This blog is focused on continued improv education… technique and critique. Understudies, students and current performers are encouraged to used this blog as an assistant in training, leaning and growing in improv. We will try to make the content both entertaining and informative. Please feel out the form on the right with any specific question… and you are encouraged to comment and elaborate in then comment section.
Enjoy the reading!
Author: Michael Yichao
When in doubt, say “I love you.”
This is true in marriages and improv scenes. (Well, really, I can only speak from experience on one of those two subjects, but still.)
It all comes down to the relationship.
Whenever I’m uncertain what to say or do next, I make eye contact with my partner and tell them as honestly as possible how I feel in the moment — about them, about our surroundings, about whatever’s been established so far.
The thing is, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing brother and sister fighting over your messy room, or a married couple on vacation, or monkeys stealing rifles from a safari expedition. (That last scene happens more often than you think.) Ultimately, it isn’t about the stuff and things that are happening, or the crazy antics you are doing — it’s about the relationship of the characters.
How you feel about each other. How you know each other. The interaction, the struggle, the connection between you and the other human being there with you. Believe it or not, that’s the secret and the difference between an okay moment and an amazing one.
Doesn’t matter the games you play. Doesn’t matter the length of the scene. People are interested in how people relate to other people. It’s what every great play in history is built on. It’s what every great improv scene is built on.
And it’s also what good relationships are built on.
Author: Preston Smith
A lot of the time an improvisor will spend so much time trying to create funny moments in scenes. This generally ends badly, with a joke or some forced epitaph that is completely unrelated to what is happening in a scene.
Every time I teach a class of new students or an intro class, I always ask them if they can tell me the funniest moment of their life, I usually give them a few minutes to think about it (the suck ups always tell me it was this or that Jester’Z Show, which I appreciate but I know they are lying). Inevitably the funniest moments in an individual’s life is surrounded by friends and family when something just happens. Funny. Just. Happens.
Del Close and Keith Johnstone understood this principal.
“The best laughs are on the recognition of truth.” – Keith Johnstone
“The truth is funny. Honest discovery, observation, and reaction is better than contrived invention.” – Del Close
Stop worrying about being funny and just be in the moment, the funny will take care of itself.
Author: Preston Smith
A scene is not a complicated thing or, at least it shouldn’t be. When you enter a scene, with in the first 30 seconds you should have everything you need to have a great scene. Accepting the reality that has been created is absolutely important to having a good scene.
Not only what is happening in a scene but also, who you are in the scene. Accepting who you are in a scene is much different then forcing your character on a scene. For example, if someone says to you in a scene; “You dirty rotten bum, I can’t believe you would steal from me.” You know two things, 1. You are a dirty rotten bum and 2. you stole from your scene partner. You natural tendency will be to deny that you are a dirty rotten bum because who wants to be a dirty rotten bum? Well, let me clue you in on something, just because you play a dirty rotten bum in a scene, doesn’t actually mean you are one in real life. Accept the gifts that you are given as reality and run with it.
Recently we were doing some exercises that focused on this, one scene partner entered a scene and the other scene partner was suppose to totally support that the other person brought to the scene. My scene partner entered the scene are said, “Hey chief, we need to get this engine working again.” I responded in my best indian accent because after all, I was called chief.
This is the moment…
Improv consists of short scenes… even long-form improv consists of relatively short scenes (when compared to one life time). Each short scene is a moment in which players enter the stage and plays out a short snippet of another person’s life. The character you are playing lived before you played them and they’ll live on after you are done with the stage (in most cases).
The key is to make this a pivotal moment in the characters life. If your character has been picked on at school for years… this is the moment they stand up to that. If a husband and wife have been avoiding fighting about something for years, this is the moment that the fight reaches an apex.
An improv scene is not the time for avoidance… take scene themes and dialogue head on and make THIS a powerful moment in your characters life.
The idea that you have to be funny to be in improv is absurd and one of the most misunderstood aspects of improv.
You don’t have to be funny… in fact it is best if you aren’t funny, or at least don’t try to be funny.
