Play Smart So Your Characters Don’t Have To

courtesy Highlights Kids

One thing that I hear frequently is the notion that we should play to the top of our intelligence. I think that’s great advice, not just for improvisors, but for artists of any discipline. At the same time, I don’t think it’s always entirely clear what exactly that means. It sounds pretty straightforward at first, but what’s less obvious is that although as artists we must try to make the strongest choices possible, that sometimes means the characters we portray will not. Frail, flawed, desperate fools can make for remarkably challenging work onstage if we invest in them without foolishness.

Intellectual and Emotional Intelligence

Perhaps it’s important to talk about what playing at the top of our intelligence really means and the two most common ways to do that; intellectually and emotionally.

There are many ways to be an intelligent performer and book learnin’ is certainly one of them. Improvising can be like an episode of Quantum Leap, each scene has the potential to play in a new time and place. I believe that relationships  – not setting – are the heart of a scene. I believe that a pair of good performers can create a scene in a time or place they have no knowledge of. But, while not necessary, knowledge of the environment or occupation you find yourself can relive you from having to invent and can add a realism and verisimilitude to your work. It can add another level of richness and depth to your scene, providing you don’t use that knowledge for evil.*

Your character has some level of all of these

Just as important as intellectual intelligence, if not more, is acting with emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence in understanding that everything your character does or says comes from motivational place from within themselves. If intellectual intelligence is an awareness of the external world of our characters, emotional intelligences is an awareness of the internal forces moving them forward. As ourselves, everything we say and do is the culmination of our life experiences, our attitudes, our beliefs, our understanding of how to behave. If our characters are to be believable and real, the same should be true for them. Every choice your character makes will be drawn from the behavior and life experience they have incorporated into their lives.

It is tremendously valuable to play with both of these intelligences. They work together to make more compelling and believable characters and scenes. Consider for a moment finding yourself in a scene playing an athlete in the English Football League (aka a Soccer player). I choose EFL because it’s a sporting organization with an exceedingly complex structure. You may not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the league, but certainly having a rudimentary understanding of the rules of the game and some of the teams involved would be useful information to help you relate to this character. These are external pieces of information. Even if they are never spoken aloud in your scene, they inform how you play. At the same time, you must know that anyone playing at that level has got to have a huge amount of determination, competitiveness, ego, willpower and physical endurance – things that define who they are and how they behave. This is internal information. Knowing these things as you begin to discover your character will put them in a strong place right from the top of your scene. When you sacrifice the commitment to that character for a quick laugh or a joke, your short term gain comes at such a high price. You’ve lost the potential to play to something greater and more real.

This is how you – as an actor – can play smart; being aware and being invested. In doing so, you’re giving your characters a wonderful gift, the freedom to be flawed

*Evil? Yes ,evil. If you try to shoehorn little facts into your scene to prove how clever you are, you’re sacrificing your relationship and your character. This makes me cry at night.

Let Your Characters Make Mistakes

Fun Fact
When director Nicolas Meyer was approached to direct a Star Trek film, he felt the characters were uninteresting because they were peerless. When he was allowed to give the characters flaws, he created “The Wrath of Khan” which is considered by many to be the high-water mark for the franchise.

One thing I see often when players learn to play intelligently, is that they feel all of their characters must also be intellectually and emotionally smart. That doesn’t have to be true. The world is filled with people who make foolish decisions, who wander into schemes out of naiveté or don’t know how to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship. Of course we want characters to reflect that part of life, that’s the very heart of drama. No one wants to watch perfect people lead perfect lives. You absolutely can play characters who are hopelessly lost as long as you yourself are not.

Your relationship with your characters can often be similar to a parent child relationship. Part of playing intelligently is knowing the consequences of your characters action. Part of us wants to protect our characters from mistakes, either out of sympathy towards them or out of some misguided ego that our character’s flaws reflect on us as performers. It’s a much braver and much harder move to let your characters wander into situations knowing the pain it will cause them.

I encourage you to let your characters stumble; let them make mistakes; let them be too stubborn to learn from them. There will be consequences for their actions. They may lose loved ones, face hardship or even die. Yes, your character might actually die due their own shortcomings, and that might be a wonderful gift to your scene partners. The important thing is that even if you allow your character to not understand the depth of their choices – you do.

