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Rambling about Revlis

[Here’s an epic blog post from Kristin Firth, who’s putting together the solo showcase on Saturday, Feb. 26th, 2011. It’s about solo improv in general, and her experience with her own show Revlis. -Roy Janik, Artistic Director ]

Solo improv is kind of rare. Most of our training as improvisers is centered around learning how to create *with* other improvisers. As we continue to rehearse for troupes and shows we might get some individual notes, but listening, group awareness, and “yes-and”ing our scene partners are always at the forefront of what we do.

Shy people can take improv classes and come out being way more self-assured. With new confidence they can hop on stage in front of random strangers and be open to criticism or applause. They take their new collaboration skills with them wherever they go.

But you tell the most confident improviser to all of a sudden be on stage *alone* and it’s a whole new ballgame. I remember some of my early one-person scenes in Maestro. I was terrified. In future shows I asked the directors, “If I make it to the final rounds and get a solo scene, please feel free to over-direct me”. I wanted to feel their support, let them influence the scene and shape it as needed. I desperately did NOT want to feel alone up there.Slowly though, those solo Maestro scenes become easier, but there are still other safety nets in those. The directors are still there to jump in at any point to offer guidance. You’re usually doing a highly structured game of some sort, and each of those has unique techniques for making it through. And, most importantly, the scenes only last 2-4ish minutes. You do your thing, worst case it scores a 1 (which is most likely won’t), and immediately it’s over and there’s another scene being setup and distracting everybody.

With a solo improv show, it’s just you, and only you, for the whole show time. No director to move things around, no other players to jump in the from the sidelines if you need backup, no “this is the way it becomes easy” well-practiced tricks. Just you… and the audience.

I asked one of my improv mentors about appearing in the solo showcase I was producing, and they weren’t interested, because they like “having at least one other person to play off of”. It was hearing that when I realized in a way I was cheating with my solo show. In my solo show, the audience becomes who I “play off of”. I’m not actually alone! (Sshhhh, don’t tell anyone.)

This isn’t the case for every solo show. In the showcase this Saturday there are six acts and all of them are very unique. A couple shows will involve some talking with the audience, like Marci’s show where she pretends to be a music diva who everyone has come to see for stories and songs. Most of the shows will get one audience suggestion at the start of the show and the improviser will just perform without pause or going back to the audience at all, like John Buseman’s show where he gets the suggestion of an inanimate object for inspiration, then embodies that object and let’s us see a glimpse of the world from that object’s perspective.

For my act, there couldn’t be a show without the audience there. I play a girl from the future whose name is Revlis, and I treat the show as Revlis taking a trip back in time to 2011.

Jill Bernard is an amazingly talented performer and teacher from Minneapolis, and Revlis came out of being enrolled in two of her four-week classes at the same time. A solo performance class and her Happiness / Joy of Improv class. We spent a whole day in the Happiness class doing this exercise called “amnesia”. We walked into the classroom one at a time and tried to experience everything as being new, like it would be to a baby. We also later interacted with each other as “babies” and played with buttons and things. That probably sounds really strange to somebody who wasn’t there, but it was a great exercise in seeing the world through a new perspective. I think most of us who were there felt deeply inspired that day.

In her solo class we discussed possible show ideas and based on some of my interests she came up with the idea of a science-fiction/girl-from-the-future angle. With the powers of both those classes combined I created a solo improv show centered around the character of Revlis – a girl from the future – who explores her surroundings with brand new eyes.

I did a 6 minute version of the show as part of the solo class showcase. I was very nervous for that first show, I didn’t know what it would be like at all. In mini run-throughs during class I had been called charming and my classmates laughed and were interested in what I was doing, but I still worried about how an audience would react. Would they be able to not get bored during quieter moments as Revlis was looking around and being curious? Would that be interesting to anyone? Would I have the same energy that seemed to make the show work during class? Would I be able to come up with new random future details in the moment? (I didn’t want to reuse anything I’d directly said in class, it’s improv.)

I was still nervous after my showcase set was over. Actor Kristin felt just as innocent as character Revlis, and I had gone first in the show. I watched my classmates perform and self-analyzed myself into the ground, feeling like I hadn’t been interesting enough. People congratulated me after the show and I tried to be appreciative and say thank you, but I still felt afraid about how I had done. Fast-forward to months later, I’ve applied to Fronterafest and been given a show date, and I’m preparing an application to apply to Hideout shows. I realize I should probably dig up the recording of that first show. Both to include it to support my Hideout application, but also just for self-awareness and learning to help me decide what to refine for the upcoming full-length version.

I had remembered the beats that I had hit in that show – playing with Roy Moore’s camera, talking to a guy in the audience about two girls that were with him, trying to mind-pass a bracelet to another lady in the audience. What I hadn’t remembered (or more accurately, even realized at the time) was how interested and engaged people watching were. I am very thankful my camera was angled partially towards the audience, because I spent most of my time there during the show, but most importantly because it meant I could see them watching me in the video. They weren’t bored at all! They were watching closely and following me wherever I went, they were interested and seemed to be having fun, and they laughed.

My concerns about future shows and application strength melted away. I could do this. I *had* done this. It had worked. And I would do it again.

I love preparing for Revlis. My costume is awesome, but it is a little complicated. I am dressed completely in silver and the rest of me is covered with glitter. First I put on the silver/blue fishnet tights, silver shorts, silver dress, knee high silver gogo boots, and bracelets. I put my hair up into a bunch of strange looking mini pig-tails. I cover up my face and use a glitter hair spray all over my hair, and over my arms. (Always thankful for not freezing weather when I need to do this outside.) I’m not a makeup wearing gal, but Revlis is. I put liquid foundation on then shake loose glitter over my face to glitter it up. I’ve got a new glitter eyeliner that I’m excited about trying out for this weekend’s show. I apply a couple of different blue/silver eye shadows, in a kind of kid playing with her mother’s makeup way. The finishing touch is silver lipstick. (I bought about 6 different lipsticks until I found one that worked.) I think it helps to have me look so completely different. People from the future shouldn’t look just like us right?

Michael Brockman performs with Revlis, providing musical accompaniment. I realized watching the video how much that added as well. Even during quiet moments he is setting a tone with his piano notes, and helping suspend disbelief and transport us all into this new world. I am happy I get to have him there this Saturday as well.

For the full-length show I also developed a more structured opening that includes the recorded voice of Marc Majcher as “Time Machine”. Opening this way helps clarify what is going on a little bit and gives the audience permission to ask me questions. That works out beautifully. I get to explore my surroundings and ask “research” questions, and the audience gets to ask me anything if they feel inspired to do so. Together we create an imaginary world where time travel really is possible, and I really am visiting from the future, and none of us know what will happen next but we’re excited and delighted to find out.

[Find out on Saturday, unless you’re reading this from the future!]

One Response to “Rambling about Revlis”

  1. Jordan T. Maxwell says:

    so awesome. i’ve never had a problem doing solo scenes in a show, but a full on one person show is such an ultimate act of bravery. thanks for sharing your experience with it! (hope i can catch some of this, too!)

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