Musical hot spot is an improv warm up game, which used to to also be performed on stage an iO in Chicago. The version we use in Australia a botched version of the original, which supposedly gets you in the moment, out of your head and in a good happy mood. The problem is that not only doesn’t it work, but it can also have a negative affect and actually get people into their heads.
The game starts with everyone in a circle. Either a word suggestion is given as an offer, or someone just thinks of a song, but one person then jumps into the middle and starts singing and dancing to a song. Everyone in the circle then sings and dances along. If you don’t know the song, you still commit to singing and dancing by either copying or doing your own thing, but the point is to support the person in the middle. When anyone in the circle is reminded of a different song by one of the words being already sung, then they jump into the middle singing and dancing to the new song. The previous person in the middle rejoins the circle and the circle now sings and dances along with the new person in the middle. And so on ad infinitum, or often ad tedium. There’s also a bunch of other notes given about supporting the person in the middle etc but basically that’s the game.
I remember being in a musical hot spot many years ago which was like an audition for Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Bette Midler impersonators. I didn’t know most of the songs, and I hated the ones I did. In fact I thought we’d invented punk so we didn’t have to listen to crap like that. It was not a fun warm up, in fact I hated it, especially since I had to spend the whole game pretending that I was enjoying myself, and it just served to make me even more pissed off and in my head.
The problem is that the game assumes that everyone likes all styles of music, particularly pop music. Don’t get me wrong, I love music, in fact my passion for music usually exceeds most people I’ve improvised with, and the styles of music I like are definitely more wide and varied than most people. It’s just that the songs chosen in musical hot spot are usually popular crap that reflect the average age group and interests of those playing the game, regardless whether anyone likes or even knows them.
Of course people can always jump in the middle and sing a song they do know and like, and I guess it encourages prople to keep jumping into the middle. But what generally happens then is that the people who picked all the crappy pop songs then rarely support the obscure ones because they’re not use to doing so, and the person with the exception can end up being externalised from the group because they don’t seem to be working with the group’s choices.
The Australian version of Musical hot spot is a bad improv warm up game. It assumes people have a certain popular and mundane musical taste, rewarding those who do, and punishing those who don’t. You can’t fake being in the moment, and there is no place in improv for warm up games which encourage you to do so.
<rant>I’ve now needed to use Microsoft Word at least 30 times in the last few weeks since my last post about their licensing being restricted to certain hardware configurations, and at least 30 times I’ve been unable to use it, which negatively affects my ability to do my work, and simply reinforces my opinion of Microsoft and my passion for finding Microsoft alternatives.</rant>
We own two copies of Mac Office 2011 for our business, both of which have to be licensed (inflexibly) to specific machines. Basically Microsoft licensing works like this: it takes a little snapshot profile of what your machine looks like, what the processor is, how much memory you have, what hard drives etc., and then uses that do identify your machine. Change your machine, the profile changes and the software fails to start.
I added a hard drive over the weekend, an external drive that I just plugged into my Mac with a cable to do a backup. I was going to remove it again but I accidentally started Word and it freaked out, reset my product activation, and now I can’t run any Office applications, which I need for some client work that’s due tommorrow. However the product keys are on the original software disks, and they’re currrently in storage because we’re about to move premises. I have no idea where the box they’re in would be, it was all shipped out by removalists, and it would take several days just to go through everything.
Yet again, Microsoft’s stupid licensing system only hurts real paying customers, when those who pirated it are simply running their no-activation products fine on any machine they wish, completely unhindered by Microsoft’s pathetic attempt to lock them down. Next time I upgrade Office, I’ll be seriously considering cracking it, because it’s obviously pretty easy to do, and I’m certainly not the only one.
Fuck you Microsoft. Fuck you.
