Pirates, Robots and Ninjas

James Smith is the current Artistic Director of BaseJump Improv

So, there’s this theory about there being three types of improviser…

Improv great, Billy Merrit from the UCB Theatre in LA came up with a fun idea that all improvisers can fit into three different categories, either: Pirates, Robots or Ninjas.

Pirates Billy writes are: visual, demonstrative, physical, brash, dangerous. They always feel, and they always react.

Robots are described as: logical, witty, effortlessly intelligent, and fast to find a pattern. Robots think, remember, make patterns, and see the absurdity. They take in every bit of data and synthesize it into the optimal comedy program.

And finally, the ninja: Ninjas expertly blends the best qualities of both Pirates and Robots. Ninjas move with flexibility and precision to serve the highest good of the scene and group. Their choices have an elegance that can be unappreciated – invisible, even – to the untrained eye.

(For more on this Billy has just written a book about it with another UCB improv great Will Hines you can check it out here: http://www.piraterobotninja.com/)

I first heard these terms being used years ago in my first improv class, and over the last few years it has constantly popped up as a great way to reflect on my own strengths and to-work-ons, and also is a really helpful way to look at fellow performers and students as they progress and move through our classes.

When I first started improv I was an absolute ROBOT and when I say I was a robot, It definitely wasn’t expressed in the incredibly flattering way that Billy or Will describe it above.  I don’t say it with scorn or with shame, but without a doubt I was a robot, and here’s why…

For me improv and performance was almost the most unexpected thing I could ever imagine myself doing. I will even go so far as to saying it was completely unimaginable. I went from never ever taking drama or acting classes at school or ever showing interest in this, to being an adult in the totally thinky, dry and uncreative realm of health care.

My days were filled with logic and signs and symptoms and then having to record them all with big latin words. So when I first stumbled into this new world of improv, of course, my logic brain went gangbusters (because that’s all I knew) and a true robot was born! I latched onto the rules and the secret rules that weren’t supposed to be rules and I became obsessed with game of the scene because it made logical sense.   I thought if I executed these rules and techniques on stage then no one would ever realise that I was TERRIFIED! I needed the rules to be right, and I needed my scene partner to follow the rules, so my scene could be a success.  I thought if one of us didn’t follow the rules, our scene was a FAILURE and I would be exposed as a phoney.  Or at least that’s what I thought from my limited perspective back then. The cycle continued as I channelled my fear of failing in front of a crowd into studying more rules and more comedic theory and more ways of finding a pattern and spotting absurdity.   To some degree I became pretty good at it..but, I just couldn’t escape the fear and the pressure to get it right. I had created a method of improv in my mind that was the antithesis of improv itself and it’s no wonder that eventually I just had to let go….

Stay tuned for what happened next! Or come and chat to me at our next FREE INTRO class!


Crazy Ideas with Breonna Claude

Every now & then ideas pop into your head that may seem a bit crazy and out of nowhere. Improv was one of those ideas for me..

I didn’t know much about it except what I knew from the  show “Whose Line is it anyway.”   I stumbled across BaseJump One: The Foundation, BaseJump Improv’s beginners class and initially, my first thought was that only comedians and people good at quick thinking could do improv, so I decided to catch the show  DO THAT THING, at the Scruffy Bunny Improv Theatre a few days before level one was set to begin in order to check it out.   I had so much FUN watching the performance, that I thought, “Ok why not, sign me up! This does look fun!”

Before the first class, I was a tad nervous and had no idea what to expect. But as each week went by I became more and more excited to go to class to see what games we would play, and then that would then spin into the perfect lesson for the week.

One of my favourite things about improv is that it has given me the opportunity to break away from my “normal” and go back to being silly. Now I think of it, I am not sure why adults think learning through play is only for kids, I think it’s the best way for everyone to learn!

Overall, taking the class was a really good opportunity to meet new people, have fun and think outside the box, and since starting improv I feel I am more open to trying new things, which feels great!

Today I look at improv as an art AND a craft that is alot of fun and with a little practice, you can steadily improve. It was great to learn improv as a team, grow together and support each other along the way and I look forward to diving deeper with plenty of classes to come!

Bre was a graduate of BaseJump One: The foundation, our level one improv class in term three 2018.

Improv Life Lessons with Olivia Wills

I stumbled into improv a year and a half ago when I first moved to Wellington and was looking for a zany new hobby. Jan ( Double Down & The Blender) recommended it to me telling me ‘anyone can have a go’, so I signed up for BaseJump Improv’s level one improv class. With zero acting or comedy training, I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be a big injection of fun, friends and important life lessons!

