Improvisational Theater

Friday, May 20, 2016

SYMBOLIM opens tonight!
Shaking the Tree Theater @ 10 pm
Doors open @ 9:45
Pay what you will, or can...

823 SE Grant St, Portland Oregon

I've probably never been so excited in my life.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Every mistake is the key to a magic door, if only we follow every failure to fruition. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Check me out in Victoria B.C. in September. I'll be teaching a workshop called Discovery over Invention at Paper Street Theatre.
The Sound Improv retreat has been an amazingly successful improv training and improviser get away for the past three years. Teaching the beautiful work of Sound Improv in the Puget Sound to amazing students, hungry for the more theatrical side of improvisational performance has been a completely rewarding experience!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Character Dimensions

Let your characters have strong opinions. Yes'ing and And'ing does not require that your CHARACTER be wholly passive and compliant, it requires that YOU be flexible. A character with a strong opinion is a great building block for dynamic storytelling, where an indifferent character lowers the stakes and ebbs without also flowing.

Monday, March 9, 2015


Someone asked me the other day how I deal, how I get through tough stuff, how I relate to people, relationships, work, life...etc. Well, the answer is sometimes I hate everything and think every crappy thought possibly, but mostly I live by these tenants of LOVE HARDER and am deeply rewarded for it: 1: "Do no harm & take no shit". I find it works beautifully in every situation wherein I have control. It has yet to let me down in any way. 2. "Be realistic about what you can and cannot control". 3. "Everyone you speak to has something hard going on elsewhere in their lives, be gentle". 4. "Take nothing personally" And if it does hit you on a personal level, what ever it is, address it immediately so you can get back to giving zero fucks about it as quickly as possible. 5. "Be honest". 6. "Give more love than you expect to receive and revel in the love that is returned to you". 7. "Remember that children are the future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess insiiiiiideeeee. Give them a sen.....(you get it)". 8. Trust yourself. Trust others. Trust the moment. 9. Everything is temporary, everything, every single thing. 10. The earth is tiny in the larger scope, which makes you even tinier. What a relief of pressure it is to see how tiny you are in the greater scope of things. You are just one beautifully unique being in an infinite, unfathomable universe. And you only exist for one teeny tiny blip in time. How amazing and beautiful that is...

Monday, March 2, 2015

An introduction...

WE: A new workshop designed to strengthen the two person scene.

Over the last two years I have carefully studied the two person scene. I have identified common strengths and weaknesses, traps and roadblocks. I've used this study to create some very uncommon tools toward bolstering the two person scene, finding connection, shared focus and spontaneous trust. This workshop takes the daunting task of navigating creativity and simplifies the business of finding one another, taking each other in and building a shared world together.

Please contact me if you, your group, your school or your theater are interested in hosting this workshop.  I am presently organizing another teaching tour and would love to put you on my itinerary.

Check out the workshops tab on the home page to see other workshops I offer.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Where I stand

"I believe there are infinite possibilities in Improvisational Theater, from the most absurd comedy to the richest drama. In any case, I play toward authentic discovery over invention, never creating something that isn't begging to exist. In the moment there is magic. What's beyond is tomorrow's story." ~ Domeka

Settling in

It's no wonder I love Improv how I do. There is no other time that I wholly embody presence. There is no other time I am truly in the moment. In every other aspect of my life, I am three steps ahead. I am always reaching, reaching beyond this moment. I was born reaching. I have no intention of transforming into a celestial being, it wouldn't suit me, but I do intend to relax my arm, just rest it next to me, look down and see what's already in my hand. No more reaching. I just don't have to do that anymore.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

July 20th, 2014

Ten days ago I had cancer forcibly removed from this apartment of my body. A sleazy ex boyfriend who wouldn't leave on his own. He left resentfully, went through pathology like a strung out drug addict being processed at county jail. Cancers lost hope. Sitting alone in some cold dead cell, holding onto some tiny artifact he was able to swipe from my apartment on his way out. Occasionally cancer calls collect from jail, trying to convince me we will get back together eventually. I don't have to take his calls. Cancer is much easier to ignore when he's not lounging comfortably on your couch.

Living Wabi Sabi

I am cracked in so many ways, tiny fissures, veins, rivers ripping through me. And each crevasse, cranny, chink, and chip I've filled with solid gold. I am so broken, so shattered that I light up my world. I have so often ruptured and so often repaired that I am now stronger than any never broken thing. And there is nothing just like me in the world. And there is nothing just like you.

Cancer & Comedy: A Documentary by Ben Schorr (Is any of that spelled right?)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014


Word Origin & History

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Empathic Attention

"Creating strong storytelling scenes requires a great deal empathic attention. Every raised eyebrow is a brush stroke. Every clenched fist, and softening mouth. Seeing each brush stroke is not essential for seeing the picture, but it certainly gives it depth, it gives it poetry, it gives it story. Feeling each brush stroke further deepens meaning. My eyes and ears are tuned into the same channel. I am listening with my whole body."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Surprising Sunken Grade on an Already Bumpy Road in a Poorly Running Vehicle

