Our collectivists have documented events and classes hosted by the SIC over almost a decade. Check back to our blog to read stories, testimonials and features of our improv community.
Hi, Central New York! If you’ve ever wanted to give improv a try, if you’re interested in a new creative experience, or if you’re just looking to have fun with a welcoming community, now is the perfect time. Registration for SIC’s Level 1 Improv Class is now open!
Level 1 is perfect for those who’ve never taken an improv class or those who’ve stopped by our bi-weekly Drop-In classes. We focus on teaching you the basics of long form improv in a supportive environment. The SIC community thrives on creativity, connection, and friendship. You’ll have fun, discover great communication strategies, step out of your comfort zone, and PLAY.
Previous students of Level 1 have gone through the SIC’s full range of courses and become regular performers at our monthly shows, while others have taken courses to improve their social skills or job performance.
Our teacher for this session of Level 1 is Mark Bousquet, a member of SIC’s own Mathed Potatoes team. Classes start on Thursday, September 6, and run for six weeks. The cost is $100. Registration is NOW OPEN and the course will cap at 12 students on a first-come, first-served basis.
We look forward to seeing you join our growing community!
Don’t you dare close your eyes! Starting July 7, SIC’s Level One Improv Class is back in session.
Classes run Saturday mornings, from 10 AM to Noon, for six weeks. This session’s instructor is the inimitable Stephen Peters. Class costs just 100 bucks. Even a certain thief would tell you, that’s a steal.
Level One improv is a great way to get connected with new people. The SIC community thrives on creativity and friendship. You’ll have fun, discover great communication strategies, step out of your comfort zone, and PLAY.
If you want to remember the freedom and joy of play time, improv is right for you. Sign up soon, and join us on a magic carpet ride to fun.
Level One registration is now open! Click here to join. Classes start at the end of April.
Plus, for the first time, we are offering a section of Level One on Thursday nights.
Here’s a short essay from two years ago by Susan Be Anything’s Michelle Kivisto. She and the all-lady team are slated to perform in their second NYC improv festival this year. The creative possibilities with Syracuse Improv Collective are wide open.
“On a Saturday morning in late February, I walked into a studio space to start Level 2 Improv with the Syracuse Improv Collective. I met my teacher, Mike, and found a spot to sit as other students entered the room. It was a space the size of an alleyway, but brightly lit by sunlight from the windows which was reflecting off the white walls and green couches lining the room.
Class started when we were asked to stand up and begin a warmup. Our task was to pass a snap. A simple enough task, but with added layers. You could not begin to snap your fingers until someone passed their snap to you, and you then had to “catch” it, and continue to snap your fingers, until you passed it to someone else. People personalized their snaps, bouncing them on the floor, juggling them, throwing it in the air and then twirling around and catching it. All quite theatrical. But all that was required of anyone in the circle was the ability to snap our fingers and make eye contact with someone to catch and pass the snap. In reality, we were watching air pass from one person to another. But on that day, in that moment, we were watching a circus act with actual snaps being exchanged between people.
That was the beginning of a magical journey. I went into a white walled studio but emerged a painted canvas. Each week added more color, more definition. After Level 2 ended I immediately registered for Level 3. In Level 3 I was given tools to start painting the canvas myself, sometimes with other people holding the brush as my scene partners, until eventually with a lot of practice I became a paint by number grid in which I could clearly see where to put the paint next.
As with anything new, the only way to keep from forgetting what you have learned is to practice. Drop in classes provide a way to meet new people, some of which have never tried improv before, and reunite with improv classmates and teachers. If you are hesitant to sign up for classes or attend a drop in, I can say from experience that everyone is a blank canvas. Add some color to yours.”
Our all-lady team Susan Be Anything has been performing for almost two years now. Since the team’s inception, we’ve been through two roster additions, one move to NYC, and one new baby. When the girls accepted me as their dedicated coach, I had some ideas and forms that I wanted to try – fortunately, I abandoned half of them, because few of them worked in practice.
Coaching improv is a good learning experience for growing leaders. Testing new approaches is largely costless and risk-free. And like performing improv, coaching works best when you listen closely. Here are four lessons in leadership from coaching improv.
