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Archive for May, 2011

“When allowed to flourish, each child’s pretend play is unique — like fingerprints.”

~ Susan Linn in The Case for Make Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World

“Creativity Matters — FREE Ebook” (yes FREE!) by Amanda Morgan on Not Just Cute”Asking Questions Which Encourage Creative Thinking” by Christie Burnett on Childhood 101

“10 Incredible Set Ups for Dramatic Play” on Modern Parents Messy Kids

“On the Nature of Fun” by Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle

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LP & I spent the first 4 nights of our trip at my Dad’s place.  In addition to rearranging as much stuff as she could, LP made up some new games. My favorite was “Hearts Away!”

To play Hearts Away:
1. Stand at the top of the stairs holding a large ball (this is even better if you can get one or two people like your Mama and Grandpa to stand with you)

2. Squeeze the ball while you bounce up and down.

3. Throw the ball down the stairs while yelling “Hearts Away!”

4. Climb down stairs to retrieve the ball (again, this is better if you can get the big people to come with you)

5.  Repeat.

6. Repeat.

7. Repeat (until the big people wander off to do other things)

There was a second game called “Dog on the Milk” which involved moving a stuffed dog (named “All Pandas”) around the apartment but LP gave up on it after getting frustrated with me for not understanding the rules of the game.

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In our house, we have the (fairly standard) rule of  “no potty talk at the table.”

LP loves to push the boundaries on this one.  With a glint in her eye, she’ll ask me questions for which the answer is pee or poop (for example, “Why do we walk dogs?” and “What did the dogs do on the living room floor when no one let the dogs out?”).

The other night after I reminded her of the rule, she looked at me crossly and said, “Then no monkeys!” Just moments before, ImprovDad and I had been imitating monkeys although I can’t recall why.

Much as I hate to give up monkeying at the table, it seems fair and, more importantly fun, to incorporate LP’s rules into the picture. So I said, “Okay now we have two rules at the table. No potty talk and no monkeys.” Then I asked ImprovDad if he wanted to set a rule and he said very seriously, “No talking about toasters.”

LP & I have had rule setting discussions in the past but they have always been a serious kind of talk. I had not thought of playful rule setting before.  It lightened up my job of enforcing the rules and we had a playful time skating near the edge of each of our rules and reminding each other about them.  I’m going to remember to do this (the I set a rule and you set a rule)  on purpose in the future as a playful way to get buy in from LP about rules.

What rules have your little people come up with?

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LP and I are on the road again.

We’ve started this trip with a visit to my Dad so she can have some good Grandpa time.  We’re staying at his place and in usual LP style she has commandeered all kinds of objects to play with.  The first night we were here, she kept pestering him until he brought all of his many model ships down for her. There was an armada on the coffee table!

A lot of rain has kept us more indoors than out and so it has been lovely to witness LP step up her imaginative action to make up for the lack of available toys and art supplies.

Last night she was ripping up some newspapers and called me over to help her make dinosaurs.  I wanted to use painters tape but LP had a vision for newspaper only dinosaurs and the ones I made with tape were sent to live at the bottom of the stairs.

Today, LP was determined to see her vision realized.  She began ripping and folding newspaper and handing me specific bones….some known (“this is a rib”) and some made-up (“this is a bruteen”).  So I loosened up my ideas of what a dinosaur looks like and said “yes” to her offers and enjoyed exploring the possibilities of the newspaper.

After we had made two that she particularly liked (named Juffee and Martella), she had us play hide and seek with them. Every time she would be in charge of the hiding dinosaur and would giggle with delight as the seeking dinosaur and I looked all over Dad’s apartment without finding the other.

Here (from right to left) are Juffee, Martella and a friend who is as of yet unnamed:

At home, a project like this might emerge but I think it would not evolve as far because LP (or I) would get distracted by other things.  Being on the road, I appreciate her creativity even more than usual.

This post is part of “We Play” over at Childhood 101…every week there are lots of great play ideas from all over the world!

