Tara D: AMA on Reddit!

On December 9th from 8pm-10pm central, Tara was on AskMeAnything for the Reddit community. Below is the transcript of that AMA with the improv community at large.

[–]MJMCP[M][S] 1 point 8 minutes ago*
The Full Transcript!
Hi everyone! I’m going live here in a few minutes and hope to be on for about 90 minutes. I’m hoping to get to all of you if I can – at least, as many as possible! Thank you for welcoming me to the Reddit community – I’m very honored to be here. To learn more about me – you can go to http://TaraDeFrancisco.com if that interests you. I make my living as an improviser/sketch performer/teacher in Chicago, Illinois, do some commercial and tv work, and travel as an improvisation consultant all over the world. Love this and thanks for having me! –td

1.Hi Tara! Something that’s been niggling at me for a while: Is it more important that the audience have fun, or that the players have fun? Each is important and each influences the other, but which comes first?

Oh man. In the effort to truly make assertions, here, I’d say it’s more important for the team to have fun – because without the team having a wonderful time, the point of pretend is lost. Isn’t it? I think it’s nearly impossible for an audience to have fun without the team having it; of course, too much masturbatory fun on behalf of the team (leaving the audience out) is unfair. Include the audience in the work, but don’t pander, and make-believe in a way that invites everyone to join you in doing so.

2.Tara D, nice job out-tboxing the tboxers!!! My question is who outside of the improv community would you most want to play with? Is there any person outside of the improv community who would you least want to play with? A big thank you for doing this!!!

Thank you for thanking! How sweet. Outside of the improv community? I gotta give a shout out to my high school friends and family, who are the most playful, positive people in the world. I do believe everyone can get the concepts of improvisation down enough to attempt it in exercise format – but, maybe not everyone would be performing it onstage in front of an audience. I’d like to play with little ones, too, because their natural inclination to create is admirable and exciting.

3.If you could choose one single thing to tell a struggling improviser what would you say?

It depends on what you mean by “struggling”. Do you mean they are struggling with the work, or struggling with life? Here’s the thing: if it’s the work, the best advice I can give is to breathe. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Step away from improvisational creation and think about the world a bit, big picture stuff. What was the reason you got interested in the art, or any art, or whatever moves you? Probably passion, right? The desire to be a part of something? The want to contribute to something bigger than yourself? Good. I hope that. Maybe laughter refuels you or makes you feel hopeful. Remember those things first. Once you have, know you’re your biggest critic, and unless you’re a complete douche, no one is worried about your work – they are worried about theirs. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t expect it all to come in a day – build your work, reputation, and esteem over time. So, breathe. If you’re struggling in life, do the same.

4.What is one thing you can say has always helped you through your career?

Surrounding myself with work I like that challenges me, pushing myself to do some things that have made me uncomfortable, and knowing that the community I have immersed myself in – the friends that are my closest – are the best people in the business, both comedically, and as human beings. Don’t hang out with knobs. The good will find the good, and people take care of one another.

5.Hey Tara you might remember me from M.A.D. Camp (Landon) I was just wondering if you were coming back this year. Thanks!

Oh, Landon!!! HI! I really hope to. Joey Bland and I sure do love teaching you each year and I was bummed to miss it in 2012!

6.If forced to choose one, and only one, forever and ever, amen: Bagel or Donut?

Bagel, bro. Donuts are good, but I’ll take an everything bagel any day.

7.Hi Tara, which do you think is a more effective method of teaching long-form skills, Game or Relationship. I’ve seen both, by improvisors from UCB and Chicago respectively. What’s your take?

I’m Chicago all the way, baby – relationship, relationship, relationship. That being said, I think something that’s being taught right now is really being misinterpreted – game of the scene. I think what people really want is to listen to pattern and revisit it, honor it – but playing ONLY game of scene can exhaust the scene without getting any heart out of it. Relationship where you’re playing openly and keeping ears perked, finding what is twinkly inside the scene – follow that – and then you can use the relationship to frame that game. Simply said, with only game, there is no scene. With only relationship, you still celebrate the human experience. With pattern and relationship, you have made comedy.

7b.Amazingly put. That’s what my coach (Rachel Klein, you know her?) said too. I agree with you one hundred percent.

I don’t know her, but Hi! Thank you so much for the compliment.

8.How would you recommend someone who doesn’t have access to professional improv teachers learn longform improvisation?

