Wednesday, August 12, 2009


The reason improv takes time and practice to master as an art form, is because it is NOT an art form... it is four! The art of improv is an amalgamation of part performer (actor/singer), writer, director, and therapist.

PERFORMER This role is by far the most obvious one. People who have performance talents like emoting, singing, stage presence, charisma, etc. are fun to have on stage. Former colleagues of mine used to debate if these abilities were in natural, or if they could be trained. In my opinion, you need both. A performer must always study new ways of how to refine their craft.

WRITER Since most people who come to improv has some sense of performing, most improv books I've read focus on the art of getting improvisors comfortable in storytelling (or at the very least, what to say on stage). In my opinion, there has been so much focus on "creating dialogue" in these books, that too often most people think good improv is about good dialogue. However, the piece of advice in nearly all the improv books I've read that almost always goes unnoticed: READ MORE!

I'd take that a step further and say, study the art of writing more, which includes:
  • read various things for both content (wikipedia) and style (Shakespeare),
  • study genres of art (film, theatre, songs, literature),
  • write short scenes, sketches, or outline for plays or movies (famous or original ideas),
  • practice speaking with rhetorical devices,
  • etc.

DIRECTOR What is the role of the director? I can't make this simpler: Director = Audience. The Director of a play is the professional audience member; to watch and then to give feedback from an audience's point of view. They become very cognizant of what the audience is thinking, because they are sensitive to what they are thinking themselves.

The difference between and audience member and a director is also simple. An audience member sits there thinking, "This sucks." A director sits there thinking, "This sucks. I wish they would do something different." A good director sits there thinking, "This sucks. I wish they would do this... ."

If you tend to be a improvisor who makes weak choice on stage, try directing. It forces you to think about what the audience wants to see, and then articulate it. This is one of the main reasons that the Village Idiots got its start doing only Gorilla Theatre.

THERAPIST A therapist is supposed to make a person
feel safe, while challenging them to go into the most dangerous place in the world: the human psyche. A therapist controls the environment as much as possible so that whatever chaos is summoned, is somehow contained. The appearance of violence or danger, it just that... "an appearance." Only someone who knows safety can simulate danger well.

What does this mean for an improvisor? An improvisor at ALL times must utiltize their techinque training to perform well (performer), must understand how to craft interesting theatre (writer), must always keep the audience's perspective in mind (director), and must constantly strive to keep EVERYONE safe, while challenging their inner demons (therapist/safety inspector). It is this multi-tasking that makes improv so difficult to master.

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