End Scene

Posted: August 24, 2015 in Building a Theater
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36ed6b7ee0b378d8383592fb90d722afTonight was the last night of our harold class, and one of my favorite nights of all the classes that I teach. We spend five weeks going rounds with all of the parts of the harold, and then on week six we put it all together. Tonight during my class’ second harold I saw the best student harold that I have seen performed at our theater. Yes I can even say what they put together tonight rivaled some of the harolds our house teams perform.

As I was watching this group of people put on a masterful show, that I only an audience of one got to see (sometimes that is the magic of improv, we have these truly amazing moments of play that no one will ever get to witness except the people participating) and I was struck with what we have put together at TIM. Finally after almost three years of work, the whole structure is in place, and that is what is letting these people be so successful in this moment.

One of the hardest parts about starting an improv scene from scratch, especially one that is going to be harold based, is generally no one know what the hell you are talking about. I am amazed at the momentum the common collective has in our shared human knowledge. These folks have been hearing about and seeing harolds performed from their first day with us. They could walk into our biweekly harold shows and see it. That sort of knowledge wasn’t available for almost every other class before this point. Everyone speaks the language, and that is invaluable.

We also finally hit critical mass. Everyone in the company doesn’t need to do everything anymore. We can spread the work. This starts with having more teachers, and a solid process to put those teachers into place. When people get to me in harold they have probably had three different instructors before they step foot in my class. While we are all working through my overarching philosophy, they all bring different perspectives and push them in different ways. This helps them be more successful once they get into my class, varying perspectives.

We have a strong incubators program, allowing people to quickly get into our company and on a weekly basis practice the basic skills. We just started a long form incubators team at the last auditions, a way for people to immediately start working the long from muscle. No longer a need to sift through some short from to get to the long from. That is having an amazing effect on the quality of performance in our organization.

I guess what I am trying to say, is tonight was the evening that I saw the results of putting this all together. Tonight was the night that I knew we have a solid process, which will continue to turn out an amazing product. One that I am proud of, and one that I believe will soon be able to go up and be equal to the best improv happening around the country. It’s not every day that we see the fruit of years of hard labor, but tonight was that night. As we come up on our three-year anniversary, this is the reason that I started this gig on October 24th of 2012. So tonight I needed to blog because, how often do you get to see life happen in this way!


Third ThoughtI recently watched a live podcast where they were interviewing Charna Halpern. I know my life is pretty cool, and one thing that she said during the interview, which really stuck out to me was, “you need to look to access your third thought.” Improv is a thinking man’s game and you always need to be moving steps ahead.

I think this comes out of the concept of you need to surprise the audience to get laughter and engagement. Or the thought that we need to surprise ourselves, or our fellow improvisers, to get real reactions on stage. I don’t know that I prescribe to those pieces of improv wisdom, but I can see how they are useful.

In our improv 101 classes we talk about improv being a hallway with many doors. Right now we just want them to walk through any door and to see what you find. As you get more advanced we want you to choose the right door that would lead to the most comedy the fastest. The more advanced you get improvising is like seeing a ton of options in your mind, being able to sort them quickly, and picking the strongest option immediately. Once you get into that choice, hopefully there is a strong pattern and you can see or feel what the end point would be.

In that scenario is where I think this 3rd thought idea comes into play. It’s like we are constantly living the rule of three’s: in our scenes, in our harolds, and now in our improv brains. As we look at our list of options the first thought is probably standard of what everyone is thinking. Our second thought is a pretty solid if this then what kind of deal, and that third thought is the bold choice, the unexpected thing the contrast, the true choice. As improvisers we should always be looking to set up the funny fast, and its through bold choices we get there, and I think in looking for the third thought, the first two set us up for that success at number three. Its those first two things that let us really grapple with what is really going on in the scene, and then we can go to that third place and knock it home.

Living the Dream

Posted: March 7, 2015 in Building a Theater
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1013769_697419660342479_3481726946547428037_nMost days I need to pinch myself, because I am living my dream. I have a great job in Residence Life that I set out to get about five years ago. I own an improv theater, which I dreamed about since starting improv over six years ago. I live in an amazing place where it is sunny, warm, and beautiful. I have great people in my life that I love and they love me. What else could a person want or ask for?

