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Improv Tip; Improv Is Theatre

I teach improvisers that we need to tell small, important and meaningful stories.

I've been teaching improv for a number of decades now and I've seen more than my fair share of bombs being diffused and out of control airliners being landed. I don’t remember a single individual one of those scenes, because those stories were so BIG that they were un-relatable and to me... un-memorable.

Here is a clip of Michael Scott from The Office talking about improv...

It’s funny in the context of The Office and it beautifully illustrates my point… as improv it’s unwatchable. Thats because Michael’s point of reference is movies. And that's MY point…

Improv is theater.

We can’t compete with the explosive Sturm und Drang of movies and we shouldn’t try. Because all of those explosions steal from the meaningful connection of characters to each other.

Here are two examples. The first is the classic Darth Vader Obi-Wan Kenobi light saber battle from Star Wars - A New Hope.

The second is a fan made reimagined version...

In the reimagined version we see all the sound and the fury we've come to expect from modern American movies. What we don’t see is any emotion other than rage.

In the original version we see two people fighting with, what is obviously an incredibly dangerous outside toy; a light saber that can cut through literally anything (including your own arm) so they’re treating them with great care.

We also see two people who kinda don’t want to kill each other. I mean, they do… But they don’t. Darth is obviously taking it easy on the old man. Anybody who has improvised with their best students knows what this feels like. The student doesn’t want to completely overshadow the master.

I mean, they do… But they don’t.

So in the second version we see an awesome fight scene. In the original we see complex and layered emotions between two characters with a lot of history. A great deal of hard work went into the reimagined version and I have praise and admiration for the people who did it. It’s good work.

But it won’t be remembered. Not like the classic fight sequence will be remembered.

That’s why I don’t remember any scenes about diffusing bombs or landing planes. But I do remember every scene between a parent and a child, every scene between siblings in conflict and every scene between close friends who have a falling out.

Because in the end... those are the stories that really matter.


There are more crazy ramblings about improv in my book...

Available on Amazon

A big thank you to Joel Arandia, a great improviser, who's consistently nerdy posts (which I love to read) inspired this blog.

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