I touched down in Sydney on September 16th and hit the ground running with Laugh Masters Academy as a Social Media Management, general Content Development, and Design Intern. It was my first time working within the world of Improv and sheesh was I nervous.
After agreeing on coming down to Australia, my boss, Eran, and I agreed that it’d be a great way to know the product and the point of it all if I took one of their classes, specifically the Level 1 Improv class. The class includes a graduation where you get to perform and show off your skills. Getting up on a stage in front of a hundred people I don’t know after only 8 weeks of training!? Uhh no thanks!
Needless to say it was one of the most empowering experiences of my life.
I enrolled with one of the main instructors, Carolyn Mullen, and assistant Tony Spirovski. Laugh Masters Academy cares deeply about who leads their classes, seeing out Linda Calgaro, Jeff Mesina, and Lauren Hayward to name a few more.
It’s tough to sum up the impact these two individuals had on the class and me over the duration of our sessions. Over 8 weeks, we were all met with teachers who challenged us to be our true, authentic, best, selves. Heavy, yeah. You bet.
Each class is the quickest 2 hours and 45 minutes you’ve ever laughed through. You have one class per week, and build friendships that After just a few hours you realize why you signed up for Laugh Masters Academy in the first place: to grow.
And now i’ll go into a but more detail what Laugh Masters Academy is like week by week.
The first class class focused on addressing the elephant in the room: getting out of your own head, which can best be described as finding your child inside. Improv is about being present and supportive, it’s not about cracking a joke or getting the laugh, that will come naturally. This first class really touched on the importance of being in the moment.
We all got to know each other a little and heard about why we were all there before we got into some exercises. Improv is different for everyone, but it absolutely requires you to get out of your own head and into the moment.
We worked on learning how to be ok with your first thought by just saying the first thing that pops in your mind. We did lots of quick thinking games practice this mode of thinking. We played games that illustrated how saying “yes, and” is way more conducive to collaboration than “yes, but”, “no, but”, & “no, and”.
At the end of every class we did scenes. In the first 5 weeks these performances were short, two person scenes where the audience (the rest of the class) offered up a setting and a relationship between the two individuals (i.e. sisters, co-workers, partners, teachers, pilots?! Pretty much anything). These were always a blast and a wonderful way to showcase your progression through the course in a judgment free, playful setting.
The second class focused more with spontaneity. We practice this with more specific activities that get you out of your head. They aim to help you realize that what you say will be received and added to regardless of how random! The second week your nerves begin to calm. Yes, it’s that fast.
The more our team got to know each-other over the 8 weeks the more comfortable and confident with our scene work. You really begin to vibe with your pals at a certain point and that’s when the real magic happens. You can’t predict when it happens, but it most certainly does.
The third week of class we focused on group mind. The idea that we’re all up there together and can actually think as one. Scenes can have conflict between characters, they often do, but if you’ve got a “no, but” attitude, your scene may come to a stand-still.
Group mind is about being the team you are and supporting each other through that initial silence/confusion/nervousness in a scene. You really gotta #YesAnd through it till it comes together. You never leave your scene partner hangin out to dry.
Our fourth class we worked on a character’s point of view and their beliefs. We also discovered the benefits of such tools as history, metaphors, and lists. Your character believes something to be true the second they come on stage. We all have opinions about everything – channel that! What does your person believe?
We played games where we developed these opinions and practiced being stubborn about them. It’s not even always the case you as an individual believe it, and that’s part of improv, take some chances! Stick with your character’s beliefs, it’s frickn hilarious. The audience stops believing the minute you stop committing.
History is something people have. Your character knows your scene partner’s character, or there’s something from the past that can help bond the bunch of you. Calling back on your history is a great way to bring the relationship into focus for the audience. “You‘ve always been the spoiled one!” “Remember when you shaved my legs?!”
Metaphors are a hoot. They literally don’t need to make a shred of sense. We played some games just saying the next word that popped into our heads around in a circle – coming up with the most ridiculous metaphors.
Lists can keep a scene moving if you need it to or just be a fun addition to any circumstance. You’re on a topic and it’s feeling like a dead-end, start rattling off some related topics and wham, your scene partner’s got some fuel to fire up a new/related topic.
This week we focused more on the physical embodiment our characters. It’s not just words that define who you are, it’s really your entire presence that creates the character. Are you kinda bummed out? Are you reallllly sad? Are you maybe a little shocked? Are you completely terrified?!?!? We played games to work on these and more feelings.
A great game that illustrates the power of physical embodiment is 21. Two scene partners count to 21 together, alternating numbers when they feel like. It might go something like this: “1 2… 3 4 5?” “mmmm, 6 7……. 8 9 10 11…. 12” etc. and just by counting you can visualize what’s goin on here with the aid of facial expressions, posture, pace, etc. It’s the whole package.
We began our grad show prep in our sixth class. Carolyn and Tony are wildly attuned to the stress that being on stage can cause and starting this practice as early as our sixth class together really calmed the nerves. After a few regular warmup exercises, we setup what it would generally look like at the show and got straight to scenes.
The scenes in the grad show are prompted by a single word. You ask the audience for this word and you roll with it. The key is to 1. Not leave an empty stage, and 2. Don’t leave your teammate out there too long, you’re all counting on each other, improv is the last thing from a solo-show.
In our 7th class we started off the class with activities that prepped us for our grad show practices and continued to get to know each other better through an exercise titled Stretch and Share. Pretty clear what this was. We went around the circle and one by one shared a tidbit from the week while we all did a stretch because us humans are pretty tense these days. Part of getting out of your head is moving your body, and part of improv is knowing your team.
The last week was truly exciting! The show was the day after so we did grad show after grad show practice to truly dispel any concerns or anxieties about the show. Being nervous is great! You wanna do well up there, of course. Improv is truly about being in the moment and being with that scene partner. Playing, practicing, getting to know each other, being vulnerable and ok with a mess up is everything we needed to get up on that stage and everything we took away with us from the class.
The Grad Show
After a few little warm ups we watched 3 performances then there was a break. We gathered for one last pep talk with Carolyn and Tony. We were ready. We had been for some time. All we needed was a deep breath and confidence in ourselves to know that we were ready.
It went by in a blink. “Welcome to the stage…… You Shaved My Legs!” After receiving the word “rollercoaster” from the audience and a moment of calm excitement… we improvised like a couple laugh masters.
I recommend taking an improv class with Laugh Masters Academy because it’s the freeing, confidence boosting, joyous, friendship crafting, playful, get out of your own head experience you didn’t know you needed. Improv is wacky, yeah, but all the tension in the room vanishes when you and the strangers you’ve just met realize that you’re all in it together. Improv is a team sport.