Thursday, November 29, 2012

Head-in-a-Cart Takes an Improv Class: Week #8


Well, it’s over. And it couldn’t end without me disturbing my classmates with one of my monologues.  I arrived to class and found everyone stressing out about our graduation performance on Saturday.  I told them that if someone like me who wasn’t anywhere close to being a performer could do it, they, actors, could do it.  They just looked at me and continued whining.  Someone asked me if I was nervous.  I answered honestly: No.  I added that I had learned that it was best to feel it and not try to suppress it because by the time you have to perform that anxiousness has left your body.

After we warmed up with Zip Zap Zop and the thumper games, we got to work on the show. Some scenes went well but most of them sucked.  But it’s okay. The teacher said we’re at Improv 101 level.  My last thumper was “Jazzzzzzzzzz Hands!”

After the first word suggestion (I forgot what it was) and a couple of scenes, I stepped forward onto the stage with Richie, one of the better improvisers, and he immediately made me Mrs. Johnson, a little old lady he took care of and had drank an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol.  I channeled my grandmother and insulted him, telling him he had given me diarrhea and that now I was constipated.  The rest of the scene was him struggling to sneak my meds into a gluten free apple pie I wouldn’t eat and eventually threw on the floor.  The scene was funny, but we never found the Game.

The second scene I was involved in was problematic because I turned it into a transaction scene.  The monologist talked about having to participate in a parade wearing shoes that didn’t fit.  I started the scene and I offered the customer two pairs of Prada shoes size 3 and size 16.  He was size 10 but the shoe store only sold size 3 and 16.  That was the Game.  Someone stepped in as the manager and when the customer complained, he said, “Yeah, so what’s the problem?”  We couldn’t find or say anything to keep him from leaving so he did, leaving me and the manager to continue the scene.  Transaction scenes are very difficult to maintain.

The second word suggestion we got was “lipstick.”  I gasped and walked on stage automatically.  It was as if someone had pushed me forward.  I couldn’t believe I had just remembered something that happened to me that I had suppressed for a few years at least.  And now here I was in front of all these people and I couldn’t step back.  I had no choice but to tell the story because I couldn’t think of any other story about lipstick.

When I moved back to the U.S. after a stint in Puerto Rico and Mexico, my friend’s sister’s husband offered me a job working for him.  I didn’t know anything about working in a law firm but I said yes.  I struggled a lot on the job but eventually got the hang of it.  Well, sort of.  As much as you can without giving a shit about your job.  A year later one of his associates, a female lawyer with a predilection for very short skirts, threw a holiday party at her house.  My boss’s wife (my friend’s sister) met us at the party.  We didn’t stay very long because it was boring and we got hungry.  We ended up at an Italian restaurant eating delicious food.  My boss had a few drinks.  Since they had taken separate cars, she drove home and my boss and I walked back to the office’s underground parking.  I didn’t have a car back then, so he was going to drive me home. 

We got in the car and suddenly, he put his thumb on my mouth and gently glided it across my lower lip.  I was wearing bright red stick.  At that very moment, I wanted to be dead.  I wanted there to be an earthquake and for the high rise to fall and flatten us.  But it didn’t happen.  I pretended what just had happened didn’t happen.  He started to drive and periodically would squeeze my knee.  I kept on talking and talking, what, I don’t remember, while I pressed myself against the car door.  I figured if I kept on blabbing nonsense nothing else would happen.  When we arrived at my place, I said thank you and ran.  I could never make sense of it. I still can’t.

The only way I could deal with this was to pretend it never happened.  He did too.  Let me say it again.  This is the man who is married to a woman whom I have known since I was 13 years old.  My best friend’s sister.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t awkward at the office.  We were really good at pretending it didn’t happen.  I only told my sister and even forgot about it. Until today.

Throughout the monologue I kept on looking at my teacher and classmate’s faces.  I expected them to have shocked expressions but they didn’t.  They were just engrossed and I could tell they were really looking forward to what I would say next.  When I was finished, I turned around to join my team and I saw their faces.  Bulging eyes and open mouths.  The scenes that followed were all about lipstick and make up.  At the end of the class during note-giving the teacher told me that it was a very courageous monologue, full of material for scenes.  But again, my team failed to use any of it.