What is it with RSS readers these days that they only work with Google Reader? Particularly those for mobile devices such as the iPad. I get how syncing with it would be a good feature, but not at the expense of standalone feeds. It’s not like pulling feeds is technically difficult, there were hundreds probably thousands of RSS readers in the early 2000s, and they all did the heavy lifting themselves, without dependence on a third party service. And I should know, our company at the time developed a fairly popular RSS reader application for windows around 2004. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not like any of the standards have really changed at all.
I think it’s just lazy, lazy developers calling a simple API to get the data from Google Reader and then calling another couple of pretty basic platform APIs to display them in a list.
What if I don’t want to use Google Reader? What if I don’t trust Google? What if I don’t trust Google with the already incredible amount of personal data they have about me that they sell to advertisers? What if I simply don’t trust a company which makes all its money from selling me to advertisers?
I blame Google Reader for the decline in feeds and feed reading, as people not wanting to use Google are pretty much stuck without much of a choice in RSS readers.
It’s very tempting to write my own and be done with it, and one of its features will be “doesn’t support with Google Reader”.
In 2010 I started a monthly improv show called A Night at the Improv, consisting of two troupes per show, each doing a 45 minute Chicago style improv set. The first show was to include the return of our 8 player “Backstreet Stories” troupe after a six month break, with our format of the same name, but only two of us were available to rehearse, so we pulled in a guest player and did three rehearsals as a trio in order to come up with a new format we could use for the show. Trios are fun because they lend themselves to having three protagonists, one for each player, which leads to those classic A/B, B/C, A/C, and A/B/C scene combinations. We ended up devising three trio formats throughout the year, and each with a different trio of players. Because we only played them a few times, the audience typically didn’t realise that we were playing a format, which is a shame because each of us have great memories of the rehearsals and the formats.
So here they are. Feel free to use and adapt them without requiring permission or royalties, but I’d love an email from you describing how it went if you end up using any of them. Note that these were designed for Chicago style scenic long form, and may not work exactly as described if played in Keith Johnstone style.
Most character narrative formats use one of three forms: inside out, where we meet the protagonists who know each other at the beginning and we keep meeting new characters through outward connections; outside in, where we meet seemingly unconnected protagonists in various scenes and by the end the connections have been discovered; or linear, where we meet the protagonists who know each other at the beginning, other characters may come and go, but the main protagonists are still there at the end. Outside in is the most difficult, as the structure can negatively affect the show if the players are actively looking for the connections, yet it can be the most rewarding for the audience if done right. The first two formats ahere to outside in and inside out respectively, and the third is open to interpretation.
Jonathan, my wife Louise, and myself devised a trio format called “Psyched” or “Spotlight”, depending on who you ask, which we played several times before Louise had to stop playing because our toddler wouldn’t let us go out of the house together.
The format is an outside in form, mostly with open play and involves the interactions of three protagonists who are each gradually introduced via a therapy session with a psychologist.
The show opens with each player accepting a different type of ask-for from the audience. The first scene then begins with a character (protagonist #1) in an actual spotlight if you have the lighting option available, preferably sitting on a stool or chair, speaking with an invisible psychologist in the audience. We only hear the character’s responses, and silence is left for the psychologist’s voice, during which the character can be seen to be listening and reacting. The second scene is a typical open scene with protagonist #1 and a bit player, using some of the information which came out about them in the first scene. The third scene is a new protagonist (protagonist #2) (not in either of the first two scenes) with a psychologist, much the same as the first scene, followed by two open scenes which can be between any of the characters introduced so far, or a new character, but each scene must contain one of the two protagonists introduced so far. Scene six is a third psychologist scene, introducing the final protagonist (protagonist #3). At this point the audience should be familiar with most of the characters, and each of the three protagonists have been introduced via a psychologist scene and the first two also in an open scene. Play is then open for the rest of the show.