1. Team Dynamic Before Vision
Perhaps the most important rule an improv coach should follow is to make sure everyone is having fun. Playfulness is the magical fuel for good improv. It’s important to grow as a performer and impact your audience, but improv not a sport. There is no machine-like perfection to achieve. You should practice often! Yet remember, your art will suffer if you lose sight of the fun.
In this way, coaching is not like directing. For example, early in Susan’s life we attempted a daunting form – the deconstruction. We learned two different approaches, one complex and one more simple, and practiced them for several weeks. Our deconstruction show never saw the stage. After multiple attempts, the form was not clicking with the team. It was too high-concept for a team that worked best focusing on character relationships.
If I were directing a ‘deconstruction show’, we would have kept working and put out a product. Instead, we dropped the form and moved on to a better fit: monoscenes. There we found a more appropriate challenge that everyone had fun practicing. As a coach, I traded an exhausting artistic ambition for a more joyful one. The team had a lot more fun, and we had more successes to celebrate…
2. Focus on Strengths
‘Constructive criticism’ has a valid place in teaching, but I often regret giving negative feedback while coaching. First, most improv performers already have anxieties or insecurities about performing. They beat themselves up often enough, so another negative voice can be overwhelming. Second, you will make more progress with your team by focusing on solutions, rather than problems.
Praise and a clear goal are powerful motivators. Give your performers a specific skill or objective to focus on, then limit your feedback to specific, positive remarks directly related to that objective. Some of our best practices were focused on a single skill or concept, such as character emotions. Having a clear focus and goal encourages a sense of progress.
When performances do go awry, debriefing questions are a powerful tool – you can assess a performer’s understanding of a mistake and equip them with language to own the problem.
3. Empower Ownership
One of my favorite coaching tricks is to open practice with one warm-up exercise, then ask the team to name another warm-up that they would like to run. It’s a small way to give power to your performers, and you’ll learn about their priorities in the process.
Your performers need to feel comfortable to express themselves, both artistically and as a member of the team. Frequently ask questions like ‘what did you enjoy about that form/scene/show?’, and give the team ample time to discuss changes to the team’s structure and performances. It’s valuable to explain your perspective on big decisions, like adding a new member, but you should step aside and give the team the final call.
4. Don’t Over-plan
Some of the best exercises we ran were invented in the middle of practice. If you bring strong, positive energy to coaching and an openness to new ideas, you can improvise whole new solutions for your team on the spot.
When your performers are in the middle of a scene, focus your mind on the performance patterns they are falling into. Are they doing too little object work? Do the scenes lack propulsion? Then, identify a limitation you can impose that focuses their performance on a new, desired pattern. For instance, encourage object work with the rule, ‘you must use an object at all times during the scene,’ or focus on energy with the limiter, ‘reach a point of intensity within 45 seconds.’
Staying nimble and open to new exercise techniques ensures that you are addressing your performer’s immediate growth needs.
In short, the best improv coaching brings out a performer’s best qualities, encourages them to grow, then gets out of the way.
If you’re looking for specific exercise resources and more inspiration, I recommend the books How To Be The Greatest Improviser in the Universe by Will Hines, and Directing Improv: Show the Way By Getting Out of the Way by Asaf Ronen.
When my daughter asked me at dinner why I was so sad, I told her, “brain problems”.
How do you explain depression to a 3-year-old? ‘Actually, sweetie, Daddy can’t feel anything, except a consuming emptiness. Sadness would be a relief.’
As I neared rock bottom, one lingering thought kept me from ending my life: a vision of my wife, heart broken, explaining to our distraught child that Daddy was gone.
* * *
Chances are, you know this story too well. Suicide rates in America have been rising for decades. I got help. I’m still here, and I intend to do something about it.
Victory over mental illness can never be a solo affair. In despair, paranoia, or mania, a broken mind feeds on the same terrors that break it. Self-harm seems right to an imagination that cannot see beyond its chains.