I’ll miss having the chance to become someone else once a week.  I had fun doing something that is so different than anything I’ve ever done in the past.  Something so unlike me.  I enjoyed using parts of my body other than my head.  It’s unlikely I will continue because at this stage I really have to focus on moving my filmmaking forward to the next level.  Unless, of course, something miraculously happens on stage on Saturday and I decide I can’t live without performing long form improv. It’s very unlikely.

Lesson #8: Most people aren't used to honest and painful storytelling but I intend to give it to them anyway.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Head-in-a-Cart Takes an Improv Class: Week #7



You’re probably wondering what happened to week 6. Or maybe not.  Anyway, I missed class because I was at AFI Fest hanging out with friends.  Priorities.

 
I felt badly that I missed the class and dreaded that I would be really behind.  Then I found out other people missed it too so I didn’t feel like such a bad, irresponsible student.

 
Before we got on stage to do warm up exercises the teacher explained the format of our graduation show and how it would unfold.  He is going to divide the class into two groups.  Each group will pick a spokesperson and a team name.  The team not performing will sit in the front row and participate as part of the audience.  The spokesperson of the team performing will introduce the team by saying “Hellooooooooo, we’re the Bananaramas!” or something like that.  Then he will ask for a one word suggestion from the audience, repeat it to the rest of the team and the team will repeat the word in unison. Then one person will step forward and do a monologue based on memories invoked by that word.  It’s supposed to be honest and full of details so that we can get plenty of material for scenes.  The scenes can be inspired by the original word suggestion or anything in the monologue.  After a 2 min. monologue, the monologist will join the rest of the group and then two people will step forward and do a scene.  This is not determined by whose turn it is or anything like that.  Anyone can step up and do a scene and anyone from the backline can step in and bestow a gift to help the scene.  So each group will perform a monologue, and 3 scenes and then solicit another word suggestion and another monologue and 3-4 scenes depending on the time.  During the last two-thirds anyone can do a monologue if they choose instead of a scene.  I know it’s confusing. I was confused too.

 
We warmed up with our thumpers and a game called Zoom Schwartz Elvis Profigliano.  I don’t want to forget my thumpers and for history’s sake I will list below. 

 
1.     “Scary Teri”
2.     Ouch ouch ouch and jumping up and down yelping like a puppy in pain.
3.     I gotta pee I gotta pee while I squeeze my thighs together.
4.     Oh shit that’s my ex!
5.     OMG I’m so positive! while I jump up

 I had more but I forgot them.

 
Then we did a quick scene to remind us to establish location and relationship right away.  My partner and I got the word “comb” and I said, “Honey, you’re losing your hair.”  He said maybe I should get Rogaine and I said no go to the doctor because I think it’s more serious than that. He vacillated and I said, honey you know I don’t like bald men.  He said “ouch.”  Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the teacher and thought, oh shit.  He’s balding.  So I said, you know it’s not personal.  It reminds me of my dad and it freaks me out. It reminds me of his clown wig cap and how he used to scare the shit out of us.  The teacher ended the scene.

 
After warm up we basically just ran the show.  Each team did the first third and then we did the last two thirds.

 
Our team got the word “Prius.”  I stepped up immediately to do a monologue.  It was going to be way too easy.  I knew it as soon as I heard the word.

I told them the word Prius reminded me of my ex.  I live in Silverlake and every other car is a Prius.  Everywhere we went there they were Priuses.  The weird thing is that I never noticed it until he brought it up.  So I had to listen to constant annoying comments about Priuses and hipsters and he making fun of hipsters on Priuses.  But of course I was in love so it didn’t bother me that much until now that I have to be reminded of him every time I see a Prius in my neighborhood.  But I’m okay really.  It’s been a year a half and I’m totally over it.  The worst thing about the break up was thinking my ex was this great dude that I put on a pedestal and then finding out that he was the total opposite.  A loser and a misogynist.  I always thought I was a good judge of character and now I just don’t know.  I don’t trust myself anymore.  But I’m okay.  Really.  Totally okay.  I’ve decided never to put myself in that situation ever again.  I am perfectly happy with my doggy and I am totally fine with a closed lady cave. 