The structure of the first six scenes doesn’t have to be fixed as PSYCH1, OPEN1, PSYCH2, OPEN2, OPEN1, PSYCH3, you can play around with it, but if you do follow that initial structure then you should reach a good balance between two many opening psychologist scenes in a row, and the audience forgetting the early protagonists because they haven’t returned in open scenes for a while. Protagonists should come back to the psychologist every so often to get additional information about their character, and to summarise events from the open scenes, or whatever you think the audience wants. At least 2-3 psychologist scenes per character throughout the show seems about right.
As play progresses, connections between the three seemingly disconnected protagonists may appear, or they may not. It is common to have two protagonists eventually know each other and the third to have an isolated narrative, perhaps with connections between bit players, but there doesn’t need to be any. What comes out, will come out.
Every scene in the show must contain at least one protagonist, as the show is about them and their journey of self discovery. You can play with time as well if you wish, through flashbacks or flashforwards as entire scenes, but the psychologist scenes must be in the now, as they’re a reflection of what happens to the protagonists. Tagouts etc. aren’t used, but at least try them and see if they work for you. Scene transitions are simple jump in replacements, which may feel clunky at first if you’re new to smaller troupes, but works better than sweeps or other transitions as they don’t pull focus.
Each of the three protagonists is played by one of the three players. For newer players it’s recommended that each player looks after their own protagonist’s character development, else they could flounder in the solo psychologist scenes.
The show can end at any time the players feel is right. Perhaps some of the protagonists have addressed their problems discovered with the psychologist, perhaps others are destined to simply repeat their mistakes. It’s up to you and the audience on the night.
The format sounds a little too structured, but once you play with it a little, it’s not really. Think of it as an open format, but with the psychologist scenes as an additional tool for developing characters.
The key skills are solo monologue like scenes with missing two character dialog; an understanding of therapy question and answer (do your research on how therapy works); and the ability to find or at least identify narrative and character connections.
When Louise left the trio, Backstreet Stories player Emily joined Jonathan and I, and we devised a format which was never named, but we kept calling it “that format with Duncan in it”, so let’s call it “Duncan”. We played it a half dozen times (and maybe 20-40 times in rehearsal). It’s a lot of fun and you spend a lot of time on stage, especially in a trio.
The format is an inside out form where the show leads up to scenes of increasing numbers of returning characters at or near the end of the show. Typically we follow one of two protagonists who finds themself meeting friends and family of the other protagonist, and shows the interactions and personal discoveries of each as that person is potentially integrated into that social circle. An example would be where a girl brings her new boyfriend home to the family farm, and he meets the mother and father, brothers and sisters, ex-boy and girl friends, and anything else that could be thrown into the mix, and then the girl meets her old town boyfriend and tentions form between the two protagonists. You can probably think of other examples where various acquaintances are forced together in an uncomfortable environment.
The fun begins when the characters are mixed into varying scenes where they discover new things about each other and their relationships, and usually ends with a situation where most of the characters are present, like family dinner, a meeting, an exhibition, or a community group etc. This involves the three players switching characters throughout the scene, even providing back and forth dialog between two characters they’re playing, or dialog with invisible characters, depending on what you’re trying to get out of the dialog and the emotional reactions to it. It’s fast paced and fun to play, and teaches you interesting skills for normal improv such as being able to quickly see and respond to different character perspectives.
Like most small cast shows, the differences between the character voices and mannerisms are important so the audience can tell the difference between them. The largest group scene is usually played near the end, so there’s a build up to it and the audience and players are very familiar with all the characters being played. You can also do a few half-cast scenes in the middle of the show to give the audience some ooh ahh moments before raising the stakes in the larger scene. Alternatively, the large scene can be in the middle of the show, and the second half is about the fall out from it, with possibly another one at the end if you feel you need.
The end of the show tends to leave the first protagonist stuck in the middle of all these other characters with their issues, with only some kind of radical way out, if indeed there is a resolution. If the large scene is in the middle of the show, then the second half can be like a runaway train, as the players will be reacting faster than normal, having just done lot’s of character switching in the larger scene.
