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Santa Barbara Improv is Dead, Long Live Santa Barbara Improv

Santa Barbara Improv is Dead, Long Live Santa Barbara Improv

Yeah, okay. The title is kind of click-bait-y. Nothing about the old Santa Barbara Improv has ended; we've just expanded. Now, instead of just me trying to keep things moving along, Amy, George, and I hope to expand what's available to improvisers in Santa Barbara, as well as increase the number of people involved with improv. That includes expanding the audiences for our shows as well as performers!

This is a very personal entry for me (Alan). George and Amy have no idea that I'm writing this. For a long time I've felt a bit stuck running Santa Barbara Improv. It's not my main profession, and so can't dedicate the amount of time it would take to add classes. And we've needed that option for so many folks who've grown beyond what's available from a weekly workshop with 20+ players. That means you've all had to travel to Ventura at least, and really LA. to get advanced training. And after that, there isn't a convenient place to keep practicing those long form, open form, sketch, and other skills you've learned.

Others have done long form or Harold classes in town and done them well, but it wasn't until Amy and George finished their first classes, and then came to me to consult about doing more, that I felt like there was the right combination of experience, interest, skill, and long term commitment that I really wanted to see before expanding. Once the topic was broached, it was obvious that we had complimentary ideas about what we could do in Santa Barbara, building on the foundation of the improvisers in town. The ideas just kept bubbling out. I wanted them to be Santa Barbara Improv.

This newly revamped website is one way of expressing those ideas and building the improv community in Santa Barbara. Social media is a great way to promote events and ideas, but a home like this is where we can store information for the long term. A place we can send people interested in improv, students who want more information about classes and theory, players who are looking for event info, and performers who want to announce their events.

As most sites, we are publishing before it is finished (it will never be finished.) We've discussed a lot of potential classes, and we want to encourage instructors who have their own ideas for classes. There are a variety of one time workshops we can provide. I want to expand the number of corporate events we do. There is a lot more information on the web we can bring out, through links and blog posts.

I don't see us as arbiters of improv in Santa Barbara, but facilitators. If you've got an idea for a show, we've got resources that can help. We'd like to encourage ongoing meet-ups, ensemble troupes, classes and shows of all types. We don't want to do everything, but make everything possible.

Santa Barbara isn't the same market size as LA, but I know we are not meeting the potential of the area. I regularly get new players who've never heard of the workshop, despite having been ongoing since 1989. And those who have known about us can see that there hasn't been much more available than a weekly workshop and monthly shows. That is now changing.

Okay, if you've read this far, thank you and good god, you are improv starved. Let us know what you'd like to see. Keep the dialog (or group-speak) going. Let's see what we can do.

Special Intro to Improv Workshop

Intro to Improv We have a special Into to Improv workshop coming up.

If you are new to improv, are curious about improv, or just want to try it out then this is a great option!

The particulars:

Date: Sunday April 30, 2017

Time: 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm

Location: Jefferson Hall, 1525 Santa Barbara Street (near Anapamu)

Price: $30

Ben Woolf

Ben Woolf

Ben Woolf died today from injuries he received when he was struck by a car three days ago. Ben was part of the workshop for many years, until he left to pursue an acting career in Hollywood. He was just starting to find success, having appeared for two years in the cast of the network television show American Horror Story. Online you'll find better descriptions of his career than I'd be able to write here.  Instead I want to take a moment to remember him during his time here at SBIW.

Ben started coming to the workshop sometime in 2005, and the earliest pictures I have posted in the blog show him working with the group in 2006. Ben was great fun, an enthusiastic improviser, and everyone liked working with him. I know I did.

Ben worked with us for many years, as a student in the workshop and as a performer in our shows. Even after he moved south to pursue an acting career, Ben would come by the workshop from time to time. We all had a great time when he did.

I've got far too many photos of Ben to post them all. I've just picked out a few from throughout the years. They aren't in any particular order or theme, just photos that I think captured Ben's whimsical humor, but also his range of performance.

I saved these last photos because they are from a workshop when Ben's father Nick also attended. It was great fun seeing the two of them perform together.

We'll miss you Ben. You touched me and everyone who knew you with your wit and charm. I'm glad you were able to reach as many people as you did with your success on screen, but you were taken way too early.

John Kinde, Humor Power, Improv and Comedy

There are few people I know who can authoritatively write about the difference between improv and comedy. John Kinde has just the right skill set, and a great article to prove it. John has an interesting background, and it includes teaching improv. Right now he's living in Las Vegas, but for several years he lived and taught in Santa Maria. One of his venues for learning was here at the Santa Barbara Improv Workshop. For several years he drove down every Wednesday night. He also put on amazing improv shows in Santa Maria and always invited the Santa Barbara players to participate. If you ever get the chance to take one of his workshops, I recommend it.

He's also a public speaker, gives workshops on using humor in public presentations, and writes the blog Humor Power where he shares his knowledge and experiences. I read his writings regularly. Today John posted an article discussing the differences between comedy and improv, and it's great read. I think he nailed the differences and also talked about what makes improv funny.


