There’s only one way of improv, and that’s your own
Sometimes I feel like this blog is just a record of me realising majorly obvious things that everyone else has known for ages. Anyway, here it goes, what I’ve been thinking about this week is……
There is no absolute correct method to improv, or comedy, or theatre or art in general.
Or rather, there are other people’s methods, but if you want to make a success of it yourself you have to find your own method in the moment, which constantly changes as you and the world change, and that’s the whole point of it being creative.
Recently I thought I had ‘it’ and was able to reliably improvise funny scenes and shows and whooooo-yeahhhh it felt gooood! Then in my next show I felt really frozen, rigid, unfunny. I actually found myself on stage thinking “oh fuck, I’m on stage, I’ve got to make up something, it’s meant to be funny” and felt a block of ice between me and everyone else. Not a great place to be.
It seems that at the very point I thought I had ‘it’ was the very point it had all gone.
I tried to get to the bottom of all this. Was it abandoning/loosing the basics? I tried to concentrate on them but they just bored me and I just found the whole thing, and myself, really boring. I actually spent a week or so finding my whole brain and everything it thought off to be really boring.
Then Edgar lead a workshop I was in and I suddenly started enjoying everything again. A load of responsibility lifted off my shoulders and I was having fun again. His opening patter went like this….
“My name’s Edgar. I run these workshops with Steve. We’re going to make some stuff up. Anyway, that’s enough words from me”
And then we made up stuff, that’s it. For impro geeks out there I think Edgar is the new Mick Napier, he doesn’t even know or care who Mick Napier is – which makes him even more like him.
Then again this Saturday a lovely improviser said they’d been absorbing loads of stuff but were now confused by it all and stuck in their heads, so we get her to just focus on one thing and forget everything else, and the scene she was in was hilarious, touching, told a complete story and was basically brilliant.
On Saturday I also concentrated loads on people starting scenes with believable actions and then someone entering in a heightened emotion (Meisner emotional preparation) and this produced amazing scene after amazing scene. The weird thing is that I was teaching that style about 3 years ago and then stopped for a bit because it got really boring and predictable to look at. But now it seems it was exactly what was needed.
Every time I go into teach workshops with too strong a plan, it feels like hard work. Every time I go in with an open mind and adapt, it produces some amazing stuff. For me improv teaching is based on responding to and encouraging what is already there.
This all leads me to believe that there is no set method, as by the time you’ve learnt it it’s too late anyway as it’s then old and everybody is doing it or bored of seeing it. If you think you’ve got ‘it’ you actually loose something else – the danger, the enjoyment, the excitement, the vulnerability, the humanity, the nerves, the brilliance. And all these things are way more important than the ‘it’, whatever the ‘it’ is.
The experimentation and learning and getting it wrong and being confused and doing things and doing anything is it, is the whole point, and it’s out of that that the good stuff comes, and it’s out of that the new stuff comes. You’re not brilliant because you ‘know’ stuff, you’re brilliant because you don’t know stuff but you do things anyway.
A couple of people this week asked about how to set up new shows themselves, so I told them some good venues etc and the more logistical ins and outs. They asked me how they should go about choosing a cast and what they do in a show, but I said that’s the whole point – that bit has to be up to them, and that’s the exact point it becomes exciting and alive.
Also if you’re looking for guaranteed impro method then the best thing you’re going to end up with is an imitation of what someone else is already doing.
So don’t go to workshops to learn a technique that will solve all your problems, because it doesn’t exist. Go to be inspired to find your own thing, and then do your own thing, and put yourself into it. Use teachers to get what you want and then use and abuse their stuff for your own benefit and creations, not to end up being a cloned version of them.
In my opinion just learning a technique to make improv and comedy safe and reliable won’t work, because comedy is dangerous and unreliable and comes out of life in the present.
ps – this blog came at the exact time as the arrival of Mick Napier’s book, and what he says in the opening chapter is spookily similar to Edgar. I love the idea that neither of them would care about this blog, or each other.