Players can switch to any character they wish at any time, there’s no character ownership by the players. If two character that one player started meet each other, then another player should jump in as one of them, taking on the voice and mannerisms of the character. You can also get an ask for at the top of the show if you need one.
The key skills are the ability to play multiple characters at once, including dialog for each, or solo dialog with an invisible player; and to be able create notably different characters and impersonate those created by other players.
In late 2010, Emily went overseas, so Peter joined Jonathan and I, and we devised a format called “What If”.
The format follows no particular structure, you can either set that beforehand, or just play the show and see what comes out organically. We usually introduce the show with the line “What if… something wasn’t quite right with the world…”, and the key is to be strict on believability (not reality) and then introduce a single off the wall “reality tilt” mid-way through the first scene. Play continues believably, but there are real world consequences based on the reality tilt being acceptable and believable fact. The audience goes through an “ah ha” moment as it tilts, with some catching on early, and others a little later. For audiences used to the Johnstone style with its absurdity curve and parody, they tend to find in it a fascinating realism, but with some of the weirdness they’re used to. Some examples might help… 🙂
A boy and his father are fixing his bicycle in the garage, with talk about when the father was a boy and he did the same with his father. After a few minutes, the father drops a short yet obvious reality tilt into the scene, for example “Yeah, my dad was pretty angry whenever I crashed my bike. It took me ages before I got my flying bicycle license.” From then on the reality is that bicycles can fly, you need a license and you can potentially get them when you’re fairly young. The play continues believably, and is about the father/son relationship, but anything the reality tilt affects also becomes reality, such as what clothes you wear while riding, whether the boy’s friends have licenses, whether you need to be a qualified bicycle technician and the boy and father are breaking the law, whether other vehicles fly, and how did bicycles first start to fly were they endowed by other beings or is there a scientific explanation. Another example from one of our rehearsals…
A scene in a bar between two people, and several minutes in another player enters saying “OK that’s enough, shutdown the simulation please Ted.” Turns out they’re in a virtual reality and didn’t know it, at which point the scene dissolves to a black boxed room. The supervisor and technician enter, and something out of the ordinary has happened. The show is about how any scene could be virtual reality, and most times when the on stage scenes change, we eventually find that the scene is in virtual reality. When the scene dissolves, the story of the real world continues. There’s effectively two story lines, one inside and one outside of the virtual reality.
It’s important that the reality tilt and consequences aren’t the focus, they’re just the background in which the characters interact as they would in a normal show. It’s also important that the play has believability, and that the characters respond and act believably, not realistically, but believably, something key to the Chicago style, but not in the Sydney (where we’re based) variation of the Keith Johnstone style. So this needs to be drilled into the players.
Once the reality tilt has been given, the other player identifies it, accepts it and responds to it, which makes it more significant in the scene, and let’s the first player know that they’ve recognised the tilt. In the flying bicycle example, the boy might then respond “Well times have changed dad, flight licenses are pretty easy to get these days. You can even get them on the black market.” Once the reality tilt is given, that’s it, there’s no further attempt if you don’t like what’s offered, and no further tilts are given in the show, it’s just the one offer and its consequences.
Reality tilts tend to be one of three types, something special about the person (e.g. can see the future, can breath underwater, came from a parallel reality), something special about the world (e.g. there’s no gravity, there’s a big brother hierarchy amongst humans, only men can have children), or in rare cases the audience’s perception of reality or structure is changed (e.g. time travels backwards but the characters don’t know it, scenes repeat themselves, one character is really two characters in different time periods). Note that the reality tilt is discovered in the opening scene, it’s not preplanned or taken from an ask-for.
What If is the most difficult of the three above forms to get right, and involves a lot of rehearsal of opening scenes. You can also get an ask-for to begin the show if you wish, but it must be mundane and simply used to generate an idea for the first few seconds of the opening scene.
