Monday, April 8, 2019

Teen Improv Fight Club by Michael Golding

It is not unusual for the at-risk teens I work with in workshops to be reluctant to embrace the unknown and allow an improvised scene to flow organically within the structure of a game. They require advance information with dialogue and action before participating, so they don't appear foolish. Directing focus on the rules of a format, which grounds players in the moment, eventually
weans the students off their perceived safety net. The current group I'm working with has provided a new challenge, leading me to formulate a new approach.

In the middle of a throng of students

With several decades of working with at-risk populations, I've become more flexible with how the rules of a structure are perceived and played. Being an improv martinet can be counterproductive in allowing the identity of the group to emerge. It's a fine line to walk; are rules being ignored because the players found an innovative way to achieve the objective - or they simply didn't listen to the guidelines and decided to do whatever they want?

At a recent workshop two players were given a scenario to improvise by the class (brother tells his sister that her boyfriend is cheating on her). The players immediately started strategizing on how it should be performed. Normally I would chime in with "No, don't plan it. All you need to know is who you are, what you're doing and where you are. That's it." Instead, I allowed them to strategize, because they were on fire collaborating and connecting with each other.

The students watching started contributing their suggestions on how to play the scene.  I almost put a stop to that - determining that it was up to the two players, not the audience to decide what to do. But the class was enthusiastic, the players liked some of their suggestions, built on them, so I allowed the process to continue.

As the scene commenced, the class proceed to side-coach, which I have encouraged in previous workshops with the guideline "say freeze, first. Wait for the action to stop, then add your direction." That wasn't happening this time. The class was overlapping, yelling out suggestions, sometimes debating amongst themselves over choices. None of this was contentious. The players would pause to consider options, occasionally asking questions for clarification, then move on. While the atmosphere became raucous there was a positive energy between the student audience and players working together to navigate the intricacies of a scene that was presented by the group. There were shifts in time, locations, emotions, activities and additional characters were added and removed. When the scene was over everyone felt they contributed to its success, and left the session feeling joyous and congratulatory towards each other.

Thinking about the session on my commute home, I felt that I had just witnessed a new guerrilla theatre/cage match approach to improvisation. Perhaps the birth of a new format; Teen Improv Fight Club. The first rule of Teen Improv Fight Club is: You don't talk about Teen Improv Fight Club.

Considering this current group, I have a feeling they would find a way to circumvent that rule.


Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher. He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at migaluch@yahoo.com. Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics and Canadian Improv Games. He was the artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in New York and created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa. Michael is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles working with at-risk teens and traditional college students. he co-wrote and produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube). His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre is available on Amazon, Barned and Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, education and Human Development.






Wednesday, March 20, 2019

David Shepherd's Journals by Michael Golding



David Shepherd (October 10, 1924 – December 17, 2018) the co-founder of Playwrights Theatre Club, Compass (forerunner of Second City), the Improv Olympics and Canadian Improv Games, left behind a library of personal journals. David was diligent about making daily entries, a practice he started at thirteen, inspired by his father William Edgar Shepherd, an architect, and continued into his nineties. The journals are replete with designs for new forms of theatre and outlines for potential books. I am including two brief excerpts.  David’s journals, along with his archives, were donated to Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections in 2016 and are currently being processed. 

MANIFESTO
BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEW FREE THEATRE (NFT)
Paris 1949 

The NFT should be small at first. The connection between actor and audience has been lost in the coy hypocrisy of the realistic theatre but can be found again by testing effects at close range. To counteract the sloppy diffusion of the modern sensibility, the NFT will be, if nothing else, vigorous and disciplined. Discipline is necessary both for conciseness and for style. In modern acting efficiency is lost in movement and speech; both are diffuse and meaningless since both copy natural life, which is almost always diffuse and meaningless. 
A play cannot be a novel because a play has only an hour or two to make its mark. The single exception in this rule is Chekhov. Great craftsmen of today (Picasso, Rouault, Pound, Thomas, Stravinsky, Hindemith) either set out to work in any style or else limit themselves severely to one. Great drama is not written today because playwrights have cut themselves not only from the roots of drama but also from the understanding use of styles.  We need both eclectic genius and the craftsman with a single tool and single sheet of metal.
The vigorous roots of drama are song and dance, which must be brought back, if not outright, then in precise and suggestive speech and movement.
Since a play is the most clearly social of all art forms, the NFT must assure directness and simplicity in its productions. Whatever conventions it adopts must be quickly understandable.

