I recently did an improv show. The poster above was the one advertising for our show.
Improvisation is one of my passions. It’s like living on the edge of reason.
What is improv?
Improv is the constant challenge of coming up with a show inspired from a random word given by the audience within 30 seconds. With the other comedians the word-inspired story can last from 3 to 10 minutes. It’s a total blast.
How do you do it?
Accept what the others propose. If they want the story to be a space love story, play along. Their inputs will blend with yours. Say YES. Say YES. In doubt, just say YES.
Only this way can a story be built. Only when a knight accepts a quest, can a dragon be defeated and a damzelle be rescued.
Only when someone accepts to die, can his son avenge him.
- Spice it up.
Accepting is not enough. YES opens the door. YES does not pushes you through.
YES, AND is the magic formula. (YES, BUT is like a NO).
- Go get me some food.
- Yes, and I think I’ll get a huge heart shaped pizza for you. It’s Valentine’s day, and I love you.
Compared to a short YES, or a NO, just notice how this brings along a new twist to the story and gives your teammate something to play with.
Trust your teammates to help you.
Some situations will make you feel very lonely on the stage. That happens in theatrical improvisation. That’s life.
Until someone helps you by bringing a new element, you will suffer.
This might even inhibit you from going onstage or taking the lead.
But YOU need to TRUST. You will trust your teammates to help you.
You might not understand what storyline they have in mind when they bring in an awkward character, but TRUST them, accept, spice it up and enjoy the ride.
Conversely, trust your teammates that they will find a way out of a harsh situation that you created.
You will have to put them on the spot. They will be in the stress zone.
You: I heard you needed to confess something to me?
Them: Hrmm… Yes… It was… You know… (startled eyes)
And then you can help them. But they will learn from it. The team will learn from it.
Trust each other enough to play in the danger zone as a team.
- Think. Reuse. Recycle.
Do those stories remind you of something?
- A spaceship is lost in space. But an unexpected passenger seems to be around and members of the crew disappear one by one…
- A giant boat is at sea. A love story begins to take shape, when a big iceberg appears from nowhere…
-A young couple is madly in love, but their families have an ancestral hatred that will keep them apart…
Every story has been told. At least once.
“Alien” is “Jaws” in space. “Avatar” is “Dances with wolves” in a sci fi context.
Rocky 2 is rocky 1, but this time Rocky wins.
Rocky 3 is rocky 2, but this time he fights Mr T.
Rocky 4 is Rocky 3, but this time he fights a russian guy.
Rocky 5 is Rocky 4, but this time he fights a newbie he trained.
Rocky 6 is Rocky 5, but this time he fights the current champion.
What about Rocky in space versus an alien?
Your mind is full of pop culture.
When you are watching a movie, ask yourselves how it should finish.
Make your own endings and notice how every storyline has been worn to death.
Cross the different movies and create new ones. Think about great plots that you can reuse.
Think. Reuse. Recycle.
- Let your character live
That’s when it becomes tough.
Imagine your character’s life. Let’s suppose it is a man.
Where is he from? Name? What is he doing here?
How would he behave in that situation?
What is his posture, his voice or accent? What physical traits should you play on stage to convey all that?
With thick characters, your improv will become realistic and deep in emotions.
The audience will feel involved and will not only perceive them as puppets for a plot, but as beings living extraordinary events.
- And what if the character had to say NO to remain true to himself?
Then you have to say NO. The character’s integrity is the most important thing. Without autonomy, no credibility.
- Jump off the cliff!
-No… hrmmm… Yes, and…hrmmm
If the character does not want to say YES, make him propose something else. He can jump, and then use a secret parachute, or just say no and propose something like giving money.
I know. It’s complicated. At this point, you’ve probably given up reading this post.
But Autonomy and Acceptance are antagonistic forces that fuel the improvisation.
- Allow yourself to be average
You can’t always perform at 100% of your capability.
If you set your expectations too high, you will freeze on stage, trying to find the perfect thing to do.
That can not happen all the time. Allow yourself to have some poor performance displays and enjoy them… every mistake makes you better for the next time.
That will free your mind from pressure and will give you confidence to go on stage.
So as a conclusion
- Spice it up.
- Think. Reuse. Recycle.
- Let your character live.
- Allow yourself to be average.