All of the rehearsals and shows we’ve done for “What If” have turned out as what is commonly known as classic science fiction. Not the parody and film cliches used in Theatresports or most “science fiction” shows, but real science fiction as you would read in science fiction novels. There may well be exceptions, but we’ve done 20-30 runs of this format and they could all be classified as science fiction to varying degrees, if they were a novel. See if you can do otherwise. But also a warning, once you’ve seen this work, you’ll begin to look condescendingly at those traditional Theatresports sci-fi genre parodies.
The first “What If” we did in front of an audience, which was about an unemployed youth trying to emulate his father and do him proud, with the backdrop of it only ever raining on certain days because we’ve engineered it to in order to deal with how badly we’ve looked after the planet, is still one of my favourites shows.
Enjoy, and have fun!
Learning to improvise properly in Sydney is difficult. The training is mostly by rote drilling of sometimes inexplicably contradictory “rules”, which have been passed down over the last 30 years as gospel, with advancement usually based on how funny you are, not how well you can improvise. Since figuring that out, I’ve spent the last 3 years questioning everything I’d learned and knew about improv, and radically reinvented my approach and technique. It also led me away from Keith, to Del, but some of the answers came from neither, and were some odd non-improv sources.
I’ve been reading Jurgen Appelo’s book Management 3.0, a complex systems’ perspective on, and guide to agile management, which is basically about managing software development, but I’ve been surprised how much of his writing also applies to improv.
In Sydney we don’t normally embrace the idea of a troupe, we’re a Keith Johnstone Theatresports town, and most shows are very much the rock up and play type, where you play with different people in each show. There’s a lot wrong with this idea, but as a consequence there’s few if any regular troupes who rehearse and play together. I’ve been one of the lucky few, in that I’ve spent the last 3 years rehearsing with various troupes pretty much weekly, and had the opportunity to really explore with some likeminded people.
One of the things I questioned was the term group mind, the idea that a group of players as a whole can think likemindly as a single being. To overly simplify, some of the defnitions of group mind have included: you and your scene partner think the same way; you and your scene partner both know what should or does happen next; we all think the same way at the same time; we can count to 20 without surprising ourselves; and, knowing what your scene partner is about to do. To me these all seem like bad things, and the antithesis of what it means to improvise.
And then there’s the mystical definition, that something inexplicably magical happens to the group. I’d put this more down to coincidence and wishful thinking, a side effect of having worked with the same players for a while, which has good and bad facets to it. To come at it from a different perspective, how often does your troupe not have something magical happen? Coincidence is like that, it’s an exception masquerading as a rule.
Management 3.0 on the other hand has some good insights into what I think is really happening when we have those group mind moments.
The idea that a system can be better than a some of the parts, is born out of systems theory. Complex adaptive systems are called such because they are diverse and made up of multiple interconnected elements, and have the capacity to change and learn from experience. An improv troupe is a complex adaptive system, especially if there’s no clear directorial leader, and is at least a sum of its parts, the players.
Emergence is the idea that complex systems produce emergent resultants, results and effects caused by the sum of the parts and not attributable to any clearly traceable part. Emergence, or strong emergence when applied to a creative team like an improv troupe, causes the troupe to be greater than the sum of its parts.
The amount of emergence is commonly based upon the number of components and their interactions, which in the case of improv will increase over time. Many of the interactions may be negligible, not useful or may create noise that prevents emergence, however rehearsal and performance allow the troupe to refine and better their group play, the amount of emergence.
You can optimise emergence in several ways. Firstly, the system must be self regulating and self organising, not merely directed via hierarchy or by a single component of the system. This is also my experience in working with troupes. Creativity, capability and skill all improve when the group builds together, so long as the players are experienced and at a similar level of ability.
The diversity of a complex system is also important, as it increases flexibility by making it resilient to environmental changes, and feeds innovation due to the varying combinations and interactions between the component parts. This is particularly true of an improv troupe, including Theatresports teams with the old 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th player categorisations.