Journal entry

MANIFESTO – SYNOPSIS OF INTRO TO BOOK
August 1952

The first purpose of this book is to advertise a theatre movement.
We are working to build a body of good American plays on the assumption that a great play has yet to come out of America, that the theatre of the future will be the “popular” theatre, and that we have discovered some of the ways of writing better plays than the current crop offers. We need partners to help us.

David Shepherd

We believe the easiest way to get the good plays we need is by attending to style; you will find exercises in this book which show what we mean by style. We believe that plays can be written on any subject, in any style and to any length: in this book you will find copies of the styles of some major dramatists today. In other words, we believe plays are logical statements, not bursts of inspiration.

Just as style is an exploitation of the word, so the choice of the action or subject matter of a play is an exploitation of the world of the dramatist. We deplore the fact that whereas the world of the dramatist today is so broad, his plays are so narrow. We give reasons in this book for such a paradox, and we explain what our second problem is after style: to broaden the frame and focus the thought of our plays. We suggest some dramatic forms by which that can be done, although we doubt that bourgeois writers will want to use them.

Journal entry


Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at migaluch@yahoo.com. Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube).  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.   






Sunday, February 3, 2019

David Shepherd and the ImprovBoston Festival by Michael Golding



My close friend and mentor for 46 years, David Shepherd, the father of improvisation, passed away on December 17, 2018. He was 94 years old. With Paul Sills, David created Compass (1955), the first professional improv cabaret in North America and forerunner of Second City (1959). With Howard Jerome, David created the Improv Olympics (1972) which inspired the Canadian Improv Games (1977, created by Howard Jerome and Willie Wyllie) and i.O. (1981, founded by Charna Halpern and Del Close). In 1998, David brought MOVIExperience, his improvising movies with nonprofessionals format to Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts. Nancy Fletcher, one of the MOVIExperience participants, believed the format could be used to build confidence and character in adolescent girls and founded Act Now! (2000). David's last format was Life-Play (2009), improv games designed to be played over the phone. 
David Shepherd & Michael Golding
David Shepherd suffered from manic depression most of his adult life. His wild mood swings were at times terrifying for me in my early teens. Paul Sills had a gift for being able to diffuse David’s temper and I’d like to think that I learned from the best. I felt the two were polar opposites when it came to temperament, which is why I was surprised to learn in Jeffrey Sweet’s “Something Wonderful Right Away” that Paul had a formidable temper of his own. I remember thinking “I know not this Paul Sills people are talking about.” Paul was always warm, funny and supportive in the workshops I took with him. He never threw a chair at me (not even an imaginary one), which was a recurring memory from the founding members of Playwrights Theatre Club, Compass and Second City.       

Through David’s association with ImprovBoston, we had arranged for his documentary “David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre” to be screened at their annual festival in 2011. It would include a Q & A session with me, David, Howard Jerome and Nancy Fletcher and a workshop demonstration of Life-Play, David’s latest format.  I agreed to fly to Belchertown from Los Angeles so that I could drive with David and Nancy to the event.

When I arrived in Belchertown, David surprised me with the news that he planned on showing an instructional Life-Play video after the screening, aiming towards selling copies to the audience. I told him that was not the agreement with the festival and Life-Play was already represented quite well in the documentary.  David was not pleased with that answer and wanted me to approach the festival about changing the program.

By nightfall Howard arrived from Toronto. I had heard back from the festival. We were going to stick to the original plan. David was incensed, ranting about how hard he worked on the videos. Willie Wyllie, the executive producer of the documentary called David from Ottawa (responding to my S.O.S. text) hoping to reason with him. The work on the videos wasn’t wasted. He just couldn’t show or sell them at the screening. The focus was on the documentary and the fine work of our director, Mike Fly and writer, (me). David had an enormous amount of respect for Willie, who could always be counted on to give the final word he would accept. Willie was successful once again.