The last thing I mentioned was refusal to grow. That’s a tough one, I admit. We all went through classes learning that characters should be affected and grow. It’s hard to go against that grain and play a stubborn character without feeling we’re doing a disservice to the scene. People enjoy seeing characters grow. Certainly if a show or scene was filled with characters and none of them were changed by the experience, it would be maddening. By the same token, for some characters to grow, they must overcome the obstacle of emotionally stunted people. When a deadbeat father doesn’t recognize the talent of a gifted child, the realization of that child of their own potential in spite of the constant discouragement is ten times as gratifying as a character who starts with self-confidence. The child’s emotional arc depends on it. Sometimes the strongest emotional choice is leaving someone who cannot grow with you – that’s the stuff of good Harolds. Give your partner the gift of being able to grow and to fight for their growth. Not every time of course. That would lead to shows filled with bickering; but at times, know that you can be the bad guy.

Let the other characters learn from your mistakes and grow. Let the other characters see the flaws within your own and reflect on themselves. And who knows, maybe by the end, you will finally have some small change. But by that point, you and your scene partner earned it rather than just changing because it was time to change.

Nurture don’t mock

Most of the time, improv is associated with comedy. And somewhere in the history of comedy, we learned that mockery and insults make for easy laughs, but not satisfying ones. It can be very tempting to play foolish characters just for the sake of a punchline. I beg you not to make a habit of this. If you have no empathy for your character, I promise an audience will not. The quick laughs at a silly statement are fleeting. The laughter with a character following a determined – if misguided path will fill your scenes with a richer sense of purpose. Rocky Balboa, Michael Scott and Tony Stark are characters that resonate with audiences because the skilled actors portraying them believe in them despite their shortcomings. We cherish these characters more than we do Otis the drunk or Ernest (even if he’s saving camp). I ultimately find flawed characters more interesting if the actor portraying them believes in them hopelessly and without reservation. I like to play that way too.

I offer two moments from film. Both with intellectually stunted characters, but only one with an actor who embraced that character.

Both are memorable, and the mustard scene is certainly fun, but for me, only one has the power to affect me and stay with me hours afterwards.

We play fools all the time. They’re easy because we feel that their foolishness frees them from any sort of motivation or logic. I challenge you to be better. I challenge you to play those characters with the kind of integrity and soul that will move your audience. Isn’t that what acting is all about? Challenge yourself. Challenge the audience. Challenge your scene partner. Play smart so your character doesn’t have to.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Improv Theory

Thanks ColdTowne

24 hours in Texas

Big thanks to everyone who made my super-brief stay in Austin so wonderful, expecially to Mr. Cody Dearingwho was at the airport with me in the middle of the night, not once, but twice. It was definitely a break-neck trip with only 26 hours in Texas between my Friday night Purple Monkey Dishwasher show and my Sunday morning Euphonious coaching.

Coldtowne is a fantastic venue the east side of downtown. I was excited to teach two workshops back-to-back in the space. I knew a few of the students including my good friend and amazing teacher John Ratliff, but most of them were new to the ideas I was bringing. One student even came down from San Antonio for the classes. She was the only short-form performer in the classes, but she brought an amazing amount of emotional depth to her characters – proving again that players from different backgrounds can create great things together.

After a quick and delicious country fried steak, I went was honored to be invited back to the theater that night to sit in with local group The Frank Mills. I’ve enjoyed watching The Frank Mills for several years and once even opened for them during the 2006 Out of Bounds Festival with Apollo 12, which is a nice pairing considering how much both teams celebrate their knowledge of pop-culture. Our show was based largely on A Few Good Men.

 

Pick your poison

After a quick visit to Grand – the only bar I’ve ever been to that serves both Animal Crackers and cigarettes out of the same vending machine – and a birthday party for…. someone(?), I got some rest and hit the road back to Phoenix.

If you live in Austin, go watch shows at ColdTowne and all the other fantastic theaters in your city; they’re an amazing cultural resource. And take classes, you’ll be learning from the best.

Posted in Travel Tagged with: , ,

ColdTowne Journey

ColdTowne

It seems like only yesterday that I was in Austin, TX for the Out of Bounds Festival. I love Austin and I love the amazing improv community in Austin.

I’m very excited to be returning this weekend to teach a series of classes at ColdTowne Theater. ColdTowne and The Torch have been great friends for years,  building a great relationship between our two cities.  Both cities have grown incredibly in the years I met Arthur, Michael and Justin thanks to an incredible dedication from so many performers.

I’ll be teaching my higher forms of agreement and math workshops this Saturday at 3:15pm and 5:30pm respectively. You can sign up now.

I hope to see folks out there during my visit to ColdTowne – as well as my requisite visits to Valero for my favorite energy beverage and I Video next door. If you live in Austin, you have no excuse not to visit them as well, this weekend or any time.