So what is group mind? I think it’s emergence, a team of creative people building something greater than the players themselves, but tempered with the coincidence that comes from working with the same people for a while.
Management 3.0 has many more great insights into improving creative teams, and while it would probably be a hard slog for an improviser not involved in software development, I’d certainly recommend a skim through it on Amazon or in a technical library if you can find one.
While sitting in the Sydney Childrens’ Hospital recovery waiting room, I found an old encyclopedia “The World and its Peoples” from 1978 which I actually owned as a kid, and I found the following quote under a photo (which I will spare you from seeing) in the entry for Antarctica.
Slain whale on the deck of a factory ship. Such vessels can take aboard whole carcasses and process them very quickly. Whaling in the Antarctic has declined rapidly with the near extinction of most humpback whales, caused by indiscriminate slaughter; most civilized countries have now abandoned whaling.
Continuing on with melee with MYOB.
It would be nice to be able to paste dollar values into MYOB fields and have MYOB remove any leading $ symbols. Apart from some users accidentally hitting $ before the value, its a right pain to copy and paste dollar values from say a spreadsheet or PDF invoice. You can copy, because most applications support that, but MYOB just ignores the paste because the $ symbol.
Sure, not a bug, but something annoying none the less. Again, make it simple, make easy to get the job done.
I’ve been a Pro Tools fan for years, since around 1997 or so, but as each successive version came out, the user interface never really got any better, and the restrictions on hardware were never lifted. I’d search Google for possible replacements every time I had to pay for yet another upgrade, but stuck with it because I didn’t believe that another product would be as good. Finally, at Pro Tools 8, my hand has been forced, because this version no longer supports some of my DigiDesign hardware. I’ve finally moved to Logic Pro.
If you read the web, most opinion considers Pro Tools best for audio editing and recording, and Logic Pro best for MIDI, and I kept on believing that, version after version. However, since Apple bought Logic, they’ve been greatly improving Logic Pro into an awesome editing tool, which is most of what I do. Don’t believe what it says on the web, Logic Pro is now at least as good as ProTools in this area, and while the user interface is more complex at first, you do get used to it.
But the kicker was the hardware restriction. Pro Tools 8 removes support for my audio interface, which is also made by DigiDesign, so they’ve removed support for their own equipment. That’s just braindead, considering that Logic Pro 9 on the other hand, not only still supports my DigiDesign hardware, but when I decide to get something new, I can get pretty much anything from any company and it will work.
Its taken a few hours to figure out my Logic Pro workflow, but after a few short projects, and changing a bunch of the keyboard command to match Pro Tools, I’m almost as productive as I was before, and I can see it being way more useful and productive than Pro Tools in the long run.
Its sad saying goodbye to an old friend, but I’ve never really liked Avid, who bought DigiDesign a few years back, so adios Avid!
We went to Darling Harbour for Australia Day, so Molly could see Jay Laga’aia and friends on the kids’ stage. Well, the first song was “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…”, followed by “stamp your feet”, “yell ya hoo!” and then all three. I was amazed at the number of sad sack fathers that just didn’t join in. They were happy to watch their kids do it, but sing along, clap, stamp and yell? Nope.
The old adage rings true, kids laugh around 400 times per day, and adults around 15. What happens to these disgruntled parents that makes them want to have kids but only from a distance? Two many hours couped up in corporate offices to think about having fun?
Regardles whether the parents enjoy it or not, the show is still for kids, their kids, and I’d have thought that by joining in they’d make their kids’ experience more fun. Jay was a slow starter and the crowd wasn’t exactly responding that well to his call and response, so even more reason to join in, to make it better for everyone.
I used to say this before I was a parent, and my opinion hasn’t changed, most people are just plain selfish by having kids, and shouldn’t be allowed to take on the most important roll we can have in life: bringing up a child.