"Live an interesting and observed life and brings it to the stage"
Play the game of observing people. When you see them in the street, if only for a moment, fill in all the unknowable blanks. Observe these people I saw on the tube.
Look at the picture with the woman and child. Has something just happened? How is she dealing with it emotionally? What is she thinking? What about the boy? What about the gentleman on the left, is he connected to the other two? What’s he thinking about?
What if I told you they are together?
What about the couple in the other picture? What is their relationship? What is their status in relation to each other? Is he trustworthy? Is something bothering her? Most essentially ask about each one “What is he or she feeling? How do they make you feel?” If we lead an observant life we can bring that mindfulness to the stage in the service of our scene partner. An improviser needs to watch, listen, read… and think. Our responses and reactions are coloured by our thoughts, it benefits us to practise having some.
"Rules are things you have to do, Principles are things you get to do"
Play in the moment has no defined format and no rules it has certain principles above about it's a mindset that says we are discovering an already occurring in the scene. The less you do, the more you will notice and the more it will seem like you are uncovering what is already happening, you are not writing your own story, it is happening to you. Through discovery you can stumble onto stuff that is more interesting than if you try to invent something new. The less you try to put stuff on the scene, or control the story and the more you listen to your partner the easier it becomes to follow the show. The understanding is that if you are following something pre-existing. Therefore, the scene must already exist. It isn’t a magical, creative process as is much a logical one of discovery. Play in the Moment is free form. The 'free' meaning no rules
In short-form and format shows like The Harold, Armando, La Ronde there are rules, Rules are specific things you must do for the game or the format to work. The rule to establish “who, what and where” at the top of the scene may be essential in short form, but ultimately it is artificial. We just don’t speak in these expositions like “Sir I’ve been working in your baked bean canning factory for fifty years now, and as my employer I think it’s about time you gave me a promotion.” Expositions get in the way of creating scenes we want to be like real life. In free form Play in the Moment the answers to who what and where will reveal themselves in time, or may not, the where may not matter, nor the named relationship. If you simply improvise honest scenes an emotional relationship between two people will be emerge and that is what the scene is about. If we behave honestly, we don’t have to remember the rules. Our only task is to reveal what is already occurring, that’s why we pay attention to the scene and especially our scene partner.
Rules have come from noticing the characteristics that good scenes consistently tend to have. Keith Johnstone observed that scenes involving arguments often bombed; they went nowhere, whereas scenes in which people agreed moved forward. Thus terms like ‘blocking’ and “accepting” and the rule “Yes…and.” But if you were to literally saying “yes…and” at every exchange it would become irritating. Yes…and is a distillation that means you accept the reality of the scene. So in this form, to be helpful to your partner and the development of scenes you do need to fundamentally consider the principles of accepting the reality of the scene. We do however throw out the artificiality of the rules, forget them in a way and trust that your experience of playing them over the years means they are now instinctive. Replace them with the following mindset: Agree to the reality of the scene and don’t contradict the established reality. Play at the top of your intelligence and use all you senses to attend.
Play with Honesty not for Laughs"
“Is what we’re doing comedy? Probably not. Is it funny? Probably yes”. Del Close
It’s not our goal to be funny or even entertaining. Our goal is to be honest in the moment trusting that it’s the best tactic to produce something of quality. Will it be entertaining? Probably yes, if we stay honest.
There are a multitude of Impro games and formats that are set up to produce comic effect, the Armando certainly being one of the best. But with this improvisational form we’re not trying to be funny, neither are we trying to not be funny, we’re not even trying, we re just being human to produce something like life and genuine. Is real life funny? Yes often. Audiences certainly laugh at the familiar, things they recognise in themselves, things that are genuine and real. Observational comedy is the bread and butter of stand up. Audiences respond also to being surprised, what better way to surprise and audience than with genuine honesty?