First off – those books to the right (and many more) are a good start. Reading theory can be enlightening and difficult, so my next suggestion would be to bring an instructor to you. If you can get a vetted longform teacher from Chicago to come do immersion with you and a troupe, you would benefit there with some hands-on guidance. There’s nothing like it, and it’s usually affordable, since improvisational teachers want to help as much as possible with not much overhead. If it’s just you and there’s hope that you’d like to learn independently, look into boot camps (like here or a few other cities) that will try to teach you a good handful over a short period of time. Hope this helps!

9.Ooh Ooh! I have some more! Pick me miss, please! Why do many improvisers have trouble with being intimate onstage? (I see improvisers who are happy to garrote each other, dissect a dog together, or punch Nazis, but get weirded out by holding hands) What’s been YOUR favourite show that you’ve done? How important is short-form experience for long-form players? How does one deal with players who are great performers but jerks offstage? When going through a period of it-doesn’t-seem-to-be-working-oh-god-am-i-any-good-itis, is it more productive to try changing the way you play, or just ploughing on through? Students of Level 5b at the iO make up their own form. What separates the more successful forms from the less successful ones?

Ooh, many questions at once! I’ll do my best.
1. Comedy is a defense mechanism. One of my favorite things to make students do is go home, and really think about what made them funny. Why? What happened in your life where you started being funny to heal something, to distract, to control? Likelihood is high there’s something. We all have vices, and comedy is ours. So, being intimate onstage can put guard down, something many of us still aren’t good at. It takes balls (chutzpah? ovaries? whatever) to be brave in that way. It’s probably also the same reason many of us don’t excel at first in relationships. Vulnerability is hard.
2. Mmm, now, that’s hard, because I’ve done a helluva lotta shows. 10 years of ComedySportz with the nicest of families, many years of the incredible iO, touring across America with SC, my first team at the Playground, and all inbetween. Hmm. I’ll say that RIGHT now, my favorites are defrancisCO (iO) and The DelTones (iO musical Harold, mainstage), because I feel the most magic moments there right now.
3. Very. People that discredit shortform are fucking idiots. Period. Do not be fooled. It’s insane to discredit anything that makes you stronger at comedy. You don’t go to a cross-trainer and only build your arms, you do squats, you run, you stretch. All comedy is one body, with muscles that support the other parts.
4. You don’t. You move on. They will go away. They always do. People figure out who they are, or they rise to the occasion. Don’t give them your energy.
5. Always be open to change – notes – critique, but don’t lose your voice. Any student who is doubting themselves here and there is a student I want. Any student who is sure they are acing it all the time is the person no one wants to play with.
6. Ah yes! The simpler the better. Form can’t trump scene. No one thinks “What an incredible form!” when the scenes suck. Right?

10.Okay, imagine I’m a lobster fishman. I’ve got a big boots, the big sweater, the overalls, the hat, everything, but I’m still me. I’m still nice and an avid TV watcher, and Midwestern and everything. I’m still me. I still like to do all the things I usually do, just now I’m a lobster fishman. So I’m still me but…

This is my roommate. He is doing a bit. A bit that only I get. AND I LAUGHED.

11.What are some ways that you mentally prepare for a performance?

Stop talking for a little. Before I head to a theatre, I like to have a little downtime. It helps. I talk a lot of my day. When I get to a theatre, you spend some time warming up with your cast – and for years, that was awesome. Now, as a person that’s been doing this a while, I’ve found the best warmups are just sharing the air with your teammates – you know, doing bits backstage and laughing together. Being people. It’s the best. Connection is all human beings have. Connect. Listen. Play.

12.what are your favorite tv shows? why?

Lemme think: Parks and Rec, Arrested Development, Office UK, 1st season of Cosby, Cheers, 1st season of Moonlighting, Friends (I said it) – trying to think of what shaped me. Freaks and Geeks, Wonder Years, Golden Girls, Taxi, Three’s Company def played a part. Recently, I really liked Girls and watched that too – anything with a core ensemble where relationship is the key rather than exposition – people over plot.

13.Hi! I’m about to start running my college troupe, something I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited about. Have any general advice? Any exercises or games that you’d really recommend?

Hey! That’s great. Be fair, as fair as possible. Listen to the pulse of the group, watch the pieces with an eye for the whole thing, and encourage your team to take notes on the piece rather than beg for individual notes. Any player who is a GOOD player will know that team notes ARE individual notes. Also, if I may, I highly, highly recommend you do not play with a team you coach – it’s a conflict of interest, in my opinion. There is no way to have a neutral eye on the show if you’re within it. If you must play, and that’s okay with everyone, make sure you give no notes on the piece you are within – or, keep it to gentle notes sessions – like, one-good-thing-you-liked-about-the-show-talks. That being said, I still say no coach that plays if at all possible. Get a recent grad or an improv performer in town to lend a hand.

