Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Real Rules of Improv

If you've improvised for any length of time, you've run across "the rules". Agree, accept, avoid transaction scenes, etc. In his book Improvise: Scene From the Inside Out, Mick Napier makes a strong case that these rules are lies, and actually lead to bad improv.

But over the years, I have discovered a few real rules of improv. And they're really important. So i'm sharing them here.

1. Be Safe. First and foremost, nobody gets hurt. No players, crew, audience or innocent bystanders. This means know your physical limitations and those of your teammates. It means understanding stage combat and developing a shared set of moves before trying anything remotely physical. It also means not teasing your teammate afterwards for that (presumably true) monolog about that embarrassing thing they did in summer camp all those years ago. Note that "be safe" only applies to real people. Feel free to injure, torment, and even kill characters in your scenes. (There's about an 80% chance of a character fatality during a Six Wheel Drive show, and our audience loves it!)

2. Be Interesting. People are paying to see you, either with money or just with their time. They expect to see what we all expect to see out of any drama -- a scene so interesting that someone decided to put on stage and charge people admission to see it. (ComedySportz actually has a foul called "delay of game" for when a scene gets too boring. Once the ref calls it, the players then have 30 seconds to make something interesting happen, or the scene ends.)

3. Be Sure. Improv, is by definition made up. So how could it ever be wrong? It's only wrong if you act like it's wrong. Treat everything that you do on stage as brilliant and perfect. And just as important, treat everything everyone else does the same way!

4. Have Fun! You owe it to yourself and to your audience. Almost nobody makes a living doing improv. If you're not doing it for the fun, why are you doing it? Even if nothing goes "right" in your show, your audience will still enjoy you if you're having fun on stage. So have fun already!