“Truth is better than realism.” — Marko Mayerl, 17th October 2016, Hamburg (DE)
Improv as a stage art form allows us improvisers to do almost anything we want. All too often however, we limit ourselves to overly realistic portrayal of our characters and their lives. I think it might be because of an overdose of television and movies we are consuming, making us forget the power of theatricality.
Make it bigger! We should use all of our body and voice to deliver our message to our audiences. Think of the stage as a canvas to paint on rather than a set to play in.
Dance! Sing! Bring us inner monologues! Jump around! Lose yourself completely in dilemma’s, emotions and beautiful moments. Go for choregraphic gestures to engage the audience into the inner world of the character.
Use everything you have to portray the truth for your character and don’t let yourself be limited by that dirty thing called realism.
“Be surprised by yourself.” — Daniel Renwick, 22nd October 2016, Tallinn (EE)
First do, then think. Or, as said before: first jump off the cliff, then figure out how the parachute works. That’s precisely what you have to do to keep on inspiring yourself or, in fixed groups, your partners.
Going boldly where you have never gone before is always rewarded in improv. Embrace the unknown, go to where the danger is and… surprise yourself. It’s fun! 🙂
“If you want to know the meaning of your words, look at your partner. Their reaction defines the meaning.” — Marko Mayerl, 17th July 2016, Hamburg (DE)
Beautiful, isn’t it? And so true. If your character says something along the lines of “Stephan, I’m divorcing from your sister”, you might think it holds a lot of meaning. But this is totally out of your hands, as it’s the character Stephan’s reaction to your words that instills (or detracts) any meaning to them.
On the other hand, if your character has a line “Do you want some coffee?” and your scene partner turns silent and looks at you angrily, all of a sudden this inconspicuous sentence appears to imply a lot of shared history and thus meaning.
Another great example of how in improv the responsibility of a scene or story can never lie with one person. Improv is always working together at heart.
“Concentrate on doing and being, not on meaning and conveying.” — Marko Mayerl, 16th July 2016, Hamburg (DE)
Internalise whatever it is you’re doing. Once you’re feeling an emotion or reaction strongly enough on the inside, it will automatically show on the outside. And it will be more truthful this way too; free bonus!
In fact, this is acting 101: don’t pretend you’re crying. Cry! Don’t ‘act’ you’re angry. Be really angry!
Many improvisers are afraid of this and on top of that most lack any formal training as actors or stage artists in general.
Just go for it and believe in yourself. We all know it’s not for real, no need to constantly remind us of that.
“Do your best, but never try.” — Kevin Gillese, 11th June 2016, Athens (GR)
Just like Yoda says: “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” I like this quote very much in the context of improv. Always play at the top of your skills, push your boundaries, even dare to leave your comfort zone when committing to whatever it is you’re doing, but never ‘try’. Trying implies fear of failure, it implies some timidity.
The worst is probably when improvisers show the audience they are just ‘trying’ something. This perhaps is most often seen when actors engage into a song or some physical activity.
“Your two best friends are Listen and Repeat.” — Aden and Erik Nepom, 10th June 2016, Athens (GR)
As posted before on this blog, you should be listening as if you have to repeat. Nothing more to add here. I just like the way Listen and Repeat are being anthropomorphised into ‘friends’. 🙂
“The improv actor should always be willing, but never wanting.” — Flavien Reppert, 8th June 2016, Athens (GR)
Simple, yet profound. Always accept whatever is happening around you, and never force your ideas on your partners.
Obviously, almost the opposite counts for your improvised characters. They should have a clear objective and give at least some resistance to change, in order to become real and compelling.
The contradiction between actor and character is often huge. When somebody shouts “Please, don’t go!” at you on stage, the actor behind that character probably wants you to leave. And when you hear “I’m leaving you now.”, that actor might be signalling you to try and make the character stay.
Yet, as an improv actor: be willing, but not wanting.
“You’re never neutral.” — Flavien Reppert, 8th June 2016, Athens (GR)
Here’s a fun game. Ask a volunteer to stand neutrally in front of a crowd. Then ask the crowd which emotions they read in that person. If you’re particularly nasty, ask them which emotion you have told the volunteer to convey to the audience.
Nobody will ever tell you “neutrality” or “nothing”.
That is because it is simply impossible for humans to be neutral in their expression. Neutrality is an intellectual concept of the mind, not the absence of emotion.
This fits nicely into the idea that improv is not equivalent to writing on a clean sheet of paper, but to reading something that is already there, however elusive it may seem. When Michelangelo looked at a piece of marble, he saw the statue already in it. He read it.
So, read your partners on stage. Read the light, the music, the audience. Nothing is ever neutral. You can find inspiration in anything and everything.
“In improv, there are no shoulds, only coulds.” — Nadine Antler, 22nd May 2016, Kampenhout (BE)
We all know this feeling after a scene or a show. “Oh! I should have done this!” and “Damnit, I should have said that!” are thoughts that have plagued many an improvisers mind, sometimes for long stretches of time after a play.
Unfortunately, there is a far worse variant out there too: “Oh! You should have done this!” or “Damnit, you should have said that!”. People saying or thinking this haven’t understood much of the improv mindset, in my opinion.
Every scene can go a million ways. Sure, something else could have happened, but would that difference have made it a nicer scene, a more compelling story, a better joke? It doesn’t matter how long you think or talk about it, you will never know.
Do you know this traditional game where you drop a ball or disc along a plank with hundreds of nails through it to have it come out on the other side in a random position? Every time the disc bounces of a nail represents something that happened in the scene. Removing or adding a single nail of course can have a big impact on the trajectory of the disc, but the outcome will still be unpredictable.
Bottom line: don’t worry about what happened, and definitely don’t complain about it.
“The director cannot feedback on your thinking.” — Nadine Antler, 22nd May 2016, Kampenhout (BE)
Not only the director, but also the audience and especially your fellow improvisers cannot read your mind. What is going on in your head is not interesting; stay away from it as much as you can! Use as much of your brain capacity as possible for your character, not for yourself as an actor.
When you are on stage, and you don’t know what to do, just do anything. There are so many people around to catch you if you might fall. The only thing your partners or director cannot help you with, is thinking. So don’t do that.