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Paul Tevis

Entries in improv (18)


Doing The Work

I’m in the middle of my own improv intensive here.

For the last three months, I’ve been getting together with four other people every Monday night to work on some long form. We’ve also got company workshops for the VIC every Thursday, but I’ve been out of town in the latter half of the week a lot recently, so I haven’t been making it to those or to shows consistently since the summer started. Last week, though, I hit both workshops and performed in the Saturday show. Looking at my schedule, I’m likely to do the same for the next two weeks. Which is great, because I feel like I’m leveling up again.

The beauty of our Monday night “workouts” is that there are at most five of us, and often someone can’t make it. That means for two hours, I’m on. That sort of intensity on a regular basis means I’m working through my usual schtick pretty quickly and starting to stretch myself. I’m not afraid to just try stuff that I’d be nervous about in performance and that I often don’t get a chance to do in company workshops. Just like I am with running, I’m putting the miles and I’m seeing the results.

Saturday night was likely the best improv show I’ve been in. That wasn’t because I was amazing, but it did feel like I was able to keep up my end of the bargain. I can’t wait to do it again.


Fitness: Pushups (6-6-4-4-10)
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 304 words, 328 seven-day average, 264 average, 36388 total, 1612 to go for the week; 5-day streak

Getting Somewhere

Last night our experiments in long-form improv started to bear fruit. It wasn’t a perfect piece, but the Harold we tried out felt pretty good. I think I broke through some creative barriers; I was much looser than usual and played more interesting characters than I often do. The group is also gelling really well. Now we just have to figure out what we’re going to with ourselves.


Fitness: Rest day
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 0 words, 240 seven-day average, 254 average, 26406 total, 1594 to go for the week

Computers, Game Theory, and Status

I met Alex Lamb at the Applied Improvisation Network Bay Area Conference last December. He’s one of the brains behind the SF Behavior Lab, which is exploring what improv and the tools of play can teach us about accelerating learning. He and I hit it off immediately, though our schedules have prevented us from actually working on anything together so far. Recently he put together a series of four posts that capture the basics of what the Lab is trying to do. If you’re at all interested in the intersections of computer simulation, improv, and organizational behavior, have a look.


Fitness: Biked 19 miles + One Hundred Pushups test (13)
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 470 words, 261 seven-day average, 256 average, 26070 total

More Scenes Than Games

Wayne asks:

How about comparing the comedy that you do with what we see on Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Sure. I get asked about it often enough anyway.

I’m part of the Ventura Improv Company, formerly Ventura Area Theatresports (VATS). As you might guess, the primary format we do is Theatresports, created by Keith Johnstone. Structurally, we’ve got two teams of three or four performers competing against each other. In each round, the director/MC throws out a challenge, something like:

  • A scene with a verbal restriction
  • A scene with great emotion
  • Something cultural
  • Something musical
  • A scene that uses the audience

Each team will then perform a short scene or “game” in response to the challenge. A lot the games we play are similar to what you see on Whose Line; many of their games come from Theatresports originally. Each scene is scored by the audience, on a scale from one to five. At the end of the night, which ever team has more points wins. Pretty simple.

We focus less on gags and quick wit than Whose Line does. Instead, we try often try to do more “scene-oriented” work, with more emphasis on characters, relationships, locations, objectives, and emotions. We also play up the competition aspect more, though not as much as ComedySportz does. We also don’t have the luxury of TV editing. And sometimes our best scenes aren’t funny at all.

And now I’m off to a show.


Fitness: Ran 4 miles
Writing: 289 words, 270 average

Because Kettlebells are Hard to Mime

Everyone’s opposite is different.

This is the idea behind one of the exercises we did recently in improv workshop. My troupe has company workshops every Thursday evening. We’ve recently decided to add a bit more structure to them by having specific teachers cover particular topics each month. In February, Tom taught us about creating interesting characters. One technique in particular stuck with me.

He started out by giving us a stereotypical situation. The first round, for example, was a parking attendant giving someone a parking ticket. Our challenge was to first summon up the stereotype of the person giving the ticket. Then, we were to play the opposite of that. The idea was that while everyone’s stereotypes are very similar, everyone’s opposite is different. And it seemed to be true. We had a “nice guy” attendant, who felt bad about giving his friend a ticket. We had a cowardly attendant, who totally caved when the car’s owner returned. We even had a pious attendant, who prayed before putting the ticket under the windshield wiper.

It was a wonderful idea, and it carried over to other scenes beautifully. I got to be a doctor for Medicines Sans Frontiers who had no bedside manner or compassion.1 I played opposite Jeannie’s helpful DMV worker, who I was convinced was trying to set me up for something. And when I was given “librarian,” I thought of my friend Judd and started doing pushups on stage.2

It was fascinating exercise, and I want to give it a try at the next show I’m in.

1 I was told afterward that I was too nice, because I used anesthetic when I cut a tumor off of someone’s face.

2 It’s a good thing I’ve been working out. Also, I got to use the line, “You can’t learn things from books.”