Friday, February 20, 2009

Good Improv Books

I am asked all the time where lawyers can find a good book on improv. Well, here they are, courtesy of the fine folks at the Magnet Theater:

Recommended Improv Books

Reading Improv books can be a great supplement to a solid improv education. Improv books give us additional lessons that may not have been touched on by our instructors or coaches. Below is a list of improv books we recommend. We have listed them in order of how much dig’em.

Truth in Comedy

by Del Close, Charna Halpern, Kim Johnson

If there is one book you have to read, it’s Truth in Comedy. It is the book about long form improvisation. It is also full of lessons about improvisation by Del Close, the founding father of long form. This will teach you best practices in improvisation.


by Mick Napier

Improvise is an interesting book. On one hand it may be one of the most important books I ever read about improv, on the other it may be the most dangerous books about improv ever written. Where Truth in Comedy begins with the conventional rules based approach to improv, Improvise throws it all out the window. Mick Napier’s approach is to stop thinking of what not to do and start focusing on what to do. A great book after you have spent a little time improvising.

Guru: My Days with Del Close

by Jeff Griggs

Written by Del’s intern at the end of Del’s life, this book recounts the inner working of a eccentric genius. This is a fantastic book that isn’t a memoir of Del, but allows people who never got a chance to meet him, experience his quirkiness.

The Second City Almanac of Improvisation

by Anne Libera

Great if you’re interested in the basics, as taught by Second City. An interesting read from every standpoint.

Art by Committee: A Guide to Advanced Impro…

by Charna Halpern

An interesting read. Consider this book to be an extension of Truth in Comedy. Comes with a DVD showing iO improvisers.

Acting on Impulse: The Art of Making Improv…

by Carol Hazenfield

A great book if you want to start a group and need some ideas on exercises

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Time is not a line, but a series of now-points."

Whitey Ford: "Yogi, what time is it?"
Yogi Berra: "You mean right now?"

Yogi, the Zen Master and Yankee catcher, may have been well trained by Del Close, in another life.

It has been said that "Time is not a line, but a series of

And the same can be said for improvisation. The training of improv allows one to experience the shear joy and comfort of always, always being 'in the moment.' One cannot improvise successfully without that mindset.

With no worries of the future, and no regrets for the past, the mind and body can respond with all the unique emotional intelligence its capable of----for only in that moment.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"If I had a plan I would be screwed."

While reading articles about Paul Newman, I came upon a very interesting fact. Here is this guy, a real mensch, an actor, race car driver, humanitarian, and model for Newman's Own spaghetti sauce jars----who had a sign in his Wesport office that read, "If I had a plan I would be screwed."

In her book "Improv Wisdom: Dont Prepare, Just Show Up", Patricia Ryan Madson echoes the same sentiment. She says: "Let’s face it: Life is something we all make up as we go along. No matter how carefully we formulate a “script,” it is bound to change when we interact with people with scripts of their own."

Take a lesson from someone like Paul Newman about improvisation ---someone who was describes as loving "creative chaos" where "everybody had a voice."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Beginning in the Middle to get to the End

One of the wonderful things about improv is the possibility of starting 'in the middle'. Del Close used to say, 'start in the middle of a scene'. Have a history that led you to this point. Agree on what came before, allow it to evolve through the character relationship.'

'Beginning in the middle' is sort of the way I felt years ago about Rosh Hashanah. As a society, we celebrated the New Year January 1st, one week after Christmas. But Jews celebrated the New Year toward the beginning of the fourth quarter of the year.

For kids, that felt more 'right'---since the end of summer signified the beginning of a new school year, and that 'felt' more like a 'beginning' to me. So, Rosh Hashanah seemed appropriately placed for me in time.

The same with an improv scene--- you can begin in the middle---that will feel right at times.

And here is a link to Del Close notes I provided for the Applied Improv Network folks: DEL CLOSE NOTES and read the first few pages to enjoy my own Rosh Hashanah story that includes a workshop with Del Close.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Four Key Areas for Improv for Lawyers

There are four key areas where improvisation can be a great asset for lawyers:

1- Story telling/Presentation Skills

2- Advocacy and Persuasion

3- Playing Along: Teamwork to enhance your projects.

