Answers to Your Improv Questions
Thank you to all of you Improv Nerds for sending in questions. We were originally going to answer these questions on the Improv Nerd podcast, but I was so excited to answer them, I couldn’t wait, so I decided to answer some in today’s blog.
Feel free to keep sending me questions about improve to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I have not gotten to your question yet, don’t worry. I will answer it soon either on the Improv Nerd podcast or in blog form.
Q. What are your thoughts on: a) Rehearsing as an improv troupe and b) Rehearsing with a coach versus without a coach? I find lately that all I want to do is have drinks and eat and connect with my troupe instead of the actual rehearsal part. Is this type of connection a decent substitute? And I’ve had moments where I want a coach, but others where I don’t. There are times when I feel like I can’t say what I want to say without a coach, but majority rules out getting one. Do you think it’s always best to have a mediator?
A.Teresa, a social activity with your improv troupe every once in while is OK, but going out with your group for drinks or dinner is not a substitute for a rehearsal. In a group, you are striving to build a strong ensemble, and that is built in rehearsals, not at the bar. If you enjoy hanging out with your group you can always meet them before or after rehearsal.
In terms of getting a coach, I don’t understand why people resist it. I need all the help I can get. The thing is, improv is not about mastering it, it’s about continuing to learn it. I used to play with Carl and The Passions at iO-Chicago, a group that had some of the most experienced improvisers in the country including TJ Jagodowski and Noah Gregoropoulos. And guess what? We had a coach, and we paid him.
From your question, it sounds like things are not being said and the group is lacking vision and avoiding commitment. If your group wants to go the next level, you need to hire a coach/director. By “hiring” a coach/director you are making a commitment to your group, and once you do, your ensemble will get stronger, which will lead to great improvising. Even if you only try it for a month or six weeks, the group will get stronger. (Warning: some people may leave.)
Q. I’ve taken three improv classes thus far and feel my biggest weakness is my character work. Whenever I am in a scene, I feel like my characters are more or less just a slightly altered version of myself. I realize this may be kind of a broad question, but any tips or suggestions on how I can improve my character work?
A. Terry, Terry, Terry. Three improv classes is too soon to start worrying that you’re “not good” at character work. Everyone approaches characters differently. With only three improv classes under your belt, you are in the research and development stage, finding what works for you. Del Close used to say wear your characters like a loose garment. To me, a character is simply a point of view. Some people do it by changing their voice or physically changing their body. Others just act like themselves with a strong point of view. Since you are in class, this is a great time to experiment, my suggestion would be to start with an attitude and then heighten it with a voice or a physicality and see how it feels. Remember, don’t compare yourself to others. That’s not helpful, unless you are looking for more self-loathing or a buzz kill. Focus on what you are doing right and the basics you are learning right now, and most importantly, have fun. Let me know how it works out.
Q. My level 5 coach told our class, “You don’t learn how to do improv in class; you learn to do it on stage. Class teaches you the skills to be on stage.” How do you feel about that?
A. Your coach is sharing his or her experience with you, same as I am doing with you right now. I think taking improv classes and performing are both forms of learning, and both are necessary. One cannot exist without the other. It’s like in sports: you have practice before the game. Or in theater when you have rehearsals before a play. Without them you slow down your learning. That being said, my experience is you will learn faster in front of an audience, and even faster if you are taking classes in conjunction with improvising in front of a live audience. In my Art of Slow Comedy improv class, I teach a certain style of improvisation, but most importantly, I teach ensemble, meaning the players learn to support and trust each other. How will they execute the basic tenets of improvisation? That can only be tested in front of the audience, where the stakes are higher and I am out of the equation. They need to rely on each other, and because of that the learning is more immediate. From my perspective, performing with a strong ensemble in front of a live audience will go beyond anything I teach in my improv classes.