Sit down or Stand up- Sylvan Stand Up Open Mic

Sylvan Improv is a large improv force to be reckoned with in the SF improv scene. Sylvan Productions produces shows of all types, improv, standup, even making sketch comedy videos and other various projects  Every Wednesday night they host a stand up open mic at the Dirty Trix Saloon in the Richmond district of SF at 9 p.m.  Stand up comedians from all over the area flock to this open mic and it bolsters a great amount of camaraderie within the comedy community. Andrew Moore does a majority of the hosting alongside Luke lockfeld and Andrew Holmgren.  This is a sights and sounds video of one of those open mics to show small pieces of what goes on in the world of stand up.

The open mic is free and goes into the early hours of the next day, leaving alot of tired comedians the following thursday.

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Improv Nation a Brand New Sensation

Well let me honest, maybe not completely a brand new sensation, but in proportion to the history of improv, the group Improv Nation is comparatively a baby among giants.

When I first came to San Francisco State two years ago I hadn’t done much improv in my life. As far as experience I had only dabbled slightly within some high school drama classes and started a quickly unsuccessful lunchtime group that sort of was into Improv.

I’ve done theater for a long time, probably ever since I was a little kid (In fact I think my first ever dramatic work was when I was merely a baby playing baby Squanto… I had no lines.) I did drama through middle school and then all the way through high school, doing every play that Monterey High had to offer me.

But when I came to SF State I knew that I was going to have a hard time doing theater, at least as I knew it, because of the extended amounts of time I would spend on journalism.

Luckily one day in my first week of college, as I was walking into a Malcolm X Plaza crowded with groups like the Young Democrats and PEACH when I saw a short man in a Captain America costume yelling at the crowd about something.

Being the curious fellow that I am and a person with a penchant for the dramatic, I made my way to the table and found out that they represented “Improv Nation.”

That was the start of a beautiful friendship. I will get more into Improv Nation, my experiences, and other goodies in future posts, but I want to introduce you all to the club that changed my life and idea of drama.

Travis Northup, past ASI representative and SF State student, started Improv Nation three years ago when he was a freshman. He found out there was no improv club on campus and so he took it upon himself to get with LEAD and founded what is known today as Improv Nation.

The club has grown in size tremendously, now sporting almost 100 regular members who meet every Monday night from 6-9 in the Humanities building (feel free to contact me or any member of Improv Nation for room number.)  Improv Nation has it’s own format of competitive short form improv and hosts 8 shows a year which are 2$.

Improv Nation also has a veteran team of improvisers who have been in the club for at least a year, been in a show, and have been approved by the present veteran team before them. The vet team does an extra show after every short form show from 8-10, in which they do more complicated and advanced forms of improv like long form (improv that does longer scenes, sometimes more than an hour.)

Anyone can join Improv Nation and be involved; nobody is rejected because of his or her skill level or attendance. Everyone’s involvement is up to his or her own will (although you’re more likely to get in a show eventually if you attend practices.)

Most everyone knows of Improv Nation on campus, although probably as ‘those strange kids that dress in costumes and bother me while I’m in the quad.’ Improv Nation is one of the most fun clubs available on the SF State campus. Are there any other clubs that will freeze in place or dance in the rain for the amusement of students?

SF State Journalism has had its taste of Improv Nation, doing a story on it almost every semester, because the things it does are so outrageous.  Improv Nation does really big events on campus such as an annual zombie apocalypse, along with a 24-hour improv marathon, the first 24-hour event on campus, which will be repeated later this semester.

It’s not for everyone, and that’s the truth. Some people don’t have fun being silly and putting themselves out there, but there is definitely success stories of the club. I’ve met some of my best friends through my involvement with Improv Nation and there’s something to be said about letting go of your inhibitions and being a little wacky.

Dan Mack: Teacher, Improviser, Awesome.

I recently did an interview with Dan Mack, an improviser i’ve worked with before. He is a man dedicated to growing the improv scene in San Francisco.  Dan has done improv for quite a while himself but he said that he wants others to be able to have the same experiences no matter their level of skill. Every Tuesday at 5 p.m. Dan Mack teaches an open improv class which is drop-in and not all that expensive.

Most improv classes in the city cost hundreds of dollars and have an air of a ‘we’re better than you’ mentality that i was pretty sure people outgrew in middle school.  Dan teaches people of all ages, skill levels, and personalities, he never knows who is going to be the one to pass through the door of the Dark Room Theater in the mission between 18th and 19th.  What he teaches changes from week to week. One day he’ll be doing three person scenes and the next week he’ll be having a brainstorming session on 100 ways to use a lawnmower (Salsa maker, ineffective kite, hair trimmer…….etc.)