While I was talking I looked out at the audience and saw sad expressions.  The more I talked, the sadder they got.  It threw me.  What I was saying was funny to me, but now that I think about it, it’s pretty sad if you don’t know me.  I talked way too much because I got confused and was expecting the teacher to end my monologue.  He said at the beginning of the class that he was going to be at the booth editing the scenes by going to black.  Not the monologues.  Luckily it fell within the two minute mark.

Most of the scenes people did were about Priuses:  a father who works at Greenpeace tries to force a Hummer on his daughter because they are a Hummer family (I pretended to be a Save the Polar Bears protestor in the background); a lesbian on her first Match.com date only dates women who drive Priuses.  The last one was about a guy trying to talk to his father about being heartbroken and the father calling the ex a whore and all kinds of names.  I didn’t do a scene.

When we talked about the scenes, the teacher told us that we did exactly what we were not supposed to do, basically stick to the one word suggestion.  He said sometimes you have to do that if you get nothing from the monologue or the scenes themselves, but in this case, I gave them a lot to work with and almost no one took advantage of it.  Not everyone gets going from A to C.  I found it interesting that the students who are the oldest do the best monologues.  So is it true young people have nothing to say?  I don’t think so.  I think young people are too self-conscious and afraid to be honest.  I’m not.  It’s basically all I’ve got.

For the next two thirds of the show I decided I wasn’t going to do a monologue and just participate in the scenes.  Our second word suggestion was Post-It Notes and another old fart did a monologue about how when you work in an office you accumulate a lot of free supplies, especially pens.  I stood back scene by scene not really getting inspired by anything they were doing it.  I was trying to go from A to C, but they kept on doing scenes about office supplies, going from A to A to A.  I finally got an idea and stepped forward.  When my scene partner stepped up, I jumped on him and yelled “SURPRISE!!! Happy 21st Birthday little bro!”  handed him an imaginary shot then his present then a shot, etc.  He was overwhelmed and I kept on pressing that he open his present.  He did and was speechless.  I finally said, “It’s highlighters. And Post-It Notes. Even those that say “Sign Here.”  He looked disappointed and I acted like my feelings were hurt. I asked him why he wasn’t excited and he said he didn’t imagine his 21st birthday bash to be just us doing shots at home.  He expected to go to a bar.  I told him I had limited finances and he said then why did you give me what looks like $200 worth of office supplies.  I told him it was to help him realize his dream of having his own office supply store like Lexor. (Here I called back a scene about the manager of Lexor, a supply store that gets its inventory from stolen stuff people misplace all the time, like lighters and pens.)  I continued to try to get him excited about becoming an office supply mogul and going to Shark Tank and getting Mark Cuban to invest.

Our scene inspired a monologue about a 21st birthday bash drunken blackout and that inspired a scene about a son who tells his dad he wants to be an equestrian.  It was set in a barn while the dad brushed a horse.  The father was not very receptive and kept on trying to discourage the son by telling him how hard it was.  I then decided to act like a horse and pranced by them and then pinched the son.  The dad said, “You can never be as good as your sister, look at her.”  We then lost it because we all knew I was supposed to be a horse that bit him on the arm.  My intention was to throw them a gift because the scene was going nowhere.  As it turns out, it wasn’t really because you can never predict what someone is going to interpret it as.  You have to be very specific with what you do from the back line when you do a walk in.  Again, that was me trying to write it my way.

I was feeling very nervous about having to perform in front of an audience for the first time in my life.  I even contemplated bailing.  Of course I did.  But I know I won’t.  I can’t.  I need to do this.  I’m on a journey.  I don’t know what it is.  I’ll tell you when I find out.