The Improv/ Life Relationship

1.Make mistakes

Economists will tell you that there’s a spectrum of attitudes towards risk – from total risk junkie to zero risk ever. I tend to be somewhere down the no-risk-please end – for example, I’ll sit at the back of a classroom and never answer a question in case it’s wrong and horribly embarrassing. Improv is a big celebration of making mistakes and taking risks, and when things go wrong on stage it can often become the hilarious twist of the scene. Getting more comfortable with mistakes makes them less scary, and encourages me to stop being such a Cautious Carol.

2. Improv teams are awesome

A confession about me… I am a recovering micro-manager. Relying on other people is a daunting prospect – I even struggle with delegating the responsibility of buying toothpaste. That’s not possible in improv, where you need to rely on your team listening, reacting, and contributing their own ideas – and they always do! Knowing that you and your team are supporting each other is great for building trust and means taking those risks get even easier. It turns out, people in real life are wonderful and reliable too, when you give them a chance.  

3.Free your mind

The more you use your improvising brain, the more available ideas become, and getting used to generating and trusting disinhibited ideas is key for expanding creativity, a bit like a high energy version of meditation. Improv training sharpens up the brain and makes you see the world in a different way – as a place full of interesting shiny things!

So in summary, improv gives you the power to make amazing mistakes with a fearless team and turn them into a hilarious creation… which means mistakes don’t exist!  100%  I would recommend improv to anyone wanting to try something new.  You will get more than you imagined! Next Level One class starts July 9th

Olivia Wills is an Economics PHD student by day , and a Level 4 BaseJump Improv student by night!

The healing power of improv

This month’s blogger is Caroline Welkin, current performer with Double Down.

So Caroline…
How does Improv affect your life?

I use improvisation and origami to supplement across body movement and alternative therapies for concussion rehabilitation. “Most concussed people take anti-inflammatories, anti-depressants and pain-killers”, an alternative therapist told me, “You’ve designed your own effective rehabilitation.” My way’s more fun.

I immersed myself in comedy, comedy theory and performance since 1964. I ran revues at primary school, I hosted Radio Massey’s radio comedy show for years. I introduced stand-up into 1993’s Massey University’s Capping Revue, then I went to Britain to be trained by comedy and method acting world experts. Wellington, 1997, I ran stand-up comedy classes in the burgeoning scene.

Caroline performing with a microphone.
Performing at Wellington Summer Festival 2016.

My lifelong passion and interest for comedy, started with writing, and then, added direction, performance or interaction.

Caroline leaning against a large mural of George Carlin.
Having a chat with George Carlin, outside the Hollywood Improv.

A passion for power of language spilled into career. I added Neuro Linguistic Programming to improve my corporate training and coaching work.

And then I banged my head.

My thinking slowed, I could not write, I was aphasic (could not speak what I thought), I became dyslexic, too tired to listen or watch anything or anyone, light and sound sensitive. Anxiety paralyzed me when I tried to write a set list or a class plan to do stand-up or training. I pulled out of gigs and work.

Now what? I went to comedy writing courses, to try to re-activate my knowledge and skills. Great courses! I couldn’t read the notes I’d written, and I was too slow and anxious to use them.

Then I won a competition for a Lip Sync battle. I uttered not a word! The room clutched their sides laughing. I could barely hold a conversation or move with my limp (yeah, bashed more than my head)! Clearly, I was still funny and needed to find new ways to access it.

I’d enjoyed Chicago Second City’s David Razowsky’s weekend class. Claire Kerrison came to Wellington with her world class expertise and background – and classes. Excited, I signed up.

As Claire layered up our skills, I came to accept how I was now, trust instincts and found acting and thinking in the moment bypassed aphasia and anxiety into a happy, creative space. Wednesday class rocked!

As the months progressed, so did I. I got back to reading. I found the reason improvisation was so effective in Rita Carter’s Mapping The Mind. Many areas of the brain are lit when moving, speaking and thinking simultaneously. Improvisation activates neurons, combined with integrating the brain’s hemispheres with movement. It’s rehabilitation exercise for the bruised brain.

A diagram showing four sections of the brain.
Brain map, from Mapping The Mind by Rita Carter ISBN-13: 978-0520266285, ISBN-10: 0520266285.

I’m still rehabilitating my brain to former function, using improvisation, origami and various alternate methods. My creative outlet is a great improv group who work with what is in the moment. I’ve learnt to let go of what was or ‘should’ be possible, and to enjoy the moment of possibility now.

The next phase is public performances again. “Bring it on!”. Studies show . . . laughter is the best medicine. Come and see us – we’re wise and funny and we’ll be right there in the moment with you!