Theater, Improv and Game

When I was in HS I got some really good advice and joined the stage crew for the production of “Annie Get Your Gun.”  I liked it.  For the first year all I did was work backstage with sets and stuff but after I got a little more confidence I auditioned for parts and finally got a minor one. Fast forward 10 years, I was in San Diego, fresh out of the Corps and going to college. I was invited to audition for a play (cold- I hadn’t even looked at the script) and got type-cast on the spot as a knuckle-dragging neanderthal military character.

That got me involved in theater again and for the next 4 years I had parts in a half-dozen productions. We’re talking about community college theater, folks. All volunteer and most colleges make you enroll in theater classes if you get cast because that’s where the money comes from to put on the production. These tend to have a lot of younger college aged people. Other community theater groups skew heavily toward middle age and their money comes from donations and ticket sales, it just depends on the group.

If you’re shy, have difficulty with social interactions, approach anxiety or don’t have a lot of social skills, set your sights on community theater instead of game.  Yes, hit the gym.  Yes, learn game.  Yes, approach women, but get involved with community theater.  Here’s why:

The tools and techniques to become a better actor will help you to become better with not just women, but with all people.  If you can develop the confidence to get on stage in front of an audience, giving a corporate presentation won’t be a big deal and neither will approaching women.  I cannot think of a more brutal job interview than a casting call.  The kind of practice you can get in a theater group that teaches, compliments and reinforces game is amazing.  One of the things that will get trained is your wit and you’ll have professionals helping you understand how to present yourself in the best possible way.  Learning how to connect with an audience will also teach how to connect with individual women.

The social aspects are also important because it’s involvement with a group that has a mission.  Being a part of a theater production is to be part of a team that will be very close for a short period of time. It’s damned hard work learning your lines and blocking and you’ll spend a lot of time with the rest of the cast getting it right before the curtain goes up. However, hang in there because once accepted you’ll be a theater person forever after. One of the neat things about theater is most of the actors have a desire to improve their craft, so when actors get together in public it’s natural to do some improv. Why?  Because that’s what theater people do.

Steroids are to gym workouts what improv is to game.

The goal of improv is something like dancing, in which the partners are working to bring their characters closer to each other and develop harmony of pattern and movement.  It forces the participants to think on their feet and be prepared to change direction at a moments notice, because the secret is nobody is really in control. In fact, if someone dominates things, it loses all its charm.  That’s why one of the primary rules is to listen, which teaches just how hard it is to listen.  Another rule is to agree rather than disagree, which keeps the narrative flowing.

Getting a cast working well together is often a function of character development and interaction but the script only provides so much support for an actor getting into character.  The thing about improv is each person has to stay in character and everyone is required to adapt and adjust to whatever anyone else says. The story is thus developed as you go along and is only limited by the imaginations of the people involved, provided they stay in character. There’s absolutely no way to know which way it’s going to go which makes it fun and forces each actor to refine their character.  Game teaches rules and says go approach women to practice but the women have zero investment in the approach.  Improv has women who are invested in their own growth as well as that of the others in the group.  For guys who have a hard time talking to women, a few hours of improv every week with instruction will work wonders.  That’s what theater classes are for.

If you take any courses in theater in college (one of the easiest ways to get into it) improv will be required and if you’re currently in college this is a great way to get some experience without auditioning for a part. After a few classes and with a bit of experience you’ll be ready to hit the casting call and audition. This usually requires a couple of short opposing monologues (no more than 2 minutes each) and some improv. Possibly a reading from the script, but that’s usually only for a call-back if/when you’re being considered for a particular part.  Check schedules and sit in on a casting call and you’ll understand.  Getting cast is a huge commitment because if you take the role and then can’t meet the rehearsal schedule, learn your lines and show up for performances you’ll wind up blacklisted.  A reputation for reliability and teamwork is worth working for and a theater director can be one hell of a reference on a job application.

Casting calls can be brutal and seldom if ever will a director explain why any individual actor did or didn’t get a call-back. So, you get up there and give it your best and wait like everybody else to see if you get a callback.  If you don’t, it’s like getting shot down on approach- she wasn’t interested, so move on and try again.  If you get a callback the director is looking at the interaction of the actors, some of whom are already cast and others may or may not be cast depending on the “best fit” with the rest of the cast. I’ve seen inexperienced actors chosen over much more capable actors because of their onstage chemistry with other members of the cast and completely unexpected casting decisions if the director is trying to do something different.  I’ve also been invited to audition by directors who saw me audition for other productions when I didn’t get a call-back.

Improv doesn’t need to have scripted characters and there have been plenty of times I’ve been with other actors who spontaneously created characters and a story line.  Usually because they were getting bored (which can be a problem for actors).  One of the things about improv in public is the people around you are often used as unwitting participants in your production and people on the periphery become the audience. Street theater if you will, because it gives legitimacy to saying the most outrageous things you can imagine, as well as the physical actions to back them up.

