All this information is wrong in the sense that no one set set of guidelines is right for any person

. However, the only way to get good in something as difficult as improv is to listen to a lot of people and choose the ideas you like. If you don't like one of these guidelines, ignore it. Or try doing the opposite - maybe you'll find something better. ACCEPT INFORMATION: "YES AND" When you get a piece of information from another actor, first, accept it as fact and second, add a little bit more information to it. If somebody tells you that you're wearing a hula skirt, tell them that yes you are, and you made it right here at Club Med. Keep doing this long enough, and you'll have a scene full of fascinating facts, objects and relationships. Fail to do this and everyone will hate you, even your mom and dad. ADD HISTORY The swiftest way to add reality and depth to a scene is to have the characters call up specifics from their common history. A simple exchange such as: --“Are you trying to get us arrested?” --“Like the time we ran naked through the Yale-Princeton field hockey game?” A few words properly placed can fill provide a metric ton of information. From the example above, the audience and actors now can infer characters are college boys, they are troublemakers, they are upperclass, they are educated, they are from New England, they drink to excess, they have police records, they are old friends, and much more. With one sentence, the amount of information the improvisers can now draw on has grown exponentially. Some people suggest staying in the present tense at all times. This is lunacy. I agree, however, that you should avoid talking to much about the future. Things is the future might happen, they might shape your characters. Things in the past did happen, they did shape your characters. ASK YOURSELF “IF THIS IS TRUE, THEN WHAT ELSE IS TRUE?” Often in improvisation, things deviate from the normal, the usual. (This happens for a number of reasons and it is usually not intention – improvisation is constrained communication so misunderstandings are bound to occur. These misunderstandings, among other things, can lead to departures from business as usual. When in situations that are fantastic, there is a simple maxim to govern your action: “If this is true, then what else is true?” It’s a question you can ask yourself at every second of the scene. Each time you find the answer, you can play it out. Before you know it, you’ve built a solid scene around a core idea. Example: Suppose, a character picks up the phone and makes a call. Due to a misunderstanding over names, the improviser on the other end doesn’t recognize the requested name and says it’s a wrong number. The caller hangs up and says to the scene partner that there is something wrong with him and he only dials wrong numbers lately. The other improvisersaccept this as true and then ask themselves what else would be true if this guy can only dial wrong numbers. They come up with new scenes and initiate them. Someone initiates a fire in the scene and tells him to

COMMENCE WITH CHARACTERIZING ACTIONS Characterizing actions are those which define a character's occupation or role. The person on the other end says “411”. --Ouch. uses reverse lookup. why not make it "nice. are excellent for starting scenes.) Two people can start a scene engaged in an action together. (Note that the scene need (and often should) not be about drinking a beer or chopping lettuce just because that's what one of the characters is doing. now what would be true?” BE VERY SPECIFIC If you're going to say "nice car!". The hi-jinx continue. you want to cut to the interesting stuff as soon as possible. as they get the scene going faster. --What's new? --I've got one month to live.dial 911. And what's yours? --Mike. or start the scene with two people with common history. Why have a scene that goes: --Hi. maybe you can’t. A more vivid image opens up a rich. who recognizes him from previous wrong number and starts to flirt with him. --Hello. Margarita? --My treat. a 1979 Subaru Station Wagon!" If we know the Subaru owner is a 21 year old woman. The real girlfriend suspects something is up. BEGINNING SCENES Basically. Adjectives are the WD-40 of scenes. then what else is true?” and then “ok. --What's your name? --Jim. new world. such as a teacher erasing a blackboard. supposing that consequence of his dialing wrong numbers has happened. and rings the doorbell of every woman whose phone number is 1 different from hers and launches into a third degree. suddenly we can visualize her (well. or a child playing with toys. They say a lot about what is going on and thus help the scene get to the point faster. I've got one month to live. The guy tries to call his girlfriend and gets another woman on the line. This is why we sometimes advise: start the scene with two people on. . When you can have a scene that goes: --Jim. but I can: she has dried white and blue oil paint on her fingers and long brown hair). each person just asking themselves “if this guy only dials wrong numbers. a janitor cleaning up.

