Monthly Archives: January 2017

Improv Olympics 2011

3 Ways to Build Your Team Through Improv

By Dauphne Maloney

Improv exercises take us out of our comfort zone and allow us to play, think on our feet, and be present in the moment. Recently, our Artistic Director Michael Thomas wrote (about his experience as a performer at renown improv comedy theatre The Second City), “The best improvisers are also the most profoundly adept actors. And why? Because they are always listening and reacting. They stay “in the moment” – so their reactions are always honest and believable.”

Here are three improv games, one for children, one for teenagers, and one for adults, that will help to build your team. If you’re a teenager interested in learning to improvise, our free Improv Underground classes begin February 8th – learn more here.

For Elementary/Middle School and older:

Vacation Pictures–(4 players)

Playing:

  1. Set up two chairs, with approximately 6 to 8 feet between them. Your chairs should be facing the audience.
  2. Choose two people to sit in the chairs—they will act as the people describing what they did last summer (or whatever you choose).
  3. Choose two additional people to stand between the two chairs, also facing the audience.

    Chair                     Actor   Actor               Chair
    (with “narrator” seated)                                                         (with “narrator” seated)

  4. Take suggestions for possible vacation locations from your audience.
  5. Once a location is selected, the two people in chairs take turns making statements about what they did last summer, such as, “We went to Cedar Point, and rode a roller coaster.” On the count of three (which the instructor, or audience, can do), the two actors standing between the chairs must create an interesting pose, as they would if in the “photo” of their roller coaster ride. Allow each “narrator” to describe two or three “photos.”
  6. Allow those describing to switch places with those acting so that all may have a turn.

For High School and older:

Garage Sale—(4 players)

Playing:

  1. Players get a few suggestions (from the audience) of items which might be found at a garage sale.
  2. One player (Player A) leaves the playing area as the other players group together (as a “pile” of items at a garage sale). (NOTE: You may also have the players form a line of items from left to right, as though they’re lined up for the garage sale.)
  3. Player A enters and begins looking other players as if they were items for sale. Player A chooses one “item” (Player B) and pulls them down stage (forward; closer to the audience). Player A identifies what Player B is to become by saying something like, “My, what a lovely teapot;” or “I wish there wasn’t a crack in this mirror.”
  4. Player B comes to life and gives a short few sentences about their experience (as that item) in the world. This monologue can be very short (30 seconds to a minute) and can be directed to the shopper (Player A) or given to the audience.
  5. Player A puts the first item back into the pile or line, and chooses another item, and the pattern repeats.
  6. The scene ends when Player A decides what items he would like to buy, and takes them with him/her off stage.

For Adults:

Pros and Cons—(as many players as desired)

Playing:

  1. Using as many players as desired, form a single-file line from the front of the playing space to the back of the playing space. (Players are lined up, one behind another, all facing the audience.)
  2. The instructor will give the first player in the line a subject, object, or person’s name with which to work. It is the first player’s job to talk positively (or “pro”) about their given subject, object, or person for a designated amount of time. (30 seconds is a good length of time. Either the instructor/moderator can serve as the time-keeper, or they may assign someone to keep the time.)
  3. At the end of the designated amount of time, the time-keeper will say, “switch,” at which point the first person in line stops talking, and turns to the player behind them to give that person another subject, object, or person’s name. The first player either returns to their seat in the “audience area,” or goes to the end of the line.
  4. Once players have switched spots, the second player in line will now be at the front of the line. It is their task to talk about their given subject, object, or person in a negative (or “con”) fashion for the designated amount of time.
  5. This continues, with players alternating “pro” and “con” as the line moves from player to player, until all of had a turn.

Hints: It is usually best to advise the players not to suggest subjects which may be controversial in nature, as this may make others uncomfortable, thus defeating the idea of team building or playing. Additionally, when working with players who may or may not know each other well, it is often wise to avoid suggesting names of celebrities or character names from pop culture, as not everyone will know that person of whom they’re asked to speak.