For guys who have a problem with shyness or social interaction with women, improv with a theater group is perfect.  On one hand it’s a game and as long as you’re trying, nothing you say or do will be held against you later. OTOH, it’s real and you have to participate or else. If you’re new, experienced people will work with you and feed you slow easy ones right over the plate because it’s a challenge for them to try to guide both their character and yours in the direction they want it to go.  I had friends who had “stock” characters they really liked and sometimes those characters became their alter-ego in a weird way.  After a while you knew when they’d slipped into character just from their body language and the way they looked at you…  and knew they were making decisions about who else was around that could be dragged into it and the overall intended audience.  Because people are naturally voyeurs.

Improv can be demanding and mentally exhausting and forces the actors to be on their toes.  Some people are naturals and others have to work hard at it but as much as anything it’s a matter of practice.  I had friends I hung out with and we had a set of hand signals, mostly for body language and congruence so we could communicate without breaking character.  Some people prefer to do improv in a sterile environment (focus on character, interaction and dialogue) others (like me) prefer more public forums because I like the idea of having an audience.

I had a final exam for an improv class on a spring afternoon at a crowded cafe in San Diego.  I was paired with another non-traditional student (about 30, like me) and we decided on our characters, chose the subject and direction of what we were going to do.  Part of our grade was our performance with each other and part of it was the effect our performance had on the audience we chose.   We had a couple of people at different places in the local area holding tables at cafes looking for the right audience.  We got a good hit from what had to be a bus tour and wound up with several tables of mostly “women of a certain age” from the Midwest sitting next to us.

The prof grading our performance arrived, got a seat with a good view and we got started.  A classmate was across the street waiting for her cue.  We got into character and into our ‘bubble’ and after a few minutes nobody else in the world existed except the two of us, and we were in love.  Some risque comments were made and there was lots of touching. This was out of doors and there was a lot of street-noise, so we had to speak loudly enough to hear ourselves that the other tables could hear us.  We were oblivious to that.

We had thirty minutes and the first 10 minutes was to get the intended audience’s attention as a young couple so in love with each other they were blind to the world around them.  Total campy romance.  We definitely had attention at the ten minute mark when Carol ramped it up into the second act.

“Darling, things have been getting a little stale lately.  What do you think we could do to spice things up?”

I gave her steady eye contact for a while and smirked.

“Why don’t we get a girlfriend?  You were into that in college so it shouldn’t be a problem and as long as she doesn’t get pregnant, hell, we would hire her as a live in housekeeper.”

Our eyes were completely focused on each other and she nodded.  “That could be a solution, but we’d have to both agree on her and it’s always the two of us first, then her.  If it’s ever a choice between her or us, she goes.  Agreed?”

There was now total silence from the women at the tables next to us.  We finally got service and ordered a round of wine, I moved around the table to sit beside her and what followed was a conversation about the physical aspects of various women within viewing, with descriptions good enough that the listeners could identify them and make their own evaluations.  What they didn’t realize was we were using other women to discuss the appearance, physical attributes and deficiencies of the women who were sitting next to us listening in on our conversation.  We moved back and forth, from talking about us to talking about other women and what we found attractive or unattractive.

We hit the end of the second 10 minutes with an uncomfortable audience.  I made the signal and Terri (young and very attractive classmate) got up, walked down the sidewalk, crossed to our side of the street and approached in our direction.

“John, isn’t that your ex-girlfriend?  Would that be too much like playing with fire?”

“I think she’d be perfect.  Question is, who’s she going to respond to?  We parted on really good terms but I don’t know if she’s still into guys.”

“Nobody would believe she was our housekeeper.  My God.  Look at the way the women are watching her and their men trying not to.  Why did you two break up?”

“My last deployment was for 8 months and by the time I got back she’d moved on.  We got together a few times, but it wasn’t the same… and then I met you and that was it.”

“If I’d realized she looked that good I’d have been a lot more concerned. I don’t remember her looking that good.  How old is she?”

“Let’s see…  she can’t be twenty-one yet.  She’d just turned 18 when we got married, which is the only time you ever really met her and she looked like shit that day.”

Carol stared at me in shock.  “That means you started dating her when she was what, fifteen?”

I shrugged.  “Her mom is French and her dad is retired Navy.  They both liked me and decided I was the best thing that ever happened to her.  I didn’t know how old she was until her sixteenth birthday party because it never came up, but her folks didn’t care.  They wanted me to marry her before the last deployment but she’d just turned seventeen and that would have caused problems.”

I stood, called Terri over to our table and invited her to join us.  She came over, Carol rose as well, and I gave her a hug and a playful kiss on the mouth.  Carol objected.

“Hey- if you kiss her don’t I get even time?”  That part was scripted to make it sound like she wanted a kiss from me.

I look from Carol to Terri and shrugged.  “Seems to me that’s up to her.”

