WBEZ | improvisation http://www.wbez.org/tags/improvisation Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Improvising to improve business http://www.wbez.org/news/improvising-improve-business-108914 <p><p>Back in the summer, librarians from all over the country flew into town for the American Library Association&rsquo;s annual conference. On a Friday morning a few dozen of them gathered in Second City&rsquo;s main theater. A big space was cleared in front of the stage.&nbsp;</p><p>Workshop leader Andy Eninger told the group what to expect.</p><p>&ldquo;So, today, is going to be very interactive,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a little like learning to swim, this improvisation.&nbsp; You can analyze it, you can talk about it, but its only when you jump in the water that you realize how it&rsquo;ll work.&nbsp; So we&rsquo;re going to throw you in the proverbial water.&rdquo;</p><p>Before tossing them in, Eninger reassures them with a fable about himself. Once upon a time, in the 1990s, he was a guy with an office job. &ldquo;I worked at an advertising agency&mdash;not as a creative person but as a database administrator&mdash;and was sneaking off at night to take improv classes.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p><p>And the classes, he says, transformed him. &ldquo;The more I studied improv here at Second City the better I got at my job by day, and began to manage people&mdash; not just some servers and machines&mdash; and started to do more and more creative work.&rdquo;</p><p>Eventually, he quit to do improv full time, &ldquo;and have not looked back since,&rdquo; he tells them. &ldquo;Well, maybe a couple of times, for the health insurance.&nbsp; But other than that&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Andy%20Eninger%20workshop%201.png" style="height: 216px; width: 350px; float: left;" title="Andy Eninger leads a training for Second City Communications. Participants learn how to use the principles of improvisation — including risk-taking — to be more effective in their work. (Courtesy Andy Eninger)" />Like anybody spinning a fable, Eninger is leaving out some important stuff. Actually, there were some lean times in there. Leaner than lean. When he left his office job in May, 2000, he stepped off a cliff and fell pretty hard.</p><p>He and a friend rented an office and hung out a shingle as improvisers for hire&mdash; doing custom shows and running trainings like the one he&rsquo;s doing today, but entirely on their own.</p><p>&ldquo;We had a few gigs on the line, so we had a few gigs coming up,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;But there was this crushing reality that there was no real income. We didn&rsquo;t know where it was going to come from.&rdquo;</p><p>It got worse. Just as their enterprise was starting to pick up steam, 9/11 happened. An agency representing their company on the college circuit scammed them for thousands of dollars. He had three years of negative income, and racked up credit-card debt that took ten years to pay off.</p><p>&ldquo;We had a lot of pitfalls,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Things that, if I had known those things were coming up, I never would have taken that risk.&rdquo;</p><p>And yet: Today, he calls those pitfalls an investment. And risk-taking is a big part of what Andy is here to teach the librarians in the Friday improv workshop.</p><p>Any performance&mdash; especially improvising&mdash; is inherently full of risk: The risk that you&rsquo;ll fall on your face, look like a jerk.&nbsp;<br /><br />In everyday life and in business, we confront the same risk every time we raise our hand in a meeting, propose a new project, or initiate a new business deal.</p><p>Improv training focuses on getting people into the habit of taking those kinds of risks.</p><p>When he first started learning to improvise, it was a lesson Andy Eninger needed to learn as much as anyone.</p><p>&ldquo;I mean, I&rsquo;m the person who, in fifth grade, went to the bathroom in my pants because I was scared to ask to go in from recess to go to the bathroom,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;I still have that operating, any time I have to raise my hand or speak out of turn. And improv is the thing that makes it possible.&rdquo;</p><p>What he learned from improv, he says, was &ldquo;to risk in the moment&mdash;to say the first thing that comes to mind. Because I was doing it in class, every night and all the time, I couldn&rsquo;t not-do it in my job.&rdquo;</p><p>And so, he became a much more valuable worker in that day job.</p><p>&ldquo;I always would see opportunities, or see systems that were not working,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Like, &lsquo;Oh, you&rsquo;re dealing with this ridiculous spreadsheet. It gave me the confidence to speak up and say, if you allow me to work on this, then I know I can make it better.&rdquo;</p><p>So, he did, and he got noticed. He got promoted. He survived layoffs. He even started to do some creative work.</p><p>&ldquo;But there was a moment when I thought, if I don&rsquo;t disrupt it now, I can see my life laid out in front of me,&rdquo; he says.