 

Posted in Travel Tagged with: ,

Mahalo Improvaganza

Alissa Joy Lee and Garrick Paikai

I now know three Hawaiian words; aloha, mahalo and shi-shi. This was my fourth consecutive year visiting Improvaganza and I continue to fall in love with it.

Having visited both Cedar City and Honolulu recently, I notice some interesting things they have in common. Both are fairly isolated communities; both have audiences that would probably be satisfied with far less; both work tirelessly to elevate the craft instead of taking the easy route. On the Spot Improv could easily go down to Waikiki and play 185 and be very successful. But instead, they stay in downtown (across from the beautiful Hawaii Theatre Center) and create some of the most thoughtful, beautiful work in the country.

R. Kevin Doyle

Like so many parts of Hawaii, On the Spot’s separation from the mainland is a wonderful gift. Largely through the tremendous work of Garrick Paikai, the improv scene grew with respect to the teachings of Del Close and Keith Johnstone, but not stuck in the way “it has always been done”. There are no Harold nights or Armandos, or certainly not an abundance of them. Traditional forms are welcome in Honolulu, but they aren’t accepted as the only way to play. Even as an acolyte of Harold, I love that idea.

Many cities do “genre” improv; slapping cliché from television or movie styles on top of their show. It’s an easy way to market shows that are in other ways hard to promote. That’s not what Hawai’i does. Genre isn’t a wrapping paper there. This community reaches outside of improvisation to other art forms to see what is wonderful about them and incorporating those core ideas into their work. It’s something we could all aspire to. From Screwbuki to Hush to their new shows based on Poe or “The Twilight Zone” they’re always redefining how improv can be used to create art.

This year’s festival was a celebration of that. Shows of all forms, from the Mamet inspired Confidence Men to a show called Fun Bucket, populated the festival. It was a good reminder to always question what’s possible.

OG Joe Bill

This year had an amazing lineup of workshops thanks to R. Kevin Doyle who consistently organizes  excellent workshop programming for Improvaganza. This year, the theme of variety was well served with workshops from Joe Bill and Patti Stiles who represent the best of Del and Keith based improv. So many cities feel those two styles of impro (with a tip of the hat to my Johnstone friends) cannot work together. So it’s great to see Joe and Patti not only teach, but play together bringing the best of both styles together in ways that can absolutely shine. I confess, I’m less familiar with Douglass Willott and his workshop, but I’m familiar with Seattle’s brand of improv and my limited interactions with Douglass made me believe he’s a very smart dude who is intimately familiar with his style of play. I can’t imagine his workshops are anything short of incredible.

Flights to Hawai’i are expensive, but I promise they are worth the cost. Even if this wasn’t one of the most beautiful places on Earth, the love, dedication and welcoming of Garrick, Alissa, R., Nicole, Rod and the many amazing peformers out there remind you why you love improv in the first place. Also, you may get BBQ’s pancakes.

If you visit HI between now and next year’s festival, don’t spend your whole stay on the beach. OTC Comedy performs year round at The Arts at Marks Garage. Patronize them. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have you.

 

Posted in Travel Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Thanks Cedar City

Backstage with The Penrods


What a great festival TJ and Wendy put on with the Off the Cuff folks. I first met the two of them many years ago at The Phoenix Improv Festival at The Herberger Theater, but I got to really know them last year at Camp Improv Utopia. I’d been meaning to visit for some time, but I was just never able to make it happen, so I was excited to be invited to teach and finally make it up to Cedar City, UT for the 3rd Red Rocks Improv Festival.

I’m a huge advocate of the idea that quality improv doesn’t need to be the exclusive domain of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. If improv is to grow, it has to grow everywhere and great performers need to help their cities grow rather than escaping to the safer environs of the established communities. Because of that, I have mad respect for the Off the Cuff ensemble. Cedar City is quite possibly the most remote festival I’ve ever been to. It’s small and it’s separated from the world by giant beautiful canyons on all sides. It’s in every way, a small town. But they don’t use that as an excuse to not try to build national level theatre.

The challenges and lack of access to resources must make for a much more uphill battle to foster great work or reach audiences than Phoenix, or certainly than Chicago, but they continue to put great improv theatre out there for a community that might be satisfied with far less.

