What makes an improvisor "Good" ?

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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Postby valetoile » April 6th, 2006, 10:25 pm

People can set up the situation, and endow the relationships, professions, setting, actions, objects, etc. for each other, but each improviser has to find their own emotion to bring to the scene.
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Postby phlounderphil » April 7th, 2006, 6:35 am

What makes an imrpoviser good?

Maybe...being named PHIL AULIE!
</cockiness>

A good improviser is a builder. Sometimes they enter a scene with their own foundation prepared, sometimes not. I don't think being good means you ALWAYS have to have something for yourself, and ALWAYS have to have something for your scene partners.

A good improviser trusts their troupe, but has enough skill that their troupe trusts them back.

I've seen many talented and very funny improvisers who were failures (to me) because they needed to lead everything, and felt the need to hold the whole show together.

Which means, one of the best improv skills is...humility.

Which, of course, I have ... in spades!

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Postby Wesley » April 7th, 2006, 10:26 am

Looks like Phil and I are back in agreement. I think humility is crucial to good improv. Luckily, I think Austin has it.

I mean, sure, you are going to lead sometimes, especially when you've got something very good. We should all lead and all follow. But, if leading becomes a habit or a default, if you lead not because you have a good idea but from fear that others don't, if you find yourself unable to let go of a dropped offer because it was yours, etc., then I think, as good as your technicals and ideas may be, you would stop being a "good" improviser.

Humility and teamwork is key.
In fact, I may formalize this teamwork idea into a format where there are certain "positions" and a coach that swaps out special teams depending on what the scene calls for. There will be a goal for every scene that players are working toward, but a ref can call a penalty if your backfield improviser crosses your forward or enters the goal-tending zone. I think this structure will make improv much more accessible to the general public and more likely to get into the Olympics as a sport.
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Postby sara farr » April 7th, 2006, 12:14 pm

The improvisers I've been impressed with are those who...

A) are THERE, in that place, in the moment, and in chararcter reacting dramatically/emotionally to their scene and their scene partner(s)

B) know what the scene is about at a subatomic level and know when it is appropriate to either hold back (building tension/anticipation) or deliver (audience expectation) what that scene needs emotionally/naratively.
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Postby eplischke » April 8th, 2006, 10:30 am

Some of this may be repetitive so I apologize. To me there are several things that make an improvisor good. I am so totally about support. One of the best ways to support your scene partner is to have something for yourself before you go onstage. Whatever that may be. Is it a Point of view on something? Maybe when you come out you decide no matter what happens in the scene you are going to play the character as happy or maybe you've decided (in the back of your mind) that this person on stage is someone you had a past relationship with. Taking care of yourself by having something when you go out on stage does nothing but benefit the scene and it gives both you and your partner gifts to work with.

Once that is done listening, REALLY listening, to what you partner is saying is very important. Maybe your partner in a scene says they love you but by the tone of their voice they really don't mean it. Maybe they are telling you they miss old movies and by old movies they really mean your character in that scene.

Also be ready to support in other ways at any time. If someone goes out and initiates a scene support them immediately!!!! Don't leave them out there doing object work by themselves for the first minute of the scene!! Even if you aren't sure what they are doing go out on stage and match them that way together you can build a scene!!!!

Emotion is big!!!! One of my favorite things I learned in Annoyance Theatre was sticking to my shit. For instance maybe you decide before a scene starts that you are a really happy person but your scene partner decides you are at a funeral. Don't drop the happy just play it real. It can really make the scene interesting to see someone who is really happy at a funeral. Once again this gives everyone something to work off of which again goes back to support.

Please don't confuse sticking with your shit to not dropping some ideas. For instance if you come out in a scene thinking you are a rocket scientist and you are at NASA and your partner says oh Jesus heaven sure is nice drop your idea and go with theirs. (Of course your characters heaven could be building rockets!) I have seen many times when someone won't drop their idea and it makes the scene really difficult.

Lastly EDITING!!!!! This is another great form of support!!! There is nothing worse than being in a bad scene that just goes on and on. Please edit me if I am in a terrible scene. I would much rather have someone edit a little early than really late.

Although there are numerous other things that make an improvisor good I believe these are some of the key elements.

Yay Improv!!!!
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Postby Jill Morris » April 11th, 2006, 12:47 pm

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Postby smerlin » April 11th, 2006, 5:22 pm

Although there are lots of specific things that make a good improviser, few of them are absolutes.

I know a good improviser because I want to jump up on stage with them every time.
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Postby DollarBill » April 12th, 2006, 12:55 pm

First off:
Maybe...being named PHIL AULIE!
</cockiness>


So funny, I swallowed my tongue.

