Having recently finished my 201 Improv class, I wanted to take the time to write down things I learned. In this class, I started to feel more comfortable about how to approach the stage. It was kind of liberating. I now have a foundation on which to think about what I’m doing on stage. Obviously, improv is all about having fun, but these ‘rules’/’guidelines’ have helped me in enjoying the experience and making me feel as if I’m actually getting better at it! (who would have thought…).
1. Feel Something About Something
When you start performing on stage, you’re often tempted to try to say something witty or funny. Isn’t that what improviser do after all? This usually doesn’t work. It’s forced and unnatural. Rather, one should always try to feel something about something. It can be anything! When you do this, emotion (and not your wittiness) becomes the driving force of what you’re doing. You might start the scene by feeling a deep hatred about the chocolate cake you happen to be eating (notice that this chocolate cake is right in front of you). Hearing you talk about how much you hate this chocolate cake you’re eating is already funny and interesting. We can watch that happen and wait for that feeling move the scene forward.
2. Decided How You Feel About Yourself And Your Scene Partner
When you get up on stage, you shouldn’t plan what you’re going to do or what’s going to happen. That should emerge from the emotion. That’s what improv is all about! At the same time, if you come with absolutely nothing, you’ll have a hard time moving the scene forward. So after you’re ‘feeling something about something’, you should always know how you feel about yourself and how you feel about your scene partner(s). For example, you might enter the stage feeling a deep hatred for chocolate cake, because you also feel a deep hatred towards yourself (notice how this happens before entering the scene). You might contrast this an inexplicable attraction for your stage partner. Now, rather than having a script to re-enact, you’ve created characters that can actually interact with each other and make something happen.
3. Always Heighten The Emotion And Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
You know ‘feel something about something’ and you have started developing your character on stage. You’re reacting to what the other person does based on emotion. What happens next? For the most part, you’ll be tempted to come up with a story, to try to take it somewhere. Avoid that. Instead, just repeat whatever you’re doing and heighten the emotion. If you hate your chocolate cake, don’t try to figure out why you hate your chocolate cake. Instead hate your chocolate cake even more! Instead of trying to come up with some witty, funny reason to hate your cake, just take that hatred to the next level! You might mell me why you hate your cake (that might move the scene forward), but that should come from your emotion! After that, keep heighten the emotion even more! Take it to 11! 12! 13! It’ll work out. I promise!
4. Avoid Figuring it Out and Jump Off the Ledge!
Closely related to the previous point, you should always try to avoid ‘figuring stuff out’. Don’t try to rationalize or explain what is going on. Don’t try to create a story around it in order for it to make sense. Maybe it makes sense, maybe it doesn’t. It doesn’t really matter. If someone wants to jump of a ledge, let them do it! Encourage it! Don’t try to ‘figure out’ why that person feels that way. Don’t start interrogating them about it. Remember, you already know how you feel about them. Let the emotion drive your scene and let your emotion about your stage partner determine how you will react to what is happening. If you hate chocolate cake, don’t try figure out why you hate it. Instead, just hate it as much as you possibly can. That will be much more entertaining to watch and it will help drive the scene forward.
5. Commit, Commit, and Commit
You’re in the middle of the scene. You’ve kept heightening the emotion and letting your emotions drive your scene. Now you’re starting to doubt yourself. Was this the right way to go? Is the crowd getting bored? Should I think of something witty to say? Don’t. Instead, just commit to whatever you’re doing. Invest in what you have. This is where confidence kicks in. You need that confidence to commit to whatever it is that you’re doing. If you keep hating that chocolate cake to the absolute best of your abilities, the crowd will buy it and they will enjoy it. Once again, that commitment will drive your scene forward. After that, it’ll be smooth sailing! (See how I just committed to that…)
I’m certainly not an expert an all this, so if you have any feedback or thought, don’t hesitate to leave some comments below.
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