Month: November 2013

Ask Jill – Have you ever met anyone who just could NOT do improv?

…To the broader question, can anyone become a good improvisor? Viola Spolin, the mother of American improv believed so. When I was younger and more arrogant I scoffed at that. As I continue teaching I realize anyone could become a good improvisor given two things: will and time. Everyone has a cocoon wrapped around them of all the stuff in between them and the natural wonderful creative self they are at the core. For some people it takes a lot of work and a lot of time, and it’s all in whether they’re willing to make the investment.

Improv Wins – Fear is the Mind Killer


You may be asking, “How the hell do I supposed to stay relaxed when I’m on stage with no script and so few things are in my control?”


This is where we need mantras and litanies against fear. We need constant reminders of some truths about fear, about improv and especially about ourselves.


Here is one I made up:


This is improv.
This moment in this space with these people will only happen once.
I am a badass co-creating imaginary universes with other badasses.
I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.
I can do whatever I want.
I love this.
This is improv.


I’m told you need to establish a relationship between characters for an improv scene to work. (Maybe advanced improvisers don’t need to explicitly define it, but I am not an advanced improviser.)

Also: status relationships (ex. parent and child, teacher and student, boss and employee) are difficult, and n00bs like me should avoid them.

[EDIT NOW THAT I AM WISER AND MORE EXPERIENCED: No. Status relationships are fine, as long as you aren’t bulldozing the other character. But instructional relationships, like a teacher and student, and transactional relationships, like buying coffee, are really hard (unless you find a way at the top of the scene to make it about those characters’ relationships to each other).]

In addition to all the other improv rules I’m trying to straighten out in my head, I wrack my brains trying to land on a suitable relationship, and I default to either (1) romantic, or (2) friends.

Of course you can work with just that. You refine the relationship as you play. But how do you refine it if, on the spot, you can’t think of anything deeper than that?

Dear reader, I know that you are quick-witted and empathetic, and you cringe that anyone would write this out, and it’s probably filled with mistakes and misconceptions, but here, to seed some ideas for myself, is a basic list of some relationships people can have:

  • Romantic:
    • Old married couple (in love? in hate?)
    • Newlyweds (in love? in hate?)
    • Second date
    • Seventeenth date
    • Goin’ steady
    • Engaged
    • On the verge of a breakup
    • Exes
    • Cheating lover(s)
    • Crush
  • Friends (or “friends”):
    • Roommates
    • Pal you haven’t seen since school (elementary, high, college, doctorate…)
    • Neighbors
    • Teammates
    • Besties!!
    • Awkward casual acquaintances who share a circle of friends but don’t have much in common themselves
    • Fellow parents (i.e. your kids know each other)
    • Work colleagues
    • Generic buddies (boring, but maybe that’s enough sometimes)
    • Crush
  • Not exactly friends:
    • Service job (clerk, waiter, barista/bartender, flight attendant, mover, hairdresser…)
    • Bully
    • Mortal enemies/ nemeses <– Why do you hate each other? Is hate even involved, or is it a family feud kinda thing?
    • Journalist/interviewee
  • Probably “status” (based on my understanding) but could certainly work if either of you knows what you’re doing:
    • Parent/child
    • Boss/employee
    • Teacher/student
    • Interviewer/interviewee
    • Celebrity/non-celebrity (reporter? fan? manager?)
    • Cool person/wannabe (same or similar dynamic as celebrity/fan)
    • Coach/player
  • Family, non-romantic:
    • Sibling
    • Cousin
    • Grandparent
    • Grandkid
    • Aunt/uncle
    • Long lost or separated parent/twin/sibling/child


Yeah this is dumb. But more importantly: Are there any obvious ones I’m missing?

I’ll see if I can work a couple of these into my next class.

Kirk Damato on characters’ starting POVs

Anonymous asked:Do you have any pointers for getting a character’s Point of View/”Deal” at the top of a scene?

