Thursday, 19 December 2013

Not So Razowsky Series: Clothing

In this series of articles, the topic is based or inspired from words from the famed improviser and teacher David Razowsky from USA, once the artistic director of Second City, on SCTV, and a prevalent voice in the improv community all around. The time I managed to spend with the compelling and compassionate Razowsky led to a lot of wonderful results. I now find the inspiration provided has led to teaching the methods of improvisation to others, performing in the style and noted a certain heightening of some characteristics I had before to a more full extent. Nonetheless, not all of what I heard from the wonderful man I agree with, and this is what the series shall be about. I get to write these with consent to the concept of the series too. The topic at hand is going to be clothing. Razowsky, and many others, believe that we should have a uniform of shirts and trousers, or similar, that we wear each time we are onstage. I cannot fully agree with this.

Razowsky certainly has a formal uniform he uses each time he goes onstage. There is a set shirt, trousers and shoes that is donned to enter the sacred stage. The story that Razowsky uses to mention how a change affected a show one time (Razowsky, 2012), Carrie Clifford and David Razowsky perform their two person production of Razowsky and Clifford when one time new trousers of a different colour caused aggravation. By putting on something different, the feel behind the show was different or made the night uncomfortable, Clifford hated the change and made that apparent. The brown trousers or perhaps even shoes, instead of inspiring, had a negative impact. It would be unlikely that it affected the show, as Razowsky has not had a bad performance in twenty-five years (Victor, 2012). This is due to Razowsky going through his individual philosophy and process in the art form.

Teams or groups of improvisers are composed of a merging of individuals. The groups need to be able to have everyone represented. Augusto Boal (1995) states in Rainbow of Desires that everyone presents who they are in public and “With the actor is born the theatre. The actor is theatre. We are all actors: we are theatre!” (ibid., p. 19). We, being the theatre, a performance for the world to view, can engage in our own perceptions of ourselves to exuberate when in public or company. We all are very different when we are alone at home than when we are in public, with friends or in work. Each environment asks something of us and we offer what that is. Onstage we are asked to offer what the audience came for, our voice. This means just being ourselves and we are presented. How we conduct our self includes clothes. I do not put thought into what I wear each day, but in line with Boal, I am dressing to show who I am, no matter what I wear. In context to the considerations of Los Angeles and other stages in America, people wear shorts (Armstrong, 2013). The main issue people speak about with this is that it looks lazy and inconsiderate. If that guy or gal needs to wear shorts and a t-shirt, then all be it. They, being them, will be best represented by those clothes. Whether the items of clothing are plain or quite vivid and busy with patterns, the insight into who we are watching will be clear.

The audience can focus on the performer even with a graphic on their clothes. In Green Man Festival 2013, there was a stand-up act wearing a peculiar t-shirt. He captivated the onlookers drawing them in by his game. His zombie set where the audience makes groans of a zombie nature instead of laughing enhanced the act. Many responded to what he said really well, the game truly adding to the experience. However, that t-shirt was a struggle to work out, but eventually the puzzle was solved as it was a zombie body image under the image of torn clothes. Nonetheless, it did not take away from actually laughing, well making zombie sounds as requested at funny points. This is remarkable for me, I don't laugh at live stand-up normally. However, it is not remarkable that anyone can do more than one thing at once. We can also see that these clothes were his 'uniform' that represented who he was and his set.

Many professions have many different uniforms. From wearing jeans and a t-shirt or t-shirt, jumper and trousers to a full scale suit. Every role of work requires us to look like the company needs us, the job practically requires us and the clientelle desire us. In an acting job, the costume is set, so we know what we need to look like. In improv, we do not want to set anything, in order to be accepted as whatever we need to be. The audience will suspend their disbelief if we do a good job. They will do so whatever we wear, like a good captivating storyteller retelling that tale we have heard many times. “Most well-known storytellers have a “signature” style or look,” (King, 2013) that signifies that person. We ignore the costume that is their uniform and engross ourselves in the story, as the important part of what they do is not what they wear; that is just a 'trademark' (ibid.). In any case, in relating this to improv, we offer our own 'trademark' or signifying representation of ourselves. In addition to this, if improvisers need a formal uniform, there is no difference between a checkered shirt and a t-shirt anyway. They both look as informal as each other. Razowsky says to improvise in a uniform, but there is little value in overstating what you are not, to then go forth in attempting to state you, your comedic voice, in the improvisation.

In improv we use our comedic voice, this is what the audience comes for. Dylan Emery from the UK, in the improv symposium years ago (Emery and McShane et al, 2010), spoke how improvisers market shows through the people in the groups and not the concept. We, the improviser in a team, merge voices, opinions and points of views in the style we choose and all this forms the show. Therefore, the uniform needs to be the person or people. The audience wants to see the man or woman being instantly represented onstage. Anything else and the dishonest and disconnected presentation shall disengage the audience with the performance. We want the audience to be inspired and engaged, just as much as the performers are seeking that engagement and inspiration.

Susan Messing (Messing, 2013), and thoughts on movement improv, states how the sensory input we have shall affect us, and the results of that shall push an open and aware improviser to new places. Alike the environment of the theatre, stage or pub function room, so do clothes. Clearly don't dress as a doctor and play a Bulgarian plainsong chanter, but wear you and play from there outwards. Therefore alike anything, the influence that the clothes give shall create something spectacular. If that means being less sweaty in a warm place under warm lights due to wearing shorts that will push the open and aware improviser to a certain place, then all be it. I don't live in a warm place, so I rarely wear shorts anyway.

My practice includes my clothing that I could be wearing any day and with some extra thought in what the production needs of me and using the more presentable items of clothing. It is not a shirt, trousers and shoes, but it is more than walking in off the street – unless that is what I am doing, i.e., not my show: a jam; not in my city or such. Sometimes I direct or get involved in costumed improv where we are inaccurately selling the concept. I am a hypocrite on the occasion.


Armstrong, N. 2013. Improv Etiquette 101: You Don’t Have to Wear a 3 Piece Suit!. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 17 Dec 2013].

Boal, A. 1995. The Rainbow of Desire: the boal method of theatre and therapy, Routhledge: London

Emery, D., Mcshane, M., Livingstone, T. and Schutte, K. 2010. Presented at Improv Symposium, Edinburgh, 24/08/2010.

King, C. 2013. Storytelling Power - What Do Storytellers Wear When Performing?. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 17 Dec 2013].

Messing, S. 2013. Specificity and Joy presented at The Nursery Theatre, London, 20/07/2013 – 21/07/2013.

Razowsky, D. 2012. You presented at Summer Intensive (iO West), Los Angeles, 06/08/2012 – 11/08/2012.

Victor, P. 2012. My Nephew is a Poodle: Geeking Out with...David Razowsky. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 14 Dec 2013].

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