It was exciting to run my Starting Out Strong workshop on Friday afternoon. We dug deep into some long held ideas on what an opening is or isn’t supposed to be and why we don’t always pay enough attention to why exactly we’re doing them. Some really exciting exercises lead to some openings I’d like to see shows follow. One of the better compliments I’ve received on a workshop was the student who mentioned “I almost passed out during that last exercise, but I wanted to see it through.” That’s good stuff.

Shows were great that night, highlighted by BillyHawk, StrongBose and Off the Cuff’s home troupe. Sadly, Shane Carey and I had to return to Phoenix immediately after shows so he could teach back at The Torch Theatre. I wasn’t able to stay and take workshops myself on Saturday. I’m sure the workshops from Nick Armstrong, Josh DuBose and Brian O’Connell were fantastic.

If you visit Cedar City, please stop by OTC Comedy. You’ll have a great night. Even if you aren’t heading that way and want to support good improv across the country, you can help support their theatre by adopting a chair. It would be money well spent on supporting the arts in Utah.

Thanks again to everyone who helped bring me out.

Posted in Travel, Workshops Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Cedar City Here I Come

This weekend I’ll be heading up to Cedar City, Utah for the second annual Red Rocks Improv Festival presented by Off the Cuff Comedy Improv. I’ll be teaching my Starting Out Strong workshop on Friday afternoon before shows. It will be my first time teaching in The Beehive State. I have no doubt that TJ, Wendy and all the rest will put on a great show.If you’re planning on making the trek to the festival, please find me and say hello.

Posted in Travel, Workshops Tagged with: , , , ,

Far From Burnt Out

The cast of NBOJU shortly before being taken to heaven.

Last night I had the great pleasure to work with Not Burnt Out Just Unscrewed in their brand new place. When I say brand new, I mean brand spanking new. NBOJU has been performing in 10 years in Tucson and they’re hitting a critical mass to grow. With hopes of starting a training center in October, last night was their first night in the space. Hopefully a performance venue will also open in 2013.

In my opinion, they’re doing it right. Too many theatres open for performance and then try to start a training program. Opening a training program first not only brings in a little start-up capital, it builds a stronger series of players ready for your opening night. As an instructor, I know that teaching for a while before opening The Torch made me a stronger performer as well. Mike and Chris will both be teaching to give students different voices and different styles. It was great talking with Mike last night about really putting together a training center with intent.

Some day this will be a historical document

I was honored to be invited to run my Higher Forms of Agreement workshop during their first practice in the new space. I know I tend to get a little intense in that workshop, but everyone leaped up and pushed themselves hard. As a comedy group, they were willing to go to some very serious places in their scenework to discover the depths they were capable of taking their characters. Everyone was pretty pooped by the time we wrapped up.

I’m particularly grateful to them for asking a lot of questions. If you’re a regular reader here, you know I’m a big believer in asking questions – especially “why”. Instead of just jumping into exercises last night, people weren’t afraid to ask why and I think we all learned a lot more from the process.

There are so many improv training centers across the country, but far too few who value continuing education for students and teachers alike. I think NBOJU will become known for running a great training center, and eventually, a great theatre.  If you live in Tucson, or know someone who does, go check out their 10th Anniversary show. Better yet, think about signing up for class.

Transportation for guests of NBOJU has been provided by Alexander Cherry; lending rides to improv instructors since 2012.

Posted in Travel Tagged with: , ,

Congratulations Aidy!

Aidy Bryant

For those who haven’t heard, Aidy Bryant of Virgin Daiquiri and Baby Wants Candy has been asked to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. In response to everyone saying congratulations to Aidy, I say congratulations to SNL. Tim Robinson and Cecily Strongwill both hopefully bring great things to the show, but Aidy is one of the strongest performers out there and I know she’ll elevate the quality of the show.

Chicago should be proud of Aidy, and so should Phoenix. Tommy Cannon and I were fortunate enough to work with her during her time performing with All Rights Reserved in the VIAD Center in downtown Phoenix. It was an exciting time to work with performers so hungry to perform improv at the top of their game. I remember that despite some pressure from the producers of the troupe to create a more sensible show (meaning, easy jokes and clichés), the troupe was eager to push hard to invest in their characters and emotions. If you don’t think teenagers have emotions to get in touch with – you’ve got another think coming. I was excited to see artists pushing themselves artistically instead of playing for ego or jokes. (As a compromise, we allowed the advertising for the shows to be done in Comic Sans.)

Obligatory embarrassing picture from the past.