--No you're not. and is simply less aggressive than denying what your fellow actors have created. Another rehearsal exercise. Furthermore. another character walks right through it. your certificate lies. ENTER AND EXIT WITH PURPOSE (beginners) . Shluuung". he may say "periscope down" and need to be corrected by his straight-person assistant. consider a scene which starts with one character hitting tennis balls. Character Denial: Not letting the other person be what she wants to be. --What are you talking about? We're in a helicopter! The denying actor is not reacting to the presented information. --Hi. e. then adding to it and raising the stakes.By putting status into this two-person action. denial can make sense within in the logic of the scene: i. Denial makes audience and cast uncomfortable. Two exercises can help people overcome the denying urge. There are many forms: Mime Denial: Somebody spends five minutes setting the dining room table. they are accepting the information the other presents. A denying response would be. playing out scenes where every line denies the other character's previous line) to make one another conscious of the bad habit. and one-ups it by finding a way to beat it without denying it. For example. it requires a lot of respect (the opposite of denial) to get to the point where the audience understands that the captain is a Don Quixote. You're my gastroenterologist! Location Denial: Contradicting setting information someone else established. One is playing the denial game (i. a lot of information can be communicated very quickly. All denial can be rectified with Justification. The audience knows what the status is and where the characters are before the scene even starts. certified to be the sharpest in the land Schiiing.. The response accepts what was stated. I'm your Dentist. experienced actors may appear to deny each other when playing games of oneupsmanship. but it's a real skill.. if Don Quixote were the helicopter pilot. --Sharpest in the land! You mean you don't import your swords? Scha-schiiing. --Periscope down. just for beginners helps to point out each others denials in scenes: simply respond to your fellow actor's denials with "there's no denying that!". In the latter. This will make the audience squirm and gasp and have an icky feeling. Accept and justify the information that others provide. DON’T DENY (beginners) Denial is trashing what somebody else has set up or is trying to set up. upon closer inspection. It makes the scenes flow easier.e. "Well. However. For example: --Now you shall die by my sword. but. People advanced in improv can tell the difference between bad denial and comedic denial. and the other chasing around after them.

GO AGAINST THE VOICE OF REASON In our everyday lives. Unjustified exits tend to be a problem novices have. KEEP THE FOCUS HUMAN AND ONSTAGE (beginners) Careful not to stare too long at objects that are offstage. it’s liberating. and so on. you want to preserve your friendship. then the character who damns putting rollers on the thing will put the audience's mind at ease and allow them to get into the story and characters. you may tell them they aren’t. and you'll have a better scene. even if they are. I’ve been meaning to say something. GET BEHIND THE STORY Try not to think about yourself in long-form. if 3 characters each mime the refrigerator being in different places.. Instead. but . exiting and staying put should have a reason. you may do things onstage the real you wouldn’t do. activity. sometimes “I don’t know why I’m doing this. Why? Perhaps because you feel it’s not just pick one for yourself either randomly or in response to the other character. always ask yourself "how can I contribute to the larger picture?" and "what is my function in this piece?". MAINTAIN YOUR CHARACTER'S POINT OF VIEW If a character starts out adoring spider monkeys. but that doesn’t matter as much. then the other actors will best know how to support your character. JOKES (beginners) Never try to be funny or tell jokes on stage. In real life. but then decides she hates them 10 minutes later.. What's interesting is a human reaction to the object. a different logic may apply. In short. like an episode of the Simpsons. They will also get a laugh. simple plots. it may confuse the audience and your fellow actors. bye" and walk out of a scene.Entering. GIVE YOURSELF A SUGGESTION WHEN YOU DON'T ASK FOR ONE We all know scenes are better when you enter them with an attitude. If you don't. it often makes sense to follow the voice of reason. They'll be like huh? If you're consistent. on the floor or in your hand. You don’t have to justify your actions much.. not the object itself. You may rob a bank because someone tells you to. That is. they sometimes want to see the barriers lifted. be justified. Give a reason. if your friend says “I’m ugly”. Try going against the voice of reason.” is sufficient. JUSTIFICATION You must provide reasons for everything the audience sees that doesn't make sense. Audiences come to the theater to escape the mundane logical world. should have a main character. you want them to feel better. On stage. or emotion -. it will disconcert them. . A structured long-form piece. The response should be based on the last thing the other character said. This is the purpose of playing the game Entrances and Exits (go figure) in rehearsal..”. You may play sycophant to your abuser. You may respond to “I’m ugly” with “you know. Don't just say "OK. GO LINE FOR LINE You can almost guarantee a good improvisation if each player says one line at a time and then listens to the other character's line and responds. Humor will arise naturally out of tight relationships and solid.

