Stop Being Polite

Today's guest blogger is Garrett Bank. Garrett is a Sacramento improviser and main-stage performer at Blacktop Comedy. His past performances include KAPOW, Teen Slasher, and F@#$%! Up Relationship.

In my short time studying improv there is always the inevitable conversation, “Hey why did you sit on the side the whole show?” And this always leads to an inevitable answer, “I felt like I was hopping out too much. I wanted someone else to have a turn.” While this might not always be the answer, at one point or another someone you are on a team with is going to say something along the lines of, “I was just making sure everyone gets a turn.” This is where the epidemic of politeness in improv spawns.

Now making sure everyone gets to play and have fun during a show is a noble effort but has a lot of flawed logic. Say you come up with a scene start idea while on the sidelines and you are about to run on and start the greatest improv scene of your career. When suddenly you remember you were in the last three scenes and the person next to you hasn’t been in any. So you put that idea aside and what for your fellow improviser to hop in. My advice to the reader who has ever had this thought while on stage; GET OFF THE SIDELINES AND START THAT SCENE! If you do, not only do you create a scene that people (who possibly haven’t hopped out yet) can join in on but you have put aside self judgment and acted on instinct. I understand you want to be nice to your fellow improvisers but not participating because someone else is not participating just creates two people not participating. Also, when did improv become a game where we kept score? Do we go backstage and count up how many scenes we were in and flaunt in front of everyone? Let me give you the quick answer: No. We get out on stage a lot because we want to play or we want to support what our other improvisers are trying to create. Improv is truly one of the only team based sports that is not about competition.

Now if you are still concerned about the person on the sideline who still won’t hop into a scene, when you get that next scene start invite them out with you. Everybody wins! You no longer have to feel bad about playing a lot (but you shouldn’t anyway). In summary, the intention of being polite is a great idea but ultimately can be self-destructive to you and your fellow team mates. Play and join scenes as much as you want and have a great time.



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You Will Be Supported

Today's guest blogger is Aeriel. 

I started crying before I started typing which seems like a pretty typical reaction of me. I don’t think I used to embrace crying as much as I do now, but here I am -- crying and glad I am. I feel so invigorated, thrilled, uplifted even to be a part of such a wonderful team and community in which support is a main foundation. Finding improv, more specifically, finding Blacktop Comedy theater has been an absolutely transformative experience for my life, well-being, and ultimately -- my soul.

Where to begin -- as I realize my blogging experience is more of a confession, here we go. I moved across the country, seemingly on a whim and began a new gray and drab job at ye olde government office. I will peep the bright and bubbly fellow Gordon Sharp for recognizing the light in me at the time and encouraging me to come to shows at Blacktop Comedy. Whether it be his shameless self-promoting that played a factor, or honestly the divine timing of the universe, I attended a couple of shows, short form then referred to as Shorties, and the box office hit - Teen Slasher -- I was hooked. I got my roommate and friends involved, I loved this place! I was so amazed! I had volunteered for a couple of the short form shows when it called for it, and I loved shouting out my suggestions (still do!), but I never had the thought, that could be me up there! I think I owe a lot to my good pal, Gordon, for HEAVILY encouraging the level one intro to improv class until one fateful summer, I took it.

I had been going to shows for a couple months and after a recent breakup and a BRAND new change in scenery, I was in my mind, ready to let go and do something for ME. I also give so many props to watching the amazing Blacktop performers for inspiring, and even more specifically -- the hosts I saw, Betsaida Lebron and Paul Burke, ALL of which I have grown to get to know and love as my own family. <3 Anyways, taking the class quite literally changed my life. (crying again per usual :P ) Are emoticons chill in a blog post? Haha.

I finished the course with excitement and still a lot of nervousness, but grateful that I did something for ME! I still see some of my fellow graduates in the weekly playgrounds - you know who you are! After the course graduation, I continued to volunteer with Blacktop and ultimately tried out to be a part of the team. I had no theater experience prior and honestly not a whole lot of confidence in myself at that point, but I did it anyways. I was ecstatic to hear that Blacktop wanted me to be a part of their performer cast after auditions. I didn’t know what it meant for my life at the moment, I just knew it was a place I wanted to be.

BOY WAS I RIGHT. Haha. In all seriousness though -- as serious as a blog post can get, it quite literally change the trajectory of my life, or better yet, was destined to be the trajectory of my life.

The summer of 2014, only two years ago, I know -- because I tweet everything, was the start of a new life. Now, I’m not saying since finding improv, more specifically Blacktop Comedy (‘cause there is a difference), made my life peaches and cream; No, I’m saying my sense of self and how I react to LIFE (this almost unmistakable force I once felt victim to) is completely different.

