For this blog post I thought I’d write about the things I love and hate about
improv. We’ve all seen scenes that have bombed and scenes that have had us in
stitches. I’ve put together three things that, for me, make a scene hard to
watch… and the three things that make scenes really enjoyable for me to watch.
My three least favourite things to happen in an improv scene
It’s a habit of new improvisers but can easily become a crutch for lazy improvisers. The worst sort of question is the one where you’re putting all the pressure on your scene partner. “What shall we do tonight?”, “What are you doing?” or “Where shall we go?”. Ugh. We all do it from time to time, sometimes because our character leads us to say it in a scene, but when all you’re doing is speaking in questions you’re adding nothing to the scene.
“Yes…yes”: Simply agreeing with your scene partner. People are constantly
told in improv books and courses that improv is about building agreement.
Whilst it’s important to establish and agree the parameters of the scene (the
who, what and where are very handy to establish sooner rather than later), this
doesn’t mean you just say “Yes”. The idea of “Yes…and” relies very much on
adding information to what’s already been established. If all you do is agree,
then you’re on the way to becoming redundant in that scene.
Ridiculous walk-ons: Sometimes a walk-on can be really useful. Other times,
people are so keen to walk on that they don’t pay attention to the scene. In
the latter case, the person doing the walk on manages to simultaneously de-rail
the scene and look like a total tool all at once.
My three favourite things to happen in an improv scene
Being on the same page: Seeing two people who are so in sync with one another,
where anything that happens is dealt with effortlessly is awesome. Two people
who just “get” one another is always a great phenomenon to witness. Even if
they pimp one another on stage, they still manage to make it seem effortless.
Great characters: We’re really lucky in MissImp to have so many people who can
play such a range of characters. For me, a great character draws from the
improviser’s personal knowledge and experience. They have good physical traits
and an approach to life that’s distinct. This is really handy for the
improvisers, of course, if they’re bringing back the character later in the
show. The more distinct the character is, the quicker it is recognised by
fellow improvisers and the audience alike.
Well defined games: I make no secret that I prefer the Del Close / UCB way of
doing improv. I don’t believe it’s “better” – it’s just a personal preference.
For me, a scene is more fun to watch when the improvisers find an unusual thing
and exploit it. It’s how huge swathes of great comedy is structured, and for
two improvisers to happen upon this comedic device during a scene is wonderful
to behold. When it’s done well, exploiting the “game of the scene” plays the
audience like an experienced musician plays their own instrument.