THE BEST ADVICE I CAN GIVE ANY IMPROV GROUP *** See “Go line for line. come on at ease and relaxed. the best improvisers appear completely confident even when they have no idea what's going on. Staying vague leads to scenes about two nondescript people standing in the middle of nondescriptland talking about tacos. people. if you give that cop a wedgie. if one person is frustrated. RAISE THE STAKES Scenes that are going nowhere can be much improved by putting more at risk. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF This simply means going into every scene with an activity or emotion. and you don't really know what's going on. Then they feel bad. TWO PERSON SCENES When your long-form piece is getting out of control. Why have: --Hey. few improvisers ever do anything to improve their mime and few teachers have any worthwhile mime exercises. He's confused".” It’s really that simple. He's worried. introducing some large consequence for the characters. love. PROVIDE INFORMATION ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON Scene going nowhere? Tell the other character something about him/her self." In more polite English. with not knowing what the f-. he doesn't know what to do. PLAY THE OPPOSITE EMOTION Something to try now and then in two person scenes. A basic comedic structure which is the basis of many comedic movies. returning to two person scenes and "going line for . Sadly. if you buy me that piece of candy.MIME BETTER.K. The audience wants the actor to succeed. that is. MUCH BETTER 50% of what the audience thinks of you as an improviser hinges on the quality of your mime and physicality. and TV shows. Don’t believe me. Of course. the audience thinks "oh. For example. I’ll bet you they do incredible object work. This does several things i) it gets the scene going faster ii) it provides information which your partner can use iii) and. sweeping the floor) or an emotion (hope. plays. When you can have: --Hey. Use this fact to get ahead in life. Just kidding. you don't really have a plan. pride). I'll eat it. As Mick Napier said: "improvisation is the art of being completely O. go out this week and watch the best improviser in your city. I see. kid. The simple comment "Nice tuxedo". perhaps most importantly. they think "oh no. The moment you launch into an activity (baking bread. They have a plan" and then they relax and enjoy the show. counting money. I'll let you kiss me. What do I mean "comfortable"? If the audience sees you standing there doing nothing. tacos are descript. They know what's going on. it gives you something to do which makes the audience comfortable. can launch into a back-room panic session between a groom and his best're doing. Getting specific makes scenes go somewhere fast.

--Johnson should be handing the teller the note right now. QUESTIONS THAT TAKE WITHOUT GIVING ARE BAD Why ask a question on stage? Are you expecting your fellow-actor to have a ready answer? What if she doesn't? Doesn't that put her on the spot? Don't most questions slow the scene unnecessarily? If it's a yes-no question. --Think I have time to run to the bathroom? --Why don't I ever get paired with Johnson? . Ski masks on. I know this is the third time I’m saying this. What's the capital of South Dakota? --Uh. (Yes. then aren't you writing? Any question can be turned into a statement. then low-impact is the best policy for the non-essential characters. as well as clustering. 3:30? --Are you ready? --Yeah.line" will restore harmony in no time. that is. Please don't abandon someone on stage unless they want to be left alone there.) The number two can be held steady by having new entrances cause immediate exits of other characters. are you prepared to react to both yes and no answers?If no. but this shouldn't go too long. The nice thing about statements is that they provide information you and your fellow actor can immediately start building upon. Why go through: --What time is it? --Uh. If the stage is crowded. are you ready? --What are we doing? --I don't know. Fargo? When you could have: --It's 3:30 --We're right on schedule. forming a group (physically and ideologically) behind a leader. but it’s just that true. --It's 3:31. then aren't you in trouble if the wrong answer comes back? If yes.

