8 Things! That helped my improv this Autumn

By Katy Schutte

I’m a teacher, which means that I’m also a learner.  Since I got back from Edinburgh, I’ve learned from a bunch of really great teachers.  I have so many notes, so many ongoing goals and I just want to share with you some of the wisdom that I’ve taken with me.  I’ve met some of my total idols and I’ve found some new inspirational teachers too.  Because there is so much, I’ve popped it into a cute little 8 Things so that your Buzzfeed mind can eat it along with your breakfast.

  1. Good is as good as bad in a workshop.

Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall).  It was an offhand remark, but one that really resonated with me.  If the people just before you in a workshop totally nailed a scene, it’s nice to know that there is no pressure for you to do the same.  You are learning, the more you fuck it up, the more you get to learn.

  1. Suck My Dick.

Shannon O’Neill (UCB).  We started Shannon’s workshop by sharing problems, thoughts and ideas.  The whole group would shout back ‘Suck my dick!’.  It’s a lovely way of minimising the general noise of your brain.  I think un-fun day jobs would be a lot more bearable if everyone started the day shouting ‘Suck my dick!’.  It’s doublethink: I care enough about you to listen to your gubbins/who gives a shit about their gubbins when we can improvise?

  1. You can afford to tell the truth, no one will believe you.

Del Close, but brought to my attention by my absolute heroes TJ and Dave.  It’s sometimes much easier to start with what you genuinely think and believe and it’s safe being confessional because you are in a fictional environment.  I told an absolutely true (and secret) story in a recent show which my husband jovially berated me for afterwards.  I pointed out that no one would ever know it was true and we smiled to ourselves.

4.  Lose

Tom Salinksy (Spontaneity Shop). This was really a personal note that I now find myself giving to other people who need it.  Tom was coaching me and Chris Mead for Project Two and I found that I was trying so hard to nail every exercise that I was forgetting to let my characters fail.  Failing as a character is not failing as an improviser.  I don’t need to be in control, I don’t need to know what’s happening and losing is often the funniest, strongest position to take in a scene.

  1. If you know the genre, you know the climax.

Anthony Atamanuik (UCB). I was learning The Movie with Tony and this advice was a bit of a revelation.  Freeform long form is my favourite; it really makes me happy, but I do play in (and direct) genre improv, so to know that the climax is already there was a great mind-change for me.  Without playing any preceding scenes, we jumped straight to the climax of any given genre.  They were perfect, that IS what would happen.  Only the specifics change.

  1. The emotional connection is more important than the facts. If the emotional connection changes, it’s like walking through an object work table.

TJ Jagodowski & Dave Pasquesi (Chicago). You know that moment in improv when someone spends a while establishing (wiping down, putting a drink on, scratching their name into) a table and then another improviser walks straight through it?  Unless it’s justified as a ghost, a hologram or whatever, the audience is left unsettled.  In this class, we worked hard on recognising emotional connection and I see that it is just the same.  If we as an audience felt like there was underlying sexual attraction at the beginning of a scene and it disappears – unexplained – by the end, the scene seems like a total lie.

  1. What’s the about about?

Kevin McDonald (Kids in the Hall). Another one from Kevin.  This was a sketch writing workshop using improvisation, but this question is equally applicable to pure improv.  Sure, Spinal Tap may be about a band on tour, but the about about is the friendship between two characters and how it falls apart.  What are the larger themes at play in your improv?

  1. It’s better to be inspired by people than in competition with them.

Shannon O’Neill.

‘Nuff said.