Why don’t you want to be funny…
The joke is one of the most abhorred things in improv, it is cheap, easy and often used at the expense of other performers and at the cost of the scene.
A joke is most often a anecdote that is unrelated to the scene that pulls focus from what the scene is actually about.
Avoid the joke by staying in the reality of the scene and following the principles of improv, agreement, listening, character and emotion.
Improv is a beautiful mishmash of individual and group expression… all brought together in a collective of 4 or 5 minute moments (longer, if you are talking about long-form). Either it is 2 individuals or 3, 4, 5 or 6… it doesn’t matter because the process is always the same… listen, agree, emotion, character.
Even when you do this you still have to find your place in a scene… and once you figure that out, you have to make it important to you. Sometimes your place in a scene is not in the scene at all but on the side supporting the scene with your readiness, sometimes your place in the scene is being the main focus of the scene, sometimes it is being a supporting character (although I hesitate using that term in the context of improv because in actuality we are all supporting characters) and sometimes your roll is to be a lamp post or a rug. Whatever your place in a scene, it is important… so important that you must make that aspect of the scene the most important to you.
There is a tendency to just wait in your character for your next opportunity to speak. The key is to enjoy the process of improv, each and every character and moment.
Author: Preston Smith
It isn’t a bad thing to be able to add tons of information to a scene but sometimes it isn’t exactly what is needed or wanted in a scene. If listening is a key to improv, and it is… then shouldn’t we help each other out by not giving each other tons and tons of information to listen to and remember? Say things with purpose. Don’t drag on and on about a subject if you have already said the important part. Avoid giving lists of things. Inevitably, all your scene partner will remember is either the first or last item in your list and/or then they will have to choose which one to respond to… and they may not choose what you want them to respond to.
Try this out. After your next scene think of what you said, then cut it in half, then cut that in half, then cut that down to 2 words and finally, 1 word. Interestingly enough, that word will not only help you say things with purpose BUT it will also give you an idea of whether you are focusing on emotion and relationships or stuff and things.
Author: Preston Smith
My last post touched upon the idea of, “taking care of yourself”. I felt like it deserved a little more elaboration.
Taking care of yourself means to have a character, emotion and point of view, it doesn’t mean to plan a scene. The great thing about characters, emotions and points of view is that they are transferable, no matter what the scene situation and location you will need a character, emotion and point of view.
A character gives the scene texture, point of view gives you scene a why and emotion gives your scene depth. By starting with these 3 things, you are able to listen to your scene partner and mostly, you are able to respond based on your characters, emotion and point of view.
Author: Preston Smith
You might think “I’ve got nothing” when you start a scene.
Saying, “I’ve got nothing” means that you are ready to start listening in a scene. It means that you’re open and ready to create a scene with your scene partner.
“I’ve got nothing”, should be a triumphant exclamation of improv openness! But more often then not, you are telling your scene partner that you have already given up on this scene. All you need to do is rely on your improv experience and training… listening, agreement, emotion, relationship.
We need to stop thinking that, “I’ve got nothing” is a negative thing and start thinking of it as a positive thing.
**disclaimer: part of improv training is also taking care of yourself… when I say, enter a scene with an open mind, I don’t mean you aren’t suppose to take care of yourself, which loosely means have a character, emotion and point of view.
and start listening…
The first 2 years I did improv I spend 95% of my time trying to figure out what I was going to say… I’d think, “Oh man, that would be the perfect start to a scene.” or “I’ll say this, and then they’ll say this, then I’ll say this.” and of course the inevitable, “Saying this thing at this perfect moment would be hilarious, how can I make the opportunity come up.” All of this planning a head only led to more frustration. If you plan a head, you are not opening yourself up to what your scene partners are bringing to the scene. Planning also makes it harder to agree (yes, and).
I’ve spend the last 4 years of improv spending 95% of my time trying to clear my head and just listening. Trust the process of improv… listening and agreement are there so you don’t have to plan ahead. Trust your scene partners… treat what they bring to a scene like a gift.