By Bryan Truong (Staff)
When people find out that I have studied from so many improv schools they often ask me. What’s the best improv school? who’s the best teachers? I can talk about this for days. So this is a short hand of my perspective on some of the classes I’ve taken and the improv shows I’ve seen from the teachers and regular performers. I find it interesting that the deeper you study under one school eventually you’ll learn what other schools emphasize. I believe when improv is at it’s best, improv has some of the elements of what all schools emphasize. The best way to express my opinion is comparing it to music genres from what I know of them.
“Improv sounds like Music”
I love all improv like I love all music. This is the best way I can differentiate the schools in my opinion. Everyone has thier own taste.
UCB (The Upright Citizen’s Brigade) – emphasizes “The Game” and I compare it to Hip Hop. They have grown very popular in a short amount of time. They get straight to the message/game and stay focused on the message/game. They have strong framing/hooks(chorus). You can count on them to bring the funny/beat every time. They are cool, stylish and are involved in everything comedy(writing, stand-up, etc.) my Hip Hop artist comparison is image (fashion, fragrances, etc.). UCB markets themselves very well like any good Hip Hop artist.
IO West – I compare it to Jazz. Difficult to define because it uses everything we know about improv. Artistic. It’s free flowing and staccato. Sometimes it goes off on tangents and you get lost. Other times when you get it you really do get it and it blows your mind. It will make connections you never thought possible and feels magical and transcendent.
The Second City – emphasizes on a good foundation and I compare it to Classical. Essential to any performer. They give you the technique to plant your feet on and give you that security to take risk from there. It’s like tapping into your instinct and what comes natural as a human being. Haven’t you ever listened to a classical song you don’t know if you heard before or not and for some reason you knew what note or sound would come next and where the melody of the song was going. It’s that kind of foundation that’s in so many great improv scenes and songs.
The Groundlings – emphasizes Character and I compare it to actors more than a music genre. My reasoning is other improv schools has more focus on how elements outside of the body (examples – who, what, where) affect the improv that is being created. Groundlings works from the inside out changing voice, physical body, emotional state to affect the improv. So it’s like the movies, sometimes you watch a movie for the actor and it doesn’t matter what kind of movie genre they are doing. You just enjoy the actor playing any character. It’s that sense of laughing before they said anything or you don’t know what they said but that was funny how they delivered it.
MI’s Westside Comedy Theater – I compare it to Rock. Fast, Hard Hitting and Full of Energy! Amazing Showmanship! Those guys know how to have fun while teaching you some of everything. With great improv that will speed you up and then they can slow it down like a poetic rock ballad with a show like “NOW?” with Annie and Levin.
Short Form improv schools – I compare it to Pop. It’s fun and catchy. You know what’s going to happen from the suggestions you get from the audience like you would know what the song is going to be about from a pop song title. Requires a team effort, in producing a pop song like directing a improv game. Overall very enjoyable and a good time for the whole family.
“Teacher, I got a question?”
Who’s the best improv teacher? The one that’s teaching you something and you feel like your learning something. One teacher might be trying to teach you the same lesson a multiple of times and you just don’t get it and all it takes is for another teacher to teach you the same lesson and say it in a different way for you to get it, and you’ll feel it in your core that you got it and vice versa for another student. It really is up to the communication between the teacher and the student. So here are some things to help you get the most out of your learning experience. Ask yourself these questions. RESPECT! First question is, Do you respect who your teacher is and what they are saying is to help you learn? Without respect your blocking yourself from opportunities from learning everything that the teacher has to offer even if you already know most of what they are teaching. Second question is, Am I excited about the subject or style of improv that is being taught in class? Which is separate from who is teaching it. Without excitement for the subject whatever the teacher says isn’t going to resonate with you and it doesn’t matter who’s teaching the class. And the last question isn’t a question at all, it’s the acceptance of timing of your life. Some lessons come at the wrong time in your life and instead of get frustrated at not getting it, learn to accept that you’ll get the lesson later and move on to a different lesson.
I believe when improv is at it’s best, improv has some of the elements of what all schools and teachers emphasize “first”.