Nathan Keates (Nathan Improv) is a trainer, improvisation teacher and a performing arts teacher; that is only a distinction on subject. Keates is a theatre-maker, improviser and clown. He is so addicted to improv, impro, improvisation that he researches it too. The current project is on autism and improv comedy.
How many times have you read that you are not good enough as an improviser? There are countless top tips that will make you the best of the best at performing improv comedy. However, do they work and make you better? It is unlikely that a few words will change why you perform. It is not how you perform that needs addressing (most of the time), as you've sat through all those workshops; you've probably gone to tons of international teachers too.
Their value comes when teaching that other way that you haven't done yet… or digging deeper into that field of improv, which you currently desire greatly. Subsequently, this post is not about those still developing into their interest in a specific realm of improv comedy. Although, you are enough too: This is true even when developing, as you're enough to do what form you know (in the way you know it). In any case, there is more to your improv than you.
The top tips of today are about what can be done without addressing your acumen at acting funnily, or performing in general.
Use theatrical lighting
The comedic theatre, or dramatic for some, that you present is a kind of theatre that people watch. Therefore, to make it engaging and the best tip of these, use lighting effectively. A simple white wash state across the stage is not a dynamic and interesting image to look at. The technician of the theatre is talented and can be spontaneous. If you let them play with you and create the atmosphere of the scene through striking visuals, then your production will immediately become brilliant.
If you wish to work out why this is true, find that reoccurring blog bit that asks you to state whether the group photo is a ska band promotional photo or an improv group. Nonetheless, the real topic is not on promotional photos (even though the use of them are advocated too). Have a look at what photos are thrilling to see of general scripted theatre and compare then to captured improvised theatre. The expectation is that improvised theatre misses what those glorious lamps create