14.You gotta kill one, pork one, marry one: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles?

Man, you are catching me at a TIME, bro. A REAL TIME! As some friends here know, I just shot 3 commercials in LA, and met with a mgr out there. Both NY and LA have been on the table in the past for tv opportunities, but none as clearly as now. Bah. I am super confused right now, though it’s looking like LA is very much in the cards. We’ll see. NY is more my speed as a person – I can see myself in Brooklyn and loving it. LA is pretty, and I assume you find your tribe there, even though the LA-Story-ness of it makes me want to gag. Chicago is corrupt and freezing in the winters, but she’s mine. She’s home. I’m from Ohio, and the midwest to me is wonderful and close to fam and friends – kind people, full of perspective and heart. Damn.

Marry Chicago, fuck NY, kill LA. Really, those last two are interchangeable. …but as Del Close said – “Ah, you’re pretty enough to kill.” I could turn anytime. I’d just never kill Chicago. I’m not dumb.

15.how do you prepare for a show? what do you think of right before you step on stage?

Part of this might be answered above… in the prep question. Where is that? I replied somewhere…

16.Hey Tara, you’re awesome. What qualities do you think every improv student should have or obtain? Plus, what warm-up games are a must for any team’s arsenal? Also, any tips for people that aren’t all that good/comfortable with musical games to get better/more comfortable?

KINDNESS! WILLINGNESS TO ENGAGE! SHARING! LISTENING! INTELLIGENCE – definitely EQ, hopefully IQ. Any poster you see on kindergarten walls – all those things, they are improv tips. Be good to each other. Care enough to go line by line. Anything with connection involved. Anything that makes you laugh. Anything that can get a bundle of puppies (us, improvisers when we are happy) to remember that stillness and zen are part of our work. Sure. Dare to fail. Sing. Sing in the shower, sing if you’re scared. Don’t worry about rhyming in rap or song – that’s just a skillset. Worry about emoting. Musical theatre is about singing when there are no words left to express how ______ you feel. So, feel, and sing.

Also – shoot!, thanks for saying I’m awesome! :)!

17.Also what do all the teachers mean when they say “have a point of view?” What is point of view? Can you please give examples?

Sure, girl! Point of View (POV, as it’s referenced here so frequently in Chicago) is about coming to a scene with something to offer about the person you are, the way you look at the world. Hmm. Some people like to walk onstage with ideas, but I’ve found that having too much plot in your head is only a way of becoming frustrated a few lines in. If you’ve premeditated too far, the scene is no longer playing catch – you’re just whipping the ball, not tossing back and forth. So, what we try and push is framing the way your character looks at the world, and what they can do to express that. Let’s say I know I’m curmudgeonly, a surly POV. If you plunk me down in any scene, I can remain that, giving myself an outlook and you someone to play with that you clearly understand. That person can still be emotionally affected in any way you choose. It’s win/win. If I come in and simply think “I’m an astronaut and I want a divorce!”, we’re in big trouble if I don’t get that out first and you think we’re cubicle-mates. Yeah? So start simply. Think about how you feel. If you don’t know, look in your partners eyes. Then, allow yourself to quickly decide. In improv, every moment means something, even the little ones, and you get to play with that.

18.do you chose an emotion before you step into a scene?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Honestly, I think it depends on who I am playing with. The advantage of being a seasoned performer is you get to play with the best. We are comfortable, and we are afforded time and patience from our Chicago audiences who know us. So, emotions can help, yes, and taking the time to look at my friends and connect and discover is the most fun way.

19.Hey Tara, it’s Steven Cohen, how are you? Contests on the commercial.

Thank you so much! I think you meant congrats, I think. If not, I also contest the commercial, in the efforts of camaraderie. 😉

20.How important do you think college improv teams are for professional development? What about the College Improv Tournament? Any thoughts on that? Thanks a bunch!

CIT is great. Well run, and fun. I think college improv teams are good for development, in general – like, as a person. However, I think you’ll always do a lot of re-learning when going through a touted improvisational school, so, whatever. Do the college team because you’ll make friends for life, and you might move somewhere with them and continue the work. And, it’s fun. Right? Do that. Just don’t let it block you on learning more later, wherever you may end up (“this is the way we did it in ______” can be detrimental to new team energy down the line).