Today my family and I were shaken by surprising news for my insurance company. On the eve of the double mastectomy we have planned and prepared for over the past five months, the insurance denied coverage.  They agreed to cover a simple mastectomy of the right breast, wherein grows aggressive ductal carcinoma and cancerous lymph nodes but refused to cover the removal of the left breast, despite evidence of precancerous cells, abnormal tissue growth and the risks associated with being premenopausal.  It is a verified fact that leaving the left breast increases my odds of reoccurrence by 40%.  As a young mother of 4 children, two of which are under the age of ten, a 40% risk is too high. My medical team agrees.  They have spent many hours today in argument with the insurance company to no avail. I was given three options:
Option #1. Accept the denial of coverage and have only the right breast removed tomorrow, leaving the left breast in all its precancerous glory to very possibly develop cancerous tumors within the next few years. I would thusly have to go through chemo, surgery and radiation again at that time.
Option #2. Cancel tomorrows surgery and wait possibly several months while appeals are filed, processed, and considered. Leaving both breasts, one with active aggressive ductal carcinoma, on my body during the waiting period with no guarantee that the appeals will be successful. This waiting time may require that I re-start chemotherapy, which may later be argued as an unnecessary personal choice, therefore not covered by insurance.
Option #3: Raise $5,000 now, to pay for surgery to continue as planned. Raise more to cover another surgery scheduled for September.
After careful consideration and with the expressed encouragement of my medical team, we chose Option #3.
We have spent the day reaching out to friends, family and the world at large for support both spiritual and financial.
Anything you can spare to help us through this ordeal, be it energy and well wishes, money, or both, is desperately needed and gratefully appreciated.
Any money donated that is not used directly for medical care will be dedicated to household and family care expenses. These expenses include food, mortgage payments, utility bills & childcare. As you can imagine, we are stretched incredibly thin to cover these necessary costs during this trying period.
Thank you for your support and encouragement. We intend to pay forward your generosity once we are out of the cancer woods and can return energy to our community.
Please find a PayPal button in the top left hand corner of my blog page to make a donation.
Again, we thank you so much.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Navigating CANCER: The Ultimate Improvisation

 Star date: Monday - February 10th, 2014 10:00 am PST
I noticed a lump in my right breast while showering.


Star date: February 14th, 2014 (Valentines day) 10:45 am PST
Nurse practitioner: "I'm concerned and am sending you for a mammogram, right now."


5:30 pm PST-
Radiologist: "This is cancer we're looking at. 99% positive."


Star date: Monday February 17th, 2014 8:45 am PST
Oncologist: "You have an aggressive form of Breast Cancer. We need to begin treatment promptly."


In retrospect, I recognize how my professional training sculpted me to best navigate those first few days. In the moment, it was all a blur. But it was a blur of YES AND's that keep me even keeled at a time when it would have been totally reasonable for me to feel otherwise. I was calm, relaxed and ready. Like walking into an improvised scene. I was listening. I was focused.  They said "cancer" and I said "how high", metaphorically. What I really said was "Okay. So I have cancer and we're going to move forward." Because I am an improviser and not an Oncologist, I couldn't make the next "move" in a give and take kind of way. It was just like being a passenger in a scene you can't quite get the direction of. You just listen and join, listen and follow, listen and join. And that's what I did. There is no blocking, "you have cancer". You can't say, "No! You have Cancer." or "Not anymore. Wanna ride bikes." or "You're crazy. Time for your pills." You just HAVE TO accept it. Then you have to join the action, (period). The more one flails about trying to negate the cancer offer, the further one dips into delay, idling, stalling or regulating. None of those things are useful. None of those things move you forward. This was a case of first accepting, THEN understanding my role and not vice verse. Blind trust. This was a scene wherein I seemingly had no power, but only seemingly. As we improvisers know, there is an immense power in relaxed readiness. There is an ultimate power in following, joining, supporting and trusting. Without those skills I could have spiraled into doubt and fear, questioning, irrational thinking, irresponsible action...etc. This is not to say I didn't experience strong emotional reactions. I did. A lot. But I did so with my mind and body tuned into the moment. I reacted authentically to each offer, one at a time and was surprisingly able to keep myself from leaping, lurching into fantasies of impending doom, invented dangers or any other world of tomorrows. I have always know that the work I do is life affirming. I have long known that the necessary skills of improvisation translate loudly to the necessary skills for life. They teach balance like nothing else can. I am so grateful to the work I do, so thankful for its gifts.
In this time, Star Date: Monday, March 17, 2014 8:00 am PST,
I am an Improviser to my core. An Improviser who will beat Cancer without losing focus, without losing spirit, without losing myself.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Love Harder

"Love Harder" has long been my moto. If something is hard, love it harder. If someone if being difficult, love them harder. If you can't love something, love it harder. And above all else, love yourself hard as you can, every chance you get. It's been the answer to each and every stumble, scuffle and snag. And it's always been the successful avenue. Sometimes it takes me a moment to get there, but once I do. I can resolve any amount of fear, doubt, anger with ease and grace. Today I plan to love chemo so hard. I will focus on its gift. I will focus on the faces of all the others in the room plugged into the same drugs. I will focus on you, my friends and family who are so glad Chemo is there to kill the cancer. I will focus on you my friends who are willing to hold my hand physically and metaphorically. I am going to love the nurses, love the chicken broth, and love my bravery, love my body and accept healing with my whole heart. That is how today is going to go. LOVE HARDER

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Parker: The Next Adventure! (For this one, I definately need back up singers.)

