Thursday, June 4, 2009

Making it up as I go along.

On Saturday, I'm going to revisit a form of acting I tried a few years ago. I stopped doing it not because I wasn't any good at it, but because the company I was with simply didn't seem to know what they were doing. I guess the right word I'm looking for is "inconsistency." There were also too many company members that weren't specifically trained in this form of acting, so I often wondered if what iwas learning was accurate, or pure folly.

If you've ever watched "Whose Line Is It Anyway," whether the U.S. version or the original British version, you're watching something called "short-form improv comedy." Scenarios are given to the actor/improvisors with suggestions from the audience, and they improvise routines and sometimes songs on the spot. When it works, it can be as funny as hell. When it doesn't work, well...

Improvisation is part of acting, and part of the concept of "being in the moment." Using it on stage in a play or musical is somewhat different than using it in short-form (or long-form) comedy. While the general idea is the same, it still requires using slightly different intellectual muscles. When one does a play, one sticks to the script. Your performances may vary from one to the other slightly, but not in the form of the intentions of the character or of the playwright. Of course, in live theatre anything can happen and usually does. There you are, in the middle of a dialogue with another actor when suddenly, he/she goes up on a line. Nope, they can't remember it, and for what seems like an eternity on stage, it is up to you to bring them back to where they need to be. God knows this has happened to me, on both ends, and having good improvisational skills can more often than not get you out of a jam on stage.

I have a friend that is with a fairly new improv comedy troupe. I saw them for the first time a few months ago, and was very impressed. They made me laugh my ass off, which is a good way to impress me. I became friendly with the artistic director of the group, and am actually going to be working with them on a project to promote organ donation, which I'll blog about at a later date. Both my friend and the artistic director have been prodding me to audition for them. my friend knows my abilities, as she was the one that I acted with in a USO-style radio show (done live on stage, not on the radio) just a few weeks ago. I debated for some time on doing this, not because it didn't attract me, but because I was not sure I could commit even more time that I do not possess. I decided to give it a shot and see what happens.

I came to that decision after seeing that they require taking their improv classes, after determining your skill level, before they'll put you on stage. The audition determines where you need to go, basic, intermediate, or advanced. This makes sense to me, as you don't want to put someone on stage that doesn't have a good grasp of at least the basics of improv. The best part is that both my friend and the artistic director have training in this art, which I am hoping will make for a far better experience.

Just because everything on stage is made up on the stage, doesn't mean that there isn't preparation, rehearsal, and practice involved. On the contrary, it takes a lot continuous practice in order to build up improv skills. It's one thing to learn lines by rote memorization; quite another to have the ability to pull lines out of the blue depending on what is happening in front of you. The training you get from having this skill makes for a better actor, in my opinion. it is a sharp tool that you can add to your actor's toolbox.

The basic idea behind this is called "accepting the offer." The word "no" is the single dirtiest word in improv, and indeed, in other forms of acting as well. Working to learn how to accept the offer is the first task one needs to learn, in addition to break away from rote, and developing a flexible mind. For instance, if I'm working with a partner, and I say to them, "My, you're looking a bit like a cow in heat today, " the worst thing they could do is to say "No I'm not," or even "What do you mean?" A better response might be "Was it my leaking udder that gave it away?"

You get the idea.

so, off I go on Saturday to give it my best shot and see if I can do this.


Sistertex said...

I love this, best of luck with it. I have been involved with this sort of theatre long ago (and far way...). It is the best. Have you ever heard of Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop (well now just Brave New Workshop), a fantastic group.

They have been around for a long time are just fantastic.

Best of luck to you in this endeavor!!! It will be fun to hear about it, so I hope you will post about your experience. Looking forward to reading about it.

willow said...

Best of luck on Saturday! I've got my fingers crossed. You have to really think on your feet for improv and from what I can tell, you'll be fabulous.

jay said...

Oh, I'm sure you'll do well, Mr N! Break a leg, anyway. ;)

It must be one of the hardest skills to achieve and maintain. Kudos!

Gaston Studio said...

Yes, best of luck to you! I can't imagine having the skills to even consider improv although I've often (in my much younger days) thought I could be a good actor.

P.S. You mentioned wanting to pick my brain; can't imagine about what but feel free. Email me.


Bina said...

That sounds like so much fun! I think if I were an actor, this is the type I would like. But, I guess if I were an actor I would do whatever I could get paid for.

I don't suppose there is any way you could tape this audition so we can watch it? Is that possible? Or is it against some rule or something?

I wish you all the luck and I'm sure you will be fantastic at it!

Peter said...

Being able to pull lines out of the blue on stage has always impressed me Mr NightTime.

Sure, I can admire a good theatrical performance, but improv is a skill not that many are good at.

Enjoy next Saturday - I wish I could join you to witness it all.

VioletSky said...

Improv is so much fun - I greatly admire that skill of thinking fast on your feet. And being funny at the same time. Good luck on Saturday.