Now, hold your horses! I know what you’re going to say. I’ve heard it before. “How do you rehearse improv?” “I thought you made it all up?” “can’t you just turn up and do it?”
No, no and thrice no. Over the last three years of being a Mayday I have been fortunate enough to see some amazing improvisation both from my own company and from those around the world. I’ve also had to watch some truly dire improv and I get more and more infuriated by it with every passing show. There is one thing that appears to be a common factor in both sorts of shows and that is rehearsal. Do it and you may never be brilliant but don’t and not being brilliant is a nailed-on guarantee.
Please be aware that I use the term rehearsal because no better word exists in my mind. I’ve called it class, practise, Monday (The day that The Maydays have met since time began), session, therapy and many other things in my time but rehearsal for all its faults fits best with me. “I’ve got rehearsal tonight” says performance and I, for the moment, don’t mind fielding the same questions.
Being a football fan…well, Spurs fan…I have occasionally toyed with the idea of calling it training. It at least has a familiar. A footballer will turn up to training and he’ll run drills. At no point during a football match is it required a player runs to a pole, round it and return to the starting point over and over again but maybe once in a match he’ll have to react quickly and run back to where he came from. Without the drill, his muscles wouldn’t be able to react quickly enough. Muscles, like the brain has memory. Spending all week with his team mates, our imaginary football star will get a deep understanding of their strengths and weekness that in the moment will be invaluable in making split second decisions on the field. Paul Scholes turned up out of the blue last weekend to play for Manchester United after 6 months of not training day in and day out and he was woeful. He had trained daily for 20 years and after 6 months away he wasn’t in synch with his teammates.
As an improvisor you need to do the same thing. You need to run those drills. The warm ups you’ve done a hundred times before, the scenes off of the wall, the character swaps, the energy builders, the physical stretches, the brain workers, the vocal warm ups, and so on. Then you need to be working on the stuff you do for the shows that we all find so fun to get in synch with your groupmates. Just like rehearsals for a play, or concerto, or anything else, you need to be putting in way more work in private than in public so that you hit the right notes in front of your audiencemore often than not.