Audiences love Musical Improv. LOVE it. They know you’re collaborating in-the-moment to build something out of nothing AND YOU’RE FOLLOWING A TUNE AND YOU’RE RHYMING!!!
Musical Improv is hard. It’s hard to make up with songs in-the-moment. It’s harder still to make those songs a backbone to a compelling story, with rich character and emotion. It’s harder still to do it with only two people on stage (and one accompanist off-stage).
But Karen Lange and Jordan Hirsch‘s Vox Pop make it look easy.
Jive Turkey is Chris Ulrich and Joe Randazzo. They’ve been working on a two-man format where all the worlds connect.
There’s certainly a through-line of a plot here – finding one character’s spouse, trying to have a threesome with said spouses, etc. – but what I like here is that the worlds are more connected by emotional characters and their words than by the plot.
“Buh-duh, buh, buh, buh,…”…enjoy it!
A “Blackout” is a short scene with one big punchline. In sketch, or in improv with a tuned-in booth operator, the lights would go out on stage after the punchline, designating the end of the scene and earning the name “blackout.”
Blackouts are fun. They can help vary the pacing of a long-form show. They can be great when it’s clear there’s not going to be a bigger laugh beyond the first big punchline, but even if there is life beyond the punchline it can be enjoyable to cut the scene “early” so you can bring it back later. Will Hines and I had a scene where, in crossing stage, he asked if I had “a roll of quarters in my pants.” I did, I removed it and that was the end of the scene. Later in the show he asked if I was smuggling a zucchini in my pants; again, I was. Repeat.
I really love this Blackout from Horse Apples’ District Indie Improv Fest Show. Joey Tran kills it by being authentic. Truth is he doesn’t believe he can whistle; that’s honest frustration in his “no” to my question. And the audience believes him. So when he tries – and he legitimately tries because, again, he doesn’t think he can – and, lo and behold, he succeeds!, the surprise is also genuine. Honest, in-the-moment, shared with an engaged audience, emotionally reactive… that’s improv as improv does best, folks.
Want to see a Monoscene? Here’s a good one.
Greg Tindale, Jordan Hirsch, Amanda Hirsch and Sean Murphy of the Washington, DC based group Hijinx took one suggestion and built a great work of character and relationships out of it. Check it out.
I love improv and believe (when my heart and head are in it) that I’m good at it, too. Here are some other things I love and believe myself to be good at. They share some skills with improvisation. Am I good at improv because I am good at these things, or am I good at these things because I’m good at improv? Doesn’t matter; who cares.
What’s fun is thinking about how the skills involved in these activities translate into being good at improv. Enjoy!
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Watch this scene, starring Scott Beckett as “Mr. Johnson” and Jonathan Nelson as “Jeeves.”
We want to fill our blank stages with imagined environment. We want to engage physically in that environment to help visualize the imagined. And – most importantly – we want to be emotionally affected by where we are and what we’re doing. That’s Improv As Improv Does Best.
Our fellow player(s) and how they emotionally affect our characters is important. But engaging heir scene partner is not where improvisers struggle. One’s scene partner is actually active on stage – his/her presence doesn’t have to be imagined – so too often players give 100% of their attention on their partner and ignore physically engaging the environment.
Like the “We gotta…” and “That’s my…” initiation exercises, the “I was just…” drill helps connect emotion to active endowments.
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.
Feeling about active endowments. That’s Improv As Improv Does Best.
It ain’t easy. That balance between making up imagined details and committing to feeling about imagined details is tough to manage. Already we’re trying to see our world’s details instead of thinking up details, but we also have to care about those details in-the-moment.
Like the “We gotta…” and “I was just…” initiation exercises, the “That’s my…” drill helps connect emotion to active endowments.
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.