Howard and I agreed to look at the video so that David could get our feedback. It was dreadful. Poorly lit, bad editing and hard to follow. Not the best representation of David’s work and we told him that. His cork popped; “Fuck it! I’m getting too old for this shit! I can’t do this anymore, schlepping from place to place trying to get gigs and selling my formats!”  Of course, none of this was the case with the festival, where he was to be honored.  Maybe he couldn’t accept that even though the documentary was about him, it wasn’t his project and he needed to focus on something where he had some control. To David, the documentary represented the past, Life-Play, the present and future. So that evening the three of us in an instant went from a loving reunion to a lot of yelling and “fuck you!”

Next morning, I greeted David with my usual “Good morning, Mr. Shepherd. How are we today?” David somberly replied, “I can’t wait for this day to be over.” I laughed; “Atta boy. That’s the spirit.” My approach whenever David was in the dark zone was to treat his every response with optimism, love and humor.  Howard was already on his way to Boston to catch some shows before our screening.

Once we were in the car and on the road, (me at the wheel, David in the passenger seat and Nancy in the back), he relaxed considerably. Road trips were a big part of our relationship and we seamlessly eased into our travel banter – improv, expanding Life-Play, future projects, my work with at-risk populations. We picked up lunch from MacDonald’s on the way, and David slowly fed me French fries one at a time as I drove.  I loved that. When we arrived in Boston, David was wide-eyed. It had been a while since he’s been there and was fascinated by the architecture and people. By the time we arrived at the theatre, David was in a playful, joyful mood.

Well, that quickly ended as the audience entered for the screening. The event wasn’t well publicized and there were about 25 people in the audience. David glared at me and I could see that he was ready to determine that the screening was going to be a humiliating failure for him.  Just then, a young woman sitting behind David started talking about how excited she was to see the documentary. She had driven with friends from Rhode Island, was currently reading The Compass by Janet Coleman (who was also in the documentary) and was hoping that she could get to meet David Shepherd.  I turned around and said, “Are you aware that the father of improvisation is sitting right in front of you?” She exploded with excitement. A sly smile appeared on David’s face as she showered him with appreciation. After they talked a bit, David turned around and the house lights started to dim. I leaned over to David and whispered, “that didn’t suck, did it?”  “No. It did not.” He patted my knee affectionately.

This was the third time I had watched the documentary from start to finish with David and he’s always totally engrossed. I could only imagine what memories sparked inside him with every viewing.  The audience while small, was extremely responsive.  As the end credits rolled, David whispered, “that was excellent.” His standard response, always with a tinge of amazement in it.  I was happy to see Carman Dewees at the screening. He, along with Chris Britt, developed Life-Play with David. Carman and David had a falling out due to David’s unreasonable demands (a constant with partners David has collaborated with over the years) and had not spoken for some time.  David was sincerely pleased to see Carman and the two had a warm, brief reconciliation.  After they spoke, David confided in me that he accepted full responsibility for Carman leaving Life-Play. Carman was solely responsible for the launch and initial success of Life-Play, recruiting players, setting up conference calls and putting together a polished handbook of the format’s games with essays from me, David, Howard and himself. David realized he had let a gem slip through his fingers.

The Q & A portion went well, as did the Life-Play demonstration, which I conducted with volunteers from the audience. David and Howard side-coached some of the games. Originally scheduled for ten minutes, I ended up doing a half hour because it was going so well. Jeremiah Jordan, the artistic director of the festival who was watching from the side gave me the okay. When it was over, we had to quickly leave the theatre for the next event to set up. The audience followed us out into the lobby, enveloping David with attention, then outside the theatre, then joined us for dinner at a restaurant down the block.  David was energized, talking improv and meeting new people. 
Q&A moderated by Jeremiah Jordan with Michael Golding, Nancy Fletcher, David Shepherd and Howard Jerome.



Setting up Life-Play guidelines with two volunteers.

David Shepherd and Howard Jerome side-coach two volunteers playing a Life-Play game.

Driving home, I fielded calls from Mike Fly and Willie Wyllie.  It was a ninety-minute drive and I was pushing the speed a bit. With David holding the phone to my ear and Willie draining me for every detail, I tell my improv brother that “the life of the father of improvisation is in my hands right now so maybe I should focus on my driving.” For the rest of the drive, we talked about all the new people we met at the screening and how David was going to recruit them for future projects. He had given out all his business cards. He was happy.   

