Lovely bunch of people in our workshop this evening. Left me so positive about impro that I’m writing this blog on the tube home immediately after.
Workshop was on Awareness, as in being totally aware of what the other improviser is saying, doing, moving, feeling.
There is quite a lot of talk on listening in impro books in general, but surprisingly little on seeing. Sometimes you’d be led to believe impro is a purely verbal pursuit, but actually the audience get a huge amount of pleasure from bold physical offers.
So I wrapped up listening and seeing into Awareness.
For me listening and seeing are one of the most fundamental skills in impro. If you aren’t hearing and seeing the other actor, and aren’t aware of what they are doing, then you can’t really improvise with them and can only improvise alongside them in your own separate world.
We want people improvising with each other, connected to each other.
There are loads of different techniques and exercises to make sure you are aware of the other actor and receiving all their offers. These techniques also have the pleasant side effect of removing self-consciousness, taking off the pressure of being funny, and keeping improvisers in the moment.
Sometimes improvisers seem to experience a ‘workshop freeze’, where they’ve been to so many different workshops run by so many different people that they are trying to do too much on stage and actually freeze up when they’re in a show. The idea isn’t too learn every single technique and then try and do them all at once on stage, otherwise you get stuck in your head and stop having fun. It’s better to only consciously take one thing on stage, whatever works for you at that time, and have fun with everything else.
In my experience shows don't go down so well if the actors are trying to take too many things on stage with them, or aren't taking anything on at all and just find themselves stuck there trying to be funny. A good balance is to only consciously take on thing on stage with you.
I personally seem to perform best when I go into the show with the mantra “react and add to every single offer, especially the small ones.”
Here are some techniques to raise awareness, listening and seeing between improvisers. Play with them and use the one that works for you on stage:
Group Walk/Stop/Jump: the group walk around the room, stop in unison, freeze, start walking in unison, jump in unison. Encourage the group to follow each other, not lead.
Diamond Dancing: four improvisers up, in a diamond formation all facing the audience. Play music, they dance, copying the person in front. If the group turns to face the left, right or back they copy the new person in front. Then break it up and have fun with it, inventing dance routines on the spot.
Group Mirroring: the group stand in a circle. Each person mirrors someone else in the circle, but so that the whole circle is connected. Or the group just mirrors itself, the slightest change in one person is mirrored across the group.
String Puppet: one improviser operates the other from the front using imaginary strings as if they were a string puppet. When they go behind the puppet the puppet is actually in control but they still move strings accordingly.
Use their words: Use a word, or as many words as possible, from what the other improviser just said in your line. We did this in the “That’s Right Bob” sales channel game, with two improvisers working together to sell a product as if on a sales channel.
Last Word First Word: Start your line with the last word the other improviser just said.
Voice Mirroring: saying the same thing that the other improviser is saying at the same time in the same way, but in your head. At first you can voice mirror out loud as an exercises, but then turn the volume down and do it in your head in a scene. This is one of Adam Meggido’s (Showstopper) favourite techniques and he’s one of the best listeners I’ve ever met.
Mini Meisner: repeat between each other facts about the other person that are undeniably true. Start with clothes, then, hair/eyes etc, then movement/expression, then emotions.
“You’ve got a black t-shirt”
“I’ve got a black t-shirt”
“You’ve got a black t-shit”
Then do the repetitions but under imaginary circumstances, eg with a location added. This helps the improvisers to be aware of everything the other person is giving them - movements, expression, words, emotion, and use it. It also helps to not differentiate between what the improviser is doing on purpose and what they are doing accidentally. If the improviser laughs while saying “captain, iceberg dead ahead”, then their character is also laughing.
Repeating All Offers: play a scene but after each line the other improviser says everything they just did, said, moved, expressed, before adding their line. This games means that all the focus is on the other person, and not worried about story/being funny. Give location, character, relationship before starting.
For instance, set on a cruise ship:
A: “Cabin boy, take the wheel”
B: (Repeating all offers) “You pointed really sharply at the wheel, giggled, and said take the wheel.” (Line) “Yes captain, it would be an honour.”
A: (Repeating) “You took the wheel and spoke in a squeaky voice yes captain it would be an honour.” (Line) “Look out, rocks dead ahead!”
B: (Repeating) “You pointed out to sea, and laughed as you said look out, rocks dead ahead!” (Line) “You’re happy about the rocks.”
Actor A was laughing accidentally but B picked up on the offer and used it, as they were aware of everything about A. As the scene played on it turned out the Captain was deliberately crashing the ship into the rocks as an insurance scam, had put the cabin boy behind the wheel so he had a scapegoat.
It’s very satisfying when actors use everything the other person is giving them, especially the things that are happening accidentally.
There is also something truthful about improvising like this. If someone really is laughing, or looking nervous, or walking away from you, or shaking, then use it. That stuff is actually happening, so be aware of it, and use it.
Lots of love,
Impro Classes and Shows