Friends, a few weeks ago I was diagnosed with a surprisingly aggressive breast cancer. I guess the word "surprisingly" is unnecessary, as cancer is just surprising. I have begun chemo, have terrific oncology and naturopathic support, but will face surgery and radiation before the fight is won. I feel balanced about the ordeal, angry, sad, scared, optimistic, able, ready...etc. The international improv community has shown enthusiastic support and encouragement. Encouragement I don't need so much, as I've had quite enough, "Be strong"s and "Kick it's ass"s. What I really need is love sent on the wind and CASH MONEY. To get the care I need I must raise a minimum of $10, 000. I've never even seen that much money. If you are in a position to help financially there are many ways to do this. To stay in the loop please join Breast Cancer Support Group EVER! on facebook. And if you'd like to send money directly to my hands, please private message me for my address. There are no adequate words to describe my profound gratitude. If you're sending love on the wind, know that my love box is always open. Wait, what? No, I don't mean my... I mean, I think wind in the love box is hilarious, but just not what I meant. You get it. Thanks again, Domeka Parker

Monday, December 23, 2013

Need a boost?! I got it for you right here...


Class descriptions: 
  1. Abstract / Physical Ensemble Storytelling: This workshop will bring a fresh perspective on the use of collaborative movement to create narrative and abstract improvisational pieces.
  2. The Solo Artist.: This workshop focuses on the improviser as an autonomous and unrestricted performer.  We will explore several formats, personal monologue, storytelling, lone actor /multiple character performance and sound and movement. Students will learn to tap into, trust and follow their impulses to create a body of work. 
  3. Acting for Improvisers: This workshop illuminates improvisation as a performance vehicle rich with authentic emotion, dynamic characters, and meaningful, sincere storytelling. We will explore the use of emotion, personal objectives, self endowment, commitment and vulnerability. We will develop an understanding of scripted scene work as a means to improve the improviser’s ability to achieve clarity and authenticity in spontaneous scene creation. 
  4. Playing Fast and Free: This workshop focuses on ensemble play and group mind at high speeds. We will explore identifying threads in storytelling, creating links between seemingly random scene work, listening, trusting, reincorporating, and group editing.  The ensemble will grow as a cohesive body for performance, and individuals will develop the ability to quickly connect and create group mind in new situations.  
Classes and workshops taught by Domeka Parker are not limited to those listed above. Many other workshop options are available, and new workshops can be created, tailored specifically to the needs of your students, business or ensemble. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

I believe Improv can Fly....

   I have regularly gotten wind of the rumor that I "do not like Comedy" or that I "do not like stand-up". These claims are wholly unfounded. Very much in the same way the question "why don't you like sex" was unfounded when I asked not to be unwillingly sexualized in improv scenes.
I love sex.  I love Comedy. I really, really enjoy great stand-up!!!  I believe there is a time and a place for those things, plus, I believe there is an appropriate area of overlap. I love it when sex is funny. I love it when stand-Up is poignant. I love it when Comedy is  dark. What I don't like is the regularity with which Improvisational theater, the greatest passion of my life, is undermined, unappreciated, disrespected, or otherwise limited, cornered or caged. Comedy is not the cage. Comedy is a million things at different times and all at once. For me, comedy has no bounds, nor does drama. But that is not the dominant ideology.
    Comedy for many people is synonymous with joke making and joke making with Stand-Up. What points my ears is where Improv and Stand-up begin to overlap in such a way that the magic of collaboration falls away and the majority of Improv I see becomes a stand-up cock fight, a stage full of voices clamoring to be heard, jockeying for the lime-light and driving toward the punch. That isn't the improv I love.
     The improv I love isn't driven, it's discovered. It is as magic to the performers as it is the audience.  Those discoveries are best made when the performers are gripped by the moment, present and poised for acceptance.  That magic best happens when imagination, intellect and impulse are given flight and ego is on stand-by. 
      It has never been my opinion that Comedy is bad, or that Stand-Up is undeserving of it's success. It's never been my opinion that Improv should stand wholly apart from those things. But it has been a great focus of mine to honor and encourage the great diversity and potential of improv.  I do not assert, however, that all people, all improvisers should agree, that my way is the right way.  I do not even assert that the improv I love is MY way. It is a way, a way I like a lot and a direction I will continue pushing because I've never been a fan of boundaries.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Return to Hays