This doesn’t come without hard work. I tell people that I work about 65+ hours a week, 40 for the University of Arizona and 25+ with TIM. While the work is hard and the hours are long, I spend almost all of them with amazing people. A lot of that work is coaching people, or teaching people an art form I love. The other half of it is performing on a stage where people pay money to watch me make them laugh. I only believe that can be the best work in life.

All of this crystalizes for me in one specific moment. Each week after a night of audiences leave the theater, the staff clears out, and I am generally in the theater for a moment by myself and its all quiet I look around and think I am the luckiest guy in the world. I think of all the good energy and fun vibes stored up in our space from all the laughs and fun we have together. And that is when I know this is where I am meant to be!

Coaching Improv

Posted: March 2, 2015 in Uncategorized

I love teaching improv and I love coaching improv. I have often said that I am a better teacher and coach then I am a performer, and I feel really good about that. While I love to perform, it’s amazing to watch people that I taught and get there. I always feel that in a small part of each laugh is a little part of me.

Sometimes when you coach people, they tell you when they have ah hah moment. The other day after a particularly fun but hard rehearsal I got a message from one of my teammates. They said, today when we were doing that activity and you told us to do that thing I had this break through moment. Normally in life when that would happen I would do this or I would do that, but in improv I need to do this other thing because that is what will create the funny. Bam done lesson learned. In that moment my teammate said, “you are pretty good coach J Luke.” I replied, that my job is to observe what you’re doing and to push you in certain directions and then hopefully we get somewhere cool together. And on that night we did!

Coaching is a lot like playing. You need to manage a lot of things, and you need to take everything in, and evaluate what people are saying, doing and not saying and doing constantly. I think it’s often the hardest to figure out what people are not doing, and to get them to then do that thing. It’s hard to do what doesn’t come naturally and make it natural. I was recently working on developing an advanced harold curriculum. It’s something we don’t have yet at our theater, and I really want to take a stab at what it would look like to develop a curriculum from scratch. So I have been reading and researching and one of the things that has stuck out to me is the concept of watching shows and thinking about what moves people are not making, and then how can we come to the class and be wanting to work on those types of moves.

So that is my challenge to you today, you the three people who read this blog. Go think about what you’re not doing, which is fucking hard right, and then go to your next rehearsal or class wanting to practice and try those moves. It’s the only way to get better, try new things, and let people yes and them! I always tell people the more you try, the more you find things that work, and then you can do those things more! The best improvisers can do it all, but they also play to their strengths most of the time.

Why I Love Tucson

Posted: February 27, 2015 in Uncategorized
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250852_323386647745784_521090200_nSo I did a bunch of this love stuff about improv, now I turn the tables to the town that I call home. Tucson, Arizona is an awesome city to live in. Besides more days filled with sunshine then anywhere else in the country, the awesomeness of Tucson abounds.

Tucson is a midsized city, and there are a bunch of midsized in our country that get this rap of being hipster cool. Everyone knows “Keep Austin Weird” and how “cool” Portal Oregon is, and that is what we need to develop for the Old Peublo. We should come up with a cool Tucson phrase like Keep Tucson Local or Tucson kicks ass and I even like the visitors bureau’s Free Yourself, but I think we can all agree Tucson’s phrase is “Be Kind!” Developed by Ben’s Bell’s founder Jeanette Mare, we need to come together and make that the mantra of our city. It has such a nice ring to it to, its almost like Yes And! How cool would it be for Tucson to be the kindest city in America, and let everything else flow from that!

I love Tucson because it has the best restaurants ever. In the spirit of keeping Tucson local I can’t even tell you the last time I ate at a chain restaurant in our city. OK Buffalo Wild Wings, I eat there a lot, but besides that. From Tucson Tamale Company, Mama Louisa’s, the Metzger Restaurants, Guadalajara Grill when its not burnt down, Mi Niditos, to everything of 4th Ave and Downtown, god we have it good in this town. Literally tourists could come here and just eat around the city that is what we should sell (you listening Visit Tucson?)!

I love Tucson because it’s a festival city. Starting with the one that goes right outside the door of our theater the 4th Ave Street Fair, to Tucson Meet AKA Eat Yourself, and beyond. Let’s talk about the All Soul’s Procession, what a unique and amazing cultural celebration that we have in our town. I went to the procession for the first time this year, and was blown away by the number of people there, and the spirit of the event. We also have one of the largest Book Festivals in the country, and I don’t need to recount how I met RL Stine a few years ago, but it was awesome!

