If I ever write a book about improv (God, another improv book on the market, Julien?), it’d be called “what the scene needs” ('WTSN'). This sums up my philosophy about improv.
WTSN encapsulates a few principles:
1. It’s not about you. It’s about the scene. It’s bigger than you and the sum of the performers onstage. It’s understanding the underlying cogs of the story almost instinctively. It’s following the path of the characters and the story, the internal and unique logic of what is going on, and responding honestly to it.
2. The scene already exists somewhere, somehow; it started in the depths of time and will never end – you, as the performer, are just a temporary vessel to materialise it in front of an audience – WTSN is your craft, humility, honesty, commitment, to show it.
3. You must, as a performer, be the best actor you can. Improv is elevated by performers who can act, be genuine and on point in what they do, even if they exaggerate or have an acting style that is not conventional. They need to be truthful.
4. You must also develop your third eye. Instinctively, without getting in your head, you must be able to understand, with your gut-brain, not your head-brain, what is going on, where everyone stands in the show, the audience’s mood and what they are experiencing – from their own perspective, and respond honestly to all of this, and with great timing.
TJ and Dave, as interviewed by Jimmy Carrane on Improv Nerd podcast #163, also declared, “We're going to find out what the show tends to be” and do what “needs to be done”. When they respond in character, they only give a response that “falls in the believable realm of the expressed point of view of that person”.
In conclusion, for me at least, a great improv show is one that builds and follows its own internal logic to each and every next scene. I am careful not to say “follow/find the game” as it leads to confusion. I’d rather focus on the characters’ worlds, beliefs, attitudes, to find a truth I can lean on and follow.
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