I love object work. Sometimes, paying attention to object work is a piece of business that you can give your conscious mind to distract it, allowing your subconscious to bubble out more freely. And attention to detail helps build our world in a much more fun and theatrical way that words can sometimes just not express well enough.
However, if you’re panicking in the middle of a scene that your object work is inaccurate and that this will be the thing that ruins the scene the, yes, you are paying attention to the wrong thing.
Enjoy it so you remember it like you remember your favorite movie/tv show?
I don’t know. Just do it. Remember stuff or don’t do improv.
I love this. I think “Remember stuff or don’t do improv” is a better motto…
It’s not my place to tell this hypothetical person whether or not to do improv, especially based solely on their ability to do openings.
Look for the one thing that sparks your interest in the opening. There’s gonna be one thing that looks like fun to you. That’s really going to be all you need.
If you step out into a scene that somebody else has started, don’t worry about trying to figure out what idea they’re using from the opening. That opening created an idea which is now its own jumping off point. The idea is going to take on a life of its own based on what you bring to the scene. We want that; we want to see big fun scenes spiral out of one small tiny idea.
And be present and be active in the opening. A lot of stuff is going to go in your brain that you won’t necessarily consciously recall. But it’ll be in there and you’ll recognize stuff as it happens.
And of course, seek the opening (or lack-of, as Chris suggests) that works for you and your group. Very physical players will do well with an Organic, very cerebral players do well with a Scene Painting. Each has its own strengths, and each lend themselves to scenes being started a certain way.
But keep doing improv. Improv is supposed to be easy. Don’t stress out that you haven’t figured out how to recall stuff from the opening. Just keep working at it, and you’ll get it eventually.
“[Michael Short] had never heard of improv before but was discovered while performing a “poorly done” stand-up set at The Spot. Short found the transition into improv smooth, stating that he had always received more laughter from the things that he made up, rather than anything that was scripted.”—
Choice-coaching is probably the worst way to direct improvisors. For the uninitiated; choice-coaching is the process of telling an improvisor exactly what choice to make in a scene as it progresses. While the choices may lead to well-structured scenes, they do nothing to broaden the improvisor’s ability. The improvisor has learned no widely applicable skill or behavior; they have only learned how to play that one scene they just played. And worse, they learned how to play that scene the way the director would have played it. The improvisor is not the director and they will never face that particular scene ever again. The note given through choice-coaching is useless.
Choice-coaching is borne out of impatience. At its most generous, it stems from seeing neophyte improvisors making choices that you, the director, know through years of experience to be weak or difficult. The director has seen and done moves that have worked to good effect. If these new performers could just do those moves, they would feel what a good scene feels like.
But any director has to remember that neophytes are neophytes for a reason. Not everybody has the benefit of years of improv under their belts, or of being entrenched in a rich community, or having access to the finest teachers in the world.
At worst, the practice comes from a realization of scope and viewing it in a negative way. A few weeks ago I ran a one-day workshop. And as the workshop wore on, so did my sense of limits, both mine and theirs. All I could see was “so much to fix” and such little time to do it in. So I began telling the students to do scenes almost exactly how i wanted to see them. The better tact would have been to focus on one major over-arching skill that can be applied and trickle down to the rest of their work. I made a mistake, a big one, but I’m aware of it clearly now. Much of my problem would have been solved with an honest assessment of skill-level and expectations.
Patience is a virtue in life, scene-work, and directing.
I’ve been thinking about love lately, and the Muppets. The Muppets love performing. It’s so much fun and joyful when you get to go on stage to be weird and silly and sing and dance and make people happy. And ultimately the whole point of the new movie (which I just saw the other day, sparking this whole thought process) is about putting on a show and rekindling that joy.
It made me think about why I perform. Not “why do I do improv,” but why I perform. Why do I get up on a stage and do a thing that I think will entertain other people? It’s not about “why improv” anymore. We all have our art, whatever it is, whether it’s singing or acting or telling jokes. And we all do it because when we do it we’ve created something. And that something we’ve created isn’t a song, or a joke, or a line of dialogue. It’s more than that. That something is a feeling. Above the immediate sensation we might evoke, above the jolt of a horror movie scare, or the tear of a wistful love song, or the giggle at a quirky joke, above all of that is a feeling I don’t know the name for. It’s a feeling of connecting, of joy from being spoken to, of knowing that we’re not alone.
Which is love, I think. I guess I do know the name for it.
That’s why we make things, and that’s why we keep on going to see things that are made.
I forget to add love all the time. I really do. The craft of how to create something can be overwhelming. Focusing on how to do things, on how to build a scene, how to get out your who/what/where, how to do a split screen, how to edit, how, how, how… it takes over. It becomes empty gestures towards the whole process. It’s like buying flowers on a birthday because you know you’re supposed to, not buying flowers on some day just because. It gets in the way of love.
So today, right now, I am reminding myself. Add love. Add a lot of love. Whatever else I do, do it because I love to do it and for no other greater reason. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll all work out.
After even my parents, the people who have the most invested in what I have to say, could not grasp the fact that an improv show Sarah and I were in was not written ahead of time, we decided that this list needed to be created.
Thus and thus, 25 Ways to Explain to Someone Whether They’re Watching…
Immerse yourself in improvisation for two weeks in Magnet Theater’s Improv Winter Intensive from January 9th - January 20th. Students will study improv 25 hours per week, completing 2 full levels of Magnet improv training in only two weeks. The intensive program concludes with a student graduation show. Students who complete the intensive will be eligible to start at Level 3 in the Magnet program.
DISCLAIMER: This could be so many things, improv is great & shows things that are true, but these words & phrases specifically make me feel like I am a tuning fork that has just been struck. The point of this post is not at all to be a dick/alienate my audience but rather to collect some words…
“This is the most intellectual and sincere thing I’ll say: You can’t say ‘I want to be on SNL’ or ‘I want to be in the next Apatow movie,’ because that’s not available to you and that’s not going to happen. What you can do is do the next thing you can do. You have to climb up the mountain, or down the mountain, and the way you do that is by looking around and seeing what’s the next rock you can grab in arm’s reach. And that’s how it happens, rock by rock.”—Jason Mantzoukis, via a roundtable discussion of New York’s comedy exodus to LA.
This past summer, Michael Delaney sent me an email decrying the state of improv. That in itself was not unusual (Hello, Delaney!). But in this particular email he outlined what I think is a brilliant way to measure whether someone has become an advanced improviser:
1) A good improviser habitually accepts the offers made to him. 2) A good improviser habitually makes active choices rather than passive ones. 3) A good improviser justifies.
He said these were based directly on “Del Close’s Kitchen Rules.” I had never heard of this, though according to The Funniest One In The Room, it’s actually Elaine May and Ted Flicker who made them during a run of improv shows in St. Louis in 1957. Del became the rules most ardent preacher. Elaine and Ted seemed to have called them the Westminster Place Kitchen Rules which sounds funny.