Week of Improv

I’ve been swimming in improv for the past week and a half. It started with a drop-in class at Leela, where we focused on space object work. One exercise forced us to think a lot more carefully about the finer details of space work by starting and stopping different actions we were performing. I was setting a dinner table, and the pauses forced me to deliberate a bit more about what needed to happen next.

Then there was the showcase and jam on Thursday. My favorite moment at the showcase was when KQB started lip synching a Broadway song that CL was singing. There’s something amazing about seeing two improvisers in sync like that.

Finally, the big event of the weekend was a series of three workshops from a visiting Chicago improviser. He gave a lot of notes, many directed at me, some directed at others, and the rest at the group. Here’s what I remember:

  • Be more specific by adding in that last prepositional phrase.
    “I could really use a pep talk before our basketball game with the Panthers.”
  • In line with the previous one, he mentioned that he used to play improv with gaps hoping his scene partner would fill them in, but what he started to realize was that leaving something unresolved can cause the other person to play timidly to avoid stepping on his idea.
    Lesson –  don’t play a scene like it’s Mad Libs.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk over other people. If you haven’t spoken in a while, they will quiet down.
  • Always react to the last thing that was said and build on it. A mental “Oh, yeah?” before delivering a line forces you to react to what the other player just said.
  • It’s way more impressive to call back a line or move made by someone else than one you’ve made yourself.
  • Bring someone in if they haven’t spoken in a while.
  • “Yes, because…” – always justify what your scene partner says.
  • Start your scenes positive.
  • Don’t retroactively punish someone for a choice they didn’t even know they made. You’re adults playing make believe and trying to justify yourself for someone else or the audience is difficult.

A highlight of the workshops was taking them with so many experienced improvisers. Many of them had taught me in classes and workshops, so it was novel for me to see them in the role of students. It was also a delight to play scenes with people that before this weekend I only had the pleasure of watching.

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