Back at the house, Nancy goes immediately to bed and David and I stay up for a while, sharing a joint. Yes, I was smoking with an 87-year old man. It was a long active day. Navigating David’s emotional minefields can be draining, but now I was getting stoned, playful, fun, David. It made the day worthwhile for me.

After we say our goodnights I walk towards my room. David sings out “Michael!”

“Yes, David?”

“You’re an excellent workshop director.”

“Thank you, David. I had a great teacher.”

“Thank you.”

For a moment I thought about screwing around with him by adding “Oh, you thought I meant you?” But it would have ruined a perfect moment. And it would have been a lie.

Next morning David wanted to know when we were going on our next road trip.

David Shepherd, Michael Golding, Howard Jerome and Nancy Fletcher at ImprovBoston, 2011.

Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher. He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at migaluch@yahoo.com.  Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics and Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. and created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa. He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube). His book, "Listen Harder," a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.   






Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Canadian Improviser in New York by Michael Golding


"This is what we are supposed to do when we are at our best - make it all up - but make it up so truly that later it will happen that way."
Ernest Hemmingway, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Jamie "Willie" Wyllie (May 22, 1958 - October 2, 2014) created with Howard Jerome the Canadian Improv Games (CIG) a national high school improv tournament inspired by the Improv Olympics, created by David Shepherd and Howard Jerome. The program recently celebrated its 41st anniversary. In addition to CIG, Willie was also a dedicated lawyer, producer, director, teacher and one of my dearest friends.


Jamie "Willie" Wyllie
Several months before he passed away, Willie saw the above Hemmingway quote posted on the Facebook page of Chris Ramelan, regional director of the Toronto CIG tournament, as well as serving as a national judge, player, trainer, adjudicator and a masterful head referee (the CIG staff wear a lot of hats). The quote inspired Willie to write the following reminiscence on Chris' wall about the first time he traveled to Ottawa to New York to spend a weekend with David Shepherd. Willie sent me his post, feeling it might make a meaningful blog about David on my blog site. Then his health started its downward spiral, and other matters took precedence for me.

I recently found Willie's reminiscence. Unfortunately, it did not include Hemmingway's quote. I reached out to Chris, who not only sent me the quote, but the entirety of Willie's post;


Chris Ramelan at the Canadian Improv Games National Tournament

From Willie:

That quote reminds me of the first weekend I spent in Manhattan visiting one of my mentors (David Shepherd, the co-founder of the modern era's first professional improv group "The Compass"). After driving for about 9 straight hours and getting lost in a part of the Bronx where police feared to go, I eventually found David's work space (which we called the "Loft").

When I first entered the Loft at about 8:00 pm, it was teaming with people talking loudly. I was numb from the drive and the cold weather outside. So, I just quietly watched what was going on. Periodically David would intervene, quiet down the action in the Loft and ask a question or make a comment. Then, the action would resume.


David Shepherd and Willie Wyllie at the Loft.

After a while I caught on and realized that it was a mass improv of a party. I finally got a few seconds with David and asked him, "why are you all improvising a party?" He explained that they were rehearsing what might happen at the party he would be having in two nights (i.e. the following Saturday night). By rehearsing it, he explained, they could discover what interactions wouldn't work and which interactions warranted further exploration at the actual party. It seemed to me that the rehearsal was a fun, or funnier, than the actual party would be.

A person would have otherwise come to the party alone and knowing no one other than David, instead arrived to find the Loft full of people he knew to some extent (by reason of their shared rehearsal a couple of nights earlier). Each guy at the actual party had had a couple of days since the rehearsal to think about things he wished he had said two nights before at the rehearsal party. Each lady at the actual party had the necessary foreknowledge to be patient with some of the dorky guys because they were actually really nice guys once you got past their dorky exterior.


David Shepherd rehearsing a party

It turned out that the actual party, that Saturday evening, was even better than the rehearsal had been. Instead of attending one lame party, we each shared a very fascinating and memorable rehearsal, and attended one amazing party!

Hemmingway himself would have loved the end result of David's way of throwing a party. The party avoided the pitfalls that were discovered at the rehearsal, and embraced and further examined the bright spots identified during the rehearsal. Needless to say, over that weekend and many, many weekends thereafter, I always had a great time spending time with my teacher, mentor and friend David Shepherd.

