There’s so much pressure in life to “do our best,” it’s only natural that some of that spills over into the world of make-’em-ups we call improv. But striving for perfection is a surefire way to suck the fun out of a scene. As Joe Bill says:
“Any consideration of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ will fuck you over and put you in your head. Onstage is not real life.”
Think about that: onstage is not real life. That gives us incredible licence to do whatever the hell we want.
One time in rehearsal my teammate, Justin Kosi, was pimped into being John Travolta. He looked at our coach, Tom Vest, and said “I don’t know him.” “That’s great!” Tom told him. “Just do your John Travolta.”
Of course, Justin’s Travolta was nothing like the “real” one – and a million times funnier as a result.
If you want to take pressure off yourself, try doing something really badly. You can do it in a circle as a warm-up, as well as in scenes.
Do the worst accent, the worst dance, the worst impression, the worst anything, and see if it isn’t the best.
Photo © Kevin Thom
I did a show a couple of nights ago where I was a robot. Oh, I looked human, but I might as well have been C-3PO for all the emoting I was doing.
For whatever reason, when I got on stage, I played “from the neck up.” In other words, I talked a lot but there was no weight behind what I was saying.
I was looking for something clever to say, when the answer was in my heart, my gut, my body the whole time. The next time that happens, I hope to remember these few simple words:
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about “The 10,000-Hour Rule.” According to Gladwell, the key to success of giants like The Beatles, Bill Gates, and Wayne Gretzky is due in part to practicing for 10,000 hours or more.
Consider Joe Bill an outlier.
As a co-founder of The Annoyance Theatre, a master improvisation teacher, and one half of improv duo Bassprov, Joe Bill has been improvising since 1977.
Along the way, he’s developed a philosophy that he and Bassprov partner Mark Sutton call Scenic Power Improv. If you’ve ever taken one of their workshops, you know how exciting and empowering it feels to perform this way.
Now Joe has started a blog where he talks about his approach. Click to read his thoughts on different schools of improv, and why, as a student of Del Close, he enjoys performing with Keith Johnstone advocate, Patti Stiles.
Image © Tilman Dominka