             In 2012 I was invited to Fort Hays University in Hays Kansas to instruct the university Theater Company in the work of improvisation. This was a first time experience with improvisational theater for a majority of the students.  Many of them had never seen improv performed and had not participated in the work, even in the form of theater games and exercises. Those who had done improv before never imagined it could be a stand alone performance craft. They had never considered it as artistry.  If they expected anything at all it was jokes, gimmicks and an emphasis on funny.
 The students had nervously anticipated the workshop. They worried they wouldn’t be funny enough, practiced what they might say, what jokes they would try to use…etc. It’s a misunderstanding I run into frequently.  Initially the students were baffled by my pedagogy and technique. “What do you mean by steer clear of punch lines?” They asked.  “Humor is a symptom of improvisation” I told them, “At its best, humor arises out of an authentic “accident” or an organic character response. At its worst the quest for humor supersedes all and compromises the integrity of the whole. When we aim to be funny, we limit ourselves.  We privately obsess, isolated in our desire to charm the audience. We loose touch with the other improvisers, stop listening and are unable to connect to a group mind. When we aim to be funny, we sacrifice more than we gain.”  These words were met with confounded stares and lots of questions which I welcomed and answered.  We worked long hours that day.  And to my delight, even as I tired, the students remained enthusiastic, engaged and energetic.  They hadn’t realized they wanted and needed this work, but now they were hungry for it, starving.
By the end of that visit the Fort Hays students were creating dynamic scene work alive with wholly realized characters, authentic emotion, exceptional acting and carefully crafted storytelling.  I was as surprised and proud as they were.  They learned through play.  They grew from honoring their mistakes.  They learned to utilize their every sense, to listen with their whole body and to believe every moment.  I was delighted with their growth and astounded by their willingness to work so hard despite having expected a laugh a minute play time.  We had laughed, a lot.  We had incredible fun together.  But by the end of that day the laughter inspired from their scene work arose out of commitment to the navigating of many creative minds at work. The laughter arose from the audience’s identification with the characters and the stories.  The jokes and the gimmicks had died, and from their graves grew honesty, imagination, group mind and a fresh perspective of improvisation as a living performance requiring craftsmanship and artistry.
 I had grown as much as they had, finally accepting that I am a capable instructor, that I have a talent for sharing this passion of mine. I had thought of myself as a good teacher, but this was more, now I was a leader. I cannot describe the satisfaction of that feeling.
              I was gladly invited back for a second visit and have just spent two days leading an incredibly productive 12 hours of fun play and hard work. Again I was astonished by the student’s zeal and motivation. The returning students were relaxed and ready and the first timers were engaged and willing.  Again I found that many of the new students imagined that improv was simply an unscripted sketch comedy.  They had been told how fun last year’s workshop was and signed up “just for the laughs”. I am always glad when a workshop begins with this sentiment. It’s a less complicated task to pour enlightenment into an empty cup than to attempt topping off an improv encyclopedia. And again by the end of the workshop the students had come to a greater and more holistic understanding of what improv is and can be. Their performances were lovely, honest and yes sometimes very funny.  The only trouble was, I left feeling like I had so much more to give.  Since the last time I worked with them I’ve traveled quite a bit and taught in many new places.  I have developed a stronger sense of my own theory, my own style, and my desires for the work and my design for reaching those goals.  12 hours is simply not enough. But 12 hours is all a visiting instructor is likely to get. All of my hopes for the students had been realized, but after a few days in Hays it was very clear that improv is a once a year adventure for these students. 
Back home in Portland, my community is brimming with improv, everywhere you turn something new is popping up.  There is seemingly no end to access to improvisational theater here.  Thus, my Portland students have an obvious advantage. It’s a disappointing realization as I leave a group of truly exceptional young actors.  As this little plane ascends from the tiny Hays Kansas airport I cross my fingers that I have done more than altered their perspective of improv, I hope I have inspired them to create opportunities for themselves to play and perform improvisational theater with as much vigor as they pursue scripted theater.  I hope I have opened a door and left it open. I hope they are willing to walk through on their own, trusting their talent and their capacity to create good, strong, entertaining pieces of theater spontaneously.  I am already looking forward to my visit next year.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Give me Improv or give me death...

 Living what we love...


 On the stage and in the world.

Give me Improv or give me death.
But let it not be stagnate jesting,
Let it not be a slapstick ice age.
Give me improv that is improvisational.
Give me unexpected moments and unexplored avenues.
Give me uncharted territory.
Let me work through play, be constantly challenged
and constantly growing.
Let me surprise myself more than I surprise others.
Allow me to flow like water, encompassing everything,
But clinging to nothing.

Give me improv or give me death.
Let me love what I do and do it for the love.
And as any artist wishes, let it sustain me
Emotionally, spiritually and financially.
Let me value my play.
Let others value my work.
Give me contemporaries that share my vision.
Give me combatants who challenge me.
Let me grow from every experience.
Let me miss nothing.
Grant me the awareness to listen with my whole body,
My whole self.

Give me improv or give me death.
Give me the wherewithal to change.
Show me the work and play of others.
Let me see and value what they do.
Keep me on my toes, leaning in.
Keep me afraid to fall and ever courageous.
Let me feel the falling, let me enjoy the speed
And the wind, and let me find my wings.

Give me Improv or give me death.
Grant me the energy to keep up
And the wisdom to slow down.
Let me avoid wit and embrace cleverness.
Let me be always humble and always learning.
Remind me often how unique and extraordinary
This life is,
steeped in presence, soaked in laughter,
Buzzing with surprise, wildly alive
Even in stillness.
And let me always experience
This gift as fully as my mind,
My body and my spirit are able.
Give me the will to share it,
To work for it and to honor even the silliest,
loudest, most bumbling moment
as a gem of something bigger,
the biggest something.
May I be here, in this, of this,
Everyday of my wild, exceptional life.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Catching Raindrops

Some people may assert that being a strong improviser means being able to navigate safely through a storm.  I rather prefer dancing in the rain.  The storm of offers, of creative minds, of ideas, and puddles of nothingness, of voices, of silence, let's just learn to dance in it.  Instead of dodging and weaving to stay dry, I suggest we notice every rain drop and celebrate it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Shift and flux and all things changing....