P.S. I treated that first trip to NYC as a rehearsal for things to come. One of the things I learned from that rehearsal was that I should never drive alone to Manhattan. Thereafter, each weekend I would drive the 9 hour trip to Manhattan with a different, interesting and beautiful woman to keep me company during the long drives between Ottawa and NYC.

P.P.S. Upon arriving in NYC I would go immediately to the family home of Michael Golding. Michael was then becoming David's creative protégé (a role that he has kept to this very day). As pre-arranged with my driving companion, I would drop her off (late on a Thursday or Friday evening) with Michael. At that time I would  make arrangements to pick her up after lunch the following Sunday (for the return trip to Ottawa). While I worked with David that weekend, Michael would act as her personal tour guide around Manhattan. On the drive home, my fellow traveler would: (1) tell me what she had seen or done over the weekend, (2) interrogate me about Michael (leading up to the big question) "does he have a girlfriend?", and (3) go on and on about the deep connection she had made with Michael, ask if I believed in love at first sight, and offer to drive to Manhattan with me anytime I might be headed there (although Michael and I stuck to our agreed arrangement that there would be no repeat visitors). These arrangements always seemed to work at out well for all concerned.

P.P.S. Given the great detail that David spent on throwing a party, I can understand why his protégé Michael became so detail oriented when planning out workshops he conducted. Michael's improv DNA comes directly from David.

Willie Wyllie - March, 2014


1981 International Improv Olympic H.S. Match with Michael Golding & Willie Wyllie

When Chris Ramelan re-read the Hemmingway quote, it was obvious to him that it would remind Willie of his younger days; "for the quote is something he was quite good at: Bringing to life that which was only dreamed."

What a beautiful way to remember Willie. Thank you, Chris.


Michael Golding, Willie Wyllie, Howard Jerome,  & David Shepherd


Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at migaluch@yahoo.com. Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube).  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.   



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Guns, Education and Improv by Michael Golding



Due to budget cuts at high schools who normally host El Camino College’s after school outreach courses, I was not offered any assignments for the spring semester. This was not unexpected. Last fall, when Trump’s cuts to education began to take effect, my colleagues and I knew that it was just a matter of time before this impacted our program. I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.

The students I work with are at-risk. I teach Theatre Appreciation and Intro to Acting on a rotating semester basis. Students show up expecting a lecture course. Instead, they are exposed to my learning by doing approach. The objectives of the curriculum are achieved via theatre games and the class is conducted like an improv workshop.

My courses, which run from 3:30pm – 5:30pm (sometimes longer), keep the students out of trouble and from being targeted by gangs. It also instills the idea that college is a possibility for them.  Being exposed to a different approach in learning has a ripple effect on the students that enhances their academic and social skills. Attendance improves as well.

Now we don’t have the budget to keep this program going – on top of the recurring issue of no funds for supplies and resources in classrooms where enrollment hits 40 or more. This is not new for teachers. What is new is Trump’s proposal to arm teachers.



Here are my thoughts on that; I have been working with at-risk teen populations in Los Angeles since 2002. First through Los Angeles City College, then El Camino College (both the Torrance and Compton divisions). I have taught at high schools in Compton, Lynwood, Carson, Inglewood, Torrance and Hollywood. I have met and observed countless teachers doing their job extraordinarily well under the most daunting conditions.

I have also encountered a large number of teachers who do not have the temperament, patience, empathy, compassion or maturity to be working in education. Some are flat out sadists who enjoy the control they have over their students. I have witnessed this first hand. Believe me, a gun is the last thing you would want in their hands. If they could get away with shooting a student by claiming self defense, they would.

If I was teaching this semester, I would explore scenarios of a political environment that has armed teachers and how that would affect the classroom dynamic and relationships with students. A missed opportunity for me, to be sure.

A large percentage of my male students glorify guns. These students often want to improvise scenes about bank robberies, kidnappings, and hostage situations. Guns are brandished side-ways with a machismo that is simultaneously amusing and terrifying.

Occasionally, I’ll acquiesce to a scene about a bank robbery, with the guidelines of no shooting or pistol whipping.  Additionally, the guns have no bullets (or aren’t real). First time I tried that in a workshop with the guidelines one of the students playing a customer yelled out “hey, that gun isn’t real!” and I had to end the scene before it collapsed into a mass fight in the bank.  Now I instruct the students playing customers and tellers “You don’t know that the gun isn’t real or has no bullets.”  The emphasis is on the threat of the gun and power it wields – not seeing someone being shot.

