Exercises for Active Emotions

Don’t be the improver who initiates a scene by running to center stage and delivering a premise.

Don’t be an improviser in a scene where two players stand shoulder-to-shoulder, cheating-out, and talking about something not in-the-moment.

Don’t be a point in the arch of a group game where improvisers stand in a semi-circle and discuss a topic.

See your environment. Endow. And have an emotional stake in the details.

That’s the core of Improv As Improv Does Best.

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Comfortable & Committed scene

Here’s a scene from a Pack show I did with Nick Leveski, a seasoned Chicago improviser.

This scene evoked a huge laugh from the audience. Like many stage-to-video improv moments, the laugh gets lost in translation.

But I believe I know what the audience liked. We didn’t explain the scene; we lived the scene.  When we as improvisers made choices, the audience could believe that those choices were the characters’ reality all along.

Nick and I had previously talked about avoiding audition scenes and scenes focused on “bad acting.”  The audience would rather see you try your best and fail than purposely be bad.  We knew I would never actually perform a monologue.  The scene is about two improvisers building a world moment-by-moment that the characters have been living since day one.

Patrons & Waitstaff organic group game video

One trios heightens a One Person perspective. The other trio heightens the established pattern with the other side’s response.

From my 2014 District Improv Festival “Boldly Go, Boldly Follow” workshop featuring Coonoor Behal, Pete Bergen, Jamie Bingner, Christine Crocker, John Heiser, Scott Holden, Jeff Hughes, J.J. Jackson, Patricia Kostiuk, Scott Kostiuk, Colleen McKenna, Ellen Reiterman, Sara Rouhi and Kate Symes

Just Act Natural

Acting. Webster’s defines it as: the art or practice of representing a character on a stage or before cameras. Fine. You’re acting when you’re pretending to be someone else. Then what’s “good acting”? Representing that character better. What’s “bad acting”? Representing that character worse. How does that relate to improv where the character only exists in what we do and what the audience sees? What about the 4th wall – so prominent in improvisation – that calls attention to the actor and the audience?
I like this definition for acting: Being convincingly in-the-moment.

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An improv stage can be anywhere. On it we can do anything.
You could be in a submarine on Mars raising talking chickens.
Often improvisers are good at labeling the moment.
But you need more than words; you have to be in the world.
This exercise focuses on attaching emotions to the scene’s active elements – what can be felt, seen or otherwise experienced on the stage – to foster reactions.