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.
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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.
One of the benefits of taking improv classes at Jester’z is that you get into shows for FREE… we do this to encourage students to come to as many shows as possible. Watching an improv show through the eye of improv training can be an invaluable way to learn how improv. Unfortunately, watching the show through the eye of a student may take a little of the magic out of the show… but don’t worry it wont last for long because you’ll begin to be see how the principles of improv fit into the performance.
In short, go to shows… as many as you can, while they are free!
As we start some new classes this week, I am constantly reminded about how important it is in improv to find the funny rather then being the funny. As a new improvisor and even sometimes as old time improvisors we must be reminded that it is our goal to discover what is funny about everyday situations and to recreate those situations in a scene. The most common mistake is to try to be funny… while I am sure you are funny, that is not the point of improv comedy, the point to to find the funny.
Anyone can be funny with a joke book and a sense of timing… but it takes talent to find the funny.
5.5 years ago I took my first class at Jester’Z Improv. I was so nervous that I didn’t tell anyone I was taking the class. I didn’t have any theater background or any improv experience, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I signed up for the classes because I worked for a student tour company and spent a lot of time on buses with hundreds of high school students… I was looking for something to help me keep the kids entertained, I had been to several Jester’Z shows and figured a little improv was as good as anything.
Little did I know 5.5 years later I would be performing improv, teaching improv and directing improv on a weekly bases.
But let me be frank, I really had no intention of becoming a performing Jester and was shocked when Jef asked me to be an understudy. I loved the classes and had already planned on continuing to take them. I looked forward to them every week. I was learning a new skill that gave me confidence and was invigorating. I became friends with the people that I took the classes with and am still in contact with some of them today.
I wanted to share this because I think there are so many people who think that our improv classes are only for people that “want” to be Jester’Z or people that are the “theatre type”… when that is not at all the case. IN FACT, I would venture to say that the people that enjoy our classes the most are not theatre type or people that want to become JesterZ. I believe that was the case with me.
So, if you are sitting on the fence about whether to take Jester’Z classes or not… feel free to shoot me an email (preston(at)jesterzimprov.com) with any questions, I would be more then happen to answer them, but mostly, don’t let this time pass you by, it took me 2 years to get up the courage to take a Jester’Z class, and I wish I would have sooner.