I teach my students to enter scenes with a strong activity, which helps in the exploration of the where.Surprisingly, I have to provide them with examples of what an activity is. Most of them come up with passive choices – watching TV, texting, reading. When I ask for suggestions for an activity that two people can do together I get fighting, sleeping and intercourse.
Great improv is making a circle in as close to zero seconds as possible. Removing the fear-based delay we build in to avoid making a choice that may or may not be foolish or “incorrect.” Great improv is when you create with alacrity and focus and joy. It’s not about nailing the perfect idea (or making a perfect circle). And yet, it is amazing the lengths improvisers will go to avoid the present moment, be it living 3 seconds, or ten seconds, or a minute, or 15 minutes ahead of what’s going on right now. This stems from a need to control and protect themselves from failure. Ironically, this fear-based way of playing only decreases your ability to be funny, and the audience can see your avoidance a mile away.
“Doing better improv” is equated with “learning how to improvise better” as opposed to having a unique viewpoint or insight. Improvisers frequently say things like “that was good improv,” “that was a nice scene,” or “I liked that move.” There is less of “I thought the show was about y.” Does this differ from how you would talk about a movie you’ve watched? This is partially an artifact of how improv is taught. Many improvisers do not have a formal background in the arts. They encounter improv first as a hobby. Usually they are taught by improv schools with a hierarchy of levels and explicit idea of progression. Improv generally has to be taught in person, with personal feedback, from a more experienced improviser. This establishes a strong master/student hierarchy, even at performance level, with the implicit assumption that becoming “better” means becoming more like the master. Many improvisers also stick with the same school or teacher they started with. If they form teams often they use formats they have been taught by this school.
Here are the major components I take out of it: there are no sweep edits (hence the name). But more important than what there is or is not is WHY. You never want to sweep away what was built in a previous scene and start from scratch. Much like a good scene takes an initial choice and grows everything from that seed, the Dusty takes each scene and builds a tree and then a forest, creating a world with many disparate characters and situations, each linked in a way the audience can see from what was there before.
The text of your sentences can be almost anything. It’s the meaning behind them that really matters. Your scene shouldn’t be about digging a hole or selecting brunch items or polka dot curtains. But any of those scenes can be great if they reveal something about a character or a relationship. Dig beyond the surface. Find the gold. Slay the audition.