[Weekender] The rise of cable TV

Making scenes pop out in style

SCI invites U.S. performer to run workshop on ‘monopop’ theater format

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Published : 2014-01-07 20:30
Updated : 2014-01-07 20:30

Kaci Beeler (center) with performers of the Hideout Theater, an improv venue she runs in Austin, Texas. (John Bolden)
Seoul City Improv will be hosting a long-form improvisational comedy workshop led by Kaci Beeler, who runs the Hideout Theater in Austin, Texas, later this month.

The class will focus on connecting with other players onstage and introducing the “monopop” format.

The format is an improvised play lasting 20-35 minutes, in which performers usually stay in one character, but then “pop out” of the main narrative to perform short flashbacks, musings or hypothetical scenes, Beeler said.

But, since there is no script or director, when to switch to these scenes is up to the performers. That makes onstage communication and the ability to work with a character all the more important.

“You have to make a lot bolder decisions, and you have to commit a lot more to things,” she said. “You might pick a character that you are not that excited about, but you have to make it work through the whole piece. It’s a lot harder than if you are just doing short scenes or games where the director says, ‘No, don’t do that’ ― you know, you quickly help things for you.”

Beeler said it took a lot of practice to develop a sort of “group mind” onstage that could collectively decide when to change things, when to stop and when to push things further. It could go wrong, she admitted, but that was part of what made it rewarding.

“It’s exciting, because when you take on something super challenging like that, when you are able to do it, then it fills people with elation,” she said. “The audience watching thinks, ‘Ah, they can’t do that, this is too much to take on,’ so when it all comes together before their eyes it really is a magical experience, because a lot of it comes from absolutely nothing.”

Beeler has come to Seoul before, as part of an Asian tour by Improv Boston, during which she met the SCI troupe.

Melissa Wetherbee, president of Seoul City Improv, said she jumped at the chance of working with Beeler.

“I saw right away that Kaci had a definite great chemistry with the group, and so when she mentioned that she was coming (back) to Korea, I thought right away that we have to do a little bit of a workshop to go a little bit more in depth and take the group to the next level,” she said. “And also to introduce the idea of long-form improvised plays to the audience in Seoul, because in the past SCI has mainly focused on short-form improv (similar to the TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?”) and long-form is now the premier format in the U.S.”

Wetherbee added that SCI aimed to become a place where people could experiment and develop, and for that reason was inviting professionals like Beeler to run workshops.

Beeler, for her part, sees this kind of development as integral to improv.

“You have to keep picking up new skills and learning new things, and that’s where the life form really lives as an experimentation, which is why I’m glad that SCI wants to do long form,” she said.

“There are a lot of groups who do just games. Games are great, and I do that too, but I think that we should always be reaching for more. Even if you think we are not ready.

“A big part of improv is learning to be cool with failure. To accept it. To work with it. To be on the edge of risk, and then learning and growing from that.”

Beeler added that this had benefits offstage too.

“It’s hugely life-affirming for people,” she said. “I would never have been able to say ‘yes’ and try so many new things if I hadn’t done improv and learned that it was okay to try things.”

“The tenets of improv, with accepting, working in a group, relaxing, going with the punches ― they are all applicable to any part of a person’s life,” Wetherbee added.

Seoul City Improv holds open rehearsals on Wednesdays at Camarata and performs regularly in Itaewon and Haebangchon.

Beeler ― who will also be pursuing a painting project in Seoul looking at hyper-realistic depictions of food and plans to indulge her love of K-pop while in Korea ― will also run follow-up sessions before SCI’s weekly rehearsals, on Jan. 29 and Feb. 5.

The “Group Mind and The MonoPop” workshop will run 12-6:30 p.m. on Jan. 25 at Camarata Music Company Studio in Haebangchon. Registration via seoulimprov@gmail.com closes Jan. 18 and costs 60,000 won per person.

By Paul Kerry (paulkerry@heraldcorp.com)

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