4- Aha! -Creative problem solving/ applying the law in creative ways.

In Improv for Lawyers, there are a series of game structures that focus on enhancing each of these areas.

Re-moralizing ourselves through humor

One of the main advantages of learning improvisation is the transformationthat occurs in one's thinking process.

I share this article with you from a good friend and fellow improv teacher and coach,
Izzy Gesell. He is an outstanding teacher, who has allowed me to share the following article on "Re-moralizing ourselves through humor". Enjoy!

Re-Moralizing Ourselves Through Humor

by Izzy Gesell, MSEd, CSP (Certified Speaking Professional)

"Morale -- the level of i
ndividual psychological well-being based on such factors as a sense of purpose and confidence in the future." It is not surprising that people feel demoralized these days. As our society continues through a social, political, and economic metamorphosis, many folks are caught in the midst of tremendous turmoil wrought by the ongoing changes. It's hard to keep an optimistic outlook on the future when that future threatens to turn your present existence inside out. It's worthwhile to remember that most situations in life come in one of two forms - - those we can control and those we can't.

When acting on a situation within our control, we feel competent and in charge. Taking action on a situation out of our control -- such as traffic jams, federal regulations or other peoples' behavior -- often leaves us frustrated and disheartened.

A sense of humor is an under-
utilized personal resource for us when we feel demoralized. In a very true sense, humor is a "remoralizer." It makes us feel less isolated and more connected to others while helping us see "the big picture." In House of God, Samuel Shem was aware that "one of the few ways to deal with a high-stress situation that you can't control is to make fun of it."

Most of us don't use our sense of humor enough because we take ourselves too seriously. We're afraid to look foolish or silly. Now, I am not saying you should treat your profession- or responsibilities frivolously. It is quite possible, how- ever, to take your work seriously while taking YOURSELF lightly. By getting in touch with the sense of humor we already have and expanding it carefully and conscientiously, the risk associated with humor is greatly diminished. For many, the mark of a humorous person is the ability to tell jokes. Not true. Humor is much more than proficiency in joke-telling. It is a way of looking at the world, a skill that allows us to see more than one reality at a time because humor operates by manipulating psychological distance and perspective.

Sometimes it allows us to feel closer to a person while at other times it allows us to Pull away. By practicing the skill of humor we develop our innate ability to define any situation in more than one way. The more we exercise this skill, the more ways we have of looking at a situation and the more likely we are to find areas we can master, even within situations seemingly not under our command. For example, a traffic jam is not within our control, so yelling, screaming and getting angry is ineffectual. We can, however, take charge of our emotions and thoughts. By bringing humorous items with us to look at, listen to, or play with, we deflect the emotions, relieve the tension and help redirect our attention to that which we can govern. This is what we can do while we're stuck.

Perhaps this is the time for relaxing music, jotting down some notes, or even planning that dinner next week. Since humor deals in shifting points of view and multiple realities, it allows us to ascribe different meanings for events in our lives, thereby rendering them less threatening. The traffic is not a cause for lateness, it's an opportunity for some personal time.

Here are six ways to help get you started:

PERSONAL TOP TEN: Make a list of 10 stressors in your life. Who/What/When/Where do you feel frustrated, tight, angry? Notice how predictable the pressures are. You know, where they lurk in your life. That's good news because it means you can prepare yourself to deal with them. Now compile a list of 10 people/places/things that bring a smile to Your heart when you think of them. Examples are: loved ones, a favorite comic strip, your dog, a preferred vacation spot. Collect tangible representations of the things that make you happy and have those around you. Use these joyful items to counteract the stressors. Stress management pioneer Hans Seeyle believed that "nothing erases unpleasant thoughts more effectively than concentration on Pleasant ones."

HUMOR ROLE MODEL: Find and display a picture of yourself smiling or
laughing. Use it as a mirror.