 
Lesson #7:  Fear can fool you into thinking you don’t want something you really want.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Film: Zonkey Boy



Yesterday I told a friend that it bothered me that once I got deep into the pre-production of my first feature film I wouldn’t be able to shoot anything.  I expressed my need and desire to shoot another short before year-end.  My friend reminded me that “Chungking Express was shot when Ashes of Time went into production hell.  You can always shoot something.” Of course I don’t foresee getting stuck in production hell but I have left over film from To├▒ita Runs Away and I could write something around a location in San Diego using the little resources I have now.  Up until this afternoon I had no realistic ideas that would fit my resources.  I decided not to stress over it and to wait and just let the ideas suddenly come to me as they always do.   And then, it came.  I ran it by my friend and he liked it.

 
Here’s the logline of the creepy adventure:
 
A boy obsessed with cryptozoology and creatures like Sasquatch and the Chupacabra crosses the border in search of the famed Tijuana zonkey.

 

I haven’t pitched the idea to the young actor but I doubt he’ll say no since he’s easily bribed.

 
So my longtime desire to shoot in Tijuana might soon become a reality.

 
Stay tuned.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Screenwriting is not real writing. - PT Anderson



Last night I had the privilege to attend the Writers on Writing PT Anderson event at the WGA Foundation.  I almost didn’t go because I’ve been attending the AFI Fest for the past week and my dog has had it.  (Good thing I didn’t have kids or they would be whining to their shrink about how I wasn’t there for them because I was always watching movies.)  Also, it was raining and I was tired.  But my new thing is not to use being tired as a bullshit excuse not to do something because Woody Allen is right: "80 percent of success is just showing up."  So I hugged and kissed my dog, told her I’d make it up to her and off I went to learn from an American auteur.


F.X. Feeney moderated the discussion.  He’s that annoying guy at the movie line that goes on and on and on analyzing shit and doesn’t let the other person talk.  I think he did almost 50% of the talking and most of it was analyzing Barry from Punch Drunk Love.  PTA was a saint for actually listening to what Feeney was saying without letting his thoughts linger off into the repetitive mental chant “shut the fuck up shut the fuck up” like I did.


PTA said that he never takes into consideration story or plot. He gives everything he writes to his editor (Peter McNulty?) to read and he always throws back comments and notes that relate to classical screenwriting craft.  PTA goes off in a huff protesting, but when he thinks about it he realizes those elements fall into place to some extent out of instinct.  He hopes that the audience will come along in the journey because of the strength of the characters and not the plot or story.  He never considers theme.  He said that if he starts writing with a theme in mind that is the worst.  He feels himself writing and he doesn’t like that.  He said that because he doesn’t know how to construct a story, he simply dumps all his research and inspiration on a table and starts to play with it until the characters come alive.


He said that so much of writing is being humiliated by what you put on the page.  That made me laugh.  Sometimes I sit in front of my computer hesitant and ashamed before I open a particular document I know is shitty.  If he feels bored or stuck, he types someone else’s words, like a short story, to get him going and into that creative space.  He also writes short stories about each character.  Maybe someday I’ll try the first, but I already do the latter. He said when you’re starting out the pleasure comes from thinking you’ve written something great.  When you get older, the satisfaction comes from using your red pen to slash big chunks of text you realize you don’t need.  He gets high from it.


Feeney asked him to tell us how he got started in his career.  PTA said that the first thing that comes to mind was that at 17 he had made a mockumentary shot on cheap video called The Dirk Digler Story.  Then he thought he could develop it into a full feature.  He worked on it for nine years and it eventually became what we now know as Boogie Nights.  He said that’s how he taught himself to write.


He said that he learned very early on not to be precious about the writing.  He has had actor friends for a very long time and they told him actors only read he dialogue they have to memorize. He said, “If they don’t read it, why write it?”  Then he said something I’ve heard other top professional screenwriters say, “Screenwriting is not real writing.  Good writing belongs in books.”  When he gets on set, he fires the writer immediately so that the boss, the director, can take over.  And then if he needs to rewrite something the writer rejoices and is happy to write again.  He offered an example where the actor was right and the writer was wrong.  He wrote a full page of dialogue for a scene in The Master where Joaquin Phoenix’s character is on a walk and talk on his way to beat up a guy.  Phoenix kept asking him if he REALLY wanted him to say all that.  Phoenix hadn’t questioned anything about the screenplay until then and PTA took note.  He said they would do it with the dialogue and without.  And of course, Phoenix was right.


