If you NEVER take spatula, it's not over done
If you have been doing improv for a few years you have probably heard someone yell out the suggestion spatula when asked for an object. A lot of improvisers have decided that they won’t take this because they hear it so much. Problem is that if we never take it then it’s not over used. The reason the audience is giving us spatula is because it sounds funny and they are trying to help us out. They figure that if the suggestion is funny we will have an easier time. It’s similar to why they always yell bathroom when asked for a room in the house. They want us to succeed and want to help us do it.
What we need to attempt to do is show them that no matter what we take from them we can turn it into something wonderful. When this happens they will feel that the pressure isn’t on them to help us and will give us a wider range of suggestions. They will also feel more at ease and can just enjoy the show.
If you are the last one to get the joke, you are doing it right.
Being completely in the moment and not planning where the scene will go will put you in this Zen like state. Everything will be flowing and all the work you have done up to that point will help everything run smoothly. You’ll be making educated improv decisions quickly and efficiently. You’ll be feeling good just like those nights you are in the bar with friends and you've had the perfect amount to drink and the conversation is flowing and everything feels so wonderful. Without a filter or worrying about what to say you can be just there in the present and enjoying every moment. This opens up the possibility to speak freely and have natural things flow out of you. When this is going on magic happens. This is the improv state we are all striving for. You will literally be the last to get the joke.
Of course this all comes crashing down the second you say “Oh my goodness, I’m in that Zen like thingy!” As soon as you acknowledge you’re in that state it all comes to an end. It will snap you out of it the second you notice that it’s there.
Self doubt can either hold you back or help push and drive you forward!
We are flaky artists that have massive highs and lows. We doubt ourselves and the decisions we make. We doubt every step of the journey we have set out on in life. These doubts will do one of two things to us.
- It will make us work harder to get what we want and push us forward to success. During this we will be anxious and scared the entire time but it will make us move forward.
- The other option is that it scares us into a hole where we stay and never jump off the cliff. It all boils down to fight or flight.
We are all scared and worried that we aren’t making the right choices. Its part of what we do in order to get better. We have to take chances and really put ourselves out there to grow. We are our own worst enemy and are way harder on ourselves than anyone else will be. Realize we are pretty great. Now get out there and be scared and happy
The love of it makes you tired and happy.
I’m sure we have all done a show where we were WAY beyond tired and hungry, had a day that kicked the sh*t out of us, felt ill to the point that we can’t hear or feel anything? Well why is it we do this? It’s pretty obvious isn’t it? We love this thing. We spend nights up sitting in the bar talking about the show until the ugly lights come on only to get up early the next morning and do it all again. Feeling passion for something seems to be rare for most. We work so hard and are exhausted all the time but wouldn’t change a thing. Getting better at our art form is what we want more than anything in the world even if it means risking our health.
I am now in my 30’s and have changed my view on this a little. I want to be able to do this for as long as I am physically able to. So I have started to take care of myself better. Eating right and drinking lots of water. I even started physical exercise. I am trying to find a balance between happiness and my health. I still never miss a show, workshop or night at the pub. I am just trying to be healthier going into all of it.
You listen better with your ears, than you do with your mouth
A great improviser once said: “Your ears are the only one of your eyes, and mouth you can’t actually close or shut off.” We sometimes spend so much time talking that we don’t even hear someone right in front of us. This can happen for a couple reasons. Perhaps we are a newer improviser and our nerves get the better of us and we can’t turn off our mouth. Perhaps we feel that we need to be filling the dead air because we haven’t felt how wonderful and powerful the silence can be. We feel we need to come up with all the ideas and make all the offers because if we don’t then no one else will. It could also just be that we are an egotistical asshole. Whatever the reason, if we were to stop, take a breath and take some time to listen you will find out so much and actually realize that all the answers are in our partners.
We don’t ever have to come up with clever ideas or be the funniest person on the stage. Our partners are there and equally invested in the scene. Bounce things back and forth between the two of you and let the scene be whatever it needs to be in that moment between those two people. It will be much more rewarding than one person driving the crap out of the scene and doing all the work and talking.
An amazing improv show doesn't necessarily translate to video all that well.
How many times have you recorded a show that was AMAZING on the night it was recorded only to have lost all its magic when you go back and watch it later? I think part of this could be that you don’t have the audience’s energy being captured. The back and forth between the audience and improvisers is such a huge part of live theatre. Without it you definitely lose some of the power that the show generated. Another thing is that most little improv theatres or cafes improv is performed in can be dark and noisy. This makes it hard to get great footage.
On the other side of it, I have been involved in improv shows that were set up for filming. What ended up happening was the audience was way behind cameras and everything was super bright. I like the closeness and intimacy of us and the audience with nothing in the way. Some like to hide in the darkness and just watch the show. Also when you film and polish improv it takes away some of its beauty. Its beauty partly comes from its imperfections and rough edges. The audience there in that moment gets to discover the show along with the improvisers as it goes along. For some reason this just can’t be captured on film. Perhaps as technology and fun new ways to film come around we will get there.
Without an audience it's a workshop
Work hard and play even harder. Workshops are called WORK shops because this is the time when you should be fine tuning your craft. You and your director can really break down your skills and see what you need to work on as an individual or ensemble to help you grow. You will hopefully be pushed farther then you feel comfortable in these sessions. A director’s job is to push you to a failure point to show you where you are at and what you can work on. There is always more to learn. Your director will be way harder on you then any audience so once you get there you can’t help but be better.
So now that the work is done, you need to get up and do a show in play mode. This is time to test the newly found skills. You should no longer be working. It is important to only play to the skill set you have at that time. Keith Johnstone says it best, “If you are a bad improviser but know how to say yes and then go out there and be a bad improviser saying yes and. If you go out and try to be a good improviser you will fail.”