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December 28, 2005

Top 10 Blindspots

As a teaser for their upcoming book, Jimmy Carrane and Liz Allen are letting me post the original "Top 10 Blindspots for Improvisors" (the full list after the jump):

#1. Lack of Trust

Throughout these workshops, we've seen improvisers either not trusting the group mind or not trusting themselves onstage. It's really learning to trust the unknown, and it is one of the hardest lessons for an improviser. Your ultimate goal is to let go, submit and free yourself make discoveries along with the group.

Lack of trust is really control. It is a reaction to being afraid onstage without knowing what going to happen next. Lack of trust is the excuse to retain or regain control of a scene or an entire piece of improv. If you don't trust, if you don't let go, and if you don't let go of control, you don't really discover magical moments of being part of a group. Isn't that why you chose this art form, to work with others?

#2. Fear of Being Labeled Character with a Politically Incorrect Point of View

Remember an improviser is an actor, the only difference is you are writing the dialogue as you go.

We have seen this over and over in our workshops, players afraid to go the dark side or to portray a politically incorrect character because they're afraid when they come off the stage people will think that is who they really are. They have stopped themselves before they've even gotten started. This limits their choices and stifles their imagination.

We are not seeing life onstage, but a sanitized version. Why go out to see improv, you might well stay home and watch on TV, because frankly television does it better job of santizing life. One of your jobs onstage is to portray life, real life, life that is uncomfortable and sometimes is not pc or even polite.

Remember: you are an actor and you will be asked, if you are lucky, to play racists, murders and pirates. When Carroll O'Connor played Archie Bunker, did people think he was really a bigot? Or Anthony Hopkins really a serial killer? Or Johnny Deep a pirate in real life?

#3. Nice People + Nice Choices = Boring Scenes

There's nothing that makes us more sad then we see really talented, gifted improvisers playing really nice on stage. We like to work with and know nice people, we just don't want to see them onstage.

This whole "nicey-nice syndrome", players making nice choices and playing even nicer characters, makes for boring scenes.

So stop being so damn nice and play life! We want to see two selfish characters fighting for what they want. Players confuse agreement with accommodation of their partner. Supporting doesn't mean the character needs to be nice or the choices do, either. So, take the plastic wrap off your improv and let your characters get down and dirty.

#4. The Improv Persona

The improv persona is usually something that players have but have not even realized it. It is a stage persona, much like the kind a stand-up comic has developed over the years, and we see it in accomplished improvisers. These improvisers must have developed it to a degree or they wouldn't have succeeded. We are not saying it good or bad, but to just be aware or it, so you can create room for other personas, or characters.
We have seen all forms of this persona phenomena, from the "the braining-smart-guy" to the "the high-energy-likable-always-smiling-improviser-gal". If you feel you have a persona, just be aware that you have sealed part of yourself off and be open to let go and find new and different ones, because we ALWAYS want to see more facets of you and your personality onstage.

#5. Conflict Is Okay

Look, there's no doubt that there's a rule of improv: avoid conflict. But this doesn't mean avoid it at all costs and NEVER have an argument or a fight onstage. That is not natural. Let your characters be honest, even if it leads to an emotional or physical conflict. As long as you and your scene partner(s) agree to not get stuck in the conflict, it's okay. Conflict can lead to something else -- a discovery of another emotion or a resolution of the issue.

#6. Anger Is OK, Too

One of the strongest trends we've noticed is the lack of anger in scenes. We feel that there is a trend now to avoid being angry, and by doing so the scenes frequently do not feel real. Just like conflict, anger evolves and allows the improvisor to make a discovery.

Anger transforms, and then something else can happen. When a character in a scene genuinely gets angry, we get to see that character express that anger, then another character responds to the anger, and surprising discoveries are almost guaranteed.

We feel that you need to agree through the anger, and also trust that just like getting angry in life, it will transform to another emotion.

#7. Playing From The Brain, Not The Gut

We see this showing up in all sorts of ways. The most common is the player that is so focused on the verbal part (trying to be funny or clever or straining to find the game), that the improv becomes lifeless and calculated. This is easy to spot. Their body doesn't move much onstage. They are disconnected. They're in their head. Watching them is like listening to someone describe a chess game move by move. We really don't care.

Going to the gut means you are trusting your instincts and your feelings onstage, as well as your body. (Remember to act your way through a scene!) It also means speaking from your truth onstage, which is based in your feelings, which may cause you to be vulnerable, or personal, or rude. All scary stuff, but the alternative is safe and boring scenes. We leave it up to you.

#8. Afraid Of Naming People, Places And Events

We see players agree a lot, but refuse to add any specifics. These scenes meander because nobody wants to make a mistake or make a move their partner may not understand. Get off the improv fence and make a commitment to yourself and scene partner.

Ask yourself why did my character do that and be specific with your responses.

Heres a quick example of a simple father/daughter scene:
Daughter: You hit me.
Father: I am sorry
No specifics, really no scene, just meandering.

Daughter: You hit me.
Father: Yea and I'll do again if I catch you sleeping around with that Parker boy.

Now we have a some specifics and now we have the start of a scene.We feel that lack of specifics is really a control device, and people's fear of being accountable to their scene partners and afraid to boldly contribute.

#9. Plain Ol' Agreement

One of the most surprising things we've noticed in our workshops is the general lack of agreement. It is the heart of this work, duh, but agreement skills tend to drop as other techniques are learned. It seems people want to create something quick and manufactured instead of saying yes to others' ideas, then trusting the discovery process.

Old fashioned yes is especially powerful when carried out by improvisers who have strong sophisticated techniques. They crave saying yes, and look forward to the challenge of making all ideas, even the implausible ones, work. The beauty of improvising is the element of surprise to your partner, to the audience, and to yourself. The best way to assure surprise is good ol' fashioned agreement, made by scratch, not some store-bought brand.

#10. Spreading Yourself Too Thin

If improv is supposed to be about life, and your life is filled with nothing more than improv, then your improv becomes about improv and that's boring! These are the people we see who are burned out but don't realize it, they are usually over-committed. They are improvising so much, and wondering why they aren't getting better. It's simple: they don't have time to have a life.

Improv needs to be fed by enriching experiences that are unrelated to performance.Taking the time to read a book, getting a good night's sleep, going to a concert -- all these things enrich your life and at the same time enrich your improv. See the connection?

We feel improvisers are improvising way too much and are over-committing to 3 or 4 projects at a time. As a result, the work becomes mired down and medicore, and the implosion is evident.

Posted by Fuzzy at December 28, 2005 12:19 PM