Everybody who reads my blog has seen the name Michael J. Gellman A LOT. That's because he taught me how to teach. He and Gary Austin gave so much to me; their wisdom yes, but so much of their time! If you wanna study with me, please, please PLEASE study with Michael J. Gellman FIRST. He's absolutely brilliant and a keystone to your improv career.
Michael J. Gellman
Or at least read the man's book! I have it permanently placed on top of my toilet. I hope that sounds right... I put it there because I read parts of Process, An Improviser's Journey EVERY DAY. It's an important book for me and for your studies in improvisational theatre. Click on the book below and a new tab will open so you can buy Michael J. Gellman's book on Amazon.
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This blog is about something Michael once said in class. A funny thing has happened with a lot of quotes in MY book, Scotty's Improv Tips. When I repeat them to my teachers who originally said them, half the time they don't remember saying it. Gary Austin was notorious for this. His workshops were famously free-form stream-of-consciousness. An improvised improv workshop. "I said that?" he'd exclaim if quoted him. Sometimes Gary would call me, "How did I say that thing about your brain vs. your body?" He'd ask me for the exact wording. "Do you see what you said, Gary?"
Well, Michael J. Gellman ain't like that.
Michael J. Gellman At Work
A Michael J. Gellman workshop is meticulously crafted. He writes some of the best curricula in the business. Michael is a master of the message when it comes to improv. He knows EXACTLY what he said. I know this because one day in a workshop, he'd had quite enough of my BS. I was glossing over moments, quick to words and, shy on emotion. Michael stopped a scene I was in...
"Scotty... every offer is owed an emotional reaction."
I stand there for a moment, blinking.
"Look, you're going right for a quick response..."
"As an actor, do you not know the difference between reaction & response?"
"No. No, I do not." I blinked in morse code.
Yeah... I'm not even blinking right...
Michael explained how, as an actor with a script, we act on the line. Our verbal responses have been written for us by the playwright. It's the actors job to bring those lines alive with emotion. But for whatever reason, in improvisation, actors are quick to take up the responsibilities of the playwright, tossing out that sharp & witty banter... but we tend to lose track of Actor Job #1... emotional reaction.
So Michael teaches improvisational actors a 2-step process.
Step 1. Every offer is owed an emotional reaction. No matter what is offered, you feel something. It's true in life, and it's true on-stage.
Step 2 Once you've given your partner their owed emotion reaction, THEN, if you choose to, you may respond physically or verbally.
With practice, these 2-steps will seem simultaneous.
Here's your checklist for the next time you improvise...
LISTEN to your partner... not as a set up for your next joke, but for its emotional content. What has just been said to you and how do you feel about it?
REACT emotionally to the offer. Take that fraction of a second to explore your own feelings.
RESPOND to the offer either verbally or physically or both. Experiment with physical responses and offers.
Now get out there and improvise!
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