Evan J Palmer's Blog

A blog about learning (code, improv, film and, anything else).

Month: October, 2013

Improv Etiquette

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When my friends and I practice our improv techniques out of class, and away from the stage, it can be great fun. It can also put you in a weird vibe because people act differently when there’s less pressure. I guess because it’s a more relaxed environment.

Here are a couple of observations that I think will help keep everyone on track when there are no teachers or directors keeping everything rolling along.

1) If you’re in the audience, pay attention
It’s respectful to watch the people on the ‘stage’ even if there’s no physical stage there. If you’re chatting or not looking at them, it can be distracting for them and throw them off. Also, if you pay attention you can give useful notes at the end.

2) No joking from the audience
DId someone miss an hilarious pun? Feel the need to bust a joke real loud to get a laugh? Please don’t. Like in (1) it might throw the players off and doesn’t acheive much.

3) Don’t laugh at people’s mistakes
If someone missed an offer, or just walked through a mimed table and didn’t realise. Please let it slide. Depending on who you practice with, they might like a note on it after the scene, but try to hold it until then.

4) Don’t break character
I find that when I’m practicing with friends, I tend to break character pretty easily. I laugh, or just speak to another player about what my intent is. That’s not so good. Even though the audience are your friends, if you’re going to practice, you should try your best.

5) No blaming
In a more relaxed environment it’s easy to blame someone out loud – in oppose to your inside thoughts. By that I mean, during or after the scene, saying something like “how did you miss my offer?” or “you didn’t stick to your character”. I’m a massive fan of giving your peers notes, but they should be constructive and blame free.

Probably try not to blame people with your inside thoughts either – I think that’s how you get brain blisters.

6) No excuses
Before or after a scene, it’s easy to say “oh, I can’t do this” or “I’m really bad at physical stuff”, or “I can’t mime” or, “that sucked because I’m tired” etc etc. I don’t think that’s a worthwhile thing to do/say because you’re either setting yourself up for a failure, or distracting people from your actual performance. Basically it’s unconstructive, and lowers the bar. We should keep the bar high and always try our best.

Often I watch scenes that people think are rubbish, and make excuses about, and it kinda taints an otherwise cool scene.

Actually, I think a lot of those points are worth considering in real life context too.

I hope this post doesn’t read as too negative. I think they are points worth considering to keep an excellent practice session excellent.

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Book Review: Pragmatic Thinking and Learning

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I was looking to learn more about Agile practices and asked around to a few of my friends. One guy recommended Pragmatic Thinking and Learning by Andy Hunt.

http://pragprog.com/book/ahptl/pragmatic-thinking-and-learning

Funnily enough, I wouldn’t call this a book on Agile per se. It’s more like a discussion on some excellent ways of finding problems with your learning or productivity with the goal of being aware of them and correcting them.

Now, this is something that I’ve been looking for for a long time and was extremely happy to find it. I couldn’t recommend this book more highly – it’s full of excellent tips to make your brain work better and faster.

For me it also highlighted the importance of some things I am already doing (eg. blogging) and helped me solidify some ideas I’ve already had around situations in the workplace/learning – for example, defining skill stages of novices, advanced beginner, competent, ┬áproficient and experts, and the role and importance of each in the work place.

Don’t do it…

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An awesome improv tip that was brought to my attention yesterday:

If someone tell you not to do something in a scene – fucking do it!

Telling someone not to do something is generally an blatant offer.

Some examples for you:

“Don’t talk to me like that.”

“Don’t break that vase.”

“Don’t touch me”

Etc. etc.

Just do what you know

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The hardest thing about improv is getting to the point of realising how easy it is. -Jon B

We had an excellent Improv jam at the Lybrary last night. It was run by Jon, and he taught us two pretty cool techniques.

1) Start a scene off with an opposite view of an opinion that you already have
This is really just a way to start a scene. My friend who is a vegetarian, and not even remotely into any sport, started off talking about how much he likes meat and football. It was good. They were double hander scenes, and the other player either complimented the player or tried to convince him the opposite is true.

2) When stuck in a scene just look at the other person, and describe what they’re doing – or how they’re feeling/acting.
I really like this. Jon said at the beginning of the class that the hardest thing about improv is getting to the point of realising how easy it is. Over the lesson he kind of proved his point by showing us a game/technique in which both players are only allowed to speak in a certain way – you can only describe (endow) the other player, or repeat what they said. It’s great and Jon guarantees it’ll get you out of every situation. Guarantees. yup.

Here’s a long winded example:

The first player, I’ll call her Leah, will look at the second player, John, and say something about him. What ever – anything. Literally anything they see. So Leah might say something like:

“You’re wearing a blue shirt”

or

“You look nervous”

or

“You look angry”

As long as it starts with the word “you”.

Next the second person in the scene, John, will then reply with the same thing as what Leah said, but about himself, so John will reply:

“I’m wearing a blue shirt”
“I am nervous”
“I am angry”

Note, John changed the “You” to an “I” and dropped the “look” (you’d also from words like “seem” and “feel”).

The two just repeat the opening like over and over again using different inflections to convey emotion and tell some kind of story. ┬áLeah keeps saying “You are nervous” and John keeps saying “I am nervous”.

It’s actually surprising how much meat you can get off that bone BUT THERE’S MORE!

The next part of the game/technique is that whoever is saying “I am”, so in this case, John, is allowed to change it up whenever he wants but he has to say something about the other character, so a sentence starting with “You are….”. then Leah will have to say what ever John said, but about herself (i.e. changing the “you” to an “I”).

Should we use arrays or Generic Collections?

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I tend to not use arrays when writing new code.

I recently noticed arrays in another developer’s code and started thinking more about them and why they are absent from my box of tools. In short, I think they there are better structures for handling collections in C# and if we use them, instead of the array, we’re giving the consumer of the service (or class or method or whatever) a small present in the extra features that better structures have. And you get this for free – as far as I know there’s no performance hit.

I actually would go so far as to say that as of C# 2.0 (when generics were introduced) arrays have become obsolete. That is to say, I can’t think of a time when I would choose to use an array over a generic list.

Eric Gunnerson wrote a great post on small in, big out, that resonates with my thinking about arrays.

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ericgu/archive/2012/11/19/small-in-big-out.aspx

EDIT:

Just found this too:
http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ericlippert/archive/2008/09/22/arrays-considered-somewhat-harmful.aspx