The kind of impro we are attempting here isn’t so commonly played perhaps because fear is the hurdle to honesty is fear. You fear that an honest reaction won’t be enough, or fear that the evenings bombing if you’re not getting any laughs. Gags create laughter but improvisers also know they also kill stories; knowing that so many improvisers cannot resist making gags only because the audience reward them with laughter. If some audience will laugh at gags that destroy the scene, why even consider it. Don't think audience judgement is always right, nor that laughter is the first consideration when evaluating the success of a show. Of course we performing for an audience, there is no theatre without them. You will hear their laughter and their silence and someone leaving even only for the loo, but you mustn’t allow them to lead you, they are not in the scene you are trying to discover. They will be with you heart and soul only if you stay focused and true in the scene, It’s difficult to not to want to give them more of the same when they are laughing. It’s difficult not to imagine they are bored when they are silent. It will throw you the moment you make any assessment on how the audience is doing. This is all playing into your fears. Hopefully audiences encourage you by their attentiveness and interest, but your focus on the job in hand which is listening to you stage partner. But if something is funny because that’s the way the scene is going and it seems truthful then it's justified, so don’t run away from it; equally don’t shy away from something that’s making you feel uncomfortable.
You have to confront your fears head on to play honestly, don’t panic or bluff or doubt. It’s helpful to develop a calm, attentive openness to discover the scenes you’re in. Remember you find the scene in your partner so try and get out of the way yourself and not mess up the scene with your own inventions. Your only blueprint for a good show here is putting your energy into the moment with your partner. Think about what is the next thing to do which would be most useful and interesting and true to this moment.
Very seldom do I hear silence in impro. Yet when you stop talking in can draw an audience in. All too often impro is people simply talking on stage when good impro is not so much about talking as listening. Listening is all there is. The more words we use the less they mean. Just stop talking and see what happens, or speak sparingly. You don’t always have to respond with words, respond with silence; thinking is a perfectly valid response. An audience will connect to scenes that have real life conversations. Fight through the fear that you are not doing enough; trust that you can find something quite beautiful in creating something from nothing and discovering moment by moment. This is about trying to represent real life on stage. Scenes need to move at the pace of real life, and than includes silence, pauses and time to reflect.
"Follow the Fear"
Fear based moves on stage are to blame for most of the missteps. Fear is an enemy but also a friend. Not only are improvisers better served by not succumbing to their fears, but also by actively pursuing them, tackling the seemingly scary topics, and making bold, committed moves. More often than not, brave efforts create great theatre. The whole point is to get out there with nothing but one’s wits and whatever confidence you can summon. Improvisers best meet their audience expectation by following what may be the less comfortable path, walking on stage without a plan. As a result, there is this interesting relationship with fear, as it is a route to all improvisational evils it is at the same time marking the way to interesting drama..
“Follow the fear” principal is aiming to follow the truth of a scene, even if it means breaching uncomfortable waters. Ignore the fear of not entertaining the audience and doubting your abilities in order to dedicate yourself to the frightening prospect of not knowing where the scene will lead. The search for honesty requires us to quell the fight or flight response constantly threatening to put the kibosh on many good stage moments. Instead of fight or flight, we suggest you do neither. Neither battle more bolt from the fear, but pay attention and see where it leads. Problems arise when we forget to pay attention, look at our stage partner, or listen with our whole selves. Forget the fear and to just do the next little thing. And the major reason we forget his fear. It’s natural to feel fear on stage but the audience doesn’t want to see the player suffer. The characters yes but not the players.
"Performance and Audience Time Keep it Short"
Remember that stage time and audience time a different. Time on stage seems much shorter to the performer than it does to the audience. On stage if you feel you’ve done ten minutes in reality more likely to have been about 15 minutes. We have all experienced occasions when we get absorbed in something and after what you think is an hour, look up at the clock and see been two. It’s same thing here, the form demands total absorption. For a 40 minute show, when players think they have done 25 minutes it's probably time to stop.