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General Dispatches from The Groundlings 


From time to time, Miss Dorien Davies will be allowing us a secret glimpse into her life as she takes the Advanced level course at The Groundlings. This is the first of her dispatches.

Last week I started Advanced at the Groundlings. It's the final class in the school's curriculum where I've been actively studying since 2003. So, and I just realized this, I've been doing Groundlings as long as I spent in college.

The program has levels: Basic, Intermediate, Writing Lab and Advanced. Basic and Intermediate cover Improv and Character work. Once you've passed Intermediate the wait is sometimes as long as two years until you can take Writing Lab, which focuses almost solely on sketch writing. After Lab the wait to get into Advanced is often long. I think it's because the upper levels of the school involve performances and teachers and theatre time are limited. I've heard that the queues are getting shorter in recent months because they've added another audition between Intermediate and Lab, knocking even more people off the list. But in the mean time, you can take electives, which include some of the best classes offered in LA. No one who has taken it will deny that Ted Michael's Long Form Improv class is one of the best classes around.

You can only become a Groundling if you make it through all the levels of the school, get into the Sunday Company, get renewed three times, and get chosen to become a Groundling. There are plenty of cutoffs. If you have to take Intermediate more than twice, you can't go any higher. If you don't pass your Lab audition twice, you can't go any higher. If you don't pass Lab, you can't retake it. And if the Groundlings vote doesn't go your way in your Advanced show, then you're done.

Groundlings is a tough school. Anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot or an absolute comic genius. Honestly, it's the most challenging thing that I've done as an actor in L.A. And consequently, because I've invested so much in it, it's very close to my heart.

Advanced is the end of the road for me as far as the school is concerned, and I've got mixed feelings. Part of me is honored to have been able to make it though the whole program, and I'm satisfied with that because so many people don't make it this far. But part of me is really hoping that I kick crazy ass in our two shows and make it into the Sunday Company. Regardless of the outcome, I realize that the only thing I can do is write like a mad fool, listen to the notes my teacher gives me, and commit to my choices as if my life depended on it.

My teacher, by the way, is pretty intimidating. Fantastic teacher, but she never lets anything slide. She will never tell you that something is good to save your feelings. She won't even be polite. But honestly, she puts up good shows and I respect her opinion implicitly. At Groundlings, the job of your Advanced teacher is to showcase you in the best possible light to the Groundlings Company which is important because, after that, the company votes on whether to invite you into the Sunday Company, or say goodbye for good.

When I walked into the theatre on Sunday morning, I had six new sketches that I had co-written with other members of my class. It's kind of a trial-by-fire. You don't pitch your sketches, you actually put them up on their feet in front of everyone and the teacher gives you notes. I was lucky to have some strong performers to work with to compensate for my own nervousness.

Groundlings sketches are often character based. I'm realizing that it's hard to commit to six brand new characters, one after another. I think I kind of spaced out after putting a few of them up. Not to mention that my teacher will yell things like "Is it over yet?" and "Oh god!" in the middle of your sketch. But you know what, she's never wrong. The responses are always deserved. It's really what everyone else is thinking anyway, just not what they're saying. I'd rather know when I'm sucking. I'm realizing that it's not about ego, it's about putting up your best show and learning how it's done. Honestly, I'd have it no other way.

One of the sketches that I put up was a disaster. We sang "Kung Foo Fighting" while I interjected comments about how racist the song was. It got an "Okay, what was that?" comment. So that idea was trashed, but some of the others had a twinkle of promise. This week I'm tackling five rewrites and bringing in 6-7 new sketches. Some people bring in even more, but I haven't figured out how that's even physically possible with my day job and performing in two improv show a week.

More and more, drugs are beginning to make sense.

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