Great question! Well, you can…

  • Take inspiration from the suggestion or opening. So if you get “orange,” you could extrapolate a sunny person, a laid-back person, or a big doofy guy inspired by the Syracuse Orange Man.
  • React to the initiation. Your honest reaction will point you in a direction for your character. Hopefully it isn’t something difficult to play like “meh,” bemusement, or detached irony.
  • Decide beforehand. People do this. The simpler the better. “Old person” leaves a lot of opportunities open, whereas “Old person who is bitter because of the war and your partner’s your kid who doesn’t understand what is like and by the way it’s 1950” is a toughie.

Any other suggestions?

Rick Andrews on Fear and Trust

I keep Googling things about improv, and my first instructor (Rick Andrews) keeps popping up.

One of the biggest hurdles in becoming a good improviser is our fear. Fear and threat are pretty good motivators for all kinds of things. Simple, physical tasks respond super well to fear. If I wanted you to move a bunch of boxes across the room, I could easily get you to move them faster if I made you afraid by, say, threatening you with a whip.


Creativity, however, doesn’t respond well to fear. If I gave you a pen and paper and told you to “write a beautiful poem,” threatening you with a whip if it wasn’t beautiful enough probably wouldn’t lead you to write a better poem. It’ll actually probably lead you to write a worse one. There’s a whole bunch of pretty solid research to back this up.


This is because when we’re being creative, we need to be able to take risks, to make choices that reflect our personal voice, desire, and discovery; we need to be all-around mentally unencumbered by anything other than the creative process. Improv is a creative process, and as a spontaneous one, and one that we tend to do in front of other people in scary situations, it’s pretty susceptible to fear.


This fear makes us worse improvisers. It leads us to say and do things we don’t want to say because we think they’ll get a laugh, or the audience wants to hear them, or they’re the “right” things to say and do.  We threaten ourselves with laughter, or rather, lack of laughter. As improvisers, we often hold an imaginary whip over our heads when improvising. Sometimes scenes feel like a sprint to get the first laugh, as if were the scene to go on for 30 seconds with no one laughing, the audience would simply stand up in unison, give you the finger, and leave.

There’s a separate section for “trust.” Go read it.

Chad Stafko – OK, You’re a Runner, Get Over It.

The article is just a rant on “damn runners, forcing me to look at you bein’ all healthy and shit,” which is a dumb point, but I totally get where he’s coming from. I’ve been running seriously-ish for about three years, and I still get irrationally annoyed at runners who run for reasons that don’t fit with my personal philosophy of exercise, which is best described as “fuck yeah endorphins.”

Weight-loss runners? Shut the hell up, nobody cares, you look fine.
Novice runners who decide to take on marathons? You’re doing it wrong, I hope you hurt yourself.
New-Year-resolution runners who went out and bought expensive Lululemon gear that they’ll stop using and eventually throw away after their resolutions fall by the wayside in February? As long as you look cute, that’s the important part.

Am I having fun yet?

I tend not to enjoy things I’m bad at.

This makes improv tricky, because— I’ve been told— one of the tricks to making it work is bring your love of improv to the stage. If you aren’t having fun, then why would the audience?

How can I make this fun?


This may not help anyone except me, but:

I’m lucky to be a very physical improviser. My off-stage brand of humor is guided by over-the-top gesticulations, emotive eyebrows, and a stretchy face.

Along with all this physicality comes a love for dance. I’ve never been any good at it, but I can’t stop myself from boogeying to anything with a beat. I tap out little air-piano melodies on the subway, I bounce to intermission music, and if I can find a legitimate excuse to dance, I will break out my wild and often inappropriate moves: the Charleston, I find, pairs well with Beyonce.


Oftentimes people mistake my enthusiasm for skill.

After all: anyone who has the guts to dance around like a crazy person in front of everyone MUST have SOME idea of what he’s doing.

This is exactly what I need to bring to improv.

What’s another example? The seven-hour marathoner?

What are you enthusiastic about?

Jimmy Carrane – 5 Ways to Boost Your Creativity on Stage

Jimmy Carrane calls it “boosting creativity on stage.”  I call it “I went blank and now I’m panicking.” To each his own. Carrane’s been doing this longer than I have, so I guess his terms win. (updated link)

1. Use an object

2. Begin with a strong emotion

3. Do something physical

4. Adjust your body position

5. Just move