Lori Turner Turandot 1993 Flemish Royal Opera

Life as an Artist: An Interview with Lori Turner

By Colleen Cook with Lori Turner

When parents talk to me about Lori Turner and the work she does with the students who participate in the Renaissance Youth Opera Theatre, or “RYOT,” program, their eyes glisten and their faces become reflective and soft. “She does such a good job,” they tell me; “my child is discovering who she/he is, they are growing so much,” they say. Behind the curtain and apart from the outstanding productions this group regularly performs, the culture of RYOT and the quality of instruction Lori provides creates an almost sacred space for the students who participate each year.

Beyond the RYOT shows, many of our patrons have had the opportunity to see Lori’s unforgettable performances on our stage in a number of musicals over recent years, including Young FrankensteinA Christmas Carol, White Christmas, Xanadu and Ragtime to name just a few. What our audience may suspect from her notable performances on our stage but may not know, however, is that Lori has enjoyed a tremendous career as a performing artist. Lori’s performance career began with the Los Angeles Opera, the Roger Wagner Chorale and the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra. She then spent 10 years in Europe as a member of the Royal Flemish Opera in Belgium. I invited Lori to allow me to interview her and share some insights from that season of her life:

Colleen Cook: What was life like as a full-time opera singer in Belgium?

Lori Turner:  European audiences support the arts in a very different way from those in the United States. As an opera singer with the Royal Flemish Opera, I had a full-time, salaried position and I worked for the season from August through July, with a paid summer vacation. We performed 6-8 fully-staged, avant garde productions each year in two houses, one in Antwerp and another in Ghent. The houses were slightly larger than the Ren, so about 1500 seats, and they would regularly be sold out.

The opera company was constantly aspiring to make opera an interesting visual as well as aural sensation for a younger audience, and they responded. European audiences have fewer preconceptions about opera and are generally more interested in attending an opera even if it’s outside of their normal type of entertainment.

The arts are state-subsidized because European Governments believe that access to the arts is an important experience for the general population’s quality of life, which really improves life for the artists because you can be a working artist. The Royal Flemish Opera Company is 1 of 3 national opera companies in a country the size of Los Angeles.

CC: When you left Europe and moved to Mansfield, what kind of culture shock did you experience?

LT: I tried to anticipate a lot of things, but I missed performing a lot. I missed being able to sing really challenging music, but I was also occupied being a parent, and that was priority one, so that was certainly impactful but it didn’t control my life.

It was harder on our son, because he was used to European lifestyle. He told his friends that it was always warm in America, because he had only visited the US in the summers. Let’s just say that first winter was a rude awakening! Not having medical insurance was impactful. Teaching privately, via a community arts school, and not having a salary had a big impact.

CC: What advice would you give a young performer considering a career in performance?

LT:  If they’re about to go into the world, into college, I’d encourage them to go to a college that has as many performance opportunities as possible. If they’re going into the world to work, then go some place that has as many performance opportunities as possible. I believe every American should spend time overseas – in Europe, Asia, England – to gain a world-wide perspective. Every performer should study the classics, regardless of your discipline, dancers should study ballet, actors should study Shakespeare, singers should study opera – the foundations don’t limit you they expand your higher ability.

CC: The decision to make a major shift from performing to moving your family back to the US and focus on parenting is brave and bold. What advice would you give a young parent?

LT: It really changed my life for 20 years. I was performing full-time, and then I wasn’t. For me, to be home at night, I felt that needed to happen to be an effective parent. For a time, I lived a little bit vicariously through my son’s involvement in theatre, as I suppose all parents do. I never lost touch with theatre because I was still directing. I still sang some with the symphony and concerts but now that Phillip is grown, I’m starting to perform again. I’m no longer a “Dorabella,” the roles I can play have changed as I’ve aged and as my instrument has changed, but I’m having to redefine myself as a performer now, 20-years later. One thing I did for myself and for my instrument, I studied the whole time that I wasn’t performing.


