (platform), the pen is encoded with a secret treasure map (tilt…way too plotty, but let’s roll with it), and the two go off to find treasure (resolution and hence the edit).
Most were simpler than that. A cleaning lady confronts a housewife (platform) about her laziness (tilt), and the housewife explains how rich people are inherently better (resolution and edit).
This exercise showed me I’m strong at beating the hell out of an established game and can lay the groundwork for a solid tag run, but I need major work on this fundamental part of improv.
Specifically, understanding my initial surroundings (the platform), and instead of just playing on that, saying something enough out of left field to create a tilt.
Resolutions are great, but tilts are where the fun is.
You’ll even find an article on him as fake Stan Lee. Here’s Fake Stan Lee meeting the real Stan Lee. It’s kind of awesome.
He’s successfully doing what I want to be doing. He’s on a regular team (Trophy Wife) at one of the biggest improv theaters in Los Angeles, he’s working as an artist through his Photography and Design, and he even wrote and shot a pilot, even if it wasn’t sold.
He does all sorts of promotion for Trophy Wife from live streaming the shows to teaser trailers to posters like this:
It’s far beyond what you’ll find any other improv group doing.
I wrote him a letter, more or less along those lines:
I came across your website by way of googling marketing improv, and after looking at your website, I have this gnawing suspicion that you’re me, but 6 years in the future.
I realized that I’d actually seen you perform plenty, and am consistently impressed by the Trophy Wife Posters/Trailers at iO [blah blah blah a bit about me, etc] Anyhow, I’m really not sure even what I’d ask, but I’d love to pick your brain, if you’d be up for getting together for coffee or lunch or some such – if you’re willing, I’d really appreciate it.
I guess mostly I’m curious how you’ve succeeded in juggling the same half dozen things I tend to juggle.
He was happy to get together. I just got back from lunch with him (or rather, on Monday, earlier this week).
I had two main questions for him. The first was, “Does all of the promotion you do help get butts in seats?”
While it gets a couple more people to the shows, he said, what it really accomplishes is recognition at the festivals. They’ve been flown across the country to do workshops and had their videos assigned as homework to groups in cities where there isn’t any great improv.
“I started putting them up because my mom and dad wanted to see the show,” he said.
These days, for better or worse, it’s not unusual for the shows to get three to four times the audience online as they do at the theater. The promotion sets the group up as an authority, which isn’t an exact yes to my original question.
My second main question was ”How do you balance the 6 different sides of your life? Doesn’t the lack of focus on just one take away from the others?”
The basic answer was yes, but that’s kind of the point. If one really takes off, he’ll let the others compete for second.
His current view of improv is fairly zen, but it wasn’t always that way. He sees it as a wonderful creative outlet, complimenting the money he makes through directing, photography, and designing. Four years ago he wanted it as an end in and of itself, but he doesn’t think of improv from a business point of view as much now. It makes him sharper, he loves doing it, and others love watching it. For now, that’s enough.
He gave me a couple of websites and books to look at. He said I should read Getting things Done, a book that changed his life and his ability to manage his time. He also agreed that marketing has a dark side that’s an easy pit to drop in to and said I should check out: http://bajillionhits.biz/ - a guy making fun of all of it. It’s a healthy antidote to all of the endless self promotional mouth talkers I listen to.
I really appreciated Kevin taking the time to answer my silly little questions and helping me figure out what I could be doing better. Even if his responses largely were “It seems like you’re doing things all right” and “The big thing is to take on projects right now, now that you don’t have that many responsibilities” (which is true. I don’t. I’m able to spend time writing blogs like this rather than actually working.)
It was great talking to him, and seeing that everyone, even those at the very top of improv marketing, are still struggling. Still trying to figure things out, waiting for that big something to strike. With improv, it’s not about the ten other jobs we all juggle or the grand plan down the line. What’s important, is to just enjoy the moment.
It’s hard for outsiders to realize how seriously improvisors take their craft. That for many, improv is their religion. I don’t mean that in some hyperbolic way. I mean the way that I see Rabbinical students speaking about Judaism (I live with one, so it’s a pretty common occurrence) I see Improvisors speak about Improv. There are 1,000’s of people who have given up having a decent job in exchange for the ability to spend four hours a night, every night of the week, praying at the altar of the stage.
Amy Poehler said, “If the stage is my church, improv is my religion.”
Here’s Poehler’s full quote:
Treat the stage with respect. Treat it with total and complete reverence. The stage is my church. There is no place that I feel more alive, more myself, more truthful, more satisfied and happy.
Some people go to church to feel in touch with that creative force that some people call God. Well, I get that on stage. I have learned more about the person I want to be and can be from the lessons I have learned in improv classes and performing in shows. That is why I am here today. So if the stage is my church, improv is my religion.
Now, two people up for a scene and just rock out with your cocks out.
So some may say that interesting choices or finding your where or establishing relationship are all critical the second commandment says before that you have to be fully there. You cant have an idol that represents your full attention and presence — you need the real thing.
Because any video that makes me spit out a cup of water, laughing, deserves a featured spot on this blog. Stick with it past the first 30 seconds. It reminds me of Improv Everywhere when they first got started.
“He doesn’t have one. He used to have one. He has a child. But he has this damn sexy Japanese woman. Lord knows where he got her, but my God.”
