“The first step to making your partner look good, is to make your partner feel good.” — Bart Van Loon, 29th April 2018, Padova (IT)
While it is certainly possible to perform great improv with scene partners your hardly know or have even met before, it is utterly impossible to improvise together with someone who doesn’t make you feel good.
With strangers you can have a good vibe, a great first impression, a wonderful connexion. But with people you have worked with many times over many years in many productions, you can reach that next level of connexion, leading to simply better improv.
Go out of your way making your partners feel good, either physically with a quick massage before a show, or emotionally with ample attention, compliments or enthusiasm. If your partner feels good, they will look good. And that’s our goal after all, isn’t it?
“Play characters that want to exist.” — Kelly Agathos, 30th April 2018, Milan (IT)
When working with masks this is pretty common I guess: your mask character wants to exist, it loves when it can do stuff, can experience stuff, can live. But the same can be said about any staged character really.
Do you recognise that feeling of wanting to return to a character you have discovered before? That feeling of sorrow when a show is over, knowing that you won’t be able to get to play (or ‘be’) that character anymore? Moments that you can’t help but wonder how that character would have reacted to a given situation?
As most remarkable stories feature interesting characters, I suppose this feeling is a good indicator you discovered a memorable scene or story in your show. Well done!
“Copy, repeat and complete.” — Bart Van Loon, 7th April 2017, Mainz (DE)
One of my favourite mantra’s of Keith Johnstone is to not be creative. We are not making stuff up! Creativity is a thought process.
We want to re-act, use what is already there and read the situation to come to truly inspirational scenes. Don’t use what’s in your head already, use what can be found on stage by copying stuff, repeating stuff and, ultimately, completing it.
As improvisers, our true power lies in spotting all kinds of patterns and completing them as obviously as possible.
“To react is to accept another’s authority to change you.” — Sébastien Chambres, 5th April 2017, Brest (FR)
Indifference is the the worst thing in improv. Indifference to an offer is the very essence of blocking it. Ignoring or not caring about your partners is exactly what will make others not want to play with you in the future.
Improv is all about reaction, not about action. And real reaction invokes change.
Accept anything to change your character. This doesn’t mean you should change your mind all the time (a strict vegetarian should never accept that sausage). It can also mean you change your emotion, change your status, change your energy, change the speed/volume/pitch of speaking, etc…
If you’re serving your partner, you accept their authority to change you.
“Look for something bigger than yourself and join it.” — Sébastien Chambres, 5th April 2017, Brest (FR)
This quote beautifully captures an essential part of improv for me. If we are always on the look to join something which is bigger than ourselves, we leave no room for the ego. Perfect!
Don’t go on stage to create something or to make something up. Go on stage to discover and join what is already there.
“The silliness or seriousness of a scene is apart from its emotional truth.” — Charlotte Gittins and Andy Murray, 28th January 2017, Amsterdam (NL)
Finally a good way of expressing something that I always struggled with in the past.
When focussing on truth in scenes, we tend to go realistic. We stay close to ourselves and explore situations close to our everyday life. Hence we reach ‘serious’ scenes.
But taking our work seriously (i.e. playing truthfully) doesn’t at all need to mean that we have to play serious characters in serious situations. Be silly! Let improv be like dreams, not fiction!
“The more time you spend looking at each other, the better your show will be.” — Charlotte Gittins and Andy Murray, 28th January 2017, Amsterdam (NL)
Charlotte and Andy form the British duo Folie à Deux and teach about 2-person shows. You can tell from their shows that they love working with each other and fully accept each other on stage all the time.
This connection is of course formed offstage too and a great tip is to spend a significant part of your warmup doing an emotional check-in and time simply looking at each other.
Improv is working together, so it will make your show better, in every single way. Always.
“Follow the fun!” — Pedro Borges, 27th January 2017, Amsterdam (NL)
In improv we want to be on the lookout for the things that are bigger than us. If you ever find yourself lost, just follow the fun and you will very much enjoy where you end up. But keep on following the fun diligently, don’t just look at it.
“Your show = performers + audience + space.” — Will Luera, 21st January 2017, Amsterdam (NL)
The impact of the performers on the show is pretty obvious. The team with which you’re playing is also important on your input to the show. If you’re really there to support your partners, then you play very differently depending on who you’re sharing the stage with.
Then, we all have felt the difference between playing for ten people or a hundred or perhaps even a thousand. But there’s also the difference between playing for children, in front of people with different native tongues, specialised audiences at companies, etc…
Finally, in improv, the so-called fourth wall stands behind the audience, not between the audience and the stage. Use the space in which you are performing to the fullest, let it shape your show.
Obviously, playing in a bar will result in a different show from performing in a grand theatre. Yet, wherever we are, we should always check out the performance space before the show and during the show not be afraid to push the boundaries of what we call the stage.
“Commit with an explosion!” — Daniel Renwick, 22nd October 2016, Tallinn (EE)
I love this expression. We have discussed commitment a lot on this blog already (see http://improblog.be/tag/commitment/), but this is the first time we look at the beginning of commitment.
By jumping into everything head first, you’re leaving no way out for yourself. This might help you to simply let go of your fears and inhibitions and move on to explore your unknown further and further.
Remember, this has nothing to do with ‘exploding emotions’ on scene. You can also commit with an explosion into being a very silent character and commit with an explosion into very small movements, for example.
Try this in your next scene!