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The show has begun.

I love improvising for many reasons. Without a doubt, my life is better because of my improvisational experiences — I am a better friend, wife and mother because of them. I’ve learned so much about being flexible, open-minded, saying “yes!” to opportunities, taking risks and on and on. AND it is my extreme sport.  I am probably never going to jump out of a plane or go spelunking or diving under wild conditions.  Yet I’ve found the place where I can get an amazing adrenaline rush — stepping out onto the improv stage to create something from nothing.

The adrenaline balanced with the frame of the improv show creates this lovely state of mind and body.  I am alert, aware, having ideas and inspirations and acting on them or holding back depending on what the show needs.  While onstage, my brain and body are fully engaged in the storytelling moment, actively accepting and making offers with my fellow improvisors while juggling all my inner reactions and ideas.

Backstage (or in the wings, depending on our stage set up) a different version of this occurs.  We are an improvisation company that strives for no backstage discussion. We want the creating to happen in front of the audience and engaged with them. ( We do always have a whiteboard backstage to keep track of  audience suggestions, character names and important details as they arise. So sometimes when I’m backstage, I’m looking at the board to remind myself of those details.)  While watching the onstage action, I may have 10 ideas or 100 or more AND as the scene continues my ideas must constantly change to incorporate what has happened.  We never “know” when we are needed onstage so we have to be constantly available.  I love it when a fellow performer points at me and walks onstage to start a scene.  I don’t anything about their idea and off I go, trusting in the moment.  At most someone might point and then whisper one word like “office” or “volcano” but then the rest takes place in public.

Backstage during a scene, I find myself watching and on my toes. Ready to go on if I’m needed and ready to stay off if I’m not.  It can be quite a beautiful experience of flow…especially in a show that is going well.  When I’m not needed onstage, I also get the thrill of enjoyment from watching the skill and talents of the other actors.

In our dress rehearsal for Secret Identity Crisis, there was a stunning experience of group mind backstage. The premise of this show is the life behind the mask in the world of superheroes.  We had just reached the climactic scene and the main character was in the spotlight. Suddenly her mentor appeared on the stage and without a pause the rest of us disappeared backstage.  Without a word to each other, we watched the scene between the two of them unfold in the main character’s inner world and then without a pause, all four other actors jumped back on stage and we were back in real time for the final battle moment.  That to me was one of the powerful experiences I’ve had of group mind backstage.

I hope you’ve enjoyed Behind the Scenes week.  If you’re interested in reading more about performing and other things from the improvisor’s perspectives, here are some recent blog posts by wonderful improvisors I know:

“The Circus Bow and other Lessons from the Big Top, Part 1 – Celebrating Failure” by Kat Koppett on the Improvisational Storyteller

“What the Audience Knows” by Rebecca Stockley on the Improv Lady

“Space Object Work in 2 Simple Rules” by Rich Cox on Improv Notebook

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Behind the Scenes week continues here at Improv-a-Mama with one of my favorite parts of a performance — pre-show!

Since early on, one of Un-Scripted’s ensemble members, Christian, has pushed us to connect with the audience before the show starts.  We mix and mingle and talk to folks as they come in and are sitting down. As a shy person, my first reaction (and 2nd and 3rd reaction) was “No!”  So I  had to do some work to get to “yes” and now nine years later, I love this pre-show time.

This mingling with the audience  is the beginning of creating together for the evening.  As performers, we have a chance to set expectations about the show (our style of improvisation as theater without a script is different from much other improv that folks have seen), get the audience thinking about the kind of suggestions we’re going to ask for, answer questions and really, just make a personal connection.

Sometimes it is thought of as a time to “get the audience on our side.” I do think that it does serve that function;  a roomful of people that has met you and connected with you is more likely to join into the communal imagination of creating a show than sit back and heckle. (Really. A connected audience is waaaaaay less likely to say, “proctologist” when asked for a suggestion while an unconnected audience almost always will.) However, I believe there is a deeper and more powerful something going on than trying to get people to like us and that is  an experience of community.

