At Mesa Riverview – SUITE #114

Improv Technique Training Blog

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!

Who is this person to me and how do I feel about them…

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Author: Preston Smith

Ask yourself at the beginning of every scene:

Who is this person to me?
How do I feel about them?

Asking yourself these questions will help you focus on the emotion and relationship of the scene.

Get Real

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Author: Preston Smith

The best reactions are real reactions. Reactions that aren’t planned are real. When you plan a reaction you usually stop listening to what your scene partner is doing or saying.

Be honest and real. If something that is said in a scene shocks you, say it, act shocked. If something in the scene makes you sad, act sad… don’t ignore those natural impulses that hit you in a scene.

If you are “in character” and emotionally invested in the scene… natural reactions will keep the reality of the scene and will help you find the funny, not force the funny.

Relationship Relationship Relationship

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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.

Hm. Coincidence?

The truth is funny

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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.

Everything you need is right there

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Author: Preston Smith

Everything-you-need-is-right-thereA 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…

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This is the moment…

I say this a lot when I’m teaching improv because it is what makes a scene interesting to watch and participate in. This is what it means.

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.

Am I Funny Yet?

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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.

How do I fit in this scene

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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.

Sometimes, Less is More…

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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.

Taking care of yourself

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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-yourselfTaking 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.