Help must come from outside. Professional help in the form of counseling and doctor-administered medication can win the day. Never underestimate the power you have to positively impact someone who is suffering from mental illness. They need a whole team of supporters to recover. A smile, a shared laugh, a compliment – you can help save someone’s life in the smallest ways.
* * *
For the fourth year, we are sharing our support of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with the benefit show ‘A Little Spark’.
This year we are honored to take our show to the Everson Museum of Art’s stage. This will be a truly special variety show, with appearances from local musicians Greg Maslyn and Gary Carpentier (from The Voice), stand up comedian James Fedkiw, the premiere Rochester sketch team Thank You Kiss, and some of your favorite SIC teams. Our host is the incomparable AFSP advocate, Anthony DeMario.
The deets: December 16, 1:00 – 3:30pm, doors open at 12:30pm, Admission $10
Please help us support this good cause. AFSP raises awareness, funds scientific research, and provides resources for those affected by suicide. You can purchase show tickets in advance, here.
For a person suffering under despair, only someone outside can shine a light at the end of the tunnel. And so we will help how we can, igniting that light with a little spark.
Last night we bid our founder and friend Mike Borden a fond farewell with an epic six-team show. It was a fitting goodbye, representing the culmination of all Mike’s hard work behind the scenes as our fearless educational leader. Mike put in more time, sweat, and love into growing our Collective than anyone. Most every team has his coaching fingerprints on them; he built our level one curriculum and class programming from the ground up; his performances are consistently damn funny; 90% of Collectivists learned improv from him.
And yet, I’m not going to miss Mike Borden at all.
Whenever Mike was on stage last night, I had a strange, magic sensation. For once, the improv I was watching was permanent. Mike gifts Collective students a motto, and it hinges on improv’s disposable nature. ‘We suck, and we love to fail!’ is our class cheer, a tongue-in-cheek creed focused on self-improvement. In improv, scenes come and go. Nothing is precious, so we make the most of our art in the moment and keep growing. Last night, moment by moment, Mike positively danced on stage. Every line and gesture felt masterfully planned, like that sublime top-shelf compliment for improv comedy: it felt written. By the end of Gentlemen To Bed’s set (one of Mike’s first, classic teams), the audience applauded like never before, earning the rarest of improv accolades – an encore. I felt as though Mike was engaged in a never-ending dance with us, like we were all on his team and every laugh was a gift, a physical treasure to hold in your gut and keep safe for years and years.
I won’t miss Mike Borden, because last night I felt certain that he will be with us eternally. His legacy in the SIC is tangible. Between all the classes and shows, Mike showed us all the real power of Yes, And. Everyone wanted to work with Mike Borden, because he is inspirational and so good to work with. Mike is one of the nicest people around, just as present in his day-to-day conversation as he is on stage. He has an inventor’s mind for his art and always looks for new adventures: different venues, a podcast, a livestream marathon. And he put in so much work. Here is a self-sacrificing leader whose dogged pursuit of awesomeness raises the bar. He is a man of integrity, helping steer our little Collective with the future always in mind.
Mike Borden the improviser will always be with the Syracuse Improv Collective. He gave so much, he’s part of us already.
Once this change actually sinks in, I’m going to finally miss Mike. But when I do, I’ll do it on stage with a strong emotional reaction, like he taught me, or by ‘listening and being changed’. Most of all, in between memories of craft beers, board games, wild stories, and his enormous, generous laugh – I will miss Mike – my buddy, pal, and friend.
Peace out, man. Good luck in Portland.
Greetings, improv fans! In addition to our usual shows and classes, we have two special items to share.
A few weeks ago this writer had the pleasure of performing in a short film produced by our friends, Etc. Pictures and Out There Productions. ‘No Nuts’ is a rom com set at a camp for kids who have peanut allergies; there were eleven local children in the cast. Not only did the kids get to perform in a movie, they also paired with mentors on set and took a weekend-long character-building workshop. The Kickstarter for this project is active for less than 48 hours – you can watch the ‘No Nuts’ trailer and learn more here.
In between shots on set, I was asked to lead improv exercises to energize the kids and get them focused. I wrote about the experience in a blog post on their Kickstarter. If you’re a teacher, parent, or great-step-uncle once removed, check out the link for some helpful and fun tools for keeping kids engaged.
