What you’re thinking about or noticing in life also pops up in improv sometimes. If I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, for example, surviving a long run with tired improvisers might be the subject of this blog. But no, for me at the moment one of the things I’ve been noticing in improv and life is love.
Or rather, being loving.
Making loving choices in life is something I haven’t always consciously done but I moved across the UK recently to be here for my gorgeously giggly Granny who hasn’t found much to giggle about for a while. It’s a real joy to actively bring more happiness to someone’s life by being present for them.
At the same time in improv, a loving approach to scene work has been presenting itself. I see it as a version of the start positive note (with a how-to do that).
I recently took an intensive class from Coleen Doyle and Jason Shotts from IO (Improv Olympic). Among other awesome concepts was a simple but very effective note that, no matter what happens or is said at the start of the scene / show, you love this person you’re on stage with (not necessarily romantic love). Treat the other character/s as if you’re happy to be there because nobody else really gets your character right now but them.
Basically, I think Colleen and Jason were teaching us to be loving. This has two main effects which are particularly useful in long form or narrative improv.
You’re good to work with
The real world effect is that you’re fun to play with and you’re less likely to block offers. When we’re playing with our favourite people we do this anyway. I love my Cambridge crew and the joy we have playing with each other is visible in every scene. So we tend to be open to each other’s offers and start with characters that understand each other. We tend to be focused on giving each other a good time rather than concerned about our own stage fears.
I can play that way with anybody if I start with the premise that I really like them: that this show is in a world where we’re getting along (despite any differences we have).
The improv effect is to help create excellent platform. It’s much more effective in a story or sketch to start with what normal is like for these characters before introducing trouble or the reason why today of all days is special.
If you also approach the first scene looking for what your two characters have in common it’s easier to create platform. It’s also a more satisfying start because it’s easier for the audience to like you. Once the audience like you and like your character, says Jason Shotts, then you do can anything to that character because the audience will care.
And we want them to care when our characters get into trouble. That’s how story works. And we want them to care when we torture that character over and over with their weaknesses or desires. That’s the premise of much great comedy (and every single sitcom).
The long game
The idea of being loving: of starting with agreement and commonality with every character you’re on stage with reflects the advice I got from the Closer Each Day crew who have been doing their improvised soap opera in Bristol for four years. This positive common ground approach really works for the long game or narrative when you’re playing the same character all the time, even if you’re essentially the villain.
It also goes well with the idea of being a conflicted character rather than looking for conflict (I’ll explore that in a later post).
Are you giving the improv love?
So let’s turn the title around. Are you giving the love? What different improv or life choices have you made by being loving?
Can’t imagine how it works? Try it! It’s harder than you might think. And in the middle of the Edinburgh fringe run when tired grumpy minds walk on stage it can be a mighty tool…
(Photo: Heather Yeadon and Kevin Wright of Cambridge Improv Factory photographed by James Southwick at Lodestar Festival)