From the Back of One Anonymous Student’s Evaluation, #1

Friday, October 30, 2009 (Originally published Winter 2004)

Improvisers aren’t the only ones who develop material through improvisation — teachers do it as well. We work from a script known as a syllabus but we also create extemporaneously. After all, we teachers are improvisers, too.

With that said, on the back of one of the teacher evaluation sheets a Level One student submitted, they took it upon themselves to write a list of things I have said in class that stuck to him like a good plate of ribs. I have expanded on some of those thoughts.

Thank you, anonymous student!

Get in the habit of checking in.
Start your scenes with an activity. While you’re performing that activity, check in with your partner. What are their eyes telling you? What is their body posture telling you? What is the way that they are performing their activity telling you? All of this is fodder for the scene. It takes the pressure off of you to come up with something clever. All you’ll have to do is to react, to respond. As I’ve mentioned in past articles Pablo Picasso commented that he didn’t invent, he discovered. Discover what the scene is about from the person standing on stage with you and not your activity or history or outside information.

Follow the fun.
Allow your scenes to flow based on what you are enjoying most about that scene in that moment. Whether it’s something that you’re doing or it’s something that your partner is doing that you are supporting, let that be the map of where the scene needs to go. A great poet said, “Momma always told me not to look into the eyes of the sun...but Momma, that’s where the fun is.” (First you have to let yourself have fun!)

Look for the shiny object.
Where is the focus of the scene? Is it in the relationship between the characters? Is it a game you’re playing within the scene? Is it one person’s emotional state? Focus on that, follow that and watch your scene take shape.

It’s not the information, it’s the emotions.
At the core of every scene are the character’s emotions. Start the scene out by looking into your partner’s eyes (see “Get in the Habit of Checking In” below) and sussing out what they might have just said to you prior to the scene’s start. Make your first line a reaction to that “statement.” Your scenes will always start in the middle and you will immediately be connected to your partner.

Use “sequitur-ial” surprises.
A non sequitur is a statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it. We get laughs from non sequiturs because they surprise us. I would suggest surprising your scene partner with choices that are connected to your character, yet still allows you to show a different side of that character. An example would be a doctor that comes into a birthing clinic where a woman is having a baby and the doctor proceeds to make out with the woman. Our expectation is that the doctor is there to help, the surprise is how he helps!

Jokesville is closed.
Jokes take us away from the connection that we have with our partner. Jokes are made to get laughs at the expense of everything that was created prior to that. We need to keep our characters connected, our scenes moving forward and our discoveries based on our reactions to what’s just transpired in the scene.

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David Razowsky

I have a simple approach to improvising: Your present awareness is the only thing you need to create compelling, smart, truthful, and surprising scenes. Period. No games, no preconceived premises, no ideas, no ego. All that matters is now. The actor’s level of improvisation experience doesn’t matter, for all you need to bring to my workshop is your present presence. All you’ll leave with is your joy and excitement and confidence. And after all, what more do you need?