PLEASURE HUNT: We all have wonderful things tucked away in closets, photo
albums, and brown paper bags. These letters of appreciation, pictures of ourselves
and our loved ones at various stages of life, professional achievement awards, and souvenirs of the highlights and adventures of our life are 'catalysts' for remoralization. Much of this 'stuff' is never looked at unless we move. Then we lug it from one place to another, commenting on how "I've got to go through this 'stuff' someday." Now's the time to get reacquainted with the wonderful things from our past.

SEARCH FOR THE HAPPINESS IN OTHERS: Make it your business to know
what makes the people in your life happy. Your family, colleagues, office staff, and friends all enjoy something. Knowing what makes them laugh gives you an opportunity to plant seeds of pleasure in their lives. There is no greater morale builder than making others happy.

SET YOUR MENTAL CHANNEL TO THE HUMOR IN YOUR LIFE: Most of the laughter and joy in our life comes from everyday experiences. Slips of the tongue, puns, incongruities, overheard conversations, bureaucratic foul-ups, and silly personal mistakes make us laugh every day. By keeping track of what we find humorous, we can easily see how funny things occur all the time. Because we have not been trained to honor the humor in our lives, we generally allow it to come and go fleetingly. Hang on to it by writing down funny or incongruous incidents, cutting out cartoons and articles which make you laugh, collecting funny videos.

FIND A HUMOR BUDDY: Pick someone who enjoys your sense of humor and
whose humor you appreciate. Be in touch with that person on a regular basis such as monthly. Either by phone, mail or computer, share the humorous events of your lives. This is a great opportunity to contact that friend you've lost touch with over the years. Here's a joke to share: President Clinton visits a nursing home in Washington, DC, as part of a tour to Publicize his health-care reform plans. He is eager to talk to people in order to sell his program, but to his dismay no one in the place seems the least bit interested in acknowledging his presence.

Feeling slighted and a bit taken aback, he goes up to an elderly man in a
wheelchair and says, "Excuse me sir. Do you know who I am?" With a puzzled look the old man looks up at Clinton. "No I don't," he replies, "but if you ask the nurse at the front desk, I'm sure she'll be able to help you." The end result of all this skill-building will be a greater sense of balance and control in your life.

As Thomas Szasz observed, "In the animal kingdom, the rule
is eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, it is define or be defined." Through our remoralizing sense of humor we are truly in the position of defining ourselves.

The Wisdom of Improv

The job of a lawyer is to craft the best story possible, in a way that persuades and connects with the listener.

A person trained in improv learns the value of good solid story telling. Not 'spinning a tale' that turns the facts on their ear, but creates the response of "Hmm, I never thought about it that way!"

An improv teacher I had many years ago said that one's intellectual life was a journey from "Huh?" through "Hmmm..." to "Aha!".

The first step is the question. 'What is that?'. 'What the heck did that mean?' 'I have no idea what you're talking about.' This response can be summed up in the "Huh?" we all feel when we simply don't understand what is going on. And there is nothing wrong with that state of mind.

The next step, after you have had the opportunity to take some of the story telling in, and sort out the facts, is the "Hmmm...". Kind of digesting the facts, details, emotions, contradictions, etc. Turning over and over in your head, chomping down each bit of information and rolling around in your head patterns, and things that begin to make sense.

Then the snap happens.

It can happen while you're brushing your teeth or in the bathroom or while driving or in a almost sleep state. The "Aha!". You now know something that you did not know before, your life will never be the same. The Aha! is the moment of insight, a brief glimpse in to the genius that had been sleeping moments before. In the jungle of your mind, the lion has awakened. Saying Yes to that "Aha!" insight. But more about that in future blog posts. It is the wisdom in improv of the "Yes, and..." that gives the improviser great insights and more and more "Aha!" moments.

In her book, "Improv Wisdom", author Patricia Ryan Madson'
The world of yes may be the single most powerful secret of improvising. It allows players who have no history with one another to create a scene effortlessly, telepathically. Safety lies in knowing your partner will go along with whatever idea you present. Life is too short to argue over which movie to see. Seize the first idea and go with it. Don't confuse this with being a "yes-man," implying mindless pandering. Saying yes is an act of courage and optimism; it allows you to share control. It is a way to make your partner happy. Yes expands your world.