do it. think about saying the thing you've been waiting to say for 5 years (e." or adopt the Yiddish practice of answering with the exact same question: --What do you want? [bad question. Three of them make a runner.) “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. contributes nothing to scene] --What do I want? [actor 2 points out that actor 1 is putting him on the spot instead of contributing] --Look. "Why don't I ever get paired with Johnson?" A drill to point out question-asking in rehearsal.." When it seems like something big or outrageous is going to happen (e. geography warm-up .. if existed.g. I love your twin. I ate your hamster . I love you. often just a few seconds. raises the stakes. denial . someone is about to confess their love.Questions which don't require answers are fine.. Questions which provide more information then they demand are fine.Trashing what somebody else has set up on stage. too. In relationship scenes. be it mime or fact fourth wall . Just be sure to accept all information the other character provides for you. wants to swim naked in the river. Who? what? who? where? is nicely followed by raise the stakes -sort of an opening gambit for improv scenes. I'll get you the money tomorrow [hurrah! actor 1 gets the message] “WHAT MAKES TODAY SPECIAL?” IS A FINE QUESTION TO ASK YOURSELF Think about a scene as "a day unlike any other day. funny scenes.g. Rhetorical questions are fine. and what they are doing. characterizing action .The wall that isn't there which.. don't just talk about it -. spelled as follows: Trinidad and the big Mississippi and the town of Honolulu . and doesn't require the fellow actor to come up with a response. e. is to respond to each other's questions with "that's a good question . You may provide this information or do it for the other character. APPENDIX Here are some vocabulary terms I've grown to know and love: blackout ..g. "Think I have time to run to the bathroom?" This question introduces action which says to the other performers and the audience what sort of occupation or social role the character has.g.Very short. such as when teachers erase blackboards. Beginners need to be careful about turning one's back on the fourth wall! gag scenes .A very short scene. and what not. People doing them should not feel obligated to further the plot or present any vital information. where they are. These scenes are just plain fun and the people on lights should treat them as such. would go between the players and the audience. These are often used to begin scenes. someone wants to rob a bank.

The third is always the hardest hitting.providing an explanation for something the audience saw that didn't make sense reflexive action . judge / plaintiff have status build right into them. Rimini." is a seaport in Southeast Italy where you catch the ferry to Greece. such as." they said. "Only for men. Brindisi (Brin’de zi). Many pre-defined stock relationships. status . A girlfriend and I once asked the tourist office if there were any movies in town. yes and . Brindisi Canada. rule of a thousand .Whoever has influence or control over a situation has the higher status in the scene. Some people believe this works something like a sine wave. Rimini. Malaga is a seaport in Southern Spain. which is like Fort Lauderdale for European youth.two great words which encourage the person who says them to accept information and add to it . sweet Malaga wine. a la Trading Places. It is not a seaport. as well as seem familiar like an old friend. rule of three . or that special pair of moccasins. Mexico Canada. Malaga. Rimini is a seaport in Northeast Italy. etc. sometimes nicknamed and mispronounced "sleazy Brin dee' zee. Brindisi Yes Tibet Tibet 2 3 4 (repeat) Notes: Popocatepetl ((po po ca te' petl) nickname Popo) is a volcano in South central Mexico which erupts all the time. Status can easily invert and this can become the plot of entire stories. Helps make the character stand out from the crowd.Three humorous events (scenes. so there's always hope some thing may get funny again even if it's starting to look really desperate. home of action a character does repeatedly and unconsciously. runner . The Popocatepetl is not in Canada but rather in Mexico. One way to "take care of yourself" on stage.) on the same topic or with the same gist.continuing on after the rule of three until things become funny again.and the lake Titicaca. Malaga. even 11 days before I wrote this. justification . jokes. Mexico.three blackouts on the same theme with the third one being the biggest laugh of all.

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