I love the people and I love the spirit of my liberal little burg. I am always thinking about how we can put this place on the map. How do we get more tourists and move cool stuff in Tucson. When I talk to people who complain or don’t like living here, I just don’t understand how that can be, we have it all everything a big city has but the feel of a small town. What’s not to love! Bear Down!

1486773_10152655781118697_3240677270817047095_nI recently spent some time at the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival, where I was lucky enough to watch some of the best improv teams in the country play amazing shows. It’s amazing to sit back and watch some of the best people in the business from New York, Chicago, LA, and lots of other smaller cities come and knock stuff out of the park. The thing I took away from this weekend was how everyone looked like they were playing slower, but they were actually playing more aggressive and faster.

TIM is a baby in its improv life. We have been in existence for a little over two years, and we’ve our own space for five months now. If I was comparing us to a human baby we would just be starting to walk. The biggest note I am working on getting people over right now is to play more aggressive and to play bigger. The trick to playing more aggressive and fast is to still be in control. Playing out of control where nothing is connected or thought through is worse then playing slow, but playing fast is the ultimate idea. When I was at the festival I overheard a coach telling is team that they should be aggressive in the first 30 seconds of their scenes, and if they aren’t going anywhere at that point to wipe them. If they are playing a scene after 30 seconds those scenes should be on fire.

I watched North Coast play, which is a hip-hop, freestyle beatbox 10365845_743765805675517_3173661374693034777_nrapping team. In TIM we are working on rapping to play in some of our short form games. While we are new to rapping people usually talk to fast, get ahead of themselves and feel nervous. What I was astonished by in watching their show, is how they seemed so relaxed and chill in their rapping. It was like they weren’t afraid to play the words and beats slower, but you could tell they were actually rapping and thinking faster.

So that is the challenge that I bring back to TIM. I want our style to be fast paced, find the funny quick, and play it. I want us to be a little bolder, and go a bit further out of our comfort zone. While we do that I want us to be under control, and think two to three steps ahead. At the end of it the master loses nothing, so even though we are going faster, we are not actually losing anything.

Why I Love Harold

Posted: February 20, 2015 in Improv Musings
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Del CloseIn the 1960’s Del Close developed the first type of long form improvisation, he built the harold. His goal was to create a piece where everyone on the stage was an ensemble always working together to develop art through the heart. At the beginning no one had done anything like this before, so a format needed to be developed so the players knew where they were at in the piece and what was to come next. Today we know the art, and the structure isn’t necessarily needed, because people can now go out and just improvise for an hour. In modern improv we know how it works, and we do what the scene, the piece, and ultimately the suggestion calls for.

That is some powerful shit, but it is my opinion that none of that happens unless you first learn harold. We are essentially always doing harold, in the beginning of the piece there are first beats, and eventually we need a pallet cleanser and out comes a group game, then we may revisit scenes or we might discover new things, and then a pallet cleanser and then we start to combine things, and then we want to end with a high point or third beats. Essentially if you don’t know harold you don’t know the basis of long from improv. In music you learn scales and chords, so then you can put it together to make songs, harold is the scales and chords of improvisation.

I love harold because while it all takes on different forms and processes it is the agreed upon standard. You can travel the country and now the world and see harolds. Everyone should know the standard bearer of his or her craft. It’s the thing that connects us to the past, the present, and the future. Del talked about the common knowledge or the collective unconscious. It was the idea that once something is known and worked on we all essentially know it, its out there in the atmosphere, but its our job to bring it out in ourselves together. That is what we do each time a harold is performed we honor the past and create the future.

I love the beauty of a harold when it is done well! When people start learning the harold is seems complicated and confusing, but once you spend some time with it the simplicity is beautiful. The rule of threes sits all over the whole thing, from the opening, to the number of scenes, to the number of acts, to essentially the number of beats we should play in each scene. Harolds are mini harold within mini harolds within harolds, fractuals ya’ll! When simple relationships and games are created, the ability to just play and mix and connect is natural and beautiful!

At the end of the day the harold is a beautiful format. I want to see more people perform it and love it. I want to see it performed with reverence and honor for what it is. Our common language, our common core, our common ritual as improvisers. Every time I teach a new harold class, that is where we start by honoring the process, created by our leader Del!