Read it now!


Improv Comedy, Truth, and Realism

Tragedy ComedyBen Whitehouse over at the Improvoker has written an interesting article about comedy in improv. He discusses the difference between going for a quick gag in a scene vs. building up a truthful scene that is funny in a complex, emotional way. The sort of difference you'd find between fast food and a complex, gourmet meal (my poor metaphor). The quote that most resonates for me comes from Anthony King, Upright Citizen Brigade's Creative Director in New York:

In my opinion, good improv should not be about winking to the audience or just focusing on laughs - not ever. However, it’s also not necessarily about being “real.” It’s about being “truthful.”

I find the distinction between real and truthful to be a helpful one. I try not to get hung up on whether the setting or the offer is "realistic", but instead I focus on my character's (or my own) emotional reaction to the setting or the offer. Given the situation (however bizarre), and my character (however extreme), how would I feel and then how do I react from those feelings.

And the audience's reaction isn't always the best measure of whether what we are doing is good improv. I don't necessarily mean to ignore the audience (although I've had instructors who were contemptuous of the audience), and I'm certainly susceptible to an audience's feedback (it's tough playing to a quiet audience), but I think the quote in the article from Del Close is a sobering truth:

Just because they’re laughing doesn’t mean we’re succeeding


Making a Sandwhich

Okay, this is a very silly entry about a personal bias in my own scene work. I found this blog posting which has pictures of some rather creative sandwiches. It doesn't take many workshops to learn of my tendency to start a scene by miming the making of a sandwich. From now on, I will have these pictures in mind during those opening offers.

Now I need to find a site on digging holes.


Rehosting the Blog

I have been slowly transitioning from Blogger hosting the Santa Barbara Improv blog to this WordPress blog which is directly hosted at the site. The techno-details are of interest to very few of you, but the important impact is that I plan on retiring the Blogger site and only updating this one. If you haven't already linked here, I'd like you to make the change soon. I'll be duplicating posts to both sites for awhile, but the quicker I can stop updating the old one, the better. I'm sorry if this causes anyone grief, but this new site gives me a lot more flexibility and will be better for everyone.

Back from Borneo

Hiya all - I'm back! Borneo was fabulous, very different than I expected, but easy, inexpensive, quite interesting, beautiful, and the food was fantastic. I was mainly in Malaysia and Brunei, and I can recommend it to just about anyone as a great vacation spot. I got back in time to sit in on Victoria's class last Wednesday (Novemeber 22). I think that was one of the best times I've had at an improv class in quite a while. I enjoy teaching, but I also enjoy just being a player - it gets my old rusty chops loosened up. Thanks to Victoria for filling in so beautifully! I've heard nothing but good things about every class she taught while I was away.

Starting this Wednesday, I'm back at the helm - hopefully with batteries recharged and a new focus on individualized feedback. More on that another time.

This coming Wednesday, November 29, we will be at the same address, but in Room C rather than in Jefferson Hall. I'll have signs up so it should be clear. It's only a one week substitution, we're back in Jefferson Hall the next week (December 6).

Victoria At The Helm

img_0111.jpgFor the next few weeks, Victoria will be teaching the workshop. I'm on vacation until Thanksgiving (I'll be traveling in Malaysia) and this coming Wednesday November 1 the class is canceled. But the following Wednesdays will see Victoria shaking things up. Also, while I'm gone, this blog won't be updated much (or at all). I'll be taking along an improv book or two so I may have something to blog about. Otherwise, watch for a flood of posts just after Thanksgiving.


We are canceling the class for Wednesday, November 1, 2006. The entire facility is being used for a rummage sale and they don't have an alternate space available. I wasn't able to find us another location (within budget and time constraints), so we'll cancel for this week. Sorry about any inconvenience.

Computer Problems

Last Tuesday morning (3:00 am), we had a very weird power surge at my home which blew out all of our computers. Although I was able to get access to the internet, the photos I had for a couple of blog posts were stuck on those systems. Just a couple of hours ago, we finally got my computer back up and operating. So I apologize for being out of touch, and I'll try and catch up by posting a few entries with photos.

The Right Way To Do A Scene

A couple of weeks ago, Bill Arnett at iO Chicago wrote up another interesting post, this time about "the right way to do a scene". His point: there really isn't a right way to do a scene. There are plenty of things you can do wrong, but there isn't some absolute best way for a scene to go. The process of building the scene is more important than the specific rules. And that process includes supporting the connections your fellow players make, no matter how wrong you may think they are.

Experiences Finding a Game in a Scene

I want to direct you to series of posts by Ben Whitehouse in his blog Improvoker (which is a great name). He's going through a UCB (Upright Citizen Brigade) class in New York: Improv 201. At this point, there are only two entries, but the class is focusing on long form work and "finding the game". His first entry was from the 4th class in the session when he had an interesting insight into the concept of "finding" the game. Rather than it meaning he had to search out a game from the scene - artificially building a game from elements in the scene - he realized that it also meant discovering a game by chance or happenstance.

