Elements of Improvisation Don’t leave your fellow actor hanging!
1. Accept Information • When you get information from another actor in an improv scene, accept it as fact. • Next, add information to what you have accepted as fact. • Ex: If someone tells you that you’re wearing a hula skirt, tell them yes you are, and that you made it right here at Club Med. • Fail to do these two things and everyone will get bored.
2. Add History • In the scene have the characters call up specifics from their common history. • Ex: “Are you trying to get us arrested?” “Like the time we ran through the Yale-Princeton lacrosse game in clown suits?” • Avoid talking too much about the future. Things in the past did happen, they have already shaped your characters.
3. Ask yourself “If this is true, what else is true?” • When you are improvising and the scene becomes “fantastic” or unrealistic, simply ask yourself “if this is true, what else is true?” This will keep the scene going. • Ex: A character picks up the phone and calls Maureen. The improvisor on the other end says “wrong number.” If you decide that the first character is always calling wrong numbers, you have the makings of a great scene.
4. Be very specific • If you’re going to say“nice car!”, why not make it “wow, a 1979 Volvo Station Wagon!” • A more vivid image opens up a rich, new world. • Adjectives accelerate scene development.
5. Beginning scenes • Start your scene with at least two people. • Start your scene with characters who have a common history. • Accept and justify the information that others provide. • It makes the scene flow easier, and is simply less aggressive than denying what your fellow actors have created.
6. Enter and exit with purpose • In an improv scene, every entrance, exit, and times that you stay put should have a specific purpose. • Don’t just say “Ok, bye” and walk out of a scene. Give a REASON.
7. Get behind the story • Try not think about yourself as a character in isolation. • Instead, always ask yourself “how can I contribute to the larger picture?” and “what is my function in this scene?”
8. Go against the voice of reason • Audiences come to the theatre to escape the mundane logical world; they sometimes want to see the barriers lifted. • You may respond to “I’m ugly” with “You know, I’ve been meaning to say something…” Or you may rob a bank because someone tells you to. • In short you SHOULD do things onstage the real you wouldn’t do. • You don’t have to justify your actions much; sometimes “I don’t know why I’m doing this, but…” is sufficient.
9. Go line for line • You can almost guarantee a good improvisation if each player does the following: • Says just one line • Bases his or her line on the last thing the other character said.
10. Justification • You must provide reasons for everything the audience sees that doesn’t make sense. • Ex: if three characters mime the refrigerator being in different places, then the character who mimes putting rollers on the thing will put the audience’s mind at ease and allow them to get into the story and characters.
11. Keep the focus human and onstage • In improv, what is interesting is a human reaction to an object, person, or event, not the object itself. • Don’t spend too long staring at objects offstage or that are in your hand.
12. Maintain your character’s point of view • If your character starts out a scene liking something, they need to continue liking that thing throughout the scene. • If you’re consistent, then the other actors will best know how to support your character. • Never try to be funny or tell jokes on stage. Humor will arise naturally out of tight relationships and solid, simple plots.
13. Mime better, much better • 50% of what an audience thinks of you as an improviser hinges on the quality of your mime and physicality. • Use the elements of pantomime to improve your motion and facial expressions in improv.
14. Play the opposite emotion • Be the opposite of your partner/fellow actor. • Ex: if one person is frustrated, come on at ease and relaxed.
15. Provide information about the other person • Tell the other character something about him/herself. • The simple comment “nice tuxedo”, can launch into a back-room panic session between a groom and best man. • Getting specific makes scenes go somewhere fast. • Staying vague leads to scenes about two nondescript people standing in the middle of nondescriptland talking about tacos.
16. Raise the Stakes • Scenes that are going nowhere can be much improved by putting more at risk, that is, introducing some large consequence of the wants of a character. • Ex: Instead of :”Hey, if you buy me that piece of candy, I’ll eat it.”, why not: “Hey, if you give that cop a wedgie, I’ll carry you on my back for the rest of the day.”
17. Questions should give more than they take • Any question can be turned into a statement. The nice thing about statements is that they provide information you and your fellow actor can immediately start building upon. • Questions which don’t require answers are fine. Questions which provide more information than they demand are fine, too.
18. What makes today special? Is a fine question to ask yourself • Think about a scene as “a day unlike any other day.” • When it seems like something big or outrageous is going to happen (someone is about to confess their love, someone wants to rob a bank, etc.), don’t just talk about it – do it.
19.“Who what who where?” are great things for people starting scenes to ask themselves • A fine way to start a scene is to lay out who both people are, where they are, and what they are doing. • You may provide this information or do it for the other character. • Just be sure to accept all information the other character provides for you.