"Support the physical,
& verbal reality of the scene"
Elaine May & Del Close
This one takes a bit of explaining. The first 3 of my improv tips come from Elaine May & Del Close, as I read them in Jeffrey Sweet's book Something Wonderful Right Away.
Two of those quotes are verbatim, as written in the book. One of them... this one... has seen some amendments. Here's what's written in the book...
"Support the physical, & verbal reality of the scene."
To start with, if you're not supporting a scene as an improvisational actor, you're not doing your job. Maybe the best Oscar is best supporting actor after all.
In the course of working with improv actors I found almost immediately I need to add...
"Support (AND ENJOY) the physical,
& verbal reality of the scene."
That's because what I was getting from my actors was only ACCEPTANCE of the reality around them. With a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say...
"Ok... we'll go with YOUR offer. It's kinda stupid, and if I had come up with something first it would have been WAY cooler. I mean, I DIDN'T come up with something first... but if I HAD... it would have been WAY better."
To combat this we did an exercise that asked the actors, instead of accepting every offer with, "yes, and" to accept offers with, "what a great idea... and." It's a little clunky, but the exercise goes like this...
Let's go on a picnic.
What a great idea!
And I'll make my famous potato salad!
What a great idea!
And you know who LOVES your famous potato salad?
... What a great idea.
... Let's... bring her along...
While the CHARACTER Ken is playing may not like the the idea of bringing his mother-in-law to a picnic, Ken the improv ACTOR treats it as a great suggestion. Not just accepts the offer, but says out loud that it's a great offer.
The next step was asking the actors to say the, "what a great idea," part silently in their head. It made things a little less manically positive, it was the next step in changing the actor's frame of mind from reluctantly accepting offers to enjoying the offers that they were being given.
A little bit of enthusiasm can go a long way.
You're not having great ideas. You're making ideas great.
Then one of my actors,
Johnny Harkins, said...
"Hey... isn't there, implicit in every scene,
an emotional reality?"
And THAT made me pause, as things Johnny said often did. So, we started exploring it in rehearsal and he's absolutely right. We all know how crappy it feels in life to have our emotions negated or ignored or to be told not to feel a certain way.
You shouldn't feel bad.
Don't get excited.
By not acknowledging and supporting the implicit emotional reality of every scene, thats exactly what we're doing. Negating or ignoring someone else's feelings. So, every scene has the reality of...
The place we're in.
The people in the place.
The activities the people are doing.
The things they are interacting with.
and how people feel emotionally, (from moment to moment), about about all of the above.
Imagine someone in real life who denies the reality around them. That's usually the sign of an unsound mind. Same thing in improv. If you are going to have scenes that are more than crazy people shouting at each other, you have to look around you and try your best to make an honest assessment of the situation.
And it all should come from observing the situation from within the scene. Everything you need to know about the scene is right in front of you
But if that's not tough enough, remember that everybody's
reality is subjective. Reality is different to each observer. In improv, like in life, we don't get together ahead of time to discuss what we are going to say or do. Shit just happens and we deal. That's why anybody who thinks improv is for actors too lazy to learn their lines, is out.. of... their... mind.
It takes a lot of practice to become a good improvisational actor and there are no shortcuts for experience.
So here's your checklist as you enter your next improv scene. Ask yourself...
And remember, when you hear an offer say, "what a good idea," in your head, before you, "yes, and," it. I think you'll find yourself a much more supportive player, the kind of player other people want to improvise with.
Try it out and tell me how it goes,
And while you're at it... buy my book on Amazon
Scotty Watson &
Illustrated by Jacqui Lempert
In the meantime, don't sit around wondering,
"Would I be good at Improv?"
FIND OUT! Go out & improvise.
Take a FREE improv class!!
The theatre company I work with is called Artistic New Directions ... nicknamed ANDtheatre Company!
ANDtheatre has a #FREEIMPROVCLASS in #NYC every week!
I teach there, along with a group of phenomenally talented improv teachers. Click the link or go to https://andtheatrecompany.org/and-wednesdays/