Lori’s next production is RYOT’s The Gondoliers & Pinocchio, February 4-5, 2017.
Get information and tickets here.

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Lessons From The Second City

By Michael Thomas, Artistic Director

I have to admit, when our Marketing Director, Colleen Cook, asked me to write a blog about my time at the Second City I was a little stumped. “Write about something funny that happened. When something went wrong.” Of course, something going wrong was what we’d always hoped would happen. Someone forgetting to make an entrance, a missed sound cue, a server dropping a tray of glasses, a cell phone ringing… Those sort of things were like little gifts to the improv-trained actor because they knew that the unexpected is funny – and they can riff on it. Even in the worst of times – as when a drunken high schooler, celebrating her post prom at our show, vomited all over herself, the server and the unfortunate couple in front of her – I watched the actors on stage spin upchuck into comedy gold. For the rest of the evening, the actors would somehow find a way to work a barf joke into the scene – and it would send the audience into hysterics. We were taught not to resort to potty/childish humor, (see below), but when forced into it, we could keep pace with the best/worst of them.

Looking back, some of the funniest, (albeit frustrating) moments came when I first started improv classes. There was always someone in your class who ignored the basic rules of improv and would completely change the scene so that they could, presumably, insert what they considered to a funnier situation or even just a corny pun or one liner. For instance, I recall that our suggestion for a scene was “a man whose wife is cheating on him.” . My scene partner and I got up on stage and I began with “I’m so distraught. I know something is going on and it’s driving me crazy.” My partner responded with “What are you talking about? I’m George Washington and it’s my birthday!” The guy had clearly been sitting on his hands waiting to unveil a hilarious George Washington birthday party scene he’d concocted – and he was going to do it whether we liked it or not. Fans of the television program The Office may recall Michael Scott’s failed attempt at improv. When he doesn’t know how to end a scene, he simply pulls out an imaginary pistol and shoots all of his teammates dead. The star of that show, Steve Carrell, is a Second City alum – and I’m certain that scene must have been based on his real life experiences.

Of course, there were also many memorable moments dealing with certain members of the audience. I don’t think we ever did a single show when there wasn’t someone in the crowd who thought they were funnier than the folks on stage. It usually went down like this:
Actor: We need a suggestion for a place. Any place. A train station. A taxi cab. Your mother’s kitchen.
Man in audience: Poop!!!
Actor: (ignoring him) An amusement park. A doctor’s office. An operating room.
Man in audience: A urinal!!
Actor: (still ignoring him) Betsy Ross’ sewing room. The deck of the Titanic. A hamster cage.
Man in crowd: Someone farting!
Actor: (ignoring him again while cocking a hand to his ear) I think I heard someone call out “A basketball court!”
The unfortunate man in the audience really felt as though he was the first person in the history of comedy to think of toilet humor. I’m sure he envisioned the audience hoisting him upon their shoulders and celebrating him as the great wit of his generation. The Noel Coward of gastrointestinal-based comedy.

But what I remember most about my time at Second City is that I witnessed some of the best acting and storytelling I’d ever seen. When I was in acting school, we wrote off our comedy improv class as a silly, albeit entertaining, diversion from the much meatier works of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. But what I discovered at Second City was that the best improvisers are also the most profoundly adept actors. And why? Because they are always listening and reacting. They stay “in the moment” – so their reactions are always honest and believable. Some of our most renowned actors, including Bill Murray, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Alan Alda, Ed Asner, Alan Arkin, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Mike Myers and Martin Short – as well as my friends Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey – were trained at the Second City. I spent four years there in the 1990s – and met some of the most incredibly funny, kind, giving and generous folks I’ve ever known. Unlike so many, I didn’t seek out a job there, but came onboard thanks to my friend Jeff Richmond, who directed many of their main stage and ETC productions. At first it just seemed like any other gig – and I honestly just did it for the paycheck. But I quickly discovered that what they do is truly an art form – and I had fallen, bass ackwards, into one of the most profoundly life-changing experiences I would ever know.

