Me vs. Game: A Love Story

by John Ratliff

During the first few years I was doing improv, I developed a reputation as someone who hated game. (As in “the game of the scene.”) I didn’t hate it, really; I just thought it ran counter to the two things I really wanted to do, which were (a) grounded, realistic scenework and (b) mind-blowing trippy organic stuff. (Which aren’t as different as they might seem, but that’s a different blog post.)

To my way of thinking, game was at best a crutch and at worst a severe limitation. I wanted to be free to do anything, to be completely in the moment. How could I do that if I was busy trying to follow the rules of some stupid game?

I still feel this way about some forms of game play. I’ve never liked any kind of improv in which there can be a “wrong” move, and in the narrowest version of game, it’s possible to screw it up by doing it wrong. (I say I don’t like that style of play because improv is about unconditional support, but to be honest, it terrifies me, because one of my biggest fears is that everybody else except me knows what’s going on.)

So I kept hacking away at learning how to do grounded, emotionally realistic scenework, which I do not regret. And … I started noticing some things along the way.

First, although I was getting better at playing realistic scenes, they often felt a little slack and wander-y. Huh, I thought, maybe there’s some way to give these scenes more of a sense of purpose and momentum.

Second, I noticed that a lot of my friends who had been working on game were getting really good at improv in general.

Third, I kept taking workshops and classes about game, and my understanding of it gradually expanded. In particular, I remember taking a workshop with Brandon Gardner (from UCB NYC) in which he discussed the stem-and-petals analogy: the game isn’t the flower, it’s the stem of the flower, and the scene is whatever grows off that main stem. Once you know what the game of the scene is, you can go in any direction; if you really know what the game is, you’ll eventually get back to it.

Suddenly, game seemed much more open and promising. I had been thinking of it as a grinding reduction of the scene down to one idea. But this was different; this was a platform you could launch off of in any direction. And it was also something that you could incorporate into a larger scene, regardless of whether the larger scene was about the game (no matter what Matt Besser says). Even if you’re just using it as one of many tools, it’s one of the most useful and universal of those tools. At the very least, you need to be familiar with it.

Improvisers who are initially drawn to fast and gamey play often start wanting to play more grounded, realistic scenes after a few years. I went in the opposite direction: for a while now, I’ve been trying to find opportunities to get better at game. As in, for instance, workshops like the ones Brandon will be teaching May 8th. I also auditioned for Stool Pigeon, which is all about premise-based game play, so I could rehearse it on a weekly basis. And now I’m playing in a group that does The Deconstruction, so I have to think about game-based scenes for at least part of the show.

In short: I’ve learned to love game. And if I can learn to love it, anyone can.


John Ratliff is the Conservatory Director at ColdTowne Theater, where he was voted Best Teacher or Coach in 2015. He has studied improv at ColdTowne and at iO and The Annoyance in Chicago.

Brandon Gardner Workshops

Brandon Gardner of UCB New York will be teaching workshops on May 8th. Workshops are $35 each or $60 for both (see below for details on how to save).

The Game of the Scene
12pm-2pm, Sun. 5/8
ColdTowne Conservatory (6929 Airport Blvd., Suite #131, Austin, TX 78752)

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

UCB Theater found Ian Roberts says that the best compliment you can get after an improv show is an audience member not believing it wasn’t written and rehearsed.  This workshop will focus on helping you get better at finding and playing a strong, clear, comedic idea with your partner the way it would exist in a great sketch or a sitcom character.


The First Three Lines
3pm-5pm. Sun. 5/8
ColdTowne Conservatory (6929 Airport Blvd., Suite #131, Austin, TX 78752)

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

The first three lines are the most important moment in any scene.  They are the difference between scenes that feel fun and easy and ones that feel like you’re stuck in comedy hell. This workshop we’ll use exercises and scene work to focus on slowing down that first moment to avoid common roadblocks and find the Game of the Scene quickly and easily.


Discount Information

To claim your $10 discount, register for the Game of the Scene first. You’ll receive a promotion code on your confirmation page.  Use that when registering for The First Three Lines, and you’ll knock $10 off, bringing the total to $60.


