Sunday, January 25, 2009

Increasing the Fun Factor

Improvising is about fun. If you're not having it, your audience won't be having it. And, if it's not fun for you, you've got to ask the question--why are you doing it?

Of course, one of the hardest ways to have more fun is to TRY to have more fun. Just try to tell somebody grumpy that they should take themselves less seriously and have more fun. Chances are they'll look at you with furrowed brows and continue on their grumpy way.

So, what are some ways that improvisers can increase their fun factor, while still learning their craft, and providing high quality entertainment?

Here's some hints:
  • During rehearsal scenes and performances, put away the mental list of things you need to improve. Nothing hinders creativity than the critical voice in your head that says, "you should really work on _____, or you must remember not to ______." There's a time for self-critique, but while in the middle of a scene isn't the time.
  • Approach improv as you would a game. I had a high school teacher who told me life was a game. I reacted vehemently against this notion. "No," I said. "Life is serious, and you need to take it seriously." Well, what I didn't realize at the time is that there's a big difference between being somber and being serious. Improv is important, but it's not a life and death situation. How does your attitude differ when you're solving a problem in a game versus in real life? Is that attitude something you want to cultivate?
  • Learn to enjoy and leverage your mistakes. Yeah, easier said than done. How boring would life be without mistakes? Answer: very boring. Comedy and tragedy both love mistakes, and for very different reasons. Either way, mistakes are crucial to pulling off good drama. And, as an improviser, you'll have lots of chances to make mistakes. You'll mistake elements of scenes, do odd things, mishear things, confuse situations. Rather than beating yourself up about these mistakes, admit them and have fun with them. Most mistakes you make on the improv stage won't kill you, but actually can be used to heighten the comedy.
  • Be playful.
  • Quit worrying about being the best. Most of the time competition only makes you have less fun. Instead of worrying about being the funniest person on your team, or trying to be funny. Realize that being an average improviser means you're funnier than most people. There's a paradoxical thing that goes on when you do this--you usually end up being funnier. I don't know how it works, but I've seen it.
  • Be yourself. It's corny, but nobody is better at being you than you. Rather than trying to be the great character actor you've seen on TV, or trying to follow the rigid rules of your improv director--be yourself, enjoy who you are, and let your personality do what it naturally does best. That way, whether you succeed or fail, you know it was you and not somebody you were pretending to be.

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