Along with that realization he thought about the concept of finding "a" game rather than "the" game. This seemed to eliminate some resistance he was having to these "cerebral" concepts in long form work. His post is well written and insightful.

His second entry focused on the second beat of a Harold scene. This second beat is the second round of scenes that follow the first set of establishing scenes. It should carry forward the games found in the the first beat, not necessarily the plots. He gives a good example of this and the post is worth a read for some more insights he has into the Harold long form.

Just Say It!

Once again, Bill Arnett at iO Chicago wrote up a great post about scene work. This time he discusses the problem with being coy about an object or situation in a scene. We've all seen the problem where some object in a scene is described in indirect terms: how amazing or disturbing it is, how desirable it is, or how important it is. But, defining it is put off to somehow "build tension". Instead of building the relationship between the characters, we spend time focusing on some thing in the scene. When we find out the big "IT", can it possibly pay off on all the build up? Just say what it is and get on with the scene. As always, Bill says it to much better effect. Check it out.

Santa Barbara Improv Website Status

The Santa Barbara Improv website is back up and running. We are now officially hosted at, so be sure that your links are addressed correctly. I still have the members.cox site, but it should be directing you to the new home page. Just a quick note to warn folks that I'm going to be making more changes to the website over the next week or two. Some exciting things will be happening around the Santa Barbara Improv scene and I'm trying to get some infrastructure in place to support it all. This improv blog should be accessible with the latest announcements and updates, so keep checking back!

Website Problem

If you are having problems getting to our front webpage (, I am working on correcting that. For now, this blog is hosted at another location, so it shouldn't suffer while the main page is being corrected. Sorry about the inconvenience!

The Harold, diagramed

Dyna Moe at Nobody's Sweetheart is putting together an Improv Infographic that explains a Harold. Roughly in the form of a flow chart, all the phases (beats) are illustrated along with an indication of the flow, timing, and points of focus. It's a pretty fun graphic although she hasn't finished it, yet. It's possible that she'll do other graphics on the elements of a scene. If she decides to make these into posters, I'm buying some!

Humor under the Nazis

This post doesn't directly address improv performance, improv in Santa Barbara, nor improv techniques. This is more along the lines of my post on Soviet Era humor. I see these as examples of how humor is a common component of the human condition, no matter how horrific or oppressed that condition may be. This post will discuss humor under the Nazis, and if this sounds like too uncomfortable a topic, I understand and would recommend you exit this post now. A new book is being published in Germany that looks at humor under the Nazis. The book is in German, but there is an English review at the Speigel website.The title translates as Heil Hitler, The Pig is Dead. The Speigel review quotes a lot of jokes:

Hitler visits a lunatic asylum. The patients give the Hitler salute. As he passes down the line he comes across a man who isn't saluting. "Why aren't you saluting like the others?" Hitler barks. "Mein F�hrer, I'm the nurse," comes the answer. "I'm not crazy!"

The book reports that this joke was told openly in the early years of the Third Reich. As with the Soviet era humor, the images are very dark, and in some cases a joke could lead to a death sentence:

Hitler and G�ring are standing on top of Berlin's radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to cheer up the people of Berlin. "Why don't you just jump?" suggests G�ring.

The German worker telling this joke was convicted of undermining the war effort and executed in the final years of the Third Reich.

The article gives examples of how jokes changed over the war years, and even discusses the gallows humor of the Jews. Jokes provided a pressure release, and from the safety of our current perspective, they give an insight into the common concerns, frustrations, and fear of the general population. This one was told as the allies were closing in, and the bombing was wiping out German cities:

"What will you do after the war?" "I'll finally go on a holiday and will take a trip round Greater Germany!" "And what will you do in the afternoon?"

Personally, I find it hard to read some of the jokes, even though I generally find this type humor interesting and powerful. The pain behind each situation is really close to the surface and is hard for me to keep distant. And, I've only read the few jokes that were translated for the review. But, I think there is a lot to learn from this book, and when it is translated to English, I'll read it.

Back in Control

David Razowky has a great little article discussing what to do when a scene has spun out of control. To summarize:

  • Make sure each line of dialog starts with "You ...", keeping the focus on each other
  • Be honest when confused or lost
  • Tell your partner how you feel about them
  • Slow the scene down - allow silences and work the environment
  • Don't let anything get by you - react to everything

I like every one of his suggestions, and they should be part of any good scene right from the start.

Improv Jam

Improv JamOkay, generally I focus on Improv as performance, typically comedy improv. However, this just caught my fancy, and I felt like it needed to be shared. It involves an additional (or more correctly, an occasional) pastime of mine.

The public announcement is so well written, I'm going to be lifting direct quotes from the webpage:

The Fallen Fruit collective will conduct a Public Jam, in which they collaborate with the citizens of Los Angeles in a communal jam-making session...

The kinds of jam we make will improvise on the fruit that people provide...

This will be happening in LA on Sunday, August 20.