Improv scenes with big, fun, hyperreal characters can be brilliant and funny to watch. The second “that guy” comes on stage, we know exactly what’s coming next. We know, understand and empathise with the character because they have a clear and specific viewpoint which makes us laugh. And the comedy in that viewpoint and character is unmissable, because the dial is turned up to 15 out of 10.
Open roads is an improvised theatre show which can be funny but it could also be sad, angry or, to quote the audition notes, “just plain beautiful”. Improv scenes in which believable, balanced characters relate to each other and are relatable to and by the audience. This doesn’t preclude comedy in itself, but is intended to allow a free flow of comedic, theatrical and dramatic performance which is based in emotional realism.
So how do we make our characters believable, real and connected to each other and the audience? In Open Roads rehearsals, we’ve worked with Luke Beahan to become more open to the humanity of the scene and to help the characters to find the emotional truth of their relationships. Exercises starting with eye contact, silence and time taken to allow a connection to present itself and develop between the actors, who can then discover how they feel, what they mean to each other and what this means for the scene.
In some exercises, we watch scenes for the moment there’s a change in the actor’s breath, indicating that something in their sensitivities has changed. This is often the turning point in the actor’s emotional state, which then leads to an important discovery in the scene. In other exercises, one actor expresses a want, using only one word and relying on non-verbal communication to express and drive their want to be met by the other actor.
The nature of this work is to produce “real” people as characters, while enhancing listening and empathy, allowing us to express the character’s humanity, their emotional life in both the world they inhabit and their relationships with those close to them in that world.
Murray Porter appears in Open Roads, an improvised road movie: 31 October, 6 and 14 November.
Book for shows via the Autumn listings page