Rules of Improv Part II
by David Alger (Pan Theater June, 2005)
The second ten improv rules:
1) Give information to your partner.
2) Listen to your partner.
3) Respond to your partner.
4) See the impact of your response.
5) Look beyond the words.
6) Use more than words.
7) Accept silence and being self conscious.
8) Be doing but don’t focus the dialogue on what you’re doing.
9) Sooner is better than later. Do it now.
10) Have Fun and Relax.
Okay, so in the previous article we discussed some of the basic concepts such as “yes’and”, making statements rather than asking questions, and not blocking. In this instalment of Pan Theater’s Rules of Improv-
11) Give information to your partner.
All too often people in an improv scene will start speaking about their favorite topic-
Gee, Martha I always knew your degree in Nuclear Physics from Cal State would save us from a monster.
Both lines provide information that each partner can use to add to their character and the scene. Providing something about your partner-
12) Listen to your partner.
Listen to what your partner says, doesn’t say and the way he says it. Each word, gesture or pause provides tons of offers and information. Listening takes us outside of our focus on self and the worry about trying to think of something to say. It becomes about responding and reacting-
13) Respond to your partner.
Improv is about what is happening right now and the changes that occur. We need to respond to what is said, unsaid, done and undone by our partner. Building a scene is a joint process and if we don’t respond we make our partner’s efforts meaningless. Responding shows change, helps further plot and makes us human.
I’m surprised you’re home early Mark. I thought you had a golf game.
(Looking around nervously and avoiding Sally’s gaze) I did, um it got cancelled.
In this example Sally is doing more than asking about Mark’s golf game. She is calling him on something and probing. Had Mark merely replied or said something unrelated it would make Sally’s setup useless and wasted.
14) See the impact of your response.
Okay, you’ve spoken. Now SHUT UP and pay attention. Look to see the response. See the impact of your words and actions-
Well, you have won your third horse shoeing trophy Mary. Congratulations!
(looking down sadly) Yes, I have…thanks…I suppose that means...
In the example above had Brian talked through Mary’s response-
15) Look beyond the words.
The previous examples all showed the importance of looking for details that were not expressed in words. The actions that precede, accompany and come after words are just as, if not more important. Words in improv, as in life, are tools to accomplish goals. Character goals often are quite different from the dialogue spoken. The context helps reveals the subtext.
16) Use more than words.
Don’t limit yourself to words or assume all responses require words. Improv is about what is being done. What are you trying to accomplish and what your partner is trying to accomplish? Often times we speak of talking heads-
(looking hopeful, sighs, moves closer to Bob)
(turns away and walks across the room, but stops)
(approaches and puts arm on Bob’s shoulder)
(starts to shrug her arm off than stops)
Please, one more try for old times sake?
(looks at her and shakes head yes, but is hesitant)
17) Accept silence and being self conscious.
It is okay to be self-
18) Be doing but don’t focus the dialogue on what you’re doing.
Scenes are about relationships not what we do but how what we do changes our relationship and current position. By focusing the dialogue on actions and things we avoid interacting with our partner. We also avoid taking chances and having real emotional reactions to the situation. Let the dialogue be a bridge to the relationship.
(practicing Tai Chi)
Hi, Dad, didn’t realize you got in from Boston already-
(taking bags out of car)
Got an early flight, couldn’t yet to see my new grandson and his father! Congratulations!
The dialogue provides a sense of character and relationship.
19) Sooner is better than later. Do it now.
When an opportunity for an action comes up-
20) Have Fun and Relax.
Improv should be fun. An audience loves to watch someone having fun. By letting go of fear of failure we commit more, focus more and become more fully. Practice exercises that help you relax before the show and between sets.
Pan Theater is pleased to offer this ongoing series of articles on the Rules of Improv. We hope it helps your improv, scripted work and life in general. This information may be reprinted and reposted as long as attribution to the author is maintained and a link to www.pantheater.com is posted with the reprint.
All the best in your improv and acting-
Rules of Improv Part II
120 Frank Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA 94612
150 Frank Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA 94612