Players Train to Improvise

My troupe typically hung out in the theater lobby after performances to mingle with the audience. Though most of these interactions weren’t memorable, I remember one individual who had waited until everyone else had left to approach me. By his body language, I could tell that he was interested in a more lengthy discussion than the normal handshakes and smiles. After we exchanged pleasantries regarding the show, he leaned towards me conspiratorially. He asked, “Now really, how much of the show was actually scripted?”

I smiled and explained to him that the only thing we planned about the performance was the format. The story, the characters, and the setting were all conceived after we had received our suggestion. He didn’t believe me. Don’t get me wrong, not every improviser held to my troupe’s belief that nothing from before made it to the stage. For us it is a matter of ethics. My troupe typically workshoped for four to five hours a week. During workshops, we would rehearse formats and scene structures, as well as work on the skills and stagecraft we would need for a high quality show.  Our performances seemed practiced because we had practiced, just not scripted the show.

For me, this blog is my workshop. Every week, I am generating and editing text, and in so doing I am forced to sit down and examine my craft. If I know something, I can explain it. If I understand something, I can discuss it in a concise and clear manner. The low word count and strict format are difficult for me, often necessitating significant reductions in word count following the first draft. Having a weekly deadline keeps the practice consistent and timely, and forces me to work under a deadline. Even when I have an insanely busy week, there is still a blog online come Monday, no excuses.

Of all the lessons that improv taught me, the most important was this. If I want to give a good performance, be it on the page or on the stage, I need to practice and push my skills to keep them sharp. Perfect practice leads to a perfect performance, but that practice must also be consistent, regular, and challenging. Only then, can my skills and craft become good enough that my performance appears effortless.


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