A few days ago, a fellow improviser shared five improv tips in a private Facebook group that he’d seen posted elsewhere on Facebook. All of the tips made sense to me, but every single one of them was of the “Don’t” variety. Among the many things I took from Mick Napier’s excellent book, “Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out,” was that rules can really stifle improvisers, get them stuck in their heads while playing. And so, so very many of improv’s “rules” are of the “Don’t” variety: don’t ask questions, don’t do transaction scenes, don’t say no. Consequently, it’s really easy when one does do one of these things (as is inevitable, really), it’s all too easy to start beating up on oneself: “Oh, shit. I shouldn’t have done that.” And then one’s head is pulled out of the scene. BAD!
Do’s, however, I think are more helpful. Because if one isn’t actually doing a “Do,” the thought doesn’t arise of having broken a rule. A do, just like a don’t, isn’t something that is happening all the time. When a don’t happens, it pulls up the negative internal critic, which tends to hang around for a while. When a do happens, it might pull up a “Woo! Kick ass!” which only makes us want to do more. So. A few do’s I posted in that group that I’ll share here (in slightly edited form):
1) Do care. It doesn’t matter if your emotion toward something is positive or negative, but it does matter that you feel something. Especially if it’s about the other character(s).
2) Do be willing to have your feelings change, if it’s honest within the context of the scene.
3) Do be specific. People talk about stuff in their lives, and they do it specifically. “I could really use a margarita” is better than “I’m thirsty.”
4) Do start from the middle of a scene. “Hell, no, I won’t give you a divorce!” is a more interesting way to start a scene than discovering over the course of three minutes that you’re married and your wife is unhappy. Jump right to it. It’s a huge gift to your scene partner(s).
5) Do look each other in the eye. You might be surprised what you find there.