David Mar is a thoughtful and insightful improviser. He takes each scene at a great pace, listening carefully to what’s been offered and responding in a grounded, real way. I’ve had the pleasure of watching him as he’s grown on Burgerson and The Murray Lewis Dance Company into a versatile improv wizard now playing on Storyteller and Burnside. He’s also coached Lindsay Lutz and I on Minstrel Blood, and he is now the leader of the Continuing Education program at The Improv Shop. He knows the building blocks of good scene work and expertly communicates his own POV when giving feedback.
He also keeps me up to date on the best video games I probably should be checking out…and that shouldn’t be understated.
Meet David Mar:
Why did you get into improv? How long have you been doing it?
I did short form in college, and I started taking classes with the Improv Shop in February 2012, but almost didn’t due to a terrible experience with Second City. Right after college, I moved back to the Chicago area and almost immediately signed up for their Writing 1 class. I was looking for a low stakes way to keep doing comedy, meet some new friends, shit like that. Conversely, the entire rest of my class was there because they wanted to make it big as a writer, ASAP. One guy had just moved from Texas, literally – he drove to the first class in the U Haul. Another girl asked me after our third class if I wanted in on the spec script some of them were putting together for Comedy Central. It was aggressive, and clique-y, and no fun, and it made me never want to do comedy again.
Almost two years later, I saw an Improv Shop show at the Tin Can: Magic Ratio and Ted Dangerous. They were having so much fun, and at the end, the host (I don’t remember who) told the audience that we could do improv too. It felt like such a positive thing, that I knew I wanted to sign up before I even got home.
Something that’s just occurring to me: the people on those teams undeniably changed my life, and now I have casual conversations with them all the time. Isn’t that surreal?
You have experience playing with several teams, all of different sizes – from a Twosie with Doug Imler to a 12 man Harold team. What is your ideal team size and why?
Two person teams are my comfort zone. It takes so many decisions off your plate. Both of you are in every scene, the right time to edit is whenever you feel like it, can’t really mess up anyone else’s scene, etc. All those choices put me in my head on larger teams, and thus big teams scare the shit out of me. That’s why I’m only on big teams right now, cause that’s where I need to grow. As soon as I feel like I’m good at Harold, I’ll let myself stop being on Harold teams.
You recently started running the Improv Shop’s Continuing Education program. What has that been teaching you about improv?
The two biggest takeaways for me have been that right now, I’m feeling most inspired by coaching, and that there is so much I have left to learn about it.
For those who don’t know, the first part of the continuing ed program has been the Saturday Workouts, which are drop-in classes taught by myself or a guest teacher. This past Saturday, John Langen taught a fantastic workout on playing it real. He had us do some great exercises, some of which I hadn’t done in a long time, and they produced phenomenal work from everyone attending. I’ve spent a lot of time the last couple days thinking about what exactly he did as a teacher and how I can steal the shit out of it. I don’t know if I’ve ever said it publicly, but if you’re interested in building skills as a coach, the workouts are a great place to see how a bunch of different people approach it.
How’s Burnside? What’s awesome about it? You’ve been doing improv for basically forever. What’s’ fresh and exciting about your brand new Harold team?
Burnside is exciting because we have the most dads.
Obviously, I think everyone on it is a talented and committed performer. But it’s also exciting because, despite having done improv for basically forever (your words not mine), it’s almost all people with whom I’ve never gotten to perform. We’re taught to appreciate and say yes to our teammates’ ideas, so every new team should be approached as a chance to love a group of new people.
Can you share some words of wisdom with those just starting out?
Take risks. No one ever tells stories about how playing it safe worked out really well for them.
What is the best improv advice or note you have ever received?
Andy Sloey‘s guide to patterns: easy, dumb, repeatable. We can’t play a game if we don’t know the rules, and if the rules are too complicated, no one’s gonna learn ’em.
What is the best lesson you’ve learned from improv that translates to your real life?
Without a doubt, the best thing improv has done for me is teach me how to deal with the fear of criticism. I was raised by very cautious parents who, despite my best attempts, managed to instill in me a real aversion to risk. I wasted so much time being afraid of failing and making bullshit excuses for never trying. I was so scared of criticism that I refused to create. Fuck that.
Do you have anything going on that you’d like to plug?
The Saturday Morning Workouts, every Saturday 10am – noon, $5, open to all IS graduates. Learn something new, play with new people, learn from a guest teacher you’ve never had before, brush up on old skills; my sincere goal is to make them valuable to everyone, whatever your skill level/improv goals.
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