Improv: Fun to Watch, Less to Explain

I’m going to call out my own title, and the fact that I’m about to try to do something that I just said was “Less Fun.”  Bear with me, here.

Spurred by a desire to do something more creative outside of my professional life, and by some overwhelming positive reactions to a few weddings and events I’ve hosted, and built off the fact that, before entering the workforce, I had built up a pretty solid high-school and university acting resume, I figured I wanted to get up on stage again on a more-than-occasional basis.  So, last January, I signed up for an Improv course through Second City Toronto.  Figured something where your creative output happens then and there, where you can “make it up as you go”, was a good fit.  Not an easy fit, but a good one.

Little did I know how “not easy” it would be at first.

When you watch a show like Whose Line Is It Anyway?, or when you go watch a live improv show, your first thought might be “wow, those people are so creative to be doing this on the fly.”  Which is true.  But there are rules, structures you learn, ways of interacting with people that move the scene forward.

Somebody says something you don’t agree with in real life?  Too bad.  It’s out there, it has to be addressed, and you have to “Yes, and…” it by either accepting it, or finding an in-story reason to reject it that moves the story forward.

That giant idea you have in your mind, where you end up monologuing a story you think is the most creative thing on the planet?  Doesn’t work well.  You’ve got another person out there who is waiting for their chance to build the scene with you.  Less leads to more when you have somebody who wants to build with you.

The trip you’re taking to Hawaii, or the chair you’re making with your cousin – that’s not what the scene is all about.  You can only mine so much out of a situation, but once you figure out the relationship between you and your scene partners, that’s when things get interesting for the audience.  The person who took you to Hawaii never listens to what you really want, or your cousin is pissed at your because he’s doing all the hard work, like always.

These are all things you learn while you’re taking the courses, and if you’re paying attention, you can actually feel yourself getting better, just based on audience and peer reaction if  nothing else.

Still, it’s something that exists in the moment.  The scene you did last week was great, and you can’t ever repeat it exactly, because the variables change, and unless somebody took the effort to write it down and maybe turn it into a sketch, it’s in the creative ether, having entertained the people who saw it, but now completely abstract and, frankly, not as funny to anybody after the fact.

Please enjoy the following pictures, which involve scenes that all got decent laughs, and probably sound less funny now.

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Scene 1: I was a parent using MSN Messenger to communicate with their daughter at summer camp, who was hating it there.  The rest of the family was shouting things at me from the sidelines, which I mangled in the chat, much to my daughter’s frustration.

Scene 2: The woman in the middle called “Oh Barry”, and two of us randomly walked on, both wearing red, which got the best reaction of the whole scene.
Scene 3: I’m taking my daughter to university, where we were both freaking out about being separated, when we were greeted by the floor adviser, a random co-ed crawling through the window, and a mouse named Charlie.
Scene 4: We were casting for The Notebook.  We made the guy auditioning feel like he was being too sexually aggressive for a teen movie, before he decided he could be a vampire, at which point we asked “can you sparkle?”, and we created Twilight.  

Now, each of these scenes was actually bonkers fun and got good reactions, but trying to explain it after the fact, either by writing about it now, or one-on-one conversation with people who weren’t there…. less so.

It’s weird being involved in something that’s so in-the-moment, and being committed enough to it that you want to do more of it, but as side hobbies go, it’s a fun one so far.  Due to my inability to explain it after the fact, this may be the only post I do here about it.  For something that’s so hard to represent after the fact, though, I figured representing it by saying it’s hard to explain was the best I could do.

It’s going to be way easier to write about the next vacation when I’m on it.

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