Christopher S. Malone informs me he’s a practising Impro guy (or improv as he prefers, the terms are interchangeable). I like his persistence, enthusiasm and passion, so asked him to write me/us a short “Intro to impro” and a “warm-up” exercise.
So why do we need rules and structure, intro to impro and warm-up excercises ? Well this is my take :
1. The structure helps the improvisers work cohesively and more “smoothly” together. Even though we’re improvising, impro is often done “in relationship” with others. Other’s ideas will be part of the creation. The only way to get a team to work together properly is for them to be working from the same guiding principles. Team work !
2. Even people who are very creative and spontaneous experience the “blank mind” (or blank page) that doesn’t seem to want to co-operate. Warm-up exercise can help to get the creativeness flowing. Think of it like your first cup of coffee or tea in the morning. So the mind is like a muscle, needs warming up prior to use.
3. When one’s applying the improvisation principles on one’s own, having a structure and a knowledge of how the methods, techniques, structures etc work, helps in the creative process. Bit like a map of the creative process.
4. Audience participation is used in some impro, they become are part of the creation too, they can act as a prompt for ideas or as a catalyst to enhance the creation by laughing when it goes right (or wrong).
Without further ado, here’s what Christopher sent me :
Rules of Improv
Improv is creating something out of nothing. You jump up on stage, and you have nothing except fellow performers and maybe a couple chairs. Depending on your skill level and personal preference, the improv actor can perform the short form (essentially the games, quick scenes that can be seen in Whose Line is it Anyway? Episodes) or long form (a Harold is an example of long form) that results in a play with a few stories that connect at the end of the set.
There are a few non-negotiable rules to abide by.
1.) “Yes, and…” That two-letter word, No, is a bad word. You accept a designation, name, object, quirk, etc. given to you by the other actors on stage. When you and, you elaborate. You can designate/endow other performers as well. You are building characters, a scene, and a story. Saying No puts a damper on the process.
2.) Do not Deny. This branches off the first rule. If someone tells you they are frying bacon, go along with it. Don’t tell them they are juggling with one hand. Improv is about accepting and heightening. If you want to go with a circus theme, accept that you’re in a kitchen and bring a camel into the scene. It’s outlandish, but it works. It heightens, and you can go into more detail/conversation about what is going on.
3.) Don’t Ask Questions. Especially open-ended questions. Asking “Who are you?” or “What are you doing?” stops a scene in its tracks, because the actor has to stop and think things through.
4.) Don’t Try to Be Funny. Life is funny. You are funny. Accept everything and add on to the scene. Whatever happens, happens. If you keep looking for the punch line, it’s not so funny. We’re naturally funny—take it or leave it, it’s the truth. Even with serious scenes, humor comes out; the audience laughs, because they can relate.
5.) It’s Not All About You. Put your selfish tendencies aside. This branches off the previous rule. When you make your fellow performer look good, you look good. It’s a natural effect.
6.) Commit. If a fellow actor is sitting at a table, do not walk through the table. It might not be there in reality, but it is there since the other designated it. Poof! The imagination is killed, and the scene is killed. If you have a nervous twitch, this is designated to you by yourself or another, keep the twitch and let it move your character.
7.) Change and Heighten. Everyone loves a character. When you’re playing a boring character, gradually make that character more boring. If happy: grow your character to the point where they seem like they have gone mad. Then SNAP! React to something said or done by another character. Do the opposite. If you’re ecstatic, pull a 180 and get unhappy.
An Exercise to Try
Whether you are performing short or long form, the objective is to entertain your audience from a simple one-word or phrase suggestion. You don’t have to take the word in the actual sense.
Let’s use light bulb as the word of inspiration, because I just accidentally looked at one.
If someone says light bulb, you don’t actually say/use light bulb. Seasoned improvisers will tsk tsk you. On stage you should either (a) charade and change a light bulb, or (b) charade that you flick on a light, and tell the person, “There. Now you can read your paper easier.” You’ve used the inspiring word, created a possible setting, and you’ve endowed the person standing there with an action to do.
The key is to expand. How does light bulb make you feel? What does it remind you of? Think a couple steps ahead. The audience member may be irked you didn’t use the word in the literal sense, but they’ll appreciate it if they ask for an explanation.
Light bulb –>Glow–>Bright–>Blindness
Someone gave me “Stairway to Heaven” at the last show I performed at. This is what I did:
“Stairway To Heaven” –> Is a Song –> Has Lyrics –> References Lord of the Rings –> Pretend to read The Hobbit
I want you to text someone you know for a word or inspiration, or go to Dictionary.com (or any other applicable site) that has a Word of the Day.
Use the word given to you.
Take a moment to think about that word. What does that word signify, remind you of, and/or make you feel?
Using one page of a word document: write the first thing you are compelled to write, and expand upon it. If possible, create characters that don’t ask each other questions, but build/play off of one another, what they say and do.
Try to establish as much information as you can in at least three paragraphs, but do not use the entire page of a document. The idea is to get to the point as quickly as possible, as make it as meaty as possible.
“Rules of Improv” & “An Exercise to Try” by Christopher S. Malone (http://thinaby.com/)
That’s really great Christopher, totally well put and is very helpful 🙂
I’ve already received some of the guest submissions, they are very very awesome. I will start posting them just as soon as I’m ready.
Resources & Sources
Image (Creative Commons) – Flickr – Anirudh Koul – www.flickr.com/photos/anirudhkoul/2676317820