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Improv Starts with an "I"
by Ryan Locante

What is your style? What are your strengths? I think the answer to both of those questions can be answered in one word: "You."

Finding your improv muscles and then using them can be a difficult task for some. I believe itís not as difficult as some people think. Be ballsy, have fun, show everyone watching and playing with you your own personality and youíll love the results. It can be scary. It can be embarrassing. It can be draining. It can be painful. It can even be therapeutic. But itís the thing that separates improv from anything you read in a book, see on television, or watch in a movie theater. Why are some of the things you see on stage so hilarious? Itís because the players either solicited a genuine response from their partner or the audience, or they just gave one themselves. In other words, people related to what you did or said.

The only thing you can add to any scene is what you know. Letís say youíre suddenly endowed as a murderer, what do you do? Well think about it, where have you seen a murderer? On television? If so, be what you think that murderer is like. Does a murderer make you have an emotion of anger? Well what words come out of your mouth when youíre angry? Become angry and see what happens. Donít look for the perfect or funniest response. Just be you. Whatever you say will be the perfect choice.

Just be you. Whatever you say will be the perfect choice.

As improvisers, we are not just "making it up as we go". We are trained. It may be either from reading, or from a teacher, or from experience, but we have certain instincts that weíve all acquired. These instincts are what prevent good improvisers from saying lines like "Iím not your grandma, Iím Hilary Clinton." So as you read this, keep in mind, I am no way suggesting that you go against any of these instincts. Included in these instincts are character choices. Whether theyíre impressions of celebrities or the guy you bought your coffee from this morning, the thing that makes them funny is your interpretation of whoever you are trying to be.

Being the best improviser you can be is a simple equation involving two things: being yourself and agreement. Letís be honest, if you go up on stage and you just act natural, you wouldnít agree to some of the things that happen on stage. There is an old improv mantra that says "A scene is not over until one or more of the players on stage is changed forever." Thereís no way that youíd get two people that have never done or studied improv to go up on stage and expect either of them to change. Weíre trained and have the experience to know what makes things more interesting. Would you really go to a bus driver and ask him or her to drop you off at your house instead of the nearest stop? Probably not. Would the bus driver do that? Probably not. Would it be fun to try? Well, you can find out on an improv stage.

Think of the greatest scene youíve ever done. Was it all your idea? Was it all your partnerís? Iím guessing that you both contributed a lot to that scene. You probably agreed with each other. Okay, now think of the last time you laughed the hardest when you were with your friends. What would happen if an audience was watching that entire conversation? See, itís a simple formula: Bring yourself to the stage and agree with your scene partner. There are some additional variables to make the equation even stronger: Keep the scene conversational. Affect each other. Listen to each other. When you give a line, let your scene partner respond and give their line. If they do something that is inconsistent, a lighthearted insult is better than starting an argument. Donít seek out unnecessary conflict.

Being the best improviser you can be is a simple equation involving two things: being yourself and agreement.

When you are confident on stage the audience sees that and is drawn in by your performance. Where does confidence come from? Confidence comes from being comfortable with who you are. Thereís no better way to prove that youíre comfortable with yourself than by being yourself in front of an audience. Again, choose characters, but let them come from you. Donít be a caricature, be a character. If you used to drink the chocolate milk after eating Cocoa Krispies, let the Police Officer that you are playing have that same memory. Give that cop the same number of brothers and sisters that you have. There is so much to draw from. Use it! Thatís the stuff that I want to see. Isnít the fact that a policeman has a brother who got stitches in his penis interesting? Well it comes from my life, I might as well share it.

Being yourself can also relate to pantomiming objects and your environment. If you are unsure of how to do something, do what you do know. Youíre asked to give a car a tune-up on stage and you donít know the first thing about cars. What do you do? Instead of saying, "This is my first time giving a car a tune-up," start by vacuuming the floor mats. If that freaks out your partner, then let them call you on it. You could respond by saying that you like everything to be clean before you work. Let that become your character. Just because you donít know how to do anything under the hood doesnít mean you shouldnít be on stage.

What do I mean by "Let that become your character?" You do not need to know everything about the character you are before you start a scene. In fact, I think itís better if you know very little. Find out who you are one step at a time. Add real information and details, not only for yourself, but to your partnerís character too. Be conversational, and let the audience in on the joke. You donít need to be funny. The only thing you need is to be you.

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