Years ago when Willie and Howard defined the tournament they quickly realized that 4 minutes was a great amount of time for most scenes. Within that time you could easily tell a story and not let it drag on. The Additional time calls were added to make sure the team knew how much time was left for there scene, however now it’s taken on a life of its own. Some teams even ask for additional time calls like a 2 minute call and then bind story points to those calls… this is not organic storytelling. Tell the story the way it unfolds and do not allow the 1 minute call to create a Pavlovian response for your team to “wrap up” your story. How do you do this? Practice without a stopwatch and practice with your coach telling you to wrap it up in 3 minutes.
Remove yourself and the character will emerge. We all have habitual ways of moving through space and a recognizable voice. We want to train our self to play original characters other than our selves. That’s why rehearsing character scenes so integral to all of improv. Playing characters as far from your own body size and style will much like a weight lifter give you the muscles to perform characters within scenes with ease.
Make a list. When playing a character to you show its personality through actions your character takes. Practice this skill by getting character traits from your coach and writing 10-15 actions that would prove your character is of the trait provided. To simplify character portrayal to an equation, it would be suggestion + character trait = action.
We, as improvisers, are explorers. We are constantly setting sail into uncharted waters and seeking out new worlds. We are archeologists, digging into our own world and discovering new and profound ideas. We make these discoveries not with bones or maps of the sea, but with ideas.
Ideas are everywhere and in everything. To find them, it’s not about where you look but how you look. Improvisers know how to take one idea and turn it on its head; we look at it sideways in order to reveal some new truth unseen by the untrained eye and then we share that discovery with the audience. We do this by changing our perspective. What appears one way to you may seem different to someone who has studied history, or science. To a scientist, a cup of coffee is a group of molecules mixed together; to a commuter it’s the saving grace that gets them through their morning. Improvisers understand that people, because of their place in the world, see things differently and therefore we switch hats, so to speak, to achieve this insight into other worlds.
Only through altering your perspective do you truly understand an idea from all angles. And only through understanding can we truly relate to an idea and relate that idea to an audience made up of people from all walks of life.
When looking at an idea try to look at it in as many ways as possible. Filter the idea through other perspectives, for instance: Scientific, Historic, Masculine, feminine, Religious, Positive, Negative. Look through the lens of Pop Culture, Music, Literature, Film etc… By looking from all angles, we can explore an idea in an infinite number of ways. How do different characters view the idea? A bus driver would have a different interpretation of life than a clown. Same as a Doctor would see drugs in a different light than a police officer. If we look from all perspectives we will see what something truly means. So in the end, we should never stop looking. Exploration is exciting, and as improvisers we can all agree that we love excitement.
Your scenes should flow. Do the beginning of the scene in the beginning and the end at the end. If you follow a direct line with all of your offers to each of the five elements you’ll find the flow of a story and an audience will understand the scene.
Recently we’ve seen lots of scenes accomplish setting, problem and stakes in the first 30 seconds… this should mean that the scene will be done in a total of one minute. What ends up happening is that the team will go for a second round at setting up a platform, shelving the first problem and then marrying a new problem to the old one….essentially setting up two scenes. Spend some time getting to know the details of the setting and why we like the principle character. If you don’t do that I won’t know who we’re supposed to care about as an audience member.
Dave Morris talks about Failure being a great thing once and a while!