Terri reached over, gave Carol a hug and a kiss on the cheek but in full view of the women next to us gave her ass a squeeze, which was hidden from me.  We all sat down and full scale seduction was on.  Terri and I caught up on each other’s lives.  She was going to school at UCSD, not seeing anyone but doing a bit of modeling.  Carol and Terri went back and forth with a little conversation and a lot of subtext. I ordered more wine and gave Terri a glass.

There was a lot of sexual tension and Carol (total improv) unhooked her bra, pulled the shoulder straps off her arms and pulled the bra out from under her shirt, putting it in her purse.  She looked Terri in the eye and said something about hating to be restrained.  Terri laughed and did likewise.  Then Carol explained things were getting stale for us and we’d decided we needed a girlfriend.  Our body language clearly said we were interested in her.  She smiled and moved closer toward us but adjusted so she was slightly facing our audience.

Our goal for the final segment was to keep the audience in a “what will they do next” spell of intense interest, but while we were still in our bubble (now including Terri) and completely oblivious to them, Terri wasn’t and they knew it.  Sometimes she’d make a comment looking at us, sometimes looking in their direction, making it obvious she knew they were listening and didn’t care.  That was the final piece designed to draw them in, taking them from audience to participants.

We kept it up until we hit the 30 minute mark and called for the check, staying in character.   The prof came over as we paid the bill and we turned it off.  We stood, turned to the ladies and he told them what we’d done, thanked them for being such a gracious audience and we left to help other students prepare for their exam.  He stayed and asked a few questions about how believable we’d been (he’d made notes of some of the reactions), thanked them and left to do another evaluation.  We both got a B+ (“very believable”) and I got a reprimand for giving a minor (Terri) a glass of wine in a public place.

——————–

When participating in public improv there’s a fine line in these situations in which everyone should expect to be pushed based on individual capabilities. Are you not participating on level with everyone else? It’s OK, they’ll adjust. Be prepared for someone else to come up with a humorous or embarrassing reason why you’re in the dumps and explain it to the waitress or whoever. And that’s now part of your story and you have to deal with it. This is probably one of the greatest ways to learn how to blow away shit tests there is because it forces you to work to come back with something funny, witty or whatever. Agree and amplify is the go-to response because a but-hurt answer will get slammed.

The magic of theater is the emotions you are forced to project are real. They have to be in order for you to be convincing on stage and that’s the reason for the improv- learning to both control and project the emotions as needed. The structure on which the emotions rest is artificial, but again, the emotions are real. Learn how to guide the improv for the women and even though it’s just a game and they know it, the emotions take over and things happen. This is why relationships among actors tend to be fluid. Romantic leads often become an item during a production and then break it off afterward, as well as others in the cast and crew.

If the final exam I did with Carol and Terri had been in the early evening with no further commitments and we’d bounced to another venue together, that night would have ended with all of us in bed together.  Carol was a red-headed bisexual living with another woman but getting her itch scratched when desired from a couple of guys in the group.  She worked as a waitress, did theater and was working on a nursing degree.  Terry was a beautiful but boring 20 year old student that I dated for a few months a year later after she turned 21.  The sexual tension was real but the point is the attraction was the result of the emotions that had to be generated for the performance.  The “relationship” aspect was pure fantasy but the emotions were real.

My experience with women in community theater was that they tended to be serious, because flaking on commitments is a huge violation of the code.  Doing theater soaks up an enormous amount of time so these are not women who spend much time in nightclubs getting hit on.  The demands and schedule of being in a production means you need a clear head almost all of the time and many of the women I met doing theater drank seldom, if ever and didn’t do drugs at all.  They also care about their appearance.  Theater requires a certain passion and commitment that most people simply don’t have, thus there are ‘theater people’ and everyone else.

Doing theater is a natural compliment to game.  It’s a passion, an unusual hobby and introduces you to people that are amazing.  Go out with a bunch of actors and wild things happen.   Roll into a venue with a high-energy mixed group of friends having a good time, most or all of the women attractive. That’s all the social proof you’ll need. People will always ask if it’s a special occasion or something. When they find out it’s the cast of a theater production, you being part of it is an instant DHV.  Other women will cheerfully allow themselves to be pulled away from their friends into the group because of the comfort and energy. After that it’s game and logistics, usually  more logistics than anything else.

Being needy shouldn’t be an issue because in the experience of every guy I knew that had been cast a few times, they had zero problems getting laid.   Maybe they weren’t pulling the hotties that got leading roles, but there were always plenty of good-looking cast and crew members available and willing.  Understand, you have to make your bones, showing up on time, learning your lines and blocking, showing everyone you’re being seriously professional about the production and a team player before really being accepted.  I have known people to quit good jobs because the boss changed their schedule and that interfered with a production they’d committed to.  I’ve seen actors onstage when they should have been in a hospital.  So, yeah, theater people can be weird, but it’s the kind of weird you can be proud of.

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One Response to Theater, Improv and Game

  1. Pingback: Five Is Not The Number You Want | Toad's Hall

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