Second: Although all those "rules" like accepting, and taking care of you, and support of others' risks, and whatever are really important, "Good Improvisor" is extremely subjective. There are some people who are worshiped here in chicago, and although they may be technically skilled, I just don't see the appeal. So, yeah, try and get "good", but don't get so caught up in having "good technique" that you lose your edge. Would you rather be Stevie Ray Vaughan or Kenny G Chode? Yeah!

Third: Listen, listen, listen, listen, listen, listen. Now that I'm in classes with beginners, I'm finding this to be the most important thing.

Lastly: Improv is stupid. Don't waste your time.
Last edited by DollarBill on April 12th, 2006, 1:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby cargill » April 12th, 2006, 1:09 pm

Dollarbill wrote:Would you rather be Stevie Ray Vaughan or Kenny G Chode? Yeah!


Interesting comment. I agree with your point, although it makes me think that is more of a style versus weather you are good or not. If an improvisor in Chicago is considered "Good" (and maybe this person has a lower energy as a performer, or does not do characters) this is more of their playing style versus them being a good improvisor. Bob McNichol is a phenominal improvisor, he has a specific style he plays. Put Bob McNichol in a Comedy Sportz show and likely he will stand against the wall. Does this mean he is not good or lost his edge ? Nope, it just means that his style choices are not the same in every situation.

P.S., Bob is sitting right next to me at work a nodding his head yes.
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Postby DollarBill » April 12th, 2006, 1:24 pm

That's my point. Both Stevie and Kenny are quite proficient. Some people LOVE Kenny G. Some people love BassProv, but some people walk away saying, those guys aren't good improvisors, they just sat there and chatted.

I'm saying, what makes someone good or bad is totally subjective. It's art. There's no score. So, while we should all work on technique, we should also all be aware that some people just aren't gonna dig our styles.

Maybe I'm just trying to say that there should be one thread for "What is good improv technique?" and "What makes you enjoy an improvisor's style?"
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Postby valetoile » April 12th, 2006, 7:12 pm

I think a big part of liking an improviser is liking them personally--being able to see their personality come through on stage.
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Postby sara farr » April 12th, 2006, 10:02 pm

I think most people don't think improv -- generally -- is very good. So it's kind of funny to me that we're talking about what makes improv good.

Of course, personally, I love improv. And I feel this discussion is about -- the things Bill has suggested -- qualities we like to see in improv, qualitites we like our scene partners to have, and qualities that we personally want to achieve.

I like to watch both the slow-burn style of Bob McNichol and heavy metal style of Jen Cargill. They've got a similar training, but each has their own personality that is fun to watch. Especially in contrast to each other.

AND I'm always impress when improvisers can adjust/flex their style to provide the energy level needed. In a troupe where there is already a balance, you'll probably see the cast consistantly play within their preferred style. I think it's harder in a show like Maestro to find that balance as the mix of personalities is never the same, AND people are asked to adjust on the fly to the changing energy levels of the show.
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Postby kbadr » April 13th, 2006, 9:03 am

I think most people haven't seen improv.

The first improv show I saw made me want to do this. Of course, having said that, I'd seen Who's Line plenty of times before that important show, and it never even occurred to me that it was improv. Or maybe I knew that it was, but it certainly didn't resonate as something I wanted to try to do myself.

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Re: What makes an improvisor "Good" ?

Postby mcnichol » April 13th, 2006, 9:27 am

cargill wrote:So........what things do you think make someone a good improvisor ?


- someone who listens well and doesn't drop a shred of information coming from both their scene partner and themselves.

- someone who is playful

- someone who is comfortable both driving a scene and being background scenery

- someone who is comfortable playing any character and willing to attempt to understand that character as they go along in a scene

- someone who is comfortable just letting things happen in a scene, doesn't try to force anything that shouldn't be there, and doesn't break the reality of the scene/character/relationship by getting worried that "nothing is happening" and makes some unsubstantiated move

- someone who is willing to take risks with their play and fall on their face, and then get out in the next scene and try again

- someone who can see that what makes audiences laugh is not silliness or jokes or shokc-value, but a connection with the characters and the relationship, and is comfortable exploring these characters/relationships/themes without worrying about whether the audience is laughing or not.

- someone who balances what their character says and does with how they say and do it, and can communicate just as much through the latter

- someone who puts the scene, the show, and their fellow players above themselves

- someone who knows that the audience is smarter than you think they are

- someone who trusts their fellow players inherently and doesn't judge a move that is made by a scene partner or by themselves

- someone who treats any move made by a player as a gift and not as a lay-on or something to be forgotten in lieu of their own ideas.

- someone who knows that improvisation is a constant growth process and that you are never done figuring this stuff out


I didn't realize I was going to write this much...

editted to add:
- someone who can affect, but more importantly, be affected by others
Last edited by mcnichol on April 13th, 2006, 10:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby DollarBill » April 13th, 2006, 10:20 am

I think I would like to do some scenes with Bob.
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