Improv 101, class 3: It’s not about stuff, it’s about relationships

What would it feel like to be able to go with the flow of improvisation, to be able to find the game and go with it?

It’s hard to think that I’ll get to that point. Today, I felt like a trembling 11-year-old rushing through my first speaking parts, thinking too much about the scene and the situation for me to fully enjoy. I found it hard to keep eye contact, to build the relationship, even to listen and recognize the games that we could play with each other.

Maybe after five more weeks, my classmates and I will have figured more of this out! Wouldn’t that be fun? =)

One of my challenges is finding the game, then letting go. A scene doesn’t have to be about conflict or about problem-solving. It can be just a day in the life. I don’t have to consciously amp it up. What would this look like if we did this really well? We might stumble across something interesting, then recognize it and play off it throughout the scene. It’s like the little jokes that W- and I have! We play word-games all the time, and we occasionally make up situations too. If I can figure out how to take that feeling and bring it to my classes, I think that would be pretty cool.

How can I grow in this? There are a few things I can do:

  • I can expose myself to more role models. Watching improv shows can give me ideas of what it looks like when things go really well. I can also take notes when people on the stage miss the game or don’t let go.
  • I can look for opportunities to practice in real life. Maybe small talk can give me more opportunities to listen and react, and of course there are the games W- and I play.
  • I can practice on my own. It might be time to dust off my flash fiction writing, do morning pages, and play with free association or stream-of-consciousness writing. The thing is to hush my inner editor and just follow my curiosity, knowing that wherever I end up is the right place to be.
  • I can set up opportunities to practice. W-’s okay with having people over, so maybe I’ll host a get-together one of these weekends. August 29 and September 5, maybe?
  • I can warm up. How? Hmm… More free association on the way there?

Another of my challenges is to not get distracted by the environment, activity, objects, or imaginary people outside the scene, but rather to focus on developing the relationship between the on-screen characters. What would doing that really well look like? I’d be able to listen hard, accept whatever reality my partner creates, figure out our game, and move the scene forward.

I’m still getting used to making up reality. Normal conversation doesn’t usually include establishing other people’s realities based on made-up assumptions.

It’s useful to practice both strong initiations and great agreement. I can practice initiation and relationship development is by writing flash fiction. Agreement and finding the game, that’s harder to practice on my own. It is, after all, a game. But maybe I can pick some of that up by watching other people, or even video.

<grin> This’ll be fun!

Also, another interesting insight from today: playing a high-status person doesn’t automatically mean putting other people down. It was obvious once our teacher pointed that out, but I think we’d all gone for the snobbish stereotype! <laugh> I’ll be keeping an eye out for status (both high and low) in real life…

  • Taylor

    Today, I felt like a trembling 11-year-old rushing through my first speaking parts, thinking too much about the scene and the situation for me to fully enjoy. I found it hard to keep eye contact, to build the relationship, even to listen and recognize the games that we could play with each other.

    I think you speak for us all. Yesterday was humbling, to say the least. Also, flash fiction writing, interesting idea. However, I’ve found that the skills ascertained in introverted games lose applicability once team scenework occurs (I learned this the hard way). If you’re creative, these games come naturally and are great for removing you inner editor – the trick is working in an externally forced reality. Perhaps this exercise could involve lifting a random quote from a newspaper to contextualize and interact with? Or have a friend set environment and limitations for your writing? Another thing our class could work on: character development. I think we all returned to a similar stock character or persona for every scene (often our own persona). I can only remember one moment when there was a character easily distinguishable from the improviser. How I miss training wheels….

    Thought I’d check out your blog after our discussion yesterday. Great site! I particularly like your Drupal stuff – I’m in the spec phase of developing a site with it. Maybe something we can chat about next week.

    Also, since you mentioned needing to expose yourself to more role models, I thought I’d mention this: the Next Act Festival, happening tonight at The Comedy Bar . One of the 3 teams involved is “a crack team of some of the most exciting emerging improvisers (aged 19-23) from across Canada… These guys are going to be amazing.” I’ll be there tonight, maybe I’ll see you there. Ciao!

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    That’s awesome! I would never have heard about the Next Act if you hadn’t mentioned it. I think I’ll go tonight. Catch you there!

    Drupal is a lot of fun, particularly when you start writing PHP. What are you building?