Dan does this class in conjunction with the Sylvan Productions company (no don’t get confused, it’s not the Sylvan Learning Center but something completely different altogether. Although, if the Sylvan Learning Center started to do improv classes i think they would be way cooler right? Sylvan is a company that is focused on providing San Francisco with comedy shows, no matter what form they come in.  Every Tuesday Sylvan does an open improv open mic which allows any drop-in to do improv, providing an opportunity for anyone from the experienced and confident, to the first time improviser.

And here’s that audio interview. Get some popcorn and enjoy.

Goodbye world! Hello Improv!

Welcome one and all to my blog of sorts.  This is a blog about improv, but not purely improv comedy. My name is Spencer DeVine, I’m 22 years old and I was raised in the Monterey Bay of California in a city called Seaside. It may be just that I wasn’t looking hard enough but the area never really fulfilled my needs as far as outlets for comedy. Sure there is the occasional open mic that stand up comedians can attend but it’s hardly the comedy capital of the world. But even more so, finding an outlet for improv is especially tough.  I did a little bit of improv when I was in high school, even started an improv club during lunch time but that fell through because there wasn’t enough dedication or interest.

When I came to San Francisco there was a whole brand new world of entertainment that Monterey and Seaside never had. In San Francisco there is an open mic for every night of the week and really no matter what you’re interested in there’s something for you. So I of course wouldn’t be surprised when Improv found me.  I’d acted for a long time but my experience in improv was relatively little as I had never had the place to do it or group to do it with.  But then I joined Improv Nation, SF State’s Improv team and most enthusiastic group on campus (yes even more so than the Gator cheer team, sorry guys).  There I got a big dose of improv and I’ve stuck with both Improv Nation and improv acting ever since. I found a group in the city called Sylvan Productions that used to run a free open-improv workshop out of their backyard but now they have a venue in the mission at the Darkroom Theatre.  One of the only free improv open mics I’ve found in the city that allows everyone and anyone to learn and do improv for free.

But some people get a misconception that Improv has to be funny, or even be acting, and this is not true.  The way I look at improv is that it is the ability to think on the spot and come up with alternative solutions, and that is something useful both on the stage but also in life.  Have you ever needed to impress someone but you didn’t know what to say to them? Had to come up with at topic for an essay you just couldn’t comprehend? Had to come up with a damn good excuse why you don’t have your homework? Improv can help all this.

Improv as this kind of tool is pretty underrepresented as far as other blogs out there go. Improv everywhere is a really cool group all over the United States and even internationally that does funny improvisational public demonstrations, but as a website and blog they are mainly about covering their own events, because as far as their structure goes their isn’t much to teach. I think though that any tips and teaching before participating with a group like that would just make the experience even more fun, let’s be honest as much as doing untrained improv is, the better you get the more fun it will be.

One of the closest blogs I could find to what I want this blog to portray was a blog talking about teaching improv to children titled Improv Education. In this blog the author really tries to get across what the essence of improv is: what are the lessons inherent in improv that can translate beyond. She enforces with kids that some of the lessons like always listen, make each other look good, and that failing is ok as long as you can recover from it and adapt.

There are blogs that do talk about the specifics of improv. This article is talking about the rule of three that is often used in stand up comedy routines and sometimes in improv comedy. It says that when things are done three times each time they get funnier, but this article states that rather than focusing on jokes one should pay attention to the scene. This is true in improv and is a helpful hint but it doesn’t bridge the gap and go beyond the stage, as it is purely talking about on-stage mechanics. The rule of threes is not only present in comedy but also is an effective social tool and helpful in activities like social occasions and speech writing. There are not a lot of consistent blogs that look at improv as both a stage tool and a life tool.

One article I found recently that really speaks to this translation was an article about 25 rules that will make anyone better in business. This is pretty spot on as far as what I want to communicate. Not only is improv good for scene-work and acting, but also even the stuffiest businessman has something to learn from being creative and thinking outside of the box. Learning more about how you work in a creative environment can help almost anyone.

But if you’re not interested in using improv in real life, it’s still there to be what it is in its purest: a comedic tool.  Frankly said, improv is fun. That’s really what it comes down to in the end. I do improv because it’s fun, not because I want to be some big successful businessman, but I’d be lying if I said that improv didn’t prepare me for really crucial aspects in business as well as my social life.

Come in for the fun, come in to learn, come in and eat all of my pop tarts (although I’ll be forced to kick you in the butt). Make yourself at home, I have.

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