Last night we wrapped a fun new experiment. Above is a ~1.5 hour improv MARATHON, performed by SIC team Heavy Metal Heat Wave. This was a blast. As expected for a trial run, we ran into some AV issues, but most of the set is good and legible. This performance was also in support of our friends’ Kickstarter. The team set out to perform a 30-minute set, and continued performing for five more minutes every time we got a new backer. Keep your eyes peeled for more fun videos like this one in the future! Here’s the best link we can offer for last night’s show.
ONE LAST SPECIAL ITEM
Every year we send a team to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out Of The Darkness walk (team donation page HERE), and put on a charity show to support the cause. Please look forward to a weekend in November when you can join us and help people affected by suicide. It’s a cause near to our hearts, and we appreciate everyone who has supported our Little Spark productions.
Earlier this year, we had the privilege of hosting Etc. Pictures at our drop-in classes. The results of that adventure are on display in tomorrow night’s show:
‘Kalyse’ is a short doc about a young man finding his voice through improv. In this writer’s humble opinion, it is akin to a mini Hoop Dreams, for improv. We are so grateful Kalyse and the film crew joined us and included us in their story. We hope this is just the beginning of our story. Etc. has a great vision for helping young adults in the community grow through storytelling. Watch out for more Etc./SIC collaborations in the future.
So Much Goodness
Are you looking to learn something new? Stretch out of your comfort zone? Or get refreshed on improv and join up with the Collective?
Level One class is open on August 19. The cost is still $75 for the six-week class. We meet Saturday mornings, 10 AM to Noon, at Echo on 745 North Salina. Register today!!!
We have three shows in August!
August 5 – Bank Show at Jazz Central w/ Kalyse short doc
August 12 – Movie Workshop Show at Nancy Cantor Warehouse (Level 4 class show – we still have room for experienced improvisers to attend!)
August 19 – Tournament Show at NCW – Collectivists, sign up soon!
See you soon!
We’ve been down at local establishments working on our comedic fitness – Mike and Mike are our witness!
If you want to stay Improv Strong(TM), you have to keep stretching your improv muscles. So we’ve done a lot of cool things:
The Return of the Non-SIC!
Our esteemed open mic event, the Non-SICuitur, makes a courageous return once a month on Thursdays at 7:30PM, at 512 Wescott Street. Come try out a new improv form, play with folks you’ve always dreamed of improvising with, test out a stand-up routine, or play some sweet live music…surprise us!
Last year’s big addition to our improv fitness program was drop-in classes, where we expertly balance lessons for experts and novices in the same night. This year we are doubling down on our commitment to our experienced players…
Our new Level 4 classes are offered exclusively to active Collectivists who have completed Levels 1-3. This is a chance to dive real deep. The focus of each class is unique and decided by our teachers. That way, every class is a special experience led by a specialized instructor.
Our pilot Level 4 class led by SIC founders Mike Borden and Joe Blum was a hit. The dynamic duo taught long-form, slow-burn duo performances. Students Learned Improv Hard(TM) from our brightest for 5 hours, then put on a show! Look forward to similar opportunities in the near future.
As many fitness aficionados and Muddy Waters have said, ‘I just can’t be satisfied!’ We are proud to be bringing in expert improv teachers Kelly Buttermore and Justin Peters to lead two workshops on April 29. SIC Collectivists, stay tuned for more info!
That’s all for now!
Come on out to our bank show on April 8 🙂 See you around!
The refugee community is an integral part of Upstate New York’s culture, and we are proud of our city’s history of accepting and supporting refugees. It’s our honor to give whatever small support we can to the people who do tireless work on behalf of those in need.
On Friday, March 3rd at 8 PM we invite you to our ‘I Lift My Lamp’ charity improv show benefiting InterFaith Works. CNY Playhouse is hosting us, and they have generously waived all fees – every dollar you donate at the show will go directly to InterFaith. Expect some of your favorite Syracuse Improv Collective teams to bring their A+ games. We hope to see you there!