Yes it is a temporary community. It is a community of a few hours. It is a community of the performance for that evening. Still, it is a community and that feeling of being a part of something is valuable for all of us, especially in our modern society where increasing numbers of people report being shy and feeling isolated.

Improvisation is a communal art form;  we as performers are impacted by the audience as much on a kinesthetic level throughout the show as we are by their suggestions to inspire us at the beginning.  Just as improvisors warm-up before we go onstage, the audience needs an opportunity to warm-up to the experience.

I feel like I’ve had a successful pre-show if I’ve not only conveyed important information about the show, but also learned something about audience members and drawn them out to tell their stories. In recent weeks, I spoke with a woman who was a child prodigy on the piano. She performed at Carnegie Hall as a young teenager and played with many of the greats and she came to chose a path outside of the arts so she could have a more balanced life.  A man in the audience told me that he had an identical twin and he had moved across the country to California after high school to have room to establish his own identity.  Audience members’ stories tend to stay with me in a vivid way. Do I use them in the show? Usually not consciously but I’m sure my unconscious is chewing on those images and drawing inspiration from them.

Two weeks ago, an audience member asked me what I do to get ready to be onstage? Did I have any rituals or routines?  I was stumped for a moment and then I realized how important this preshow was to me, and I could simply answer, “Doing this.”  We talked about it for a few minutes and it was fun to bring the community of the moment to the surface and enjoy that together.

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I’m an improvisor, not a fighter.

I have never really thrown a punch to defend myself or shot someone or drawn a sword to do battle.

Yet sometimes, an improvisor needs to be fighter, and throw a punch or do a roundhouse kick or wield a sword or a staff or a gun.

Stage fighting is an area of improvisation that has been quite challenging for me.  Not only am I having to get over my pacifist impulses and do what my character needs to do, I also have to get over my self-consciousness and imagine myself into situations that are challenging for me. Some imaginative challenges are easier than other…I’ll make up songs on stage until the cows come home, or do Shakespeare-style improvisations or any other hundred things that are primarily mental.  When it comes to creating physical realities that are far from my own, I have to work harder.

I flinch — even if I’m the one throwing the punch or wielding the sword. And really, nothing breaks the illusion quite like flinching. It is telling the audience “I’m uncomfortable and so I’m letting you know this isn’t real.” One of the improvisor’s greatest skills can be commitment and if I can be in stage fight with full commitment, the audience will join me and color in the details to make it rich and wonderful.

I find it is one thing to think that (and I do!) and quite another thing to get over my flinching self-consciousness. To do that, I need opportunities to practice fighting and to learn how to use my body to fight in different situations.

Over the years as a performer, I’ve had some great opportunities to learn but I have to admit it is an area of practice that I don’t keep up on so I remain uncomfortable.

Enter the slo-mo fight scenes of Secret Identity Crisis.

Recently, Bryce (producer and cast member) ran us through a series of warm-ups that got the whole cast moving in pairs, following body motions through and playing with making contact and avoiding contact ALL in slow motion.  It was fun and I made many discoveries about what I could and couldn’t do with my body in slow motion. It was so much easier to follow the flow of the motion instead of thinking “where should I be falling if I get hit on this side?”  It also helped to have that connection with my fighting partners;  with that level of connection I felt safe and that I was not going to end up in a situation I wasn’t ready for (in one show, Bryce picked Michael up in a fight and it was phenomenal and not something I’m ready for!)

Then he had the inspiration for fighting four against one.  Here’s the video clip of the first time we used it in a show (I’m in the black and dark purple):

Bryce found a way to teach fighting that embraced the cast’s very varied skill set and comfort levels and it has made it much more fun to do. (I might even look forward to doing it again in another show.)

Last chance to see Secret Identity Crisis is this weekend…more information and tickets available at www.un-scripted.com.

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