</p><p>So he saved up some money, and took a bigger risk. He left that cushy day job. And we&rsquo;ve already heard about how tough that was at first.</p><p>But over time things turned around, thanks to Second City. Andy started doing corporate training workshops, got some gigs as a performer, and eventually became head of the writing program at Second City&rsquo;s Training Center. By 2008, he says his take-home pay finally matched the paycheck from his old corporate job. It felt pretty good.</p><p>Andy still makes time for the corporate workshops, which are a big moneymaker for Second City. They charge thousands of dollars per session, to clients including Pepsi, General Electric, and hundreds of others like the American Library Association.</p><p>So, how does it work?</p><p>WIth the librarians, Andy gets everyone into a big circle, and asks a volunteer, Mike, to come to the center. Then he has him strike a pose. It can be anything.</p><p>Mike makes a silly face and holds his arms up.</p><p>&ldquo;Perfect, now hold that for a moment,&rdquo; Andy tells Mike.</p><p>&ldquo;Now, this&rdquo;&mdash;Mike&mdash;&rdquo;is the first half of a statue,&rdquo; Andy tells the group. &ldquo;Somebody come out and show us the second half by adding another pose.&rdquo;</p><p>Someone does. &ldquo;Mike you can say thank you,&rdquo; Andy says. &ldquo;Your job is done, good work.&rdquo;</p><p>Now it&rsquo;s time for another volunteer. And another. The poses are goofy, random, and gone in an instant.<br /><br />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s perpetual motion,&rdquo; Andy tells them. &ldquo;Someone is always coming out to join.&rdquo;</p><p>Volunteers keep coming up, one after another, and Andy eggs them on.&nbsp; &ldquo;If you haven&rsquo;t been out, just urge yourself to go out, trust that gut instinct,&rdquo; he says.<br /><br />When it&rsquo;s done, Andy asks a question: &ldquo;If you did not go out, why did you hesitate to go out?&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t know what pose to do,&rdquo; a librarian answers.</p><p>&ldquo;Right,&rdquo; says Andy. &ldquo;Because how many poses would be wrong in this game?&rdquo;</p><p>The room fills with laughter&mdash;recognition and release.</p><p>&ldquo;Yeah,&rdquo; Andy says, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s a game in which really anything will be right.&rdquo;</p><p>Andy builds on the moment.&nbsp; He asks the group, &ldquo;What does that person in the center want?&rdquo;</p><p>Immediately the answer comes: To get out of there.</p><p>&ldquo;Yes, to get out of there!&rdquo; Andy says, channeling the player: &ldquo;&lsquo;OOOH. come in and save me!&rsquo;&nbsp; And we&rsquo;re all there thinking, &lsquo;Someone should go and help them out.&nbsp; Not us, but someone should go out there.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Andy tells the group that the impulse to help others is one of the things that lets improvisors take risk after risk.</p><p>&ldquo;We find out that that bravery comes not from any brilliance on our part,&rdquo; he says, &ldquo;but from: &lsquo;I need to get my idea out there to support that other person.&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>After the workshop, library administrator Sarah Dallas reflects.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m kind of a shy person, and this was a real challenge for me to do something like this and I knew I had to be more out there,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;And I was kind of going through this and getting through&hellip;&rdquo;</p><p>And then came the final exercise: Working in a small group the librarians created a whole scene&mdash; a fake ad for a fake product&mdash; out of nothing and performed it for the group.</p><p>&ldquo;When we got the final assignment, to perform in front of everybody, I just wanted the floor to open up and let me drop down,&rdquo; she says. &ldquo;But it didn&rsquo;t. And with the support of the group, I survived, and for me that&rsquo;s a victory.&rdquo;</p><p>She says she&rsquo;ll remember these moments when she&rsquo;s running meetings back home at her job..</p><p>Responses like these are exactly what Andy Eninger hopes for.</p><p>&ldquo;We don&rsquo;t make them pretend to be improv performers,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;For us, it&rsquo;s all about what they&rsquo;re doing&nbsp; It&rsquo;s all about what their challenges are. We want them to have the joy that improv is for us, but we want them to be able to take it away, so they can use it that next Monday.&rdquo;</p><p>That is, he wants to give them just enough risk to help them re-think their routine.</p><p><em>Dan Weissmann is a reporter for <a href="http://www.marketplace.org/">Marketplace</a>. &nbsp;Follow him <a href="https://twitter.com/danweissmann">@danweissmann</a>.</em></p><p><em>&ldquo;At What Cost?&rdquo; is made possible in part by the John A. Wing Society, an initiative of the Illinois Humanities Council to improve dialogue about business and the common good.</em></p></p> Mon, 14 Oct 2013 10:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/improvising-improve-business-108914 On the spot: musical improvisation http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-10/spot-musical-improvisation-102875 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/705220674_191e055d5c_z.