Noted! by Mayday, Liz Peters
I have a collection of notebooks. Well-loved, well scribbled, both messy and neat depending on which flavour of me grabs them in any given moment.
Over my lifetime I’ve filled notebooks of ramblings; notebooks that have documented adventures through jungles and deserts; notebooks for trying to understand my own psychology; notebooks of genius ideas, songs and curious thoughts; notebooks for learning particular and important things; notebooks for writing task lists that I may or may not complete… But my most treasured and well-thumbed collection of notebooks, the ones that I’d save first from a fire, are my improv notebooks.
These unassuming, well-travelled bunch of journals are a memory box of over a decade of learning and growing my improv career. Relics that map out a timeline with hastily scribbled dates of workshops attended and led, and covers clad with stickers from international festivals that pin them to a certain time.
From the clear, fat confident handwriting of my first improv notebook (when I truly believed I’d keep all my warm-up ideas, exercises, and short-form games organised into 3 tidy list pages!) to the scribbled and almost illegible snatches of brilliance where I’ve tried to capture a concept in an exciting class whilst still trying to listen. From the carefully described games to the ones flung down in a hasty sketch that makes little to no sense a year later. From the lists of first names crossed through or ticked, to the chaotic explosions of ideas for games that work around a particular concept or class idea. The plans, the lists, the boxes, the words, the ideas, the ludicrous names for unberthed exercises, the made-up names for new ones, the colours of pens, the undulation in the handwritings, the terrible drawings of people with hands… They tell the story of my adventures in improv. Up to and including a year ago where, after a few blank pages (I don’t know why I left them blank – maybe I was writing hastily and turned over too many pages, maybe I was aware of what a big shift it was and ceremoniously left them blank – I honestly can’t remember. It was a crazy time) after a few blank pages, the title ‘Improv Online!’ triple underlined. The commencement of figuring out how to do this shit in a whole new way. (Fun fact: The first word on this page was ‘say hello’ – cos I guess I was worried that I’d forget to do that now we were all turning into robots!)
It is in these books and in my head that everything I know about improv lives. I picture where I thought of, learned or taught something and thumb through to where it was. I can see the hours spent learning from curious nerds, soaking up their point of view on this art form as I helped to build my own. I can see the evolution of my particular areas of specialism beginning as scratched out clunky ideas written at midnight in the early years of our experimental retreats, refined and honed over festivals and courses beyond.
I love my improv notebooks. And they won’t make any sense to anyone else.
Now I realise that, as an improv teacher, having everything I know about improv only in some notebooks and my brain is pretty risky! And flicking to find things rather than having a digital database is not very 2021. Planning a workshop can be less than an efficient experience – more like an Indiana Jones excavation, finding gold in pages past.
I know I should digitise them. Yet the longer I go on, the more daunting a task that becomes! How does one organise such a database? It can’t just go on a spreadsheet. Or be categorised. There are so many layers and crossovers to it all. There’s a billion categories and also none. Exercises with different slants and purposes. Alternate perspectives. If you have exquisitely uploaded your improv-brain to an intuitive searchable computer system let me know! It seems epic.
You’ll never find me taking workshop notes on a computer or phone. I’m a pen and paper girl all the way! And I love the little chaotic library of an improv life that’s growing, page by page, in A5 notebooks. But it would be soooo good to also have a searchable database of it all!
Since these little books of chaos and brilliance will never see the light of day I’ve plucked out some whizz bits for you. Some quotes in workshops compelled me to scribe. I’ve attributed these fleeting utterances to the person facilitating, who may have heard them elsewhere since that is how we all learn. And, of course, they could all be wildly misquoted as anyone who’s ever tried to take notes in a fast-moving improv class will know: it ain’t easy to note and hear! Either way – the spirit is there. Enjoy a wee dip into some messy books of memories. I look forward to making more.
QUOTES I WROTE DOWN IN WORKSHOPS, (WHICH MAY NOT BE EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAID!)
‘Listen with your eyes, your ears and the hairs on the back of your neck’ Rachael Mason
‘Yes and your own choices. Yes and Yourself. If we don’t practice putting ourselves out there, we
will always put ourselves behind.’ Shannon Stott
‘Specificity is the bedrock of comedy’ Balasree Viswanathan
‘Defensiveness is the death of comedy’ Rachael Mason
‘You have the right to fail.. but not to bail’ Jessica Antes
‘Energy + commitment + decisiveness are 80% of improv.’ Craig Cackowski
‘Our job is to experience and communicate so that the audience experience something. We must
radiate.’ Lee Simpson
‘Every story is about characters struggling or suffering. How else can I torture them?’ Lee White
‘Make silence at the end of a rant. This tension ensures the next line is funny.’ Timothée Ansieau
‘We want to see normal people, in normal conversations with a heightened sense of importance
and truth.’ Stefan Pagels Anderson
‘I don’t care if you’re IN or OUT. Just make a decision. Nothing is just fine. Decide.’ Jason Shotts
‘Make your partner shine.’ Laura Doorneweerd-Perry
‘Go in with confidence even if you’re not sure. It’s a leap of faith all the time. Define afterwards.’
‘How can we give each other the joy?’ Patti Stiles
‘We are ants. We solve problems by community without having a leader.’ Armando Diaz
‘If you’re not paying attention to nuance then Brokeback Mountain is just a cowboy movie.’ Jill
‘There are 2 kinds of laughter: the laughter of surprise and the laughter of recognition.’ Colleen
‘Lyrics are not dialogue.’ Ruth Bratt
‘It’s not a mistake til you declare it’s a mistake. Do something once = mistake. Do something 3
times = jazz!’ Duncan Walsh Atkins
‘Object work: go half as fast and with twice the intensity.’ Joe Bill
‘The comic potential of your character is equivalent to the vulnerability you allow to be seen’
‘Build a door. Walk through it and play. Don’t spend ages figuring out how to make the door’ Jorin
‘It’s time to accept your competence as an improviser. Get out of your own way’ Mick Napier
‘Don’t start by telling them what they should do, let them know how you are.’ Farrell Walsh
‘Gravity wants us to make our scene about the place. No! We’ll crash! People. People. 90%
people.’ Bill Arnett
‘Choose certainty + confidence over hesitation or reticence as it will move you forward.
Ambivalence is useless.’ TJ Jagadowski
‘Best way to get out of your head is to get into your body. You’ll find more if you move it.’ Rebecca
‘Stuck scene? 3 Ds to make people react: A Discovery, a Decision or a Declaration / Disclosure.’
‘If you’re stuck in a loop and can’t think, say the same thing again with more emotion/energy.’
‘Make it specific. Make it personal. Right here, right now.’ Cesar Jaime
‘You don’t need to solve the scene.’ Rance Rizzutto
‘Don’t keep looking for the next thing. No matter what is happening right now that is the right and
best thing. There is no better.’ Susan Messing
‘We’re not making stuff up. We just don’t know what we’re going to do yet. It will reveal itself.’ Dave
‘Remember to play together, not separately.’ TJ Jagadowski
‘What should I go onstage with? Readiness! Everything is fine.’ Joe Bill
‘If you’re brilliant they love you. If you’re terrible it’s comedy. AS LONG AS YOU FULLY COMMIT’.
Liz regularly teaches our online improv drop-ins and courses. However, exciting news, Liz is teaching an ‘IN REAL LIFE’ course in September for our Brighton improv community, check out our Longform Refresher 12-week course with our smasha Liz HERE!