Recently, I’ve been thinking about Ricky Jay’s musings about magic from Celebrations of Curious Characters as they apply to improv:

Young students … often try to develop great speed … But as novices gain more understanding of their art, and become more subtle in their use of time, their emphasis may change.

Here’s the old saw. Tyro: “I can do the pass forty-two times in a minute – how many can you do?”

Seasoned Practitioner: “I can do one, but you can’t see it.”

Consider how one might play with time for a skill like justification. In those instances when the same character has been called both Billy and James (it happens!), there can sometimes be a rush to justify that in the next line. On the other hand, if an improviser waits a few lines after an emotion has been heightened and exclaims, “Billy James Thornton!” so that the justification coincides with the apex of that heightened emotion, the effect is synergistic. Likewise, when someone brushes their teeth next to someone swinging a golf club, a line of justification can sometimes happen immediately and break the flow of conversation. If instead that conversation continues, and at some random point we hear the non-sequitur, “I’m telling you, my swing is always better once I’ve eliminated that nasty plaque from my mouth,” that can be the button of the scene.

Warm-ups and exercises like “10 Things” encourage the development of speed, and while moving past hesitation can be an important facet in the development of skills, is there a way to build playing with time into an improv exercise? The closest thing I can think of right now is Form 2.

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