Friday, May 13, 2011


For those that don't know, I tend to lean towards the theatrical. I traipsed the boards in musicals for many years before giving it up for a long time due to a heavy work load and other projects popping up.

Shortly after moving to London however, I hit upon an amazing group known as Hoopla, and suddenly an addiction was born.

For those that are unaware of the delightful art form known as Improvisational Theatre ("Impro" to some, "Improv" to others), there's a tiny clue in the name.  Everything is improvised on the spot.  No script, no rehearsals.  Rather than take you through every type of what it is and how it works, I recommend you read the wiki entry mentioned above.

Impro is not as simple as taking a suggestion and running with it.  Performing a show is somewhat like cooking when you don't have a recipe book.  There are still rules you have to follow to make it work well, or the end result may vary between a delicious treat and a tasteless slop.  It all depends on your skill of using what ever you find in the cupboard (maybe I'm taking the cooking analogy too far).

Good improvisers can take any offer they are given by an audience member or a fellow actor on stage and turn into something wonderful.  More importantly they know how to serve the scene, not themselves.  Most importantly however they have a unique skill that can take a long time to sink in.

Fear of failure (a theme you will see come up often in my writing) is the first roadblock a beginning improviser has to get over.  Beginners always try to hard to be clever, funny, or control the scene.  Usually when this occurs nothing flows and the scene fails.  The beginner hesitates, gets frustrated and can feel a bit stupid when they can't think of anything.

Here's the secret knowledge that helps you to go from bad to good in impro.  Are you ready?

It's okay to screw up.

No really. That's it.

There are other helpful rules obviously ("Always say 'yes'", "Don't block an offer" etc) but improvisation is essentially about reaction and flow.  Something happens, you react and move the scene forwards.  Not much thinking is required.  Sometimes thinking is actually the worst thing you can do.  When something fails, it's okay.  You keep moving on and learn from what you did.  Often a screw up can end up making a scene even better.

If you're already involved in impro, I suggest these excellent articles on how improve your craft:

How to get Better at Improvising written by Heather Urquhart.
Fear is a 4 letter word, so is good. by Patti Stiles.

I actually highly recommend you put the kettle on and read the entire contents of all three of the blogs above, but this will be a good starting point.

Happy improvising.