I clearly remember their first Harold. The suggestion was toothpaste. Aidy and her partner played children arguing in the bathroom. Their second beat took them to her wedding day in which her brother respected the gravity of the day, but still let his sibling rivalry guide him to poking a bit of fun at his sister. The third beat took them to old age, hiding each others dentures. They were constantly bickering, but the wonderful thing that went without saying is that they still were together decades later. It wasn’t three scenes literally about toothpaste, it was a relationship. It was a good Harold. I still remember that the third beat was fine, but seemed to lack closure so the ensemble created a strange dance they performed onstage together, an odd third group game. Afterwards they sheepishly asked “if that was OK.” I was thrilled that the group would trust their instincts to break the form so early.

Aidy Bryant’s first episode is this Saturday, so set your TiVo. Aidy is a fantastic improvisor, a powerful performer and a benefit to SNL. I can’t wait to see her.

Posted in Uncategorized

Austin City Limits

The Hideout Theatre at Out of Bounds

The Out of Bounds Comedy Festival is definitely growing to be one of the largest festivals in the country, especially now that they’ve added stand-up and sketch comedy to the lineup.  Unlike some festivals which localize the events, OOB ties to get shows spread to every part of town with shows at The Hideout, ColdTowne, The Velveeta Room, The Institution, Scottish Rite and The New Movement. It’s a great approach to raising awareness of improv in a city, even if it can be a bit difficult for a visiting performer without transportation.

In many ways, Austin should be a model for younger improv towns. Their many theatre groups have different styles and philosophies including Johnstonian narrative, shortform, and influences from iO and UCB. Despite the different styles, Austin groups celebrate their different approaches and work to promote all flavors of improv to both their students and audience members. What results is both more well rounded and informed performers and a general public with a richer awareness and vocabulary for quality improv in their town. No one tries to pigeonhole improv into their own definition.

Jeremy Sweeetlamb and the many other dedicated people in Austin made this a great large scale festival to help improv grow everywhere. It was an honor to be involved.

 

 

Posted in Travel

Keep Asking Why

If you’ve been a student of improv, you’ve probably heard the idea that asking questions onstage is bad. It’s not a theory I personally subscribe to. You may choose to play by those rules, but I implore you not extend that idea offstage. Asking questions of your improv teachers, coaches and other players you respect is not only how you learn, it’s how you grow as an artist and maintain those ideas to pass on to the next generation of improvisors. All questions are good questions, but one question can help you grow faster than perhaps any other question, and it’s the question that’s asked too infrequently; WHY?

The Compass Players – 1955

Modern North American improv has been around for a just about six decades now and it’s still largely passed on as an oral tradition. In the primordial days with Viola Spolin, people were experimenting and making choices that were amazing successes or colossal failures and then they got back up and tried something new. Improv was exciting and dangerous. They learned what worked and what didn’t work through experimentation and trial.

But let’s be honest. These people weren’t big on writing text books. These ideas were shared through doing. The performers that followed them emulated and expanded on their work and eventually these people were asked to talk and share those ideas. Many great teachers have passed on these forms and theories in the decades that followed, but inevitably, things get lost to vain repetition. Things get taken for granted and never challenged until we go through the motions without  question simply because that’s how it’s always been done.

But that’s not how it had always been done. Improv isn’t always dangerous anymore. Sometimes it’s very very safe. If we – as a community – get too comfortable, we’ll not only stagnate, but we’ll degrade as we continue to go through the actions of things we don’t understand. Instead, we should be constantly questioning and re-evaluating our work, as individuals, as ensembles and as theatres. We don’t do this because what came before was bad, but because we want to know how it can still be good. If we keep asking why, we’ll start filling our knowledge in with two kinds of answers, great answers and terrible answers.

The Foundation – 2011

Great Answers

Sometimes we, as instructors, have lived with concepts for so long we forget that our students haven’t been exposed to them. Sometimes we run exercises or scenes without remembering to explain the reasons behind them; without explaining how this exercise helps us grow as performers. If an exercise is unclear to you, ask (in an appropriate manner). The purpose of an exercise is far more important than the logistics. I wish I could say that coaches and directors never overlook the reasons for things, but we do. And when we do, we risk those reasons being lost forever. Don’t let that happen. It’s not disrespectful to request a proper education. When you do, you’ll understand the tools to create art instead of the tools to recreate a product.

Terrible Answers

When we don’t understand the reasons for doing  things, we don’t understand the reasons for not doing them. Different improvisors have existed in different environments and with different goals. Something may have made a lot of sense in 1963 San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right choice for your ensemble today. Dig deep to find out why the conventions of your performances were created and perhaps you’ll find that they’re not applicable – or even harmful to your show.

