Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Prepare and get Adrenaline on Your Side

The comedy-writers' workshop I have been attending since October culminated in a 'graduation' performance (a 'showcase') earlier this evening. In front of an audience of about 50 people, 6 writer/actors performed 12 sketches back-to-back. Learnt lessons? Rehearse and prepare a lot; relax and have fun; and bask in the glory of Adrenaline. Whatever chemical it is that flushes your brain in these situations, it works.

Learnt Lessons

1. Prepare.
2. Rehearse.
3. Over and over until you are fluent.
4. Double-check every detail.
5. Have clean, clear actions so you do not appear hesitant.
6. On the day, loosen up, warm up, relax.
7. Don't over-rehearse on the day.
8. Adrelanine will lift you and steel you (*).
9. If you're upbeat and calm, you will handle any fluffs well.

* Adrelanine exaggerates; so don't trust it completely. Check afterwards.

Here is what happened

After dedicating four-five weeks to writing, we voted for our most favourite sketches, picking two from each writer, and went to work on them. For the past four weeks, we have done nothing but rehearse those 12 sketches. We performed them again and again, cutting, adding, amending, tweaking ... Through all this we were led by an experienced tutor. Sometimes he case-studied particular sketches to dial them up. This involved asking us to improvise the scene, brainstorm better endings, or add new twists.

The last two weeks were dedicated to running through pretty-much-finalised sketches. Most of us were already "off-book" on most sketches (had memorised the lines). Still, we organised about four or five extra sessions amongst ourselves to double-check.

The last few days

For me, the real heat turned up in the last few days. I had memorised the lines but they were slow-to-mind. This means they had not been memorised well enough. I would easily come unstuck, lose focus, stumble, blank a line, and generally feel stiff.

A particularly helpful technique I picked up from a trained actress is to record the other roles' lines and leave durations of silence for your own lines. After a few practice rounds with my dictaphone, I was pretty much set. This technique worked for me like a treat. It was like I had a pocket-actor to play the other roles for me at all times. Over the past few days, I drilled the sketches with more frequency. The lines began to come out more fluently now, and by the night before last, I began to feel safe.

It was useful to be able to sit in a coffeeshop and hold my dictaphone to my ears as if it were a mobile. I would hear my voice playing the other roles, and then during the silences speak my lines. To anyone who cared, I was having a phone conversation. More importantly, because I was sitting in a public place and people might eavesdrop on bits of my speech, I made sure to sound perfectly normal. Forced not to put on a show, and instead to engage in a "phone conversation", I found myself realigning the logic of the lines, and the words felt real.

On the night

Three hours before the show, we all gathered to enact the show. We did physical warm ups, loosened ourselves, and generally made sure we had everything ready. Our first run-through was almost faultless. Everybody was up to speed on the lines. Hardly a fluff. I was proud of myself for not letting the side down.

Our tutor then made us rehearse things like coming on and off the stage, and putting the chairs on and off stage. We had a full run-through without sketches: just their beginnings and endings; this way we could focus on the links between, to make sure they too had been rehearsed.

Then came our second and final run-through of the sketches: a mere 90 minutes before the show. I was now fully relaxed and confident. Everyone had gone and got a glass of wine in the break. But our final rehearsal was a massive let-down. There were many blanks, including one from me (my mind froze and I couldn't remember the rest of the line). The energy was altogether very low. Some of us looked defeated already. One guy withdrew into himself, worried he might bring the whole show down.

Thankfully, I kept my energy up and tried to support those who looked a little down. But it's a tough call: you don't want to draw attention to what they already know.

The show

At 9pm, we now huddled into the dressing room (only one) and began the final preparations. Ten minutes before the start of the show, I ducked into a corridor and had a phone conversation with my dictaphone, running through all four sketches I am in. At 9.30pm, the audience took their seats. Morale in the dressing room was high, but so was tension. I surprised myself with how upbeat, dancey, and smiley I was; it was the only way.

The show started.

Things flowed like clockwork. Pretty much as planned.

The intro got a few chuckles, the first proper sketch got a couple of laughs, the second sketch got bigger laughs, and now we had ourselves a wave that we could ride.

The third sketch - my first appearance - went down very well for the absurd flight-of-fancy that Tim (a team-member) had created. I came off feeling all-buzzed-up. Things were flowing. The rest of the team looked like they were beginning to relax. No forgotten lines so far.

And on it went. By the time I came on again, for the 8th sketch, I was so warmed-up, I did not feel the slightest hesitation. The audience's warmth was there, I was playing to it, and it did not bother me at all. After the 12th sketch ended, which I wrote, we all lined up to bow. Afterwards, various members of the audience said they had wanted more.


We were all very pleased at the end; we spent a minute or two in British-style, self-effacing congratulation. "That wasn't too bad, was it?" "No, it could've been much worse, couldn't it?" "They seemed to like it, didn't they?"

I was so psyched up. I felt my sketches had gone down very well, and my performances in other team-members' sketches had not let them down. And I enjoyed those fleeting seconds when various audience members were checking me out after the show. In particular, of course, the attractive women.

In the pub afterwards, the people we had invited congregated to congratulate us and there was a jolly atmosphere for the rest of the night.

The Twist

I filmed the performance.

When I got home, I watched it.

To my surprise, I discover that what I had thought was perfect diction came out as Ahmedspeake - a mix of mangled words and staccato rhythm. Sure, the audience must have understood me, because they laughed. But on tape, the glamorous image of me rising to the occasion and producing perfect enunciation and poise was wrong. It turned out I had also slightly mis-remembered a line or two. And my body language was not as perfectly fitting as I thought it was.

I was surprised too that during my performances, I had not noticed that some of my co-performers had mis-remembered a few lines. In one case, Rob had fluffed his line badly, rendering it very differently to intended, but I had not noticed. During the performance, I thought he'd done a perfect job.

Adrenaline! Yes, it helps us, but it also washes over some unflattering details.

I guess it goes back to that blind-spot phenomenon I blogged about before.

What were our sketches about?

  • A guy who goes overboard trying to save Pandas
  • Two dogs in the park having a conversation
  • A pretensious chat-show host and his 'down-at-heel' guest
  • A weirdo on a bus who does not take a hint
  • A guy who calls in 'sick' because he's having an orgy
  • A lifecoach who does not have limiting beliefs
  • A corporate interviewer who demands 'a song' from the interviewee
  • A talking guitar

Which two are mine?


Meg said...

Tough one but I'm going to have to guess: 1) the talk show host and 2) weirdo on the bus....
Post the actual. I'm dying to know if I got even 1 right...

Twirling, turning life chunks. said...

Hey, well done! You got the weirdo on the bus right. :-) And, the talk show host one is the one I wish I had written (it was one of Tim's). So you've kind of nailed my personality there.

After the show, a couple of my friends were like: "that bus one, you wrote that, didn't you?" What gives it away, I wonder.