Someone asked him if he had ever considered writing for the theater.  PTA answered that he hadn’t because that seemed really hard.  Again, he said, “That’s real writing.  You have nowhere to hide.”  He was also asked to explain why his last three films were so difficult to understand.  Joking, PTA said he was getting confusing and obtuse?  He said with each film he was a different person and he was into different things.  He’s not the guy that made each of those films.  Feeney quoted Orson Welles: "One should make movies innocently — the way Adam and Eve named the animals, their first day in the garden…Learn from your own interior vision of things, as if there had never been a D.W.Griffith, or a [Sergei] Eisenstein, or a [John] Ford, or a [Jean] Renoir, or anybody." PTA agreed and he said, “I never want to go back. Fuck that. That would be horrible.”  At the present time he’s obsessed with Apichatpong Weerasethakul and wishes he could make a film like Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.  The thought of that audience of Hollywood screenwriting wannabes trying to watch that film makes me laugh.  Someone told him that Diablo Cody said she wished she had written Boogie Nights and asked him what films he wished he would have written.  He got excited at that question and kept on naming screenplays.  He said it would be a good drinking game or something.  He named Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Network and Dr. Strangelove.


PTA’s thoughts and words really helped me at this point in my creative life.  I’ve been struggling with two screenplays, one of which will become my first feature film.  Certain scenes and parts of the stories are very clear to me, but there are gaping holes I haven’t been able to figure out yet.  PTA said that there are lots of places in his script where he just writes place holder action because he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.  He likes to leave things open so that he can do more with it.  He needs to leave room for the contributions from the actors and the camera.  For instance, in The Master, and I was happy he talked about this because I intended to ask him where the idea came from, he wrote “sailors at the beach,” and that was it.  He figured he’d think of something once they were shooting.  His production designer, Jack Fisk, brought with him vintage books with pictures of “sandies,” sculptures of women made of sand.  So the brilliant scene I wish I had thought of myself was actually a result of on-location collaboration. He said that “good writing is stealing.”


Perhaps the one thing that got me the deepest was in response to a question about his writing habits. He said that he was so busy that day, he hadn’t written at all and that he didn’t feel right.  It had been a good day but somehow he didn’t feel like himself.  He said even 15 minutes would have been enough to feel like himself.  For me, if I don’t write, I feel down and like a failure.  If I write, I feel like I’m a good person.  A better person. Not a total loser.


So, to misquote that very famous philosopher from a galaxy far far away, this was the inspiration I was looking for.  Now I feel okay with the fact that I may have to show up on a shooting day with no fucking idea of what I will do and the world is not going to end.  I can continue developing my stories and live with the fact that I may not be able to have it all on the page by the time production rolls in.  My collaborators will have my back and maybe they’ll come up with brilliant ideas I will steal and make my own.  It’s okay and it will be okay. That's part of the thrill of making a film.


“I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. So that I was say my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me.” –Woody Allen

You can watch the interview here: https://www.wgfoundation.org/writing-resources/ I was told the price will come down, so wait.  I wasn't supposed to tell but you read this far so you earned it.

Monday, November 05, 2012

a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing


I came across an internet piece about authors’ advice on writer’s block. I think writer’s block is bullshit and just a fancy term for laziness, but I liked the stuff below.
 
“Now, what I’m thinking of is, people always saying “Well, what do we do about a sudden blockage in your writing? What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it?” Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, don’t you? In the middle of writing something you go blank and your mind says: “No, that’s it.” Ok. You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying “I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for.” You’re being political, or you’re being socially aware. You’re writing things that will benefit the world. To hell with that! I don’t write things to benefit the world. If it happens that they do, swell. I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to have a hell of a lot of fun.
 