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px; " title="Brian Eno in 2007. (Flickr/Scott Beale of Laughing Squid)" /></div><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="http://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F62199737&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=true&amp;color=ffe12b" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><strong>Tony Sarabia:</strong></p><p>Jam Band, Zappa, Taqsim, and Bach and of course jazz; these are all part of the extended musical family of improvisation.</p><p>You may lean toward the Grateful Dead and extended solos by John Coltrane for your improv pleasure. Or maybe you&rsquo;re an aficionado of Chicago&rsquo;s rich new music scene which includes members of the band <strong>KLANG</strong>.</p><p>The quartet, led by Oak Park clarinetist, James Falzone is on <em>Morning Shift</em> Thursday to give us their take on improvised music.</p><p>In the beginning there was improvisation. By the Medieval Period, singers were being taught how to improvise a counterpoint to a fixed melody. Jump ahead more than a few hundred years and you have scat singing. When a jazz fan thinks of improvisation, they may look back into the music&rsquo;s history for stories of the &quot;cutting contests&quot;; late night jams sessions between friendly rivals. Well, consider this; those improvisation cutting contests were also taking place back in the 18<sup>th</sup> century between Mozart Muzio Clementi.&nbsp;</p><p>Composers such as Mozart, Bach and Chopin were skilled in musical extemporization. And in the Middle East, making it up as you go along is still a big part of the repertoire; the taqsim and maqam are improvisatory techniques integral to music from North Africa to the Levant.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s an interesting aspect of musical improvisation: it&rsquo;s a skill that not every musician masters. Many musicians have never delved into the spur of the moment type of performing while others have spent their entire careers doing nothing but improvising. &nbsp;Improvisation seems to less about technique than feeling and communication with your fellow musicians. It certainly can be like balancing on the high wire.</p><p>KLANG will be providing most of the music this week along with a few picks from Richard Steele featuring improvisation in jazz. My one pick is from a series of improvisations on video from avant rock master <strong>Brian Eno</strong>. These brief forays into improvisation (each &quot;movement&quot; averages about five minutes) were recorded as a promotion of sorts for his 2010 album <em>Small Craft on a Milk Sea</em>.</p><p>Here, Eno&rsquo;s third movement called <strong>&quot;Written, Forgotten Remembered,&quot;</strong> recalls his work with David Bowie on the latter&rsquo;s album <em>Low</em>.</p><p style="text-align: center; "><iframe frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://rd.io/i/QX9-5DNLYwU" width="500"></iframe></p><p><strong>Richard Steele:</strong></p><p><strong>Lee Konitz</strong> is a native Chicagoan with a long career, which often placed him in settings with other musicians who thought &ldquo;outside of the box.&rdquo; This 84-year-old alto sax player joined Miles Davis in the legendary <em>Birth of the Cool</em> recording. He was also in the Stan Kenton band for a year. But the person who &nbsp;influenced him most was another Chicagoan, his major mentor, <strong>Lennie Tristano</strong>, whose musical ideas about improvisation were unlike anyone else on the scene at the time. This song, called <strong>&ldquo;Fishin&rsquo; Around,&rdquo;</strong> is representative of those concepts and has a title suited to the musical approach. It&rsquo;s Konitz on alto sax, Lennie Tristano on piano and Wayne Marsh on tenor sax. &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/2668663586_919b0f94b2_z.jpg" style="float: left; height: 267px; width: 400px; " title="Bobby McFerrin performing. (Flickr/Erinc Salor)" /><strong>Bobby McFerrin</strong> has often been called a vocal virtuoso. His mother and father were both classical singers. He left his home base in New York City to study music at several colleges in Northern California. After moving to San Francisco in the late &lsquo;70s, he met Bill Cosby, who was responsible for getting him on the bill for the 1980 Playboy Jazz Festival. McFerrin later did the theme song for one of TV&rsquo;s biggest hits, <em>The Cosby Show</em>. He also had a huge commercial hit called &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t Worry, Be Happy.&rdquo; While all of that was happening, McFerrin continued to develop a unique music style, using his voice and body to simulate a number of instruments. His improvisations are unlike any other vocal technique, and you can hear that on this old standard,<strong> &ldquo;I Hear Music.