Improv Unit ʎ – 2067

Don’t be a Jerk-Face

I keep encouraging you to ask questions, but not simply to be contrary. Treat your instructors and directors with respect. They usually know what they’re talking about. Different instructors foster different levels of discourse in their classes. Respect the environment your teacher has created. Almost any instructor is happy to provide a clarification of a note in class, but constant discussion can detract from everyone’s learning experience. A good instructor will be more than willing to answer questions or provide additional materials outside of class if you respect the discussions they’ve chosen in your limited time together in class.

I’ve spoken in generalities. Here are a few things that are often accepted without question. Some are still great ideas. Some are not. I encourage to find your own answer to these questions and then ask more of your own.

Sets are 20-25 minutes
Why? Scheduling a venue can be much simpler if shows are of a consistent length. Logistics can be important when running a theatre. We can all respect that. But don’t let that scheduling protocol override your willingness to build a show that does not conform to that time frame. Operas are not designed to fit into an exact number of minutes, why should your show? If a show truly flourishes at a different length,  find a way to perform it that way.

Asking questions, saying “no”, teaching and transacting are bad for scenes
Why? What about them makes them bad? Don’t these things happen in good scenes as well? Is it really these specific things, or something deeper? Mick Napier didn’t accept these truths and he founded The Annoyance Theatre to play without them.

Harold has nine scenes broken up by two group games
Why? Why not eight scenes? Why not four group games? Is there a relationship between these scenes? If this form has been venerated for so many decades, there must be more to it than doing nine scenes. Even “Truth in Comedy“, the great tome on the form has very little discussion on the reason for the structure.

Shows have openings – but not closings
Why? Why must every show have an opening? What does an opening really accomplish?* How does it relate to the rest of your show? Does it match the voice and tone of your ensemble? How are you using it to build ideas? Why is it important to visit themes at the beginning of a show, but not the end? Certainly, in 2012, the end of a show is typically determined by someone in the tech booth, but must it be that way?

* If you answered this question with “To mine ideas for our show”, then congratulations; you’ve memorized the standardized response. Now the real question becomes what does that actually mean? How precisely does your ensemble do that? Are you really using your opening as a tool to build themes, or are you going through the actions of doing something organic that may result in a surface level idea to be thrown into one of your scenes if you remember?

We need to explain our show to our audience
Why? When I go to a play – if I’m early – I read the program. Sometimes there is some interesting background on the show’s creation, the actors’ Meisner training or the plays non-traditional structure. That’s interesting enough to keep me occupied before the show starts. I rarely feel that information is vital to my appreciation of the show. Why then is it necessary to explain your form? Is it to enhance the experience for the audience, to stroke your ego, or simply because you were told you must explain your form? By extension, do we need to explain that our show is longform or shortform? Do we – in fact – need to explain that the show is unscripted? Perhaps we do, but why?

Improv is about comedy, not tragedy
Why? A lot of lip service is done to the idea of honest emotional reactions. Must those always be towards the end of comedy? Do we not have serious emotional reactions? Is that not also theatre? For general audiences, improv is almost always associated with comedy. That’s all they’ve usually be exposed to. Does that dictate that improv can not create a truly dramatic performance?

Longform and shortform are different
Why? Structurally these two flavors of improv have obvious superficial differences. Beneath those structures what parts of their theories are different? What parts of their theories are the same? What ideas in one could be helpful in the other? What ideas in one could be harmful in the other? If they’re so different, why do they share a name? What are their origins? If you perform both, how do you mentally prepare for them differently? There is a lot of animosity between forms and not a lot of questions as to what they actually are.

Why do we do improv?
Over and over again I hear students say they thought improv was one thing before they started doing it, and now realize it’s something else. Usually, they’re thrilled to be a part of it. That’s awesome. But when those students first decided to try improv, they thought they were getting into something else for reasons that no longer apply. Now that we’re having fun and have momentum, isn’t a good idea to question why exactly we’re doing this strange art form? For many people, the unscripted performance is treated like a detriment to be overcome, an obstacle to be overcome. For them, a good show is where they dodge and weave in spite of the improvised nature. Egos are satisfied. For others, improv is freedom, something we choose to do because it gives us the permissions to have emotionally honest reactions on stage and be truly moved by discovery rather than invention.

Why do you choose to go to class? to perform? to practice? to read this blog? Why do you improvise? There’s no right or wrong answer for you, but I think you’ll create things far greater if you understand why you’ve given yourself to this cruel mistress we call improv.

Posted in Improv Theory