Improv Is Easy!

(Then why is it so hard?)

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Improv Rambling: A Simple Way To Get Better At Second Beats


Recently-ish a 301/401 level improv person told me they were struggling with second beats. They could recognize the game…or art least a game… and play it in the first beat but then would struggle bring it to the second beat. Or how to initiate the second beat. Or all that stuff.

Practicing second beats is hard for the simple reason that if the first beat is muddy or unclear or just bad, it’s hard to get a solid second beat.

Here is a simple way to get better at them: SEE SHOWS.

Lot’s of shows. If you want to get better at Harolds, see shows with Harolds (for example, Lloyd Night and Harold Night at UCB in NYC). See as many as you can. People tell you to, but you really need to.

And don’t watch it passively. This will probably suck some of the fun and joy of watching improv for a while, but actively study and think about the scenes. Has those first beats, in your head try to label the game. And then think of what second beats you might initiate.

And then when the second beats happen, see how closely they played the game as you labeled it. If it fit, great! If it felt different than what you thought the game was, can you label it in a away that fit both the first and second beat?

Also pay attention to what second beats hit the ground running and which got an immediate laugh from the first line. And what second beats rambled before they found their feet.

See show and think about them. Seriously. Do it. Make time for it if you want to become better. Classes and practices are not enough.

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Improv teaches truth, and the truth can be funny or tragic—it takes on a life on its own. I think that’s the core value of it all. Acting is all about that moment that you commit, accept your reality and just go for it—then you can arguably do no wrong.

Steven Yeun

We talk to The Walking Dead star about I, Origins, his improv background, and the growing importance of social media.

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Filed under Steven Yeun quote The Walking Dead Walking Dead I Origins

100 notes

Some Suggestions for Level One Class Etiquette


Without a good teacher monitoring, most improv exercises favor bold, aggressive students. Whoever either thinks faster or at least acts fastest tends to affect the scenes more and therefore have more chances for feeling validated that they are doing well. While there’s a place for boldness (and certain exercises explicitly focus on being more bold), any good improv team has a mixture of aggressive types with more patient and calm energies.

Believing that, here are five simple rules of conduct which I think help the less aggressive students find their footing in lower level improv classes. These are also just common sense policies for fair play. They’re not meant to leave out aggressive students. And I never state them as being “for the students who are bit more hesitant.” They’re just good etiquette for improv scenes which happen to also help the non-alphas find themselves in the scene.

Merely my opinion: Take ‘em or leave ‘em, fellow teachers!

Initiation Etiquette /  ”Be Comfortable With Silence”. Students should not interrupt  or finish someone else’s initiation: very commonly done by eager alpha bulldogs in lower levels. Teach that whoever moves first gets focus and a generous amount of time to make their move. The person who responds also gets a lot of time before they have to answer. Discourage the very common practice of talking until you are interrupted. “Be comfortable with silence” I will say a lot.

It’s Okay To Not Know Cultural References. After the first scene in class that happens to mention a movie/book/song/TV show — I point out that they’re not expected to know every movie, book or current event that gets brought up. They SHOULD try to fake it based on context or else admit in character that they don’t know it. And if they are the one who is bringing up a reference and their scene partner doesn’t know it, then it’s their job to help. This affects younger students’ confidence far more than I had appreciated — teach them how this works. (The other side of this coin is that after you’ve taught them how to handle references, no one is allowed to bail on a scene because they don’t know something.)

Protect Decisions To Play Against Type. Gently point out when someone misses their scene partner’s attempt to play against type (gender, age, etc). It’s bad listening and invariably happens to people already feeling left out. Correct whoever misheard as a casual note, not a lecture. “He’s being your mother, not your father.” Or “That’s a teenager talking, not a mom.” Be vigilant for this in the first few sessions especially.

Set Boundaries.  This is a class, not a team. Students see very physical and intrusive things on stage at shows. They need you to make clear and enforce that that’s not for class, where people don’t know each other well. Though everyone would assume this to be true, it helps to have the teacher explicitly say it.

You Are Allowed To Say No. You are always allowed to “say no” in a scene to ANYTHING that your character wouldn’t want to do. Like if someone starts a scene by asking if you want a lap dance or maybe wants to steal someone’s baby from a hospital nursery, and your character wouldn’t want to, you can say “no” and you’re not being a bad improviser, (best way is to add a simple truthful reason why, and then stay open to discussing it in character). Even if they immediately realize they are saying “no” to something out of nervousness and they wish they had said yes, it’s okay because it’s important to get practice saying “no” properly in a scene. The take-away here is that you need to play your characters to the top of their intelligence, not trapped by what you think you “should” do because of “yes-and.” They forget this a lot so you remind them.

Very good stuff from Will Hines.

Filed under Improv improvisation comedy Level 101 Level 1 beginning beginners class tips

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The biggest obstacle to creativity is attachment to outcome. As soon as you become attached to a specific outcome, you feel compelled to control and manipulate what you’re doing. And in the process you shut yourself off to other possibilities.

I got a call from someone who wanted me to lead a workshop on creativity. He needed to tell his management exactly what tools people would come away with. I told him I didn’t know. I couldn’t give him a promise, because then I’d become attached to an outcome — which would defeat the purpose of any creative workshop.’

It’s hard for corporations to understand that creativity is not just about succeeding. It’s about experimenting and discovering.
Gordon MacKenzie.  (via nedhepburn)

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