Dallas Comedy Festival (DCF) 2016: A week of full of improv shenanigans, comedy tomfoolery, and enough alcohol-infused gelatin to knock out a herd of elephants. But all that aside, by far the highlight of my DCF 2016 experience was getting the opportunity to take a workshop on the art of physical comedy from the man, the myth, and possibly Mr. Bean’s long lost cousin (the DNA test results are still pending), Ithamar Enriquez.
If last Friday, you didn’t get a chance to check out his one-man show, Ithamar Has Nothing To Say, allow me to briefly summarize. Funny, funny, music, serious feels, and more funny. You’re welcome.
Ithamar Has Nothing To Say takes you on a silent, hilarious journey through a menagerie of wonderfully wacky characters. From a cop lost in conducting his own traffic symphony to a bumbling magician and even a couple of weirdos at a jazz club, Ithamar breathes life into a long list of zany sketches using Chaplinesque or Harpo Marxian style physicality. He had me in stitches during his bit in which, using only his fingers, he reenacted scenes from Dirty Dancing, Jurassic Park, Jaws, and a slew of other great movies. Through the course of the show, you find yourself laughing hysterically and reaching out for tissues as your eyes get a little misty. It’s heartfelt, and funny, and full of mind-blowing movement.
At Saturday’s workshop, aptly named “Shut Up and Move,” a group of us had the pleasure to learn from the master himself. We got a two-hour crash course on object work, emotion, and music-inspired physical comedy. Ithamar explained that as improvisers we tend to get too wrapped up in the words we’re saying and forget that our bodies and faces have the ability to tell a story just as well. We paid a quick homage to and briefly discussed the work of physical comedy OGs like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and Ithamar gave us several tips for how we too could express a whole lot while saying very little.
Lesson 1: Familiarity. Familiarity is the key to really grounded and clean object work. All too often I’ve succumbed to the fate of envisioning the annoying amorphous , grey improv object, hoping that an audience will somehow magically identify that it’s actually a coffee cup or a laptop or a bowl of soup. Ithamar suggests picturing yourself in a real-life location that you know very well. For example, imagine your bedroom. You know where the bed is, where the dresser is, what’s in said dresser, where the lamp is, where your diary is hidden, what junk’s been shoved in the back of your closet for ages (OK, maybe not that one), and so on and so forth.
When you picture yourself in a real location with a familiar object, it’s easier to connect to the object and give it life. The interaction is made simpler, and it feels and looks a whole lot more natural. Nobody knows your own stuff like you do. Suddenly the amorphous coffee cup becomes the blue mug with the chip in the handle that you got on a trip to Cabo, the laptop becomes a red Dell notebook with a sticky “ctrl” key, and the bowl of soup is now clearly a Panera bread bowl full of delicious French onion—yummy.
Lesson 2: Your Body Knows What’s Up. If there was one thing that Ithamar really wanted us to take away from the workshop, it’s that every suggestion can and should come with a physical reaction. Even if your mind has no idea what to do with a suggestion, allow your body to react to it. It’s crazy, but sometimes your body actually knows what’s up before your brain has fully processed what’s been suggested. So, let yo body lead the way man! Seriously, don’t think. Just do.
For an exercise, Ithamar had us walk around the room and he would randomly call out a word. Without thinking about it, and just letting our bodies do their body thang, we used the word to inspire a new style of walking. Ithamar says “Bologna!” and suddenly I’m prancing around the room like a third grader carrying a Flash Gordon lunchbox. Ithamar says “Green!” and I’m hopping like a little tree frog on a log. Ithamar says “First Date!” and I’m tripping over a rug in Tharp because, well, I’m actually tripping over a rug in the theater. You get the idea, though.
Lesson 3: Music Is Love, Music Is Life. One unique thing about Ithamar Has Nothing To Say is that many of his sketches are paired to music, making viewing those scenes much like watching a silent film with a soundtrack that’s crazy good. Dare I say, stupid good. Louis Armstrong’s cover of "La Vie En Rose," Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit," and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song, are just a few of the many tunes Ithamar’s show treats your ears to. Ithamar’s reasoning for using music is that it helps trigger the emotional and memory centers of the brain. Playing music pushes you to unlock emotional creativity and can help direct the point of view in a scene.
During our workshop, it was so much fun to see how our physicality and point of views changed as soon as a song played. For example, say you’re in a scene where you’re peacefully gardening your prized begonias. But suddenly, Metallica’s "Enter Sandman" starts playing in the background. This changes everything. Now if those begonias don’t grow dammit, you’re going to freakin’ lose it and you can bet your sweet ass that heads are gonna roll! And weeds in your flowerbed, oh, don’t even go there. Gosh darn it, you rip those mothertruckin’ weeds right out of the ground because they don’t deserve to live. It’s full on garden rage time now! ...And that’s how music can easily shape a scene. It’s a fun tool to use to get your body moving and grooving.
So to recap—1. Set space work in familiar locations using familiar objects because that’s what you know best. 2. Let your body guide you and react physically to suggestions that come your way. 3. Music is a fun way to change point of view and inspire creative play.
Well, there you have it. What are you waiting for? Go shut up and move!
Lauren Levine is currently a Level 4 student at DCH. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.
(Top image: Nkechi Chibueze)