Doing and being

“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.


“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.

How do you feel?

“Tell us how you feel. That’s the only interesting content.” — Heather Urquhart, 5th November 2015, Barcelona (ES)

This was said during a long form musical workshop. It’s true in the context of singing (sing about how you feel), but by extension it counts for all dialogues in all scenes, doesn’t it?

Expressing how you feel is a great fallback when in doubt too, since it will certainly be a sentence that lives in the now.

Of course, don’t make up a feeling. Always tell the truth on stage.


“Ambivalence survives the dilemma.” — Esther de Jong, 14th March 2015, Utrecht (NL)

Often we see characters in great pain when they face a dilemma. This is usually a beautiful thing. When finally having made a decision, the scene tends to end. Even a whole story quickly comes to a conclusion afterwards.

Yet, the emotions can get even bigger after the dilemma is decided upon, but this is hardly ever played out. After any decision you make, feelings like doubt and sadness can linger for a long time, affecting the future of the character.

It’s fun to play with ambivalence!

When words don’t suffice

“Only start singing when words aren’t enough; buy the singing rights to the story” — Heather Urquhart, 7th November 2014, Barcelona (ES)

When performing a long form musical, or even in a simple standalone scene, don’t just start singing off the bat. Prepare your character, partners and audience for your song.

Try to convey your message with words first, and only if you feel that your character’s emotion is stronger than words or actions can describe, start singing.

Play it, don’t say it

“Play it, don’t say it!” — Nelleke Zitman, 22nd February 2014, Amsterdam (NL)

Act out your stories, don’t simply narrate them. When you’re angry, hit the table and start shouting, don’t say “Man, I’m so angry right now”.

It gets you into a positive feedback loop which makes you believe more in your character’s emotions, in turn resulting in more credible acting. This will also allow to enlarge emotions and corresponding actions, which is generally a good idea on a stage.