I have a warm-up game where I play a series of sound effects and students have to engage in an activity that would correspond with it. The sound effects are typically bowling, ice skating, rain forest, traffic, beach, pool hall, which the students perform with varying degrees of commitment. When military battle sounds emanate from the speakers, the energy and commitment from the students spikes and there is disappointment from the class when after 30 seconds or so, the next sound effect pops up.

So, let’s review my perspective on inner city high schools in Los Angeles.

There is now no money for an after school program that keeps high school students out of trouble, enhances their academic and social skills and prepares them for college. A proposal has been made to arm teachers (some who carry resentment towards their students) around teenagers who glorify guns (and would figure out how to get the weapon from the teacher). Classes are still overcrowded.

What could possibly go wrong?


Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at migaluch@yahoo.com. Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube).  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.   






Saturday, October 7, 2017

Improvising with my Father By Michael Golding




The last format I worked on with David Shepherd (co-creator of Compass and the Improv Olympics) was Life-Play, improv games designed to be played over the phone.  Created by David, Carman Dewees and Chris Britt, the format was utilized extensively from 2009 to 2012.  We had weekly conference calls, where improvisers phoned in from all over the country and Canada to play.  A handbook of games was published and I adapted several of them for my workshops with at-risk teens and college students. Unexpectedly, it brought me closer to my father.

A year into the format, David fell and broke his hip and spent a month in a facility undergoing physical therapy. I called him daily during his incarceration, where we played several of the Life-Play games and often developed new ones on the spot.  It was an intimate, beautiful bonding experience for both of us.

After a particularly gratifying session, I commiserated with David over how I wished I could play with my father the way I played with him. The two were the same age. Despite being involved in improv since I was 14, my father never really got it and I gave up trying to unravel the mystery of the art form for him.  David felt that was bullshit. “Get him to play the next time you call him – and record it for me!”

My father Gerard Golding, Aug 30, 1924 - October 7, 2012


I called my father the next day, proposed that we play one game and he politely declined. “That’s your world.”  Instead of pleading with him, I took a different approach – manipulation (an honored Golding tradition) and relied on the competitive alpha male relationship between him and my oldest brother Bill to achieve my goal. I claimed that when I told Bill what David wanted me to do, Bill scoffed and said “Good luck trying to get dad to play. He’ll never improvise with you on the phone because he’s incapable of following rules.”  Upon hearing that, my father sneered “Oh yeah? I’ll play one game with you. What are the rules?” The challenge was accepted.

I chose “Repetition Poem” which is based on an opening line that is repeated throughout the poem.  Ever since he retired, my father was always saying to me “If I knew I was going to live this long.”  So that’s the line I gave him, which I had him recite with the emotion of surprise. Here is my father performing that poem;



It took me a few days to process this poem, and then I called him with questions about it.  First line then stuck out to me was “If I knew I would going to live this long, I most certainly would have tried to accomplished more, because I would feel much better than I do today.”  I pointed out that he ascended the ranks all the way to Captain. A remarkable achievement, one that made all of us very proud, which I told him.   He wanted to go all the way to chief.  I had no idea he was that ambitious.


Second line that resonated with me, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have spent more time to find out how to play.”  My father always played with me and my brothers as kids. He could be amazingly goofy, silly and funny.  On top of that, with the Repetition Poem, well dad, that is play. I told him that, too.

Third line that caught my ear was “If I knew I was going to live this long, I most certainly would have been closer to all my family.”  I asked him if that meant his siblings or sons.  He meant us, me, Rick (my middle brother) and Bill.  I told him that he was always there for every major event in our lives.  Even though he worked two jobs until he made lieutenant, and was constantly doing overtime and double shifts, he was a solid, major presence in the house. I’m glad I had an opportunity to tell him that.

Unfortunately, the full impact of the poem wasn’t clear to me until the day he died.  Hours after receiving news of his passing, I posted his poem on Facebook.  My cousin Steve contacted me to offer his condolences and to point out that the last line of the poem, summed up everything for him about his uncle. “If I knew I was going to live this long, hmm, I guess everything would have turned out fine.”