Often people hear the rules/guidelines of Improv and think it sounds like a cult… and yeah, they’re not entirely wrong! If it’s a cult, I’m drinking the kool-aid, making the kool-aid and endorsing the fXXX out of it! I live this Kool-aid. (product placement) OH YEAH!

It’s not something I was able to integrate ENTIRELY into my life right away, but the longer I have lived, the more I have been able to understand life by “rules” of improv. Rules is a stupid word because no one likes rules, how about supportive guidelines?

These supportive guidelines, “yes and”, “support others”, “take care of yourself”, “be in the moment”, sound so broad and out of context, but they can truthfully be placed into any situation you may be faced with in life. I think with all of that in mind, the best lesson I have learned -- trust yourself. I think the ultimate lesson for me was, confidence. Trusting myself, helped others trust and support me, and to create a beautiful scene! Whether it be an improv scene of jumping on a jet ski with my true love or another scene of playing violin for a concert of one OR better yet, LIFE IN REAL LIFE ITSELF -- taking risks and trusting that I (CAPITAL I) will be okay, was the most valuable lesson I could EVER learn.

I will be okay, you will be okay, we will all be okay. What a comforting thought. Even when it feels like we won’t, or we judge/question what is OKAY or what is not, knowing, someone out there is ready to support us, is so beautiful. Ultimately, it all ties back to everything! Full circle --  another recurring theme of improv in general! The universe will support you when you are in the right intentions (right intentions may be subjective, but I think as humans we can gather what that means for us individually.) Whether it be the wonderful, talented, beautiful improvisers of Blacktop Comedy, or wherever -- know that the Universe has your best interest in mind and that you will be supported.

That magnanimous (I didn’t even have to use a thesaurus for that feeling) support that I get from my Blacktop Community is something I wish everyone could find for themselves and I KNOW it’s out there. I know I said the best lesson was finding my confidence/sense of self, but with that comes finding your joy. Whatever that means for you, performing on stage, creating with friends, hanging out with kittens, whatever that means - is where you are supposed to be. Joy and love is not something to “capture” or “strive for” (in my opinion), but rather a state of BEING. Be love. Be joy. Be the person, the human person, that is capable of these transformative and influential states of being that reverberates to others.

I hope that my journey in finding my joy is helpful to others in finding theirs as well. I think that’s the ultimate sense of self, JOY (LOVE). We all deserve this greatness and can share with others. I thank sincerely the people of Blacktop and Paul and Betsaida, for bringing me such a beautiful realization and it is only my hope that I can pass this on to others on their own personal journey. I love you all, I don’t know you all, but I know I love you. (crying again, out of love) ~~ <3


Twitter: @hellasc

Snapchat: Scaeriel

Today's guest blogger is Aeriel. A regular performer on the stage at Blacktop Comedy, she also co-hosts a local Sacramento podcast, Dave's Vape Pen



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Interview with Chelsea Coleman

You can't help but smile when you're around Chelsea Coleman. Positive, thoughtful, and always encouraging, we were lucky to meet Chelsea back in our festival's first year. She, Ben, and their two-person In Transit have been a staple of the festival since then. It just doesn't feel like a California Comedy Festival with Ben and Chelsea. This year they also teamed up with Steven Sears to perform Steve, Chelsea, and Ben. We couldn't have hoped for a better show to close out the festival with!

We had an opportunity to ask both Ben and Chelsea some questions before the festival. And, even though the festival was a couple weeks ago, introspective answers and poignant thoughts are always timely! (I will post my interview with Ben later this week)

Q:  When and where did you begin improvising?

A:  I love questions like this, because you really can choose to answer however you want.  Like a cocky "oh, I've been improvising since the womb," or a more self-deprecating "well, college doesn't count, so like, not that long."

       I'm going to say 2005 at "The Next Stage" theater in Los Angeles.  It's a theater that gets a bad wrap, but it hosts free Monday night improv workshops, every week.

       My friend was going and was nervous to go alone, so she dragged me with her.  We want back the next two weeks and were placed on their first house team.  The team was called "iD Vicious."  We did short-form "punk prov."  Games like "Mousetrap" in which 3 people do a scene, at any given time one of them is wearing a blind fold.  The stage is covered in mousetraps and your character has to justify why you occassionally yelp in pain.
Or "OxyDep."  There's a bucket of ice water on the side of the stage, at any time, at least one performer's head must be immersed in the water, then they have to justify their exits and entrances and also justify whey they are covered in water.