Opinions change.  Not all opinions, but many.  Those that don’t change often shift or otherwise shape and reshape themselves. For this reason I often struggle with publishing my opinion, my current opinion. I challenge myself by doing it. Taking ownership of my present plateau just in time to soar off its edge and evolve into whatever is next.  The published opinion is locked in.  There, I’ve said it.  And those who read it will likely see it as my forever belief, my way of seeing, my message, long after it changes.  I accept that.  I don’t mind contradicting myself as long as I believe it.  This is not to say that I like being in constant flux, or that I like having my beliefs relentlessly crumbling.  And I wholly dislike being wrong in most cases.  But I do love being convinced of new ideas, being given new perspectives, enlightened and changed. Through out my life, these changes of attitude, these shifts in opinion and rebooting of my operating system, have worked like ladder rungs.  And as I look back at my journey, they become mile posts, connecting the dots creates a map of my experience.  A map that proves I am moving, that I have momentum, therefore, I am truly alive and living.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Monday, June 3, 2013

When they say I give them courage, it gives me courage...

"Went and saw some good improv tonight at the Brody. It definitely makes me appreciate what we're being taught at PSU. I think God heard me complaining about not learning the technicality of Improv, so he sent me Domeka Parker. I now have a notebook full of advice, inspiration, games, do's and don'ts...but more importantly, I have a heart full of courage to just get out there and do work!"

This note is incredibly flattering to me.  I cannot express the amount of warm fuzzy I am rolling in.  As silly as it may sound, my life's goal is helping people to play, build their confidence,  respect improv and do it because they LOVE it. When a students says I've done that for them, lead them there or walked with them when they found it, its the most rewarding compliment in the world to me. Thanks Lacey.

Friday, May 31, 2013

How to know if you’ve been taught improv by an idiot:

How to know if you’ve been taught improv by an idiot:

1. You were told that ANYONE can be an improviser.

  • It is true that Improv is a remarkably accessible craft.  But like any other art-form, there is a great spectrum of aptitude. Improvising in life, or playing improv games in drama class is one thing, but being an Improviser requires a balance of learned skill and an innate sensibility that cannot, even with years and years of dedicated practice for some, be manufactured.

2. You were taught to be completely free of thought at all times.

  • Writing no script, making no plan, forcing no previously conceived notion, YES. Being a constantly empty shell, floating in the ether of nothingness, NO.  To do the work of allowing the improvisation to develop organically one must be engaged, physically, emotionally and yes, intellectually. Learning to be relaxed in the state of not knowing is essential, but this skill is nothing like apathy, nothing like vacancy.  Rather, it is alive with relaxed readiness, listening with your whole body, awareness of the improvisation that is unfolding, moment by moment.

3. You were told to be funny.

  • I ought to smack the person who told you this. Firstly, the pressure of that expectation could un-funny anyone.  Secondly, the expectation that improvisation is always, or should always be funny, is incredibly limiting. Thirdly, laughter is a symptom of improvisation and not its designing feature. The navigation of spontaneous creative cooperation is inherently imperfect.  It is from those moments of imperfection and how we pilot them that funny occurs.  Your audience laughs because they identify and because they can see you’re at constant risk of falling from the tightrope wire, when you almost do, and then don’t they laugh with relief.  They laugh because the content you create is honest.  They laugh because its funny, not because YOU are funny.  If that were so they’d be laughing AT you, and that is entirely less satisfying for everyone involved.

4. You were taught to NEVER ask questions and NEVER to say “no”.

  • How boring. It’s important to know the difference between stalling a scene with a refusal to know or assume anything, (thus making yourself invulnerable and hanging your scene partner out to dry), and allowing your character to ask questions that occur to them naturally, humanly.  People ask questions.  A scene that works to avoid them is working too hard. Questions come, they are answered and we move forward.
  • Here is an example from one of my classes: Two students are executing a scene, and I mean executing as in murdering it. One student is driving the scene, working hard to do so, forcing and pushing the other student along and the second students is wilting, hardly contributing at all.  I stop the scene and ask student 2 what’s going on here.  Student 2 replies that he couldn’t understand what student 1 was saying half the time and was wholly uncertain how to respond.  “Why didn’t you ask him to repeat himself?” Student 2 looks confused, “But I am not supposed to ask any questions.”  “Oh.” I say, “I see why you struggled there.  But you were in character right? And your character couldn’t hear what the other character said, right?  So, what if your character asked, in your character’s voice, “what did you just say?”  What is the harm in that?”  The students thinks for a moment and says, finally, “Oh so, if I don’t know something, like my character wouldn’t know it probably, and then its okay to ask?”  We then addressed recognizing when it’s important to assume information and when your character reasonably, honestly needs to inquire.
  • And the same goes for saying “no”.  Not just the word “no”, but when your character simply would not accept the offer.  If it’s been established that your character dislikes coffee, and another character offers you some, it does no harm to ask for something else, to remind them of your preferences or simply to accept the coffee and then put the full cup down when the other character turns away.  In fact it improves the improvisation, making it more dynamic, giving it subtext.  I strongly believe that self endowments are as essential as gifted endowments and that is is the balance of the two that create the most satisfying work.

5. You were told to be more like Jimmy Falon.

  • Who is this idiot teacher who said this? I can’t even address this without turning into a fire-breathing dragon.

6. If you’re a woman, you were told to play men more.  If you’re a man you were told to play more women.

  • Well hello there sexism.  Often when people are told to embody the opposite sex it has more to do with diversifying there cache of characters than anything else.  I love to see my students being comfortable with gender swapping, but I would never recommend it.  There is limitless diversity of characters within each gender.  When genders are swapped, its often for the wrong reasons. For example, a woman wants to play a high status military officer, so she makes herself a man.  Or a man wants to play a giggly secretary, so he makes himself a woman.  I suggest that this limits us and perpetuates gender stereotypes. I encourage my students to explore the diversity in the gender with which they self identify; only playing opposite their gender when it is necessary to the improvisation.  

