Ensemble improvising is only as good as how well the improvisers work together as a team. Here are some exercises that focus on getting improvisers to work together.
Most improvisers get their laughs from things that they say. We get hooked on saying witty things that make people laugh. The early symptom of this is saying funny things on stage instead of “saying things funny.” Getting laughs is usually what hooks someone into verbal diarrhoea, but some people just can’t shut the frick up. To keep it brief, try the following exercises.
Listening takes place on four levels in improvisational comedy. Scenically players have to be listening to the physical environment. If they are not listening to the mime, they walk through walls and tables. Listening to the words are crucial, the humour of ‘mishearing’ things only goes so far. The players must also listen to the emotional content of the words, and the emotional context of what the character sharing the stage is doing. This sort of listening gives the most power to creating conflict, raising the stakes, and building character. Lastly the the player must be listening to the story. There is usually an over arching story that takes place in every scene. Not listening to the story is the number one reason that long form scenes fail to capture the love of the audience. The following improv structures can assist hard working improvisers in the many areas of listening.
Accepting has a very special term in improvisational theatre. Accepting is predicated by listening, and means that one character has incorporated what another character has created on stage. The most common reason that characters fail to accept is because the actor portraying them is not listening. If a character does not accept that a mimed door is a door, or that she has a limp, your audience will be quickly dismayed at the chaos that is taking place on stage. If there are troubles with accepting the following exercises may be of use.
Most scenes need to some to an end. Even a conversational character based environmentless babble fest will need to have a resolution. Killing the scene with lights is one way, but the audience will be much happier when scenes end organically by themselves. Characters may fall back in love, evil will be destroyed, or the cute furry animal will get killed. Resolutions that make sense show that the characters were listening to the scene that went on before them. Resolutions based on what has gone before leaves the audience wanting more. The following exercises will help improvisers get to resolutions in their scenes.
Go big or go home. There are no bounds to where we can go with strong mime, and our unbridled imaginations. The choices we make on stage will either add to our characters, or add to the conflict. Making the conflict bigger is a way to make the scene better. Raising the stakes does not have to be a sledgehammer, it can be subtle. The following improv structures can help improvisers raise the stakes to the conflict in their scenes.
Conflict is most often what makes a scene interesting. It is rare that there is a lack of conflict in improv comedy scenes. It is more often the case that there is a proliferation of argumentative interpersonal conflict. It is important to explore other conflicts, such as internal conflicts, or conflicts with nature. If conflict is not happening at all, it is often because the characters are immediately solving their problems on stage. The structures listed below may assist in developing conflict in scenes.
Relationships in an improv scene are the most powerful way to connect with your audience. Everyone has relationships in their lives. Strong relationships between the characters on stage need to be built in a realistic fashion. The stronger the realistic relationships are between the characters on stage, the more the audience will connect with the scene. The more they connect with the scene the funnier they will find it. The following improv structures may help develop relationships on stage.
Characters are what differentiate a scene from two assholes talking on stage. If you really want to learn characters you should take an acting course from a qualified acting coach. It will do worlds of good for your improv. The following improv structures can help with developing characters.
Environment is the base for all improv comedy scenes. There may be the odd Dadaist free form scene that doesn’t need a solid mime environment, but almost every scene will benefit from a strong environment. The following improv structures will help strengthen environment.