      I then dated the director of that troupe, and he introduced me to iO West and Second City.  I then progressed on a very familiar LA improv route, but my first influences will forever be "iD Vicious" and "Who's Line Is It Anyway?"

     I'll add, I did not make my college improv team.

Q:  What troupes and individuals were your early passions and influences?

A:  I learn the most from those I love.  Lynn Trickey DID make my college improv team.  I always enjoyed watching her perform.  I somehow tricked her into becoming my best friend a few years later. 

         I can't forget my childhood idols.  I loved Steve Martin, and know "The Three Amigos" and "Parenthood" by heart.  I religiously watched "I Love Lucy," "Roseanne," "In Living Color" reruns of "Saturday Night Live."  "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" was my first favorite show.  John Sessions was my first favorite improviser, but I can still remember quips from Clive Anderson, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mochrie, Josie Lawrence, Tony Slattery, every performer.  VH1 Standup Spotlight was a huge influence, and all late night standup comedy shows.  Those still ring in my mind profoundly.

         I think every improviser can talk about their favorite movies and comedians for a long time, and the list never ends.


Q: How did your troupe come together?

A:  Good question!  Ben, how did we come together?
      Oh, I remember!   I think Ben had booked a two-man show with someone at a space called "Mosaic."  If I'm correct, I think that person dropped out and he asked me to fill-in? 

       We had a fantastic first show and just kept it going. We first met on the iO team "The 3rd Rail" back in... some year.

Q: What do you love about your troupe?

A:  I'm happy to be writing this AFTER the festival, as spending time with Ben and Steve only makes me love both of them more.  I could sincerely write a novel about either Ben or Steve, and not just because I'm incredibly long-winded.

          I'll start with Ben Leddick and "In Transit."

          Ben, and I'm going to CC you on this email so you can read compliments.... Ben may be my favorite improviser performing today.

           He is unlike any improviser or human I have ever met.  His intentions and desires and goals on stage are completely different than anyone else I know.  He genuinely LOVES taking risks and trying new things, and tricking and confusing people.  He legitimately loves to make the audience uncomfortable.  Of course, like all of us, he wants validation and to have a killer show, but I have never been pushed or more inspired by an improviser in my existence.  He is vulnerable and aware and caring, but also risky and deviant and silly.  His heart is profoundly huge, and his moral compass and sense of self is powerful.
We have completely different religious and political views, but he is such a compassionate, wise and understanding person, that our differences have only improved our friendships and performance rather than rip it apart.  I learn from him every single time we hang out.

       Now Steven Sears on the other hand.....

       Steve is my husband and I'm in love with the guy, so I'm a little biased on that front.  As an improviser, I'm also in love with Steven Sears.

        Watching Steve on stage is mesmerizing, he is physical and engaging and bizarre and dirty and his "first choice" is different than anyone else's first choice that I have met.  He will "Yes And" anything, even if he has no idea what he's saying "yes" to.

       The combination of Steve AND Ben is silly and ridiculous and confusing and magnetic, and one my favorite things.  I didn't really get to see the depths of their silliness until this festival, and I want so much more of it.  I sometimes regret not letting our three man show just be a 30-minute show of their eating pizza together.  

They could have done it for 2 hours.

        If you ever want to hear more great things about Steve, hit me up.

Q: Improv can be exhilarating. What do you personally consider to be the most exciting moments in your work?

A:  This changes and morphs constantly, and I hope it continues to do so.  It's hard to beat the high of getting a truly huge laugh or having a truly wonderful show, beginning-middle-end... I think that will never change.

       The moments I really love, are moments that I refer to as "magic."  Those moments where you are truly present, not planning anything, just engaged and listening to your partner, and piece by piece you find yourself falling into something terrifying and magical.  Callbacks that just happen because they belong there, not because you were rifling through your back pocket.  Those true, vulnerable, moments of art.  That's what I really love.

       I'm now adding a NEW element which terrifies me.... but it's being terrified and committing to something you are horrible at.

       I had a hard time moving on from our "In Transit" show at this year's festival because I made a bunch of choices due to rustiness and defense rather than power.  I was IMMEDIATELY caught in "accent regret" and have never in my life done a full show with a Southern accent.  

Then I remembered Ben's workshop, about pushing what you're horrible at, going forward with it, becoming a better improviser with a larger arsenal and failing triumphantly in front of people.. That is still a battle, but I'm hoping to start practicing what I preach.



Q: How would you define what differentiates a successful live performance from a poor one? What can improvisers do from your point of view to improve their live act?

