The wild, unexpected and keep-you-on-your-toes world of improv looks like fun, but is hard work. Jessica Austgen, a DCPA Education Teaching Artist and Artistic Director of the Denver Improv Festival has a tip or five to keep you alert, in the moment and engaged in the art of “Yes, and…”
1. LISTEN UP
Do you ever tune someone out in a conversation as you wait to share what you’d like to say? Not in improv! Avoid pre-planning your lines or assuming where the scene is going. Instead, listen to your scene partner and absorb what they are telling you. If they say, “I’m so glad you took me to get burgers, Dad,” you have a lot of information to use for the situation and your character.
2. SAY “YES, AND…”
This simple phrase means that you acknowledge and accept what your partner has offered, and you’re ready to add to it. Watch out for saying just “no” or “yes.” A good response to the burger statement could be, “No problem, kiddo. But I’m gonna need you to order a Kids Meal because I need that toy.”
3. MAKE STATEMENTS, NOT QUESTIONS
Be confident and make strong statements, since questions push the narrative responsibility back your scene partner. If you responded, “What would you like to order?” or something similarly vague, the scene would take longer to get rolling and we know nothing new about your “Dad” character.
4. BE SPECIFIC
Knowing details about where you are and who you’re with will strengthen your scene. If the aforementioned father and child had been in a generic restaurant, we wouldn’t know anything about them. Being at a fast food restaurant creates a very different setup than a steakhouse, a hibachi grill or their neighbor’s backyard.
5. ANYONE CAN DO IT
Life is unscripted. We all make things up as we go along, so improv is already a skill you have – even if you haven’t harnessed it yet! You don’t need to be knowledgeable in every subject, make choices you’re not comfortable with or be Saturday Night Live-level hilarious for a successful scene. Just listen, trust your instincts and act like a living, breathing person onstage.
Ready to try for yourself? DCPA Education offers improv classes year-round for all skill levels — now online. Discover a full lineup of 80+ education classes this fall at denvercenter.org/education.