Julian Frid is an aficionado of the art of improv and the founding member of Sex T Rex. He’s performed on stages across North America, and is a student at U of T, focusing on the structure and cognitive effects of storytelling, specifically in film. He is proud to say he consistently pays improv teachers good $$.
Teaching improv at U of T, I’ve encountered many people who want not so much to be improvisers (in the sense of going onstage to improvise regularly), but to use the tools of improv to hack social sitches.
Does this work? Debatable. I don’t see the “after,” just the “before,” but improv games tend to loosen people up and teach all those Batmans out there to consider the question “Why so serious?”
The greatest thing I think these classes teach is respect for creative (weird) people. Teaching the course, I can see the status shift from being closed off and knowing what is “good” and what is “not.” At the end of eight weeks, these people wade into scenes and give their fellow performers wide-eyed attention. It brings out the child in them, though I’d never tell them that outright.
These students are less concerned with comedy than with possibilities of game, of exploration, and getting to do what they’ve always wanted to do. I had a student who loved the idea of opening up a closet and having a live bear inside. This was a frequent but hilarious occurrence.
For students like this, improv is a novelty. As an improviser, and after watching a fair amount of improv over five years, I wonder how much of a novelty it remains for some, when all we see is people and chairs.
Depressing? Hopefully not. After examining and practising an art like improv, one, even though they may not be able to articulate it, gains a nuanced and elemental understanding of the art. How to move the people and the chairs to make the most entertaining arrangement or dynamic possible.
Good film is best when it remains good even when muted. This is because elementally, film is images moving on screen.
Improv is elementally people with chairs. Our whole life is people with architecture, furniture, navigating and using these spaces. Improv requires exploration.
Photo © Joe Pack