Improv and writing

beforecastle

About three years ago, I felt the need to do something with performance. I minored in theater in college – my biggest role was the Old Sheep in Charlotte’s Web, rocking a cane and some granny glasses with a baggy fleece jammies-suit. This was before I had the twins, but I didn’t want to do a play because it would take too much time. I’m ok at singing but I didn’t feel like that was the avenue I wanted to go. I started peforming in Louisville’s Moth story slams and that was fun, for sure. I decided to get into improv.

For those of you who don’t know, “improv” (short for improvisational theater) is the performance of unscripted scenes based on suggestions from the audience. I googled “Louisville improv” and came up with a couple of hits. After an email to the coordinators of one group, I started practicing with them the winter of 2011.

The team I play with is called Project Improv and it’s been around for about ten years, the cast rotating in and out as people join and leave. We do what’s called long form improv, which is different from the short form games you might have seen on TV shows like Who’s Line is it Anyway? I won’t get into the technicalities of long form, but if you feel like learning more, you can always ask the oracle at Google or the YouTubes.

It may seem that there are no rules in improv, when actually there are several rules. You just…say whatever, right? Well, sort of. Successful scenes happen when you follow the rules. The cardinal rule of improv is “Yes, and…” Sounds easy, right? It boils down to: when another player states a fact, you go with it. “Writing Spider, your blue hair looks so nice!” If I say, “I don’t have blue hair…” the scene dies and I’ve killed the energy. If I say, “Yes, and it goes with my orange dress that I’m wearing to an alien tea party!” a whole world of possibilities opens for the players and the scene. Now, you don’t literally say, “yes, and…” every time but it helps if you are a beginner to practice it this way.

I don’t remember when I started to see connections between improv and writing, but it might’ve started with friend and For Real Published Author Patrick Wensink. Pat taught a class on this subject, in fact, which I did not attend but I’m sure was amazing and brilliant because it’s really true. Improv can be used by writers and improv absolutely makes me a better writer.

When you start looking at scenes, at your life, at your world with a “Yes, and…” perspective, you let in energy. You open to possibilties. Say yes and you’ll figure it out after, according to Tina Fey. Jump and the net will appear. Leap and learn to fly on the way.

Improv has made me a better storyteller and more confident in lots of storytelling aspects – creating characters, building tension and conflict, and just playing around without boundaries.

You must be careful, though. Don’t try to “yes, and” people who won’t get it. A guy in Project Improv told me once that he had to be careful about “yes, and-ing” on dates because sometimes it doesn’t go very well. I can understand that. Luckily for me, Mr. Writing Spider is FABULOUS at the Yes, And and we have had each other in stitches at times because we are free to say (and sometimes sing) all kinds of hilarious things. But it has to be used sparingly in Real Life because some folks just can’t take a joke.

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