If you are doing improv these days, you are probably doing it online. Even if you haven’t tried improv over Zoom you might be curious about how you can do it well. Either way, if you’re going to be doing an improv show, or even just an improv class, online, you’ll need to figure out how you can be seen and heard well so your scenes actually work. So, I have put together 11 technical tips to help you really pop on screen while you are improvising online.
- Get Good Lighting
This is the number one thing you can do to make yourself look great online. I get so many compliments on how I look on Zoom, and trust me, that is not because of my handsome face. (I actually look better on Zoom than in person, can you believe that?) To look good on Zoom, you need to have the light in front of you, not behind you. Otherwise you’ll end up looking dark and shadowy. So if you can, move your desk in front of a window for daylight, or get a lamp and put behind your laptop facing you. I have an inexpensive desk lamp with a goose neck that you can just adjust. I have also used a lamp and taken off the shade, but I’ve found that the goose neck light can direct the light to your face even better. Once you get good lighting, stand back and watch the complements come in.
- Get Good Sound
Now that you are seen, you need to be heard. There is nothing more frustrating you’re improvising online then not being able to hear your scene partner’s voice. All computers have built in microphones — some work really well and some not so well. If you are in the category of not so well, it’s worth the investment to buy a separate microphone, not just for when you’re improvising, but also for the other times you are on Zoom. Here are several microphones from Sam Ash or Amazon that won’t break the bank.
- Communicate Technical Problems
If you can’t hear someone during a scene or their picture is jumbled, politely let them know it. Sometimes it can be fixed by them logging off and then getting back on. Sometimes, I have had students change devices so they could be heard better.
- Use a Computer, Not Your Phone
Although you can technically use your phone to improvise on Zoom, you’ll have a much better experience if you use a computer instead. When you’re on a computer, you can see all of the other players in the gallery view (which you can’t do on your phone), and of course, the picture is larger on a computer, which allows you to have a better visual connection with your scene partner. Another tip: Maximize Zoom on your screen so you can get the largest picture possible.
- Dedicate a Space In Your House
One of the great parts of doing improv over Zoom is that you don’t have to leave your house to do improv. The bad news is other people may be in your house while you are doing it, so you may feel a little self-conscious when you’re saying crazy things or acting with big emotions. The best thing to do is dedicate a room that is just for you for the next length of the class. I had students say to me that they tell their kids or partner that they are not allowed in the room for two hours. Whatever is going to make you the most comfortable when you’re performing, do it.
- Match Your Frame
Another really important thing to do when you are performing improv on zoom is something I like to call “matching the frame” with the other person you are in a scene with. So if one person is more of a 3/4 shot, showing themselves from their waist up to their head, you need to be 3/4 shot as well, and if one person is only showing themselves from their shoulders up, you need to do the same. It gives the illusion that both improvisers are actually working in the same space.
- Have a Neutral Background
If you can, try to make your background as neutral as possible when you are improvising on Zoom. Place yourself in front of a neutral background wall without a lot of books on the shelves or art on the wall. This make it less distracting to watch the person in the frame.
- Turn Off Your Video When You’re Not Performing
Most of the time when my students are doing two-person scenes, I have the rest of the students turn off their video but leave their audio on so we can hear their laughter. Students have found that using the speaker view on Zoom is more effective than using the gallery view, since you can see only your partner when they are talking. Unfortunately, when your scene partner finishes talking and you start talking, now you appear on the screen, and some people find this distracting. I am one of those people. I am getting better at catching myself looking at myself. When I do, I try to look back at the camera in my computer.
- Dress the Part
When I teach or do a show on Zoom, I dress like I would if I were performing on stage. I wear nice pants and nice shoes, make sure that I am shaved and have a nice shirt on. It’s totally psychological, but it helps me feel more prepared.
- Don’t Blend In With the Background
If you’re going to be doing an improv performance online, you don’t want to fade into the woodwork. So if you don’t want to wear a green shirt if you’re going to be in front of a green background. Instead, choose a color shirt that will make you stand out. You want to pop.
- Be Aware of Delay
One thing I am hoping Zoom will do is make all of us better listeners, I hear this from my students all the time. When someone else is speaking, there will be a slight delay. This is a good thing because it will slow you down and cause you to really listen on all levels. It something I want you to be aware if you haven’t figured it out already.Always wanted to study with Jimmy Carrane? Don’t miss his Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensive Aug. 1-2! Sign up today!