When you think about it, my father married the love of his life, had a successful career, raised a family, was loved and admired by everyone who knew him, and lived in the house that he cherished for 55 years right up until the end.  So when it comes to the life of Gerard Golding, yes, everything did turn out fine.

My family. Top row, Gerard and Linda. Bottom, Bill, Rick, moi.


I will always be grateful to David Shepherd for pushing me to get my father to play and for the record I now have of that incredible moment. Carman Dewees was gracious enough to send my father a CD of his poem. Whenever I told my father how much people in the improv community loved his poem he would respond one of two ways; “It was something I did just for you,” or (with false modesty I might add) “Just something I did off the cuff.”

Here is the link for the Life-Play handbook. 



Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at migaluch@yahoo.com. Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube).  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.   







Thursday, August 3, 2017

It's All About The Where by Michael Golding


 

I recently conducted a teacher training workshop at an improv festival, where most of the participants were unfamiliar with the work of Viola Spolin, the mother of improvisation.  This is not uncommon.  However, in a discussion about the choice of games the teachers use in their workshops, most were Spolin based. They just learned them under different names. Also not uncommon. I recommended Viola’s book “Improvisation for the Theater” as an essential resource and for re-indoctrination.



David Shepherd also attended the festival, where he quickly became known as “the ancient one.”  In 1955 David created Compass, the first professional improv theatre in North America with Paul Sills, Viola Spolin’s son. Sixteen years later, David created the Improv Olympics with Howard Jerome, a format that was designed as a loving celebration of Viola’s work. David is a Spolin purist and when he brought the Improv Olympics to Chicago in 1981 it came with a letter of understanding for the players acknowledging Spolin’s games as the inspiration for the format.





An impromptu forum was arranged for David, which I moderated for the staff and volunteers of the festival.  During the forum David was asked what he considered to be the most important aspect of improv.  David replied “It’s all about the where!”  The audience smiled, but there was no follow up question and silence followed. Since many in the audience were seasoned improvisers, I didn’t want to insult anyone by asking “You all know what the where is, right?” It‘s possible that they were intimated by being in David’s presence and were waiting to see if he was going to add anything. 



I asked David if I could elaborate further and he replied enthusiastically “of course!” Sharing knowledge that David bestowed upon me 45 years ago, I presented a 30 second overview of the where; “The where, which is also called the location, setting or environment, is created by constantly discovering details. Through those details, you connect with how you feel, which is expressed through the use of imaginary objects and activity which become more realistic when endowed with qualities (temperature, texture, weight). The where connects you with other players and keeps you in the moment.” Smiling, David turns to the audience and says “This is a very smart man!” 

Impromptu forum with David Shepherd (middle) and Michael Golding (right)

As the result of preparing David Shepherd’s improv archives for delivery to Northwestern University, I’ve been able to monitor the evolution of David’s formats. My first exposure to improv was on David’s Responsive Scene radio show, where the who/what/where scene structure was set up as; WHO is in the scene? WHAT is the scene about? WHERE does the scene take place?  Once I started playing in the Improv Olympics the WHAT was changed to WHAT are you DOING? In the Responsive Scene the WHAT was story based. In the Improv Olympics, it was activity based.

That shift solidified my focus in a scene. I already knew who I was, what I was doing activity wise, and I had a where to explore. Everything that followed story wise was based on the here and now and built on the foundation of collaborating with my fellow players through agreement.

I teach my students to enter scenes with a strong activity, which helps in the exploration of the where. Surprisingly, I have to provide them with examples of what an activity is. Most of them come up with passive choices – watching TV, texting, reading. When I ask for suggestions for an activity that two people can do together I get fighting, sleeping and intercourse.



As I slowly transition into old school improv dude who screams at the millenniums to get off his mainstage grass I’m developing a few crotchety impressions of the next generation of improvisers. Not all the necessary improv skills are utilized on stage. A lot of talking. Not much exploration of the where.  On Facebook improv pages  the work tends to be over analyzed.  I found this skill page from one of David Shepherd’s training manuals. For me, it’s all there. Nine simple sentences. Wisdom from the ancient one.

From a David Shepherd training manual



Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at migaluch@yahoo.com. Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. He wrote and co-produced the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre" (available for free on YouTube).  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.