21.Also I have a follow-up question. I love your show DefrancisCO because I feel that any time a student gets to play with a vet, the student really gets sort of a boost or a shot in the arm from the added experience on stage. Is there anything a student can do to accelerate learning improv, feel more confident on stage and generally feel good about the work they put out? What else can we do to get that on-stage boost?

First off, thanks for the shout out. I adore the show. It felt very renegade to try, and it’s something that I have really loved. (Back again in Jan 2013.) I agree that sometimes people just need to be trusted, treated well, encouraged, and when you do that, they achieve. That was the hope, and it was right. On acceleration, a different topic – I know this is going to sound goofy, but – just try being more confident as a person. Wanting to speed up your journey is ego (I want this now! I need to because ____!) and not about just being, learning, accepting. Try to be present. Try to focus and play. Try to deal with your shortcomings and be open. Don’t rush your process, or you rush your life. Too hippie? Don’t care. I am. :)

22.Are there any ways to improve one’s improv skills while alone? How does one improve their monologuing abilities?

Yes. Do things that will sharpen your mind, and make you a better person – read a paper or a book. Watch the news. Talk to a friend. Take a walk. People watch (oh god, people watch!). Walk a dog. Help someone. Do something that makes you remember the world is bigger than you – a big problem is that improvisers become insular, and they can’t remember anything but themselves and menial problems. Do good work. Tell a story. Tell it again. Tell it again. Retelling something will help you get to what is important about the story and cutting the extraneous out (this is mostly for writers). Sidebar: Get a twitter account. Get good at writing in 140 characters. Back: Mostly, you know what you’re driving at and you add extraneous detail because you’re afraid to say it. Lead with heart. Be less afraid, tell your story.

23.Can you remember a particularly memorable instance where you made what you considered to be a mistake in a scene, only to be justified by your scene partner without a hitch? Provide an example where the roles are reversed, too, if it comes to mind. I always enjoy hearing stories about actual performances. :)

Oh, I blow it all the time. I’ve done this more as a host than as a player (see: emceeing or reffing), but I’ve certainly been a part of shows where we as hungry little coyotes tore apart the “mistake” (gift) of another player. It’s the best part of improv shows. No one wants a perfect show. They want an imperfect show, done incredibly riskily, intelligently, and well. Those are the ones you remember. The worst thing you can do is ignore a gift.

24.Hey Tara! What were some obstacles you had when you were first starting improv? What are some now? How has your view shifted from that time to now? Any stories that stick out?

Aah! I want to have a great answer for this. Man, when I came to Chicago and started improv, I was 23, and I already felt old. That’s hilarious to me now – but, I was in a very serious relationship, settled and happy. I didn’t have any training, and I think more people shouldn’t let that scare them away. Just be excited about the work and dig in! No one should know anything – be open. Sometimes I think being settled coming here was a detriment (I didn’t drink and party every night like some others), but I also think it may have helped (I had SOME fun, but mostly focused on the work). Do the work. Love each other a ton and love the work too. Neither should surpass the other. Obstacles now? Not many. Everything I moved here for I’ve done – touring, professionalism, building community and improv family, living the dream. You know? Now it’s about what-next more than anything else. I am so pleased anywhere I go, that sometimes that can be a curse in itself (how do you know where to be, if everywhere feels just fine?). I’d be very happy being an improv professor of sorts later here in Chicago, and I would love to work a bit more commercially I guess and sustain a healthier income/well-rounded life without so much hustle. Thinking on that.

25.Hey Tara,again! What is your favorite game to play or that you feel most comfortable playing? Thanks!

Like a shortform game? Hmm – I love musical & rap games, I do love a good Blind Line, I love 5 Things (CSz). Selfishly, I love Naive Replay – because it’s one of the only shortform games where it feels like you have noooo idea what’s going to happen.

26.did you watch the tv show Friday Night Lights?/ if not you need to watch it.

I have! I loved it. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

27.tips for becoming a better human?

What a sweet question, as though I have the answers. Man. I don’t know. Be kind. Just be kind. If you’re kind, you’re doing it right. Remain present. Play always. Don’t think that someone else’s success is your failure – it isn’t. Get away from negative energy or people – life is too short. Anyone that cares about anything less than what life is about – love and presence – is not someone you need to be concerned with. Get away from bullshit. Live well. Pet dogs and cats. I have faced a lot as a human being in real life and I think it has helped me become the person I am. I am truly thankful every time I perform with friends, and every time I just AM with friends, in general. Look around. We’re all gonna die. Who cares? It’s not fatalist, it’s true. Just be thankful. Live.

10pm! I’m out! Thank you for having me. It truly was an honor. <3