A:  Again, this year's festival has shifted my perspective.  I wasn't happy with the shows I performed in this year.  I was beating myself up.  If I had gone to my crutches and the things I'm "really good at," I could have hit the shows out of the park.  Instead, they were risky and made me uncomfortable and sometimes totally fell short.

        Spending time with Steve and Ben, I'm accepting that is EXACTLY the point and where I want to be headed as an artist, but OH MAN is it harder to do than it is to say.

         In general, a "successful live performance" has so many factors and elements and honestly depends on the show, the venue, the audience, all of it.  A show you perform in a loft space in an experimental theater will be different than one you do on a cruise ship,  for example.

         What I really feel is: one, improvisers should define their own destiny.  Improvisers should find their own voice, what they're drawn to, what kind of shows they'd like to be doing, and encourage that to the ends of the earth.  Some love character-driven, silly improv, with a loaded arsenal of pre-created characters that they know kill.  Some love very artistic, fluid, changes-every-night, keeps-you-on-your-toes, may-not-even-be-funny, vulnerable art performance improv.  It really depends on you;
          Second, I think the key to a successful performance is setting simple goals for yourself and prioritizing those goals.  What is the one, MAYBE two (don't ask too much of yourself) goal that you really want to achieve in this particular show on this particular night?  Then after the show, simply ask yourself if that goal was met.  Was it to try new things?  Was it to really focus on object work?  Was it to listen and support?  What are YOU working on?  Did you achieve that?
            Oh, and third.... in coaching and performing, I think there's really only one thing that tanks shows.... I call them "bad eggs."  The UCB method has specific terms like "pulling the rug out" etc.... but it's anything that negates, or throws your partner under the bus.  Those moves where everyone's on board and someone says "Cut!  Now for the next take, make it funnier."  Anything that really sells everyone out, or negates any offer, or you're afraid that you're going to look bad so you bail on your own team.  
You wouldn't want that going into battle with someone, and you wouldn't want it in an improv show.

Q: What's the most important lesson you have learned as an improviser?

A:  This is such a deeply profound and difficult question.    I think I'll go with:   You are good just as you are.  You are enough.



Mission Accomplished

The California Comedy Festival was a huge success! With your help, and the help of 50 improvisers from around the country, we raised over $1,000 for Sacramento and Placer's Evolve You Foundation.

With that money Blacktop Comedy can offer free improv workshops for the high school students about to leave the foster care system. After talking with Evolve You we found out that over 50% of these kids end up on the street after getting the boot from the foster care system. That's ridiculous.

We're helping keep kids off the street. With the money from the California Comedy Festival we are able to offer the students improv classes. The improv classes for students are more than an afternoon of fun. The improv class offers the Sacramento kids a series of tools to live in the moment, adapt to change, and overcome self-doubt.

The Shows were incredible, the teachers brilliant, and the weekend unforgettable. Thank you In Transit, Side Pickle, The Revengers, Made Up Theatre, Off One Letter, Shades of Grey, Euro Trash, American River Colleges' Pandora's Jukebox, Jackson Soup, Rollin' in Riches, Steve Cheslea Ben, and Blacktop Comedy's very own BYOI and Your F@#$%! Up Relationship. 

Also, thank you to all the incredible volunteers who make everything at Blacktop Comedy and the California Comedy Festival possible. From flyering Rocklin, canvasing Sacramento, preparing the gift bags, grabbing water when the performers, and so much more, our volunteers helped the festival run smooth. So, who are the incredible volunteers? Thank you Austin Jansma, Jessa Jansma, Meggan Johnson Hyde, Celestial Meeker, Jonathon Al Milby, Jonathan Norman, Forrest Farman, Antonio Varela, Ciara Cumiskey, Jacquelyn Ackerson, Timothy Smith, Kasey Castaneda, Ami Duenas, and Alejandro Duenas, Betsaida Lebron, Jakob Hillock, Chris Kimbrough, Jay Miller, Aeriel Hunter, Gordon Sharp, Troy Wallis, Garrett Bank, Jordan Mata, Cristian Amaral, and Mo Lim-Chua, Yaz Khabiri and Allison Morrow

There were lots of great moments during the show, workshops, and behind the scenes! We'll be posting all the pictures very soon...and video! We have hours of footage we want to get online, and in the hands of all the teams.

And, maybe you're feeling generous, and want to give directly to Evolve You. You can do so here (you can also learn about all the incredible projects they have planned). Brian Taylor is the gent who runs the foundation. Tell him Blacktop Comedy sent you!