Four Events You Won’t Want to Miss in 2017

by Colleen Cook 

Few things carry as much potential as a fresh, blank calendar. There’s just something about that blank space that feels free and exciting as you look at the next 365 days knowing they can be whatever you choose.

If you’re like me, then you’re probably thinking a lot about what you can do less of, what you want to do more of, and how you want to spend your days this year as you fill in your calendar with birthdays, appointments, social plans, and more. For me, this year I will be working to ensure that the time I’m with my family is spent more intentionally. We’ll be spending more time making memories that will last, rather than binging a Netflix show or scrollaxing through our various devices.

Here are four events that I’m putting on my calendar, and why:

January 27th: The Second City Game Night

The Second City's Game Night

I have always wanted to see The Second City in person, and this is the year! Bonus: I don’t have to make the trek into Chicago! Having been a HUGE Saturday Night Live fan since I was too young to be watching it, as SNL fans know, The Second City is the breeding ground for great improv comedians. Alumni include Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Steven Colbert, Steve Carrell, Bill Murray… and our own Michael Thomas! So, we’re calling a babysitter and making sure we don’t miss this night.

February 18th: Pre-Concert Dinner & When Swing Was King Concert

When Swing Was King

My husband and I sometimes downplay Valentine’s Day, but for no good reason. Our love is worth celebrating, and we never regret making a big deal out of silly greeting card holidays – because good memories last way longer than the cards and candy. So, this year, we’ll be celebrating at the Mansfield Symphony’s pre-concert gourmet dinner by Rasul Welch and Anne Massie of Altered Eats, followed by a night of swing music with the Mansfield Symphony and world-renowned conductor Carl Topilow!

April 7th: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood LIVE

Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood Live

We have a preschooler in our house, and Daniel Tiger and his neighbors are like a third parent in our household. We count on Daniel to reinforce some really important lessons for our kids using earworms musical jingles like, “Use your words,” and “When you feel jealous, talk about it and we’ll figure something out,” and of course, “You can take a turn, and then I’ll get it back.” Seeing the joy on our daughter’s face last year at this event made it an early contender for our 2017 calendar.

May 20: Classic Albums Live plays The Eagles’ “Hotel California”

Classic Albums Live: The Eagles' Hotel California

As a kid, I remember listening to the “Hotel California” on vinyl in my parents’ basement, the richness of the incredible acoustic guitars and the band’s gritty authentic sound pouring over me. Classic Albums Live has gained quite a reputation as the quintessential authentic recreation of these incredible albums, live – playing every note, every cut, just the way you remember it. And, these guys are good. I’ve been excited to see this group since we started talking about it more than year ago, and you can be sure this event is on my personal calendar.


Comment and tell us, what events are your must-sees this year?

 

One word for 2017

One Word for 2017

by Colleen Cook

It has become internet-popular to forego the traditional New Year’s resolution list, and instead choose one word that becomes your guiding theme or principal for the year. Admittedly, I haven’t done this for myself yet, but I will be trying it in 2017.

As most things in internet culture go, the origin of the idea seems to be hard to pin down – the earliest post on the idea I could find is on Christine Kane’s blog as early as 2006, however iterations of this idea are all over the place.

As an organization, the Renaissance has a mission and a vision statement, a strategic plan, marketing and development plans, and so many formal planning documents, but I thought it would be interesting to ask our staff to summarize their own departmental goals for 2017 into one word. Here’s what they chose:

Michael Thomas: Expand

Chelsie Thompson: Gratitude

Linda Chambers: Collaboration

Patrick Clinage: Thorough

Ashley Young: Present

Mike Miller: Sustainability

Colleen Cook: Engaging

We hope that as a cultural hub to our community, we can be all of these things, and more. What is YOUR one word for 2017? Let us know in the comments!