I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.” — Ray Bradbury at The Sixth Annual Writer’s Symposium by the Sea, 2001

 

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” — Mark Twain

 

I think this is absolutely true:

 
“Writer’s block is my unconscious mind telling me that something I’ve just written is either unbelievable or unimportant to me, and I solve it by going back and reinventing some part of what I’ve already written so that when I write it again, it is believable and interesting to me. Then I can go on. Writer’s block is never solved by forcing oneself to “write through it,” because you haven’t solved the problem that caused your unconscious mind to rebel against the story, so it still won’t work – for you or for the reader.” — Orson Scott Card

 

“Writer’s block…a lot of howling nonsense would be avoided if, in every sentence containing the word WRITER, that word was taken out and the word PLUMBER substituted; and the result examined for the sense it makes. Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?
 
The fact is that writing is hard work, and sometimes you don’t want to do it, and you can’t think of what to write next, and you’re fed up with the whole damn business. Do you think plumbers don’t feel like that about their work from time to time? Of course there will be days when the stuff is not flowing freely. What you do then is MAKE IT UP. I like the reply of the composer Shostakovich to a student who complained that he couldn’t find a theme for his second movement. “Never mind the theme! Just write the movement!” he said.
 
Writer’s block is a condition that affects amateurs and people who aren’t serious about writing. So is the opposite, namely inspiration, which amateurs are also very fond of. Putting it another way: a professional writer is someone who writes just as well when they’re not inspired as when they are.” — Philip Pullman
 
“I encourage my students at times like these to get one page of anything written, three hundred words of memories or dreams or stream of consciousness on how much they hate writing — just for the hell of it, just to keep their fingers from becoming too arthritic, just because they have made a commitment to try to write three hundred words every day. Then, on bad days and weeks, let things go at that… Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck. You’ll sit there going, ‘Are you done in there yet, are you done in there yet?’ But it is trying to tell you nicely, ‘Shut up and go away.’” — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Head-in-a-Cart Takes an Improv Class: Week #5



I had to rush home to take off my make up because my teacher told me it would be distracting to the class. I was bummed that my classmates would not have the privilege to see me as a gorgeous bride, but given the dynamics of improv, I agreed.  When I got to class my classmates were outside waiting for the previous class to finish.  They were talking about how we were midway through the course and that they didn’t feel prepared for the graduation performance.  Haley said she was freaking out because she didn’t feel prepared and she didn’t want to fail in front of her loved ones.  I almost told her to get over herself and that if they were really her loved ones they should be used to her failing.  I didn’t bother because I had a headache and she’s 22 so fuck her and her agent too.  My energy had dropped after I took off my makeup and now I felt like I was getting a cold.  I was like, meh.  We waited for our teacher but he never showed up.  Instead, we got a sub. I don’t like substitute teachers. I never have.  So double meh.



We didn’t do any of our usual warming up exercises, which was cool because I didn’t remember anyone’s name or thumpers.  Being a zombie all day really turns the brain into mush.  Even with a headache, I was still the fastest to react during the warm up exercises.  It surprised me that I was able to focus and pay attention in that state.  We played Hot Spot again but this time instead of singing we broke into monologues.  I heard the hot spot say “Human Resources,” tapped him out and started a monologue about the time I was caught tweeting during work and got called in by HR.  I blocked out much of that meeting but I do remember the HR Director holding up a stack of print outs of my tweets.  She said, “You tweet a lot.” 



Next we worked on painting scenes in groups of four.  The teacher gave us the location and two, one by one, were supposed to furnish the room for us by adding objects and details.  When the teacher was satisfied, the other two entered the location and started a scene.  We got air control tower.  Of course everyone wanted to paint the scene because that’s easier than doing a scene.  But most of the people in my class are moocher actors and I decided to stand back and let them do whatever.  I’m not afraid of doing a scene. That’s why I’m taking the class.  Haley added romance novels and a box of half eaten chocolates to the tower.  HA HA HA HALLARIOUS, ISN’T IT?  Instead of going with the obvious unusual element I complicated things.  I said those things belonged to a colleague that went crazy and was in a loony bin.  The teacher stopped the scene and pointed out the obvious: the romance novels.  These two air traffic controllers must be hopeless romantics.  So we went with that.  It’s true. I always complicate things by over thinking.  You don’t notice until someone points it out though.



