This tip is from Michael J. Gellman. Michael is my improv mentor. I could fill 1000 blogs with how much I owe Mr. Gellman.
Every offer is owed an emotional reaction. Then you can choose to respond physically or verbally... Or something like that. Look, it was a LONG time ago and I'm going from memory. You know what you should do? You should STOP READING THIS BLOG RIGHT NOW and buy Michael's Book, Process: An Improviser's Journey by Mary Scruggs & Michael J. Gellman.
But, if you're still reading... here's what it means to me. Far too often improv turns into a verbal tennis match.
You say something funny.
I say something funny.
Accidentally we further the scene.
Heaven forbid we might actually feel something!
Breaking each moment down and slowing it down, so that every moment becomes individual, small, emotional and physical acting choices is what defines improvisational theatre. It takes the work from the comedy club and puts it where it belongs... in the theatre.
Remind yourself that there are 4 STEPS that must be taken and each step is MANDATORY. No offer, however small should be ignored. Each step is OWED to your acting partner.
LISTEN, BREATHE, REACT, RESPOND
You're not just listening to hear cues... as if your fellow actors job in life is to set up your jokes... you are actively listening (with your ears, your eyes and your feelings) as a way to understand your partner.
There is an offer, no matter how small. Remember that just walking onto the stage is your first and most important offer! You take a breath in. As you breathe in you emotionally take in the offer. You explore it. What does that offer mean? Not just logistically but more importantly... emotionally.
Yes. The books says "relax." I guess I was too relaxed 'cause yup... that's a typo. You react emotionally. You haven't moved or spoken yet. You are still only FEELING but now you are feeling your feelings fully. That's an actors job and it takes a fraction of a second.
As you exhale you can respond by saying something that is emotionally connected to the offer, not just your next funny line. OR you can react by moving somewhere or doing something. You can do BOTH at the same time if you want, because your response will be connected to the emotional truth of the scene. As a marketing genius once said, lather, rinse... repeat. Your partner accepts your response as the next offer.
Does it sound like a lot of work? Well it IS! It's the work of acting. And trust me, with practice it speeds up. It's how we naturally process the world offstage. This is how to bring those real reactions & responses onstage, so we can depict real life to our audience, instead of just another verbal tennis match.
I'm happy that I got the chance to study with Michael on many occasions AND YOU SHOULD TOO! Don't screw around! Take your work seriously and work with Michael J. Gellman. His contact info is right here... http://michaeljgellman.com/contact/
More About Michael J Gellman
"I have worked in the world of improvisation for over 40 years. I have worked with the best and been through the worst. I have learned from so many and laughed and cried and created and laughed some more"
Michael J Gellman
Michael J Gellman now resides in Ontario Canada and is Artistic Director of The Process Theatre. He teaches at Loyalist College as well as Master Workshops for Second City International and Artistic New Directions NYC. He is an alumnus of the Second City mainstage and was a resident director for Second City in Canada and the USA for 25 years. He was Artistic Director of the Second City Toronto where his shows were nominated for 7 Dora Mavor Moore Awards including twice for Outstanding Direction, nominated for Best Director for Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award, and won a Chalmers Award for Best Director. He is a senior faculty and founding member of the Second City Training Center where he was a Program Head and also Director of the NY training Center.
Michael was an adjunct faculty member at Columbia College Chicago teaching Acting For Directors in the Film Directing department and designed and taught Improvisation and Acting III for the Comedy Studies department. In addition to Second City and Columbia College he has taught and designed classes and workshops in directing, acting and improvisation since 1976 at such notable institutions as: Actors Centre London, The Audition Centre, Victory Gardens Training Centre, Act One Conservatory and Loyola Law School as well as master workshops for hundreds of Universities, festivals, theatre companies and improv groups around the world. He is credited with originating “Long Form” Improvisation and his book “Process: An Improvisers Journey” (Northwestern University Press) co-authored with Mary Scruggs is a summary of his workshops on improvisational training.