Archive for May, 2011

Welcome to Behind the Scenes week!

In honor of closing weekend of Secret Identity Crisis, I’m writing a series of posts about what improvisors are up to behind the scenes — in rehearsal, preshow and backstage.

First up — rehearsals.

“If you’re making it up on the spot, what do you do in rehearsals?” (or some version of that question) is one of the most often asked questions.

The answer: it depends on the show.

The Un-Scripted Theater Company follows a rather standard theater schedule of 6-8 weeks of rehearsal, then we open and have a run of shows for 4-8 weeks with rehearsals continuing through the run.  There is a director (or co-directors) for each show who come up with the vision and design rehearsals to train the cast in the skills needed to make a successful show.

Secret Identity Crisis takes place in a world of superheroes, specifically inspired by the world of comic book superheroes.  One aspect of rehearsals (and research outside of rehearsals) is getting the whole cast on the same page of what that can mean.  I have to admit to probably never having read a comic book as an adult and it was really fun to be introduced to the range of what is out there. (Did you know Joss Whedon also writes comic books?)

In rehearsal, we worked with exploring the archetypes of the genre (the hero, the nemesis, the sidekick, the love interest and the mentor). By exploring them in rehearsal, we get through the easy references and common storylines so by the time we open we are ready to explore a wider variety of story arcs.

We worked a lot on endowments; always critical for an improvisor, an endowment is something an improvisor says or does that provides color and specificity. It can be about the location (“I’ve never seen so many posters of bears in one room.” or “Watch your step, there’s a sudden drop into the abyss over there”) or your own character (“I’ve never told anyone this before, but after the accident I started to have psychic visions.”) or someone else’s character (“I love you even if you never let me see your face behind the mask.”)  Since we perform on a basically empty, black stage, we need to create the set in our audiences mind and communicate with each other within the scenes all of the ideas in our head.

We also practice the specific structural elements of a show. In Secret Identity Crisis, the show always starts with a climactic scene that ends with the main character in a spotlight. Then the story moves back in time and we work towards that moment for the rest of the show.

And we practice specific skills, like stage fighting which is its own post later this week.

Most importantly, the weeks of rehearsing together gives the cast time to know each others strengths and weaknesses and how to play together.  There are 13 cast members, some of whom have played together for years and others who are totally new to each other. That’s a lot of playful relationships to develop. Rehearsal, for me, is an amazing time of growing appreciation for each persons’ skills.

Once the shows open, there is focus on how to go farther, tell more sophisticated stories, bring in more skills and achieve our goal…which is that our audience on any given night leaves feeling not only satisfied with the superhero show they’ve seen but that they feel like they’ve seen a play that just happens to not have a script.

If you want to hear from other cast members and see rehearsal footage, check out the fantastic vlogs  that cast member Aaron made:


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“The first step is to wonder, but the next is to act.”

~Amanda Morgan (of Not Just Cute) in the guest post “Passionately Curious” on Willow Creek Pediatrics

And here’s more playful food for thought:

“Play Power: How to Turn Around Our Creativity Crisis” by Laura Seargeant Richardson on The Atlantic website

“13 Things Parents Do That Inhibit Real Play”  by Katey Magill on the Having Fun at Home blog

“Adults Need Play Too!” by Julie Nicholson on the KaBOOM! blog

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Happy Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a mixed bag for me…in the years after my Mom died and before LP was born, I thought I had every emotional response possible from despised “hallmark holiday” to day of loving memories.  In LP’s first year, I was so immersed in PPD that I felt like I could hardly breathe, all I wanted for Mother’s Day was to be left alone and not be a mother for awhile.

Today is one of the good days and I can enjoy my family and my memories. LP (with some help from ImprovDad) made me a book as a gift titled “The Mama Held the Flower Panda” with this picture on the cover:

It pretty much doesn’t get better than that.

So today I celebrate all the gifts of being my mother’s daughter while I miss her active presence in our lives.  I’m thinking of the other wonderful mothers in my life — my Nana (pictured with my Mom at the top), Great-Aunt Thelma and Erna — all who live on in my memories and actions.  Also to all my current mothering compatriots and inspirations especially Shirl, Trinella & Diane for being my three 2nd moms after my mom died. My teenage years would have been so much harder without you.  And my daily life as a mom is better because of sharing the journey with my fellow moms in my sister Lynne, my sister-in-law Helen, my life-long friends Trina & Wendy and my mom-in-law, Marjorie.  And  our lives are made sweeter and better all the time by the love & support that we get from LP’s special aunties — Tara, Mandy  & Sandy. AND although it might seem strange, life as a mom is better for all the sharing with my mama friends on Facebook.  Happy Mom’s Day to all of you!

If you or a mom you love is suffering from PPD or related post-partum disorders, Postpartum Progress is having an amazing Mother’s Day Rally for Mental Health.  This blog has been a source of comfort and healing for me…not just today but every day I needed to know I was not alone.

Thanks for sharing the journey of playful parenting with me here on improv-a-mama…I wish you joyful days with your little people.

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Full credit to Teacher Tom for this… See his blog posts here and here for inspiration and ideas for how to give little people the opportunity to work with hot glue guns. Things went pretty much as he described, she was so intent on her project that when she did touch the too hot glue, she reacted only briefly and got back to work.  My main supervision ended up being around making sure it was put down safely and adding more glue sticks.

LP was excited for her chance to use the hot glue gun.  Here she is waiting to begin with a selection of materials to glue (randomly grabbed from our art boxes):

And she was off:

She was focused and seemed blissfully happy putting lots and lots of glue on the box as her main exploration although she did take time to experiment with spreading it out:

and weaving a spider web with the dried glue strands:

Here’s the “cake with anchovy frosting” final product:

One thing that is great for me about a project like this is that it challenges me to control myself and give her space to discover the possibilities.  I had visions of building sculptures…LP wanted to build glue piles and dots and squiggles.  The important thing in this moment was to say “yes” with my behavior to support her creative exploration and to allow her to use her spontaneity to explore rather than be directive and product oriented.

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One of my garden projects this spring is creating a bean teepee.  I set it up a few weeks ago with one scarlett runner bean seedling that LP chose at the nursery and many pots that LP & I planted with sugar snap peas.  LP has been disatisfied with the amount of string on the poles, so I finally got around to getting another roll of string and fixing it up.


and after:

And then of course, there was string to be played with! LP unrolled lengths of string and I cut them for her and she put her creativity to work.

The playhouse became a chicken coop that needed decoration:

There was intricate twisting and twining:

and decorating herself with string too:

and the chicken coop and teepee needed to be connected:

I forget sometimes how one new thing in a playspace can be the inspiration for a different kind of play.  This is a year that I”m wanting to evolve our little yard into a more fun place to be and I can see how keeping the movable elements in mind (string/balls/boxes/indoor toys that can venture out) will feed LP’s imagination and play in new ways.

This post is part of “We Play” at Childhood 101…this group of posts focus on outdoor play with lots of great ideas.

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“We need our children to help us stay in touch with our natural, playful side and they need us to be role models of play. “

~ “We Need Playful Children” guest post by Megan Rosker on Imagination Soup

More playful food for thought:

“30 Moves for Excess Energy” at hands on: as we grow

“Part One: Who Needs Creativity?” guest post by Amanda Morgan on Willow Creek Pediatrics

And outside of the web…I just started reading The Case for Make Believe by Susan Linn and it is wonderful and inspiring and I’m only on page 45.   Book review to come soon!

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