Retreat ’15 Diaries: Jason

Class: What’s Happening Now?

Day: Friday

Time: 11:45 – 1:15


If I was going to pull out a theme from my personal experience of this year’s Improv Retreat it would be “Stop Working So Hard”. It seemed to be something I was saying in all my classes from Short Form With Soul to Game Of The Song to Robots, Santas and Aliens; “stop working so hard”.


In this class, a class I love to teach, based loosely on the exercises taught to The Maydays by the incomparable Tj Jagadowski and Dave Pasquesi (Chicago’s TJ & Dave) when they came to the UK last year, it is made abundantly clear that you don’t need to work hard. All you must do is focus.


I start with an exercise I like to believe I invented, but is far too simple for that to be true, so I shall settle for having independently arrived at the idea. Students are asked to simply sit in a chair at centre stage and be. Not to do anything, not to play anything. Just be. Sit as is comfortable and allow us, the audience, to witness them and all the stories that come out of the student as a character. An audience can not fail to see an actor on the stage as a character. All too soon the actor disappears and what is left is a fleeting moment of a characters story that has existed before and will continue to exist long after I have called time at 2 minutes and thanked the actor for allowing us to see them. By doing nothing the audience does ALL the work of creating your story so the power we as actors have now is to steer that story lightly at our will.


A spooky exercise that is indistinguishable from magic comes next showing that by simply concentrating on a relationship, a message you must deliver and its weight, you can actually communicate the essence of that information by looking into a scene partner’s eyes. This time more than any other, it was frighteningly accurate. Again, by doing very little work the “who” and the “what” of the scene between you can be established.


And finally, in such a short class, we trust this ethic in two person scenes. The actors are asked to find a space, a position, even a position for a chair or two, in the acting area that feels “right” and at the moment I say “lights up” the scene is happening. Take a moment to check in with your partner and trust that the feeling you get from how you’re feeling and how your scene partner looks like they’re feeling is accurate and go with it. Every scene was at the very minimum engaging and real and, on a few unnecessarily lucky occasions, downright hilarious. They all seemed easy and that’s the pinnacle of improv as I see it, improv that feels real and looks easy.


As I said, remembering a phrase I heard once (“there’s no good or bad improv, only easy and hard”), there are 2 ways for anything to be easy; work your 10’000 hours, become an expert and so it looks easy or simply decide not to work so hard.