Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Improv is Everything

I started acting when I was 11 years old. For years I learned how to walk on the stage, not run into scenery, how to memorize lines, sing, learn the difference between stage left and stage right, house left and house right, back stage, front of house, and how to bow. The problem with all of this was that for the next 11 years, I was forming muscle memories in my body that was doing a lot of it wrong. I moved to NY and walked into auditions, classes, and rehearsals just doing the same thing I had done the previous 11 years, and it only got me so far. I wasn't having fun on stage anymore. I wasn't being pushed. There were times in class and in performance that everything seemed to be going right and I was having fun, and looking back on those times, I realize I was doing just one thing....... following my instincts and making it up on the spot.
Improv. I couldn't name it at that time. I didn't even know the longer form of the word: improvisation. There are many different definitions of improv and venues for this miraculous art form. You can't even look up the word in a dictionary without it using some form of improv in the definition. Improvisation: The art of performing improv. No shit. To me it's this definition- Improv: The art of performing that makes other forms of performing seem boring. I then found the Atlantic Theater Company which in so many words is performing a script through improvisational techniques. Then I found Upright Citizen's Brigade which would change my life forever.
I think I get easily bored in life. I like stimulation. I don't think I have ADD, I just love new exciting things. If I was in a show for over 300 times and I had to give the exact same performance every night, I would shoot myself. I know scripts have a structure and we stay true to them, but if I had to channel my talents to one thing, it would be not knowing what was going to happen and live confidently in that. Improv.
I have friends who say the scariest thing they could ever do is get on stage with nothing but a suggestion and then make up a show for the next 40 minutes. I could masturbate to the thought of that. My God, what a rush! Why? Because life is tough and shouldn't be taken seriously and artists, directors, and actors get so in their head that they want everything to be perfect. Why perfect? Life is sloppy. Sex is sloppy. Money is sloppy. Relationships are sloppy. So why wouldn't an art form that cherished the unpredictability and chaos of the world be golden?
And nothing gets me off more than extremely talented and intelligent improvisers making unbelievable, crafty choices every second that leaves the audience laughing and shocked. It's how I see the world. Everyone is so careful and doesn't care about the other person anymore. Improv is the exact opposite of careful and the best way to do it is when all of your attention is on the other person........ Oh wait.......... that is sort of like acting.
That's why I hated doing theater for awhile. It was too safe. It wasn't creative. Actors just wanted to get in any show, no matter how bad it was, make safe choices, not care about the other actors and creative process, and try to get involved with the gossip and drama of backstage. I hated it. I got in this business to have fun, and everything about improv was fun. There are rules in improv but at the same time, there are no limits. You can get the same feeling in a scripted show when you enter stag with no preconceived decisions. And it's all based on trust. Trust in yourself and trust in the other actor. Why would I want to be part of a career that you walk on like a robot and do the same thing every night......unless you're a robot from outer space who has to drink Dairy Queen milkshakes every night. Well that would just be awesome.
I love a scenario where the possibilities are endless. That's where the excitement comes from. We live life way too safe! Actors have problems with human interaction. Improvisers need to explore every moment of every second with every person they meet. Improvisers are actors, playwrights, directors, and reactors all at the same time. Mostly reactors to what is happening at any given moment, which is the main ingredient I have taken from my UCB training and put into my craft.
When I watch an acting scene, I can sometimes watch the entire scene without checking in. It's impossible for me to watch an improv scene without listening to every single line and watching every single movement. Because it is the thing every actor wants to achieve. To be in the moment at every given second, and that's what improv is, especially good improv. That's what's exciting. Even when the script is written out, some actors can't find truthful moments, but if I put you in front of 100 people and you're fighting for your life in front of them to be creative and funny, you'll find moments. You'll create moments. You'll follow moments. You'll listen to everything listening for clues. You'll become vulnerable just by walking. You'll create relationships just by looking at someone. That's what I was missing in theater. That's what I have brought to theater. I want the world to improvise. I'm sure I'm going to write more about this soon. My head is spinning right now.

1 comment:

  1. Nettle - I have read that an improv artists basic rule is to "never say no". As scenes develop the art of constantly saying "yes" (or affirming the action) is what makes those scenes great. Great blog by the way.

    Take care!

    Mark Abate