10 ways to make people think you’re a more experienced improviser than you really are.

by Katy Schutte

It’s definitely worth spending a lot of time getting really, really good at improv.  Those 10,000 hours take a while though, so it’s nice to have a couple of tips.  Watching a lot of new improvisers I notice the same tells over and over again that broadcast them as such.  There’s already a lot to think about up there and then there’s abandoning all of that to get out of your head.  But anyways, even if you just work on one of these at a time, you’ll come across like a more experienced improviser.

1.     Comfortable In Your Body
Be purposeful in your movements, even if your purpose is to be a loose, nervous or random character.
Practice silence scenes.  Not ‘gibberish’ talk, but scenes that don’t require dialogue.  You’ll be listening much more closely to your body and the bodies of your fellow players.

2.     Stagecraft
Take care to make an interesting stage picture and make sure everyone can be seen.
Oh Mighty Isis!  Make single objects, animals or machines as a group without talking.  Look for symmetry and beauty.  Support your team.

3.     Straightforward
Be open, honest, real.  You will get laughs from authenticity.
Get a one-word suggestion and tell any real life story or memory that comes to mind.

4.     Be Heard
Make sure you can be heard.  That means enunciating as well as projecting.  Be aware of the farthest person at the very back of the room and say everything so that they can hear.
Wheel out all those tongue twisters you know.  Perform them loudly and confidently with exaggerated mouth movements imagining you are in a huge theatre.  Try “She stood upon the balcony inexplicably mimicking him hiccupping and amicably welcoming him in.”

5.     Taboo

There is no pressure on you to create ‘shock’ laughs.  What a lot of people feel is pushing the boundaries of art and being risqué is often just mentioning cancer, rape, paedophilia, racism, scatology or violence.  Trust what’s already happening in the scene and heighten that.  More often that not, you’ll find a more satisfying scene there.
Mapping.  As truthfully as you can, act out a scene with a couple breaking up.  Now play the same scene again, but make it all about chess instead.  See if some of the same phrases will fit (“we just don’t play together like we used to”, “since when have you been playing chess with Charlie?” “I think I need some space”).

6.     Variety
Vary your character and emotional choices.
Emotional Rollercoaster.  Play a scene as a director calls out different emotional directions for the scene to take.

7.     Meta
Stay inside the reality of the scene.  It will help the audience come with you.
Ordinary/Extraordinary.  Play a scene as mermaids/ghosts/werewolves etc., but keep all the dialogue real-world.  How would mermaids chat if they were just having a normal day?

8.     React     
Play a scene where you emotionally react as your character would.  Look out for offers that will give you this opportunity and create them for yourself.
Have your scene partner reveal a secret and choose a strong emotional reaction (not necessarily the logical one).

9.     You’re Great
Even if it feels like a mistake, make it look good, justify it and sell it.
8 Things.  Get the title of a list and very quickly name 8 things on that list.  (Types of fruit, Things you find in the sea etc.) Have everyone cheer at all 8 things whether or not they make sense or should be part of that list.

10.  They’re Great
Even if it feels like a mistake, make it look good, justify it and sell it.
Justify.  One person steps into the centre of the circle.  One of the others makes a ludicrous proposition (“Cats should be in charge”) and the person in the middle – using only reality and logic – justifies the proposition (“They have a lot of views online, most people like them, they seem to be happy, people are sick of the currently government.”)

Enjoy playing with these ideas.  Who are your favourite improvisers?  What do they do on stage that makes them your favourite?  What makes them come across like pros?

Is it something you can try?

  1. Kate Ballard

    Fab blog (other than the suggestion that cats being in charge would be a ludicrous proposition) Thanks Katie

    1. Yes, very good. Lots of stuff to practice. By the way, the cats ARE in charge..Vicky

      1. Vicky, I agree with you.
        A cat understands every word you say to it.
        However, it always does as it pleases.
        If that’s not being in charge, then I don’t know what is.

  2. You’re being watched.

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