20 Nov Five things you might hear in your first course
What are the rules of improv? In the end, there aren’t really any. As long as everyone watching and playing is having a good time, you can do whatever you like, however you like. It is improv, after all.
But when you go to your first improv class your teacher might ask you to do (or not do) certain things which feel like rules. Here are five of those ‘rules’ and a quick explanation of why you might be asked to follow them.
In your very first improv class you will probably be asked to say the word ‘yes’ more than any time you can remember. Yes, yes, yes, to help you build on what your partner offers. You will probably play characters that agree with each other and who see the world the same way. Not all improv scenes have to be like this forever, but it is a good way to get the performers on the same page and cooperating. Huge fights between characters can come later if you want, but so-called hyper agreement will get you working with other improvisers as quickly and easily as possible.
Why don’t we ask questions in improv? Questions are, after all, a natural part of speech. But they can also be an unconscious way of making your partner do the work. Banning questions for your first few classes will force you to add something to what is happening. That means you are supporting what your partner is saying and pulling your weight. And, in improv, doing the work is the same as having the fun.
Who are you/where are you/what are you doing?
“Here we are in the castle kitchen and, as you know, your father, the king…” Front loading a scene with information can feel clunky and inelegant, and it is true that experienced improvisers don’t do it; they seem to psychically know what is going on. But that takes a lot of time. Overtly stating who we are, where we are and what we are doing can help us to get on the same page quickly and easily, meaning we have more opportunity for play.
Look each other in the eye
Love it or hate it, eye contact is a part of improv. In your first improv classes you will probably at some point be asked to make and hold eye contact in order to connect with people you are working with. It makes you more able to read what someone is thinking, to have a model of what each other are thinking in your head. It’s not all the time and it’s not even an obligation if you hate it, but it is a great tool for connection.
New improvisers are often terrified of being boring. After all, this is improvised comedy, so we have to make something HAPPEN. Just watching nothing happening isn’t very funny, is it? Actually, it can be. Slowing down allows you to enjoy each and every moment and idea as it happens, rather than rushing along to the next one, and that will help you to find the unexpected fun, and maybe even reactions other than a laugh.
Don’t worry if that seems like a lot to remember, you won’t be doing all these things at the same time, and, in any case, your teacher will guide you. Improv is a big art form with lots of different approaches. If you decide to have fun and play, the rest will come.