ABOUT BRANDON GARDNER

Brandon has been a performer and writer at the UCB Theater in New York since 2007 and has been an instructor there since 2009. He has been a member of the UCB house teams Bastian, Let’s Have a Ball, Reuben Williams, Improv Nerds and The Curfew and is a regular at UCB’s flagship show ASSSSCAT 3000. In addition to performing in NYC, Brandon is a member of the UCB TourCo All-Stars with whom he performs and teaches workshops around the world.

As a senior teacher Brandon has helped develop the UCB Training Center curriculum and has taught over one-hundred 8 week courses at every level. He has taught Advanced Level classes in Harolds, Scene Work, Improvised Plays and Improv to Sketch. Outside of UCB, Brandon is an active actor, writer and director.

Hill Jones Worshops and Show!

Hill-Jones-Improv-Los-Angeles-Left-Matt-Jones-of-Breaking-Bad-1Hill Jones are heading to ColdTowne for workshops and and a live show! Catch them along with Brain Trust, on Wednesday, October 28 at 11pm. Tickets are available now!

ColdTowne Theater is proud two offer two workshops with the amazing Hill Jones. Both workshops feature the Driver’s Seat with  Matt Jones and Dave Hill. Then you’ll continue on with either Matt or Dave for a solo workshop.

WORKSHOPS ARE SOLD OUT
Please e-mail buckprov@yahoo.com t0 get on the waiting list.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 1 – 2pm – 5pm @ ColdTowne Conservatory, 6929 Airport Blvd. #131, ATX

Driver’s Seat 2:00-3:30 w/Hill Jones

Too often, the improv “rules” get in the way of enjoying ourselves on stage.  “Don’t” becomes “can’t” and it kills the fun!  In this workshop, Dave Hill and Matt Jones (“Hill Jones”) will tag-team teach the principles that guide them in their work together to get you past the rules and back into the driver’s seat of improv!

And then you have the choice of either:

Milking the Relationship 3:30-5:00 w/Matt Jones
The basis of every scene is the relationship between it’s characters. Learn how to recognize that relationship and all it can do for the scene. Then, milk that relationship for all it’s worth!

or

Just The Facts 3:30-5:00 w/Dave Hill
Do you find yourself lost in improv scenes? Not sure which pieces of information are important and which aren’t? Tired of ending your scenes grasping for anything and leaving scenes feeling like they were about nothing? “Just the Facts” will help you develop the ability to zero in on what is most important in your scenes so that you can enjoy the fun that is possible in every scene.

NOTE: Do not sign up for both workshop unless you own a time turner as they both happen at the same time.

WORKSHOPS ARE SOLD OUT
Please e-mail buckprov@yahoo.com t0 get on the waiting list.


HILL JONES
Since they first performed together (and won) the 2007 iO West Duo Competition, Hill Jones has performed regularly around LA at the UCB, Second City and their usual home, the iO West.  In the time since, they have traveled the country performing in multiple cities and festivals including San Francisco SketchFest and the Out Of Bounds Fest.  Playing with a high-energy and character-driven style, Dave Hill and Matt Jones have created shows about everything from a zombie apocalypse to a ninja quest to the recording of a blues legend’s last album.  Sometimes inhabiting multiple characters in the same scene they employ genres and old-fashioned storytelling in an attempt to create weird, wonderful worlds full of unique people in every show they perform.

davehill-200x278DAVE HILL
Dave Hill is an actor, improviser and writer from Chicago where he trained at the iO and Second City.  Now in LA he improvises with Hill Jones, King Ten and The Armando Show. His work can be seen in the Hulu original series QUICK DRAW and the Comedy Central classic RENO 911.  His voice has been heard on such animated series as SQUIDBILLIES, AMERICAN DAD and BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD as well as numerous video games.  He co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in the up-coming feature film THE NIGHT IS YOUNG.

mattjones-200x278MATT JONES
Matt Jones has performed improv and sketch comedy since the age of 17 all over LA as well as with the famous BOOM! Chicago theatre in Amsterdam.  Since his return to LA he has been seen in the recurring role of ‘Badger’ on AMC’s BREAKING BAD and is now a series regular on the CBS sitcom MOM.  He can be seen in the films COOTIES, RED STATE and HIGH ROAD as well as the upcoming THE NIGHT IS YOUNG; which he co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred.  Jones has voiced the characters for animated series like KICK BUTTOWSKI, ADVENTURE TIME, THE CLEVELAND SHOW, SANJAY AND CRAIG, BEWARE OF THE BATMAN, and many more.