7. You were told that improv is for actors who don’t care anymore.

  • I heard this is class once.  The student who said it had heard it from a former improve teacher.  That teacher had said it in a derogatory way.  But this student, after three months in classes with me said this, “He wasn’t wrong in the statement but how he said it.  He is right that we don’t care, we don’t care about our egos, or who owns which idea.  We don’t care about perfection, or completion, of set design, or furniture.  We are free from that.  We are actors without limits.”  This statement delighted me beyond reason and I felt like I had done my job.

8. You were told that improv is a just warm up for actors.

  • Over the years I have had the pleasure of working with both improvisers and scripted actors quite a lot.  It has been my experience that the strongest performers are both actors and improvisers always.  Some actors are more comfortable with a script, and some improvisers are terrified of memorization and taking outside direction.  But an improviser who does not see herself as an actor does not fully embrace the power of what she is doing, she doesn’t respect it.  She struggles to commit to characters, is disconnected from her character perspective and experience.  This improviser is prone to “playing” herself.  An actor without improvisation skills is inflexible, recites lines because it’s their turn rather then their response.  He struggles to listen with his whole body.  He is stiff and put visibly off balance with things don’t go exactly to plan.  This actor takes himself very seriously and often finds himself in battle with his ego.  In my beautifully imperfect dream world, all actors study improvisation as a performance craft married to scripted theater and all improvisers willingly and gratefully see themselves as the actors that they are.

9. You were taught to point out “mistakes” and openly tease other performers to get a good laugh.

  • The only person who truly likes this is the person doing it.  The audience may laugh, but they are laughing AT someone’s misfortune or because they are uncomfortable.  This kind of laughter is cheap and disenchanting.  I understand allowing your character to see that the soup bowl your partner is eating from is abnormally large and commenting on it, but I only condone this if the comment is made through a character voice and perspective.  In my opinion improviser who does this while playing themselves, or breaks character to do it is being selfish. I understand there are whole schools of thought based on this kind of crap. And some people do it very, very well.  But I argue, it doesn’t feel good and it cheapens improvisation, devolves in into a gimmicky gluttonous game.  And it takes away from the beauty of imperfection.  Each one of our “mistakes” is an opportunity to go somewhere, see something that we wouldn’t have seen or done without it.  I teach my students to honor “mistakes” as tiny miracles, allow them to blossom into something else.  Yes see the “misstep”, yes use it, but use it for the good of the improvisation and not the ego.

10. You were taught that laughter is the strongest evidence of your success.

  • An audience’s laughter can feel like the most remarkable gift in the world.  It’s totally understandable that improvisers love it.  I love it.  But if we’re taught that laughter is the be all and end all of our success, we limit ourselves to the quest for it.  Thus we are routinely denied the full spectrum of emotional connection.  I would trade in a good laugh from an audience for a gasp or an intensity full silence any day. These reactions are evidence of good, strong storytelling and good, strong acting.  I believe improvisers striving to tell strong stories and to fully embody the improvisation at hand will garner the full emotional gamut.

11. You were taught RULES.

  • There are no rules.  There are gems of wisdom acquired from experience, tricks and techniques, but there are no hard and fast rules.  Or rather, there shouldn’t be. In teaching beginners, many teachers find similar strategies to encourage letting go, (yes), advancing and enhancing (and).  We teach to avoid blocking.  We teach relaxed readiness.  But a teacher who teaches rules creates an improviser who plays by them.  Rules cause expectations and expectations lead to disappointment. In the case of an unfolding improvisation, rules, expectations and disappointment can be toxic and even deadly. (No, no, the improviser won’t die!  They may feel like their dying, but it is the improvisation itself that will suffer and yes, it may just go right ahead and die a terrible painful death).

12. You were taught to focus completely on the support of the other player.

  • You were probably taught this so resolutely that you do it often at the at the expense of all your inspirations and impulses. Unless you’re telepathic there is no way you can ever know for certain what is happening in the mind of other players.  Everyone on stage may interpret the improvisation differently. Get out of their head and into the room with the creation.  It doesn’t exist inside them.  It doesn’t exist inside you.  It’s out here, being built presently.  If your focus is on trying to decode the unbreakable mind of a creative performer, you’re going to miss out on the awesome thing you could be making together.


13. You were taught to give the audience what they want.

  • This is especially disappointing when an audience isn’t yet well versed in improv.  If they come in thinking they’re going to get a laugh a minute stand up routine with many comedians on stage at once, playing a game or saying butt a lot, just like they saw on TV, wouldn’t it be a shame to give them what they think they want?  So they paid for a show? Give it to them.  Give them a wonderful show wrought with dynamic performances. They paid you because you are the performer, you are the professional, and you are the communicator, so communicate YOUR message.  What do you want to show them?  What do you want to share?  If you want to create a stand-up heavy butt butt show, for heavens sake do that.  But never sacrifice the infinite adventure of your message to create what you believe an audience desires.  If you connect with them emotionally, infuse them with engaging ideas, your ideas, your characters ideas, create stories they can identify with or stories that inspire them, they will thank you and they’ll come back to see YOU again.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Yes and please ask me about it...