&rdquo;</strong>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Vijay Ayer</strong>&rsquo;s South Indian immigrant parents exposed him to a wide variety of Indian classical, religious and popular music. Primarily a self-trained pianist, he began to show an interest in jazz while in high school. In the late &lsquo;90s, he became aware of the Asian Improv movement of socially conscious artists who melded their cultural musical roots with the language of jazz. During this period, Ayer was greatly influenced by former Chicagoan and alto sax phenom, Steve Coleman. Ayer learned a lot about improvisation through his association with Coleman. Listen to Ayer talk about how his trio approaches the creation of the music &hellip; as he leads off a version of <strong>&ldquo;The Star of a Story.&rdquo;</strong></p></p> Wed, 03 Oct 2012 14:58:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-10/spot-musical-improvisation-102875 Improv pioneer Josephine Forsberg dies at 90 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-05/improv-pioneer-josephine-forsberg-dead-90-92827 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-05/Second City Student Show_Flickr_Elizabeth McQuern.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Very few of the men and women are left now who, sixty years ago, began to create in Chicago the modern techniques of improvisational theater. With the death Monday of Josephine "Jo" Raciti Forsberg, 90, the ranks of the surviving founders have grown even smaller.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-05/Second City Student Show_Flickr_Elizabeth McQuern.jpg" style="width: 400px; height: 300px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Forsberg helped develop the modern techniques of improve theater, like those used by these Second City students in a 2008 performance. (Flickr/Elizabeth McQuern)">The creation of concepts and rules for improvisational comedy, acting and performance--each somewhat distinct from the other--didn't happen all at once. There was no improv big bang, but a series of events, theater troupes, experiments, workshops, cabarets and schools which sometimes flowed out of each other and sometimes not. Jo Forsberg was up to her neck in as many of them as anyone else, from The Second City co-founders Howard Alk (deceased), Paul Sills (deceased) and Bernard Sahlins (happily still among the living and still engaged in making theater), to Mike Nichols and Elaine May and Shelly Berman, to Del Close and David Shepherd and Sheldon Patinkin (also, happily, still fully engaged in Chicago theater).</p><p>Although I hadn't seen Jo Forsberg in many years, I remember her vividly and her gifted children, too, Linnea and Eric, who were major forces in the early Off-Loop Theater scene of the 1970's. Now with independent careers of their own in teaching (Linnea) and film (Eric), they were with her when she died Monday at Illinois Masonic Medical Center.</p><p>I'm grateful to theater critic and Columbia College teacher Albert Williams for reminding me of the details of her long career.</p><p>Jo was a member in the 1950's of the pioneering Playwrights Theatre Club, forerunner of the Second City improv theatre, and she was an early member of Second City itself where she assisted Viola Spolin, whose pioneering work in theater games was--and is--the foundation of all contemporary improv work. Spolin, mother of Paul Sills, eventually left Chicago for the West Coast, with Forsberg taking over Spolin's Chicago workshops. Forsberg also produced and directed the long-running Children's Theatre at the Second City from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s, continuing to teach at Second City and later at the Players Workshop, forerunner of the Second City Training Center. Among Jo's thousands of students over the years, according to Williams' account, were George Wendt, Shelley Long, Harold Ramis, Bonnie Hunt, Robert Townsend and Bill Murray. Forsberg also was the aunt of the late Martin de Maat, who served for many years as artistic director of the Second City Training Center.</p><p>Linking the generation of the founders to those who followed, Forsberg invited Compass Players co-founder David Shepherd back to Chicago in the early 1980s and teamed him up with her student, improv producer Charna Halpern, paving the way for ImprovOlympic (today known as iO Chicago) which Halpern created with great improv guru and theorist Del Close. Also in the 1980s and '90s, she owned and operated an off-Loop venue, the Theatre Shoppe on Lincoln Avenue, which produced dozens of plays and nurtured the careers of many actors, including Steve Carell and Tim Kazurinsky.</p><p>We tend to think of improvisational theater as being comedic and satiric, in the mold of The Second City or The Committee (San Francisco) or the Upright Citizens Brigade (New York, but it started here). However, the greatest improv teachers and directors, and Jo Forsberg was among them, understand that improvisation is a key to the imagination which may be applied by any actor to any given role or situation. Once dismissed as having little value, improvisation now is part of the core curriculum of any comprehensive course of acting or directing studies. Master teacher Jo Forsberg is among those who should be thanked and remembered.</p></p> Wed, 05 Oct 2011 11:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-05/improv-pioneer-josephine-forsberg-dead-90-92827