Objective: A scripted actor’s whole job is to make an audience believe that the emotional reaction they’re rehearsed is real in-the-moment. In improvisation, we have a leg up; we are all experiencing what’s happening for the first time. So just react. Don’t be in your head thinking about how you should feel or why we should feel. Just react. React without words until the words come. React without why until the why presents itself. If you commit to your reaction, that’s all the “why” an audience needs. If you invest in your emotion, the audience will believe that you have a reason even if you don’t have a motivation in mind.
1.0 Introduction: Introduce the class and yourself
CRAZY EIGHTS – Together (teacher included) everyone shakes out their limbs – right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg – in descending counts starting at 8 each and ending with 1 each.
NAME THUMPER – Going around the circle, each person (teacher included) associates their name with an action. Go around once more so everyone knows everyone else’s name and action. Then play progresses with an individual doing their name/action and then another person’s name/action; that person then does their name/action and then another person’s name/action; etc.
1.1 Make Each Other Look Good: While a lot of this class will be focused on making individual emotional choices, we can’t forget that we always improvise as a group. Our guiding mantra should always be “making each other look good” through acceptance and support.
ACTION PASS – In a circle, a player turns to his left and executes an action, any action. The next player observes that action and attempts to recreate it EXACTLY in turning to the player to their left.
• Do it once through. Then immediately have them do it again focused on slowing down and really noticing all the nuances of a player’s action and working to repeat the action exactly.
• Call attention to what makes them laugh – straight repetition, embracing something “accidental”
• Focus Outward – take the time to really see all that players are giving you. The first step in reacting to what’s happening is seeing what’s happening.
• Support your fellow player’s moves – There are no mistakes/There is no “right.” There is only “what has happened” and “what’s happening now.”
AWESOME! – Around the circle, students say something about themselves and/or their day to which the rest of class enthusiastically responds, “Awesome!”
• Acceptance is fun – don’t waste time judging; the audience wants to see you enjoying one another
1.2 Be Yourself: Without scripts, improvisers are dependent on what’s in their head – details from their lives and their personal ability to access emotion in-the-moment. The audience loves seeing us on stage. Let the audience see you to give them the ability to connect with you and ultimately root for you.
CAFÉ SCENES – Two players sit in chairs facing each other. They are to have a conversation as themselves, trying not to worry about people watching them.
• Share your opinions – We avoid “getting to know one another scenes” in improv because they end up being boring as players focus on figuring each other out instead of boldly committing to what they already know. A bold emotional statement immediately charges the scene with something interesting.
• No questions – questions are invitations for information; statements are information. Get to the information. Instead of asking “What do you do?” say “I’m a lawyer.”
• What you did or what you will do is ultimately less interesting than when we talk about the present – We are talking about the present when we talk about what we feel or what we care about.
• Focus outward and react – What do you see? How do you feel about that? Don’t be in your head thinking about what to say; focus on your partner and share observations and feelings.
• Be vulnerable – honest reactions are endearing; be endearing instead of calculating
CONVERSATION PARTY – Players stand on stage in multiple groups of two or three people. Players are “at a party” as themselves, speaking as themselves to other who are also themselves. The teacher conducts focus from one conversation to the next.
• Be specific – You don’t have to try so hard to be funny. You just have to be specific. The surprise inherent to improvisation is made even more satisfying when we’re specific in-the-moment.
• React – The audience reaction of “I would have said that,” or “I know a woman who would have said that,” is such a satisfying response for any performance medium. In improvisation, that power is compounded as the audience knows that your reaction was “your” reaction in-the-moment.
• Connect – don’t just sit in your head waiting for your next turn to speak, listen to what’s going on around you, let it seep in and affect you.
• Juxtapose – we don’t have to discuss our differences or negotiate out one “truth.” A party group who loves cats standing next to a group that loves dogs doesn’t need to engage in a fight. The audience sees both groups and wants both heightened next to each other.
1.3 Be Confident: Confidence is what separates the AssCats that can do whatever they want to grand applause from the college improv troupes who sink even great moves with desperation. The audience needs to see you comfortable in improv’s chaos so they can relax and enjoy it all.
HERE’S WHAT I KNOW – One player takes the stage with everyone else in the audience. Audience, with teacher moderating, asks the player very technical or nonsensical or just hard questions. The player presents him/herself as an expert in all areas and is therefore able to confidently respond to all questions.
• Emotions are always trump – A maniacal laugh. A dismissive ‘pshaw.’ Even an awkward misdirection. All of these non-informative but emotional responses keep a player in control.
• Decisiveness is king – struggling to the right answer is rarely as satisfying as quickly deciding on any answer.
• Commitment is all the sense you need – players can get hung up on thinking through responses that “make sense.” Forget sense. Just make a choice and stand by it confidently. Commitment to making a decision despite sense will make your response sound “right” even if it isn’t and/or it’ll focus the scene on your “wrong” character instead of the Q&A “stuff,” which is awesome.
• Committed, You Can Stand By Yourself – you can be on stage alone for 30 seconds or for five minutes. Commit to yourself. Don’t rely on meeting your scene partner center stage before the scene starts. You can be alone.
I AM SUPERMAN – Everyone stands in a circle. One at a time, each player will enter the circle, say “I am [NAME] and for the next 30 seconds, I am Superman” at which point the teacher will start a timer and the player does whatever they want until the time is up at which point everyone claps and the next player takes the circle. Players around the circle are NOT to interact with the player in the center. The player in the center should be encouraged to do something they’ve been told they need to do more of on stage. Do mime. Be emotional. Stand still. Doesn’t matter.
• Surrender to your group – let go of ego, let your team know that you’re ready and willing to commit to being awkward in front of them.
• It sucks to be alone – don’t let your fellow players suffer on stage alone. Get out there and support each other.
1.4 Acceptance and Commitment: “Yes” is arguably the greatest emotional statement there is. Watching a player accept a belief given to him/her by another player is a fun surprise. When the player continues committing to that perspective the audience is engaged in rooting for the performer in a way unique to improvisation.
YES, YES I AM – Form lay-up lines on either side of the stage. The player on stage left endows the player on stage right with a strong emotional perspective (“You think Ringo is the best Beatle”). The player from stage right accepts the perspective (“Yes, I do’) and commits through several lines of dialogue (“He voices Thomas the Tank Engine” / “I own every Thomas trinket there is”).
• “Yes” is funny – there’s a surprise unique to improvisation in watching a player accept a perspective thrust upon him/her. The “Yes” of acceptance stands to be funnier than anything else even the cleverest person might have responded with.
• Specificity heightens the funny of acceptance – “Have you ever eaten a train, piece by piece, after you derailed it with your penis?” “Yes – for charity.”* When we negotiate the bizarre, we (and the audience) get bogged down trying to make sense. When we accept the bizarre, we (and the audience) explore and heighten fun worlds where the bizarre is “real.” [* thank you Mr. Show]
HEIGHTENING EMOTIONAL AGREEMENT CIRCLE – A player makes a Self Contained Emotional Statement. It can be as simple as “I love it here,” “I hate the arts,” or “I’m uncomfortable.” Then progressively each person to the right heightens the perspective by agreeing with it – essentially with a “Yes, and.” “I love the beach.” “Yeah, I love the white sand.” “Yeah, I love getting my tan on.” Etc. The initiator gets the final addition. And then the person to their right starts a new SCES.
• Repeating Agreement is funny – what’s better than one person who believes something strange? Two people who feel that same way.
• Agreement fosters collaborative building – many people united behind one emotional perspective will be able to heighten creative details to apexes beyond the reach of any single person.