We have all been in those improv scenes where we suffered from the talking statue syndrome. You know, where two improvisers are frozen in the same positions while trying to exchange witty banter. This is improv purgatory.
Remember, live improv is not the same as a podcast. It’s a three-dimensional art form, and we have a whole stage to create whatever our imagination desires. So please use it. I know some people resist using their physicality, or they’re like me and they get lazy and forget to use it, so I have come up a little cheat sheet for you. Here are three easy ways to become more physical in your improv scenes. I suggest you try out them out in your next show, class or rehearsal and see what happens.
- Duh! Start with an Activity
Starting an improv scene with an activity is a great way to get out of your own head. I hear my students say all the time, “I am not good with object work.” Guess what? The audience doesn’t care if you’re great at object work. They didn’t come to see mimes, but they did come to see you improvise. So, let go of your judgement and remember you are doing object work for yourself NOT the audience. So, initiate with an activity: brushing your teeth, flying a rocket ship or paddling in a canoe.Tip: The rookie trap some improvisers fall into when they start an improv scene with an activity is that they want to talk about the activity. If that happens, here’s some tips: A) Focus on the relationship, not the activity. B) Think to yourself, “What is special about today? Why I am doing this activity now?” C) Think about what happened just before, i.e. I am washing the car with my brother because we both got grounded.
- Start the Scene in a Bold Physical Position
It seems 80 percent of our scenes are done either standing up or sitting in chairs. But what if you started your scene in a different position? For example, what if you started by hiding behind the chairs? Or laying across the chairs like you were devastated from a break-up? Or what if you stood on the chairs like you were the ruler of the free world? (I think you get where I’m going with this).I have done an exercise in my improv class where I spread three chairs out on stage and say you have to make a bold, physical position. Sometimes I say you have to be touching the chair. So if you are standing holding the back of the chair, that will give you something. If you curl up in it like a ball, that will say something different. Sometimes I don’t use chairs and tell my students to make a bold, physical move, like laying sprawled across the floor (don’t forget you can use the floor). What happens is students transform. Starting with a physical position usually leads to having a strong emotional point of view for their character, and at the same time, usually defines the environment.
- Start Your Character with a Physicality
This is so easy we forget it. It can be something subtle like a slight limp or something bigger like standing super stiff and tall or entering the scene all hunched over. The point is to get you to move in a way you don’t do in your regular day-to-day life. This will break our normal thinking patterns, give us a strong point of view, and force us to engage more with our environment.So if I started with a slight limp, I may be communicating that I’m low status, such as a servant to the other character. My voice and attitude may change as well. This may lead me to going and getting the other player a glass of brandy from the bar. All this is good physical action.