I wasn’t planning to listen to the conversation behind me in this Indian restaurant. I swear I wasn’t. Just picture two middle aged men – the sort you’d expect to see in church or a Republican rally.
‘…’ is when it got noisy or boring.
“-I’d also been going to the bible study where they’re actually hotter. You see the big star now is this guy Niko – Niko is the Philippine guy. Niko is a Zen master.”
“He’s a clerk?”
“Well, not only is he a clerk. I mean Niko is like a neo-cassenova. Niko for 16 years played drums in a band in Las Vegas in the Lounge. Now that was at night. You can see him on youtube.
“During the day he was a busing at iHop. That was for 16 years. He’s very very talented at singing and dancing, but there’s certain things he’s not good at – like academic stuff. He goes to bible study too, and he’s very religious. He has a hard time – a very hard time. You see, he doesn’t express himself.
“So we were at the bible study. It was the last week – the last session – and the minister was running it. So he had a dinner for all of the people in the bible study. Now, I was sitting next to this Chinese girl. Young Chinese girl. What did I say to her? I started talking to her – told her that I have an asian child. It turns out that she’s an artist. She works at Disney.”
“-doing the drawings of the children. In the park. She went to the Art Center. So I say my kid went to the Art Center.”
…It got a bit noisier at this point – here’s one last snippet…
“-so he says to her ‘I understand you can draw, and I want you to draw my wife fucking an octopus. And with the other hand the octopus is-’”
A man had shipped his wife a dress. She hadn’t taken it out of the box yet so he asked “Why is it still in the box?”
“I’m clumsy, and was afraid I’d rip it,” she said. She took it out of the box, tripped and it ripped.
Cut to two days ago at the store
Shopkeep: The dress is very fragile. Be careful with it. 9 children died in making it.
The husband screamed, ”9 children died for that.“ During a back and forth she manages to rip it again.
Shopkeep: Of course money isn’t enough if you want to buy a dress like this.
The shopkeep starts to unzip his pants.
Husband: I was surprised. I kind of liked it.
Before the scene could go on further about felatio it was edited with a shout, “Kids, get in here.”
Everyone got on stage and the father said, “Now we’re going to make this married couple a beautiful dress. I don’t care what it takes. How hard it is.”
The kids all chimed in with complaints.
“If one of you or all of you have to die so this dress can be made perfect, so be it.”
It was meant as a one off joke, and the scene could have returned back to the couple’s scene with a nice laugh. Instead, one of the kids walked up and said, “I don’t want to make the dress.”
The father exploded. “How dare you.”
“It’s just, I want to be an accountant.”
“But what does that have to do with a wedding?”
“Well, so the bride and groom know what to do with their finances.”
“Of course, of course.” The father hugged the kid, “Go, run off, and be an accountant.”
All of the kids said they also wanted to be accountants and the father hushed them.
“We have a dress to make. I don’t want to hear any of that.”
Another kid got up. “I want a dress like this when I get married,” she said.
The father misheard her and responded, “You’re getting married? Well, you shouldn’t be here- go ahead and run off.”
It established a game of how do the kids manage to run off, and one by one each of the 6 kids came up with a reason and got to run off, until only one was left.
What made the scene great was how it pushed past the one off joke and found a brilliant, simple game. The kid’s game was, ‘What can I say that gets me away from my crazy father?’ and the father’s was, ‘How can I relate their choice to a wedding so I can let them run off?’
The lesson is to let a scene grow, and not come in with some absurd idea. If the scene had started with “Get in here kids. We’re going to make this dress, and I don’t care if all of you die in the process. That is, unless you prove to me why you’re too important for this,” it would have fallen flat. Instead, it earned its absurdity by growing one step at a time.
The best places for improv are: iO West (Groups to catch: USS Rock n Roll, Sweetness, King Ten, Dasariski, and Beer Shark Mice and many others) UCB (Groups to catch: Convoy, Last day of School, Shitty Jobs, Facebook, Assscats or just about anything else.) Westside (Specifically Monday & Thursday nights at 10, partially due to the fact that I perform on Monday nights, but also because it’s a good show.)
For the Conservadox Jews, your best bets are: PicoEgal (younger) Ikar (hippier) BDJ (modern orthodoxyier) Beth Am (conservative learned-er)
To find concerts use SonicLiving. It scans your iTunes library and sends you emails or creates a calendar based on what artists you like.
While it’s possible I’m the only person this list helps, I’d like to believe there’s 100’s of Jewish artistic improvisors out there who were waiting for a list just like this.
Last year I went to Comic Con in San Diego, and based on my roommate’s advice, I bought Kabuki from David Mack. He couldn’t of been nicer. He threw in some reprints of sketchbooks of his for free, spent time to draw me a picture, and gave his advice on which of his books he liked best. I bought it for the art alone, fully aware of the quality of writing in most comics written and drawn by the same person. I leafed through the art, loved every page, and let it sit on my shelf until a week ago when I finally read through it.
It blew me away. It was unlike any comic I’ve ever read, setting my mind free and inspiring with each turn of the page. If you haven’t read it, go check it out. Below is three pages from Kabuki: The Alchemy (Volume 7)
Improv is all about establishing relationships and answering the unanswerable. Seeing as to how I’ve handed most parts of my life over to google, I figured why not try it for coming up with improv scenes. Here’s what it came up with.