I kinda’ lost focus at that point.  I sunk in my chair and watched the scenes while trying to suppress my headache.  I rubbed my eyes and face and noticed I still had spirit gum residue on so I spent a good amount of time peeling it off.  The teacher then talked about what distinguishes UCB from the other improv schools: The Game.  What is the game and how to you find the game?  It’s about finding the interesting and unusual in a scene and playing that out.  We played around with a scenario of a group of firemen on their way to a fire.  One of them wants to stop for fast food.  So the fact that they would stop to do that it’s the unusual thing.  Then you try to think of ways to repeat that unusual thing, excuses and reasons to stop before getting to the fire.  So that’s the game.  Pinpointing the unusual and going with it.



Then we started doing scenes two people at a time, with the teacher stopping and pinpointing things when we weren’t getting it.  Two by two, people kept getting up but I just sat back. It felt weird to sit there but I was feeling lethargic and meh-ish.  I was aware of it and it made me feel horrible.  I decided to force myself out of my funk and get up when the teacher asked how many were left.  There were only three including myself.  He told the three of us to do the scene.  Someone threw out the word “breakfast” and I found myself in between two really young guys.  I took the lead and asked, “So, who wants breakfast?” (I know, original, huh? But I'm not supposed to complicate, remember?) Then I asked them what they wanted.  One said pancakes and the other eggs.  I said I didn’t know how to make eggs.  The teacher got up and said, “Yes you do. You know how to make eggs.” I replied, “Actually, I don’t really.” People gasped as if I had said something blasphemous.  I told them I had issues in the kitchen. The teacher thought I was trying to be weird but I was just being myself and truthful, like we are supposed to. 



The teacher went on to explain that for long form improv it was better not to throw in obstacles.  I then took the opportunity to ask something I had wanted to ask since the last class.  I told him I wrote drama and that I directed films, where conflict is everything.  In its simplest terms, characters wants something, other character(s) keeps him for getting it.  It was about piling on the obstacles.  The teacher said improv was not exactly conflict-free; that it was okay to have conflict, but that obstacles had a way to throw a scene off track.  I think I understand. 


So we continued the scene, with me trying to connect with my sons who were home from college and they being total selfish pricks.  We ran out of time and we went on to the next exercise which was supposed to help us understand what we are doing for our graduation performance.  It’s going consist of  a monologue, three scenes based on the monologue and then another monologue and then another three scenes.  It’s the Asscat format. 



The teacher divided the class in half.  I stayed on stage.  Four of us were supposed to step forward and do a monologue.  A monologue, not a performance and not a standup routine.  The teacher said “prom.” Oh boy my memory was immediate.  I stepped up and told my story.  I told them about my parents pulling out all the stops for me.  They rented a vintage Rolls Royce and even got my tennis coach’s 27 year old son to take me to the prom.  I felt like such a grownup not going to the prom with a high schooler.  I told them about how my date left in the Rolls, leaving me and my friends in front of his house and then returning with two hoes and a bag of coke he bought with my dad's money.  My friend, who's a crazy Italian, went nuts and screamed at him and I, completely out of character because I used to be very shy, lost it too and screamed at them to get out of MY fucking Rolls Royce. The teacher asked me the moral of the story. I said: Don't expect anything from prom.

Three young guys who had probably just gone to their prom two or three years ago stepped up and did their monologue. One had his clothes thrown into a bond fire at the beach, the other ended up without a date at a Mormon party and the third didn't score with his date because she wanted to watch a DVD of Twilight instead.  The teacher asked us what parts of the stories made us laugh.  We discussed it for a while.  He said that we should be aware of what the audience laughs at during the monologue and build our scenes taking in those elements.

Poor Haley. Will she be ready to take the improv scene by storm after the three remaining classes? 

Lesson #6: Don't complicate the game by being weird and not knowing how to cook eggs.