As the book rounds out and I am seeing a finish-line, which may be a starting line, I realize that there are many things YOU may want to know, that I haven't addressed.  The book will be called Presently: Improv is Now.  Or something to that effect.  I would really, really, really love to field some of your questions about improvisational theater directly.  And the question you ask may likely end up in a section of the book, to be published.  Pretty please, ask away.......

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Integrity and Comitment

COMMITMENT in improvised scene work is like, or "should" be like, commitment in any other form of performance work, and that doesn't come easily.  When we are first learning to improvise we are often just there on stage doing the thing, but we are rarely wholly there, in character, seeing through our characters perspective, listening and responding, fully committed and engaged.  It's very common that "half-ing it" becomes a habit, and because it's so common, many people expect it and except it as part of the improv experience.  I STRONGLY DISAGREE with that idea.  From my students and myself, I expect craftsmanship.  I expect commitment. I discourage self commentary and detest apathetic casuality. When you, the improviser, are on stage, you are not YOU.  You have endowed yourself into a different reality, a different mindset. Or you have been endowed thus.  Hopefully a little of both (Highlight this and talk to me about it later if you have questions). And you must hold onto this reality, this perspective throughout the improvisation or the improvisation itself loses INTEGRITY.


1. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.
2. The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire.
3. A sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship's hull.
Here are a few practices you can utilize to improve your ability to commit and retain commitment in your improvisations:
  • Engage your EYES.  When we communicate with other people in "reality" our eyes shift, change focus and intensity moment by moment.  But onstage, I often notice the eyes are neglected and remain pretty consistently lax, and often the eyes wander into the audience checking for validation or assuring the audience that the performer is "just playing", or thinks its funny too...etc.  Practice locking your eyes on your partner and reacting WITH YOUR EYES ONLY first, before you say a word or move in any other way.  A good way to work up to this is by sitting across from a partner and doing a whole improvisation with ONLY your eyes, sometimes responding, sometimes mirroring.  Then add words, then add physicality.  
  • Listen with your WHOLE BODY.  When your partner is speaking try saying the words they are saying in your mind as they say them.  Thus, keeping your mind empty of "ideas" and forcing you to not only hear their words but feel them. Let your eyes and body respond before your mind and your mouth.  Practice using your periphery vision.  Do a silent scene with a partner where in you are not allowed to make any eye contact, (this will be an awesome experience after focusing so much on eye contact).  You are your partner will aim to show a relationship between you, to show an environment you share and an activity you are engaged in together. 
  • Identify a mood or an emotional tonality within the improvisation and hold onto it energetically until it shifts or changes organically.  FORCE NOTHING.
  • Begin bringing your attention to tension.  Practice filling your body, your muscles, your mouth, your eyes and skin with tension.  See how long you can hold it.  Recognize when you sense you are LEAKING tension.  When the tension is ebbing out against your will.  When this happens begin again. As you become more and more aware of LEAKING tension, so too will you become more and more aware of leaking commitment.     

Let me know how it goes....

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A New Crop: Part One

Returning to co-teaching with my infamous father at Portland State University had me giddy this afternoon.  I had almost forgotten how exhilarating it is to lead a group of over worked college students into a blissful, easy, play.  And to watch them learn and grown through that play, without a single care toward grades and deadlines... just playing. 


I took great care to plan for the wrong class, and in the heat of the moment wherein I realized it was the wrong class I’d planned for, I scrambled to restructure a class around an entirely different focus. Scrambled, but finally just rolled along, followed the flow, was fine.

Life.  The ultimate improvisation. 

Learning. Performing. Teaching. These are my favorite things. All of which feel, to me at least, like an act of love. 

Last night I was tired, and my mind was too crowded to fit love in, especially complicated love.  My brand new group of students slipped through the door one after the other, eager, scared, delighted, anticipatory…
It was only moments before love was inescapable. This particular group radiated warmth and enthusiasm. Despite fatigue I felt very alive.

The most powerful moment of that living last night happened when during the game of GO! I made a “mistake”.  I left the center of the circle for no apparent reason, a mistaken moment, a wayward impulse.  Because I left unexpectedly, no one was there to catch the ball and it dropped.  Check out the double meaning in that! (Are or are not, I wonder, explanation marks annoying.  I can’t decide. But the question arises every time I use one.  And why is “every time” not one word?) The group cried out, “No one said go!” They all smirked or chuckled.  There was a general sense of glee about it.  A sense that I felt deserved some exploration.  So I added, without much thought, “Going!” to the game of “Go!” Now a player could leave the center of the circle on their own accord, just by stating they were going.  The ball in mid air, hoping to land in a players hand, was then caught by whomever stepped up.  And someone always did. It was fantastic and unanticipated.  I was gifted three reminders in that experience:

  1. “Mistakes”, all of them, are opportunities. In scene work we often talk about “finding the game”, which to me means, deeply tuning myself in to the exchange between players and being wide awake to our “mistakes”. If a player has endowed themselves with the name Bob and another player, missing that offer, calls the player Jesse… there is a game to be played.  Bob is now Jesse Bob, every time.  Or maybe no one ever calls anyone by the same name twice, the entire scene.  If no player ever makes a mistake, any game that arises comes from an IDEA.  As we know, IDEAS are not an improvisers friend.  An IDEA is quick to become a plan and a plan is impossible to deliver, improvisationaly speaking, without force. Force requires blocking and yadda, yadda, on and on into the mire of poorly executed improv. Forced games rarely play out and generally if they do play out they play out in thick, awkward form. Allow yourself to make mistakes.  In fact, we need mistakes, we can't find the game and play it with ease and grace if there are no mistakes.
  2. “Going.”  How often are you playing a scene wherein your character would leave?  I mean, you are playing this character as authentically as possible, there’s a break up and in this moment, the character you are playing would just exit.  But because you’re performing you stay on stage despite it.  You push out more scene and it feels, well, it feels pushed.  From an audience perspective it looks pushed too.  We fear following our characters instincts and our own impulses for many reasons. A responsibility to not abandon the other players is probably the most common. I think often that feeling is a misunderstanding of abandonment or blocking.  I encourage my students to GO if their character would go.  Worst case scenario the other player is left alone in the space you created together for just a few moments, which often builds tension in the story, before another player SWEEPS the scene or otherwise moves the story forward.  If building tension, something that is technically very hard to do when improvising, is the worst case scenario, I say take the risk.  Adding GOING to the game allowed us to see the opportunity in this action and how our fellows responded in kind.
  3. Confidence reads as confidence and is greeted with trust and trust equals comfort.  My students didn’t know I was creating GOING in that mistaken moment.  As far as they knew GOING hade existed all along and I was only now unveiling it.  Because I was confidant in my delivery of the spontaneous idea, everyone got on board, right away, no question, and it played out beautifully.  If I’d seemed hesitant, reluctant or frightened, my students would have been right there with me, anxious, uncertain if they were willing to try it or not, uncertain if it made sense…etc. The very same thing is true of improvised scene work.  I encourage my students, when in doubt feign confidence. Fake it till you make it. When you look anxious and uncomfortable, your eagle eyed audience takes note, they become distracted, uncertain, uncomfortable.  If you look confidant your audience is comfortable, they trust all is well and they remain engaged in the story developing in front of them. 

Each reminder inspired me and infused me with energy and lead to possible the greatest reminder of all, the exploration and understanding of improvisation is, for me, invaluable. Even at the last minute of my wariest of days.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Words of wisdom...

"What if we lived our impro ethics?
What if we greeted everyone on the street as a potential scene partner. We embrace their entrance into our scene of life. We see them and hear them with the skill of focusing in the moment. We honour their contribution.

What if we embraced challenges as offers? Doubts as moments to advance? Hesitation as wimping, then answer the call to leap.

What if we looked at the homeless, the poor, the lonely, the elderly as our scene partners and our role is to make them look good or inspire them. What would you do? If you know what you would do, then what is stopping you from doing it?

What is we “yes anded” someone wanting to cut into traffic ahead of you?

Just think of how many improvisers there are in the world. What if we all made a plan to hit the world with the energy, joy, play and acceptance that we use in our work. One day we start. An international revolution of making each other look good.


Patti Stiles

Sunday, January 6, 2013

20 minutes

I am about to experience twenty minutes for the FIRST time. 
I have indeed lived through twenty minutes numerous times.
But this will be the first time I approach twenty minutes with my full attention. 
The timer is set.  I begin to imagine the stage, my body in the space, the audience, warm, waiting, my shaky introduction, my nervous start, the blank, unpainted, everything…

Five minutes in I feel capable.  The time will race by, one character, one story after another.  So far, in my mind, I’ve talked to the audience, I’ve dug into a sound and a motion and created a first character, a first story perhaps and now I move into the next, patiently, slowly transforming, my audience is with me, I am clam, I am present, my body, my breath, in motion, in motion, in motion, I find something new, a treasure, its not a character as I imagined it would be but rather a place, a cave, an expedition, an experience, there are two characters here, myself and… a troll!  Wow! 

The story develops, the troll is protective but lonely, I am protective but curious.

A shift.  I feel a need to seek something else out. Another transformation begins.  Ah, it’s an old friend, Delilah, a southern woman in her fifties, stubborn, but ready to try cooking something new, a contemporary dish using pine nuts and anchovy paste.  Oh man she is making a mess and something catches fire.  She sits down defeated. A transformation begins….

We are half way through, a monologue arrives, a story about an alien cult…
A swing away edit, a freeze and a new character, a tough girl, a Boston girl, an attitude, but what is she going to say?  Ah she gave her baby away.  As she talks about it she weakens, weakens, weakens, sinks down crying….. A shift…

A date, two chairs, a nervous woman, a snooty woman?  This is a funny bit.  Lots of complimenting myself,  Lots of self commentary, and jokes, the audience needs this now and they love it.  One woman wont sit down, but keeps moving toward sitting.  The other sits but is also fidgety, oh don‘t get them switched up.  They kiss.  Now that is funny. A shift…

A child telling us about the world.  Shift.

A woman talking to a ghost.  A shift.

A strange silence, a pause, oh Domeka you can do it, dig deep, jump, jump, jump…. Five minutes left…..

A Shakespeare, a soliloquy, oh yes, you’ve arrived.

A story about mom in Romeo and Juliet.

A woman at a bus stop, meets a man, and a homeless person keeps interrupting them with questions and wild stories.  This last two minutes is killing me… How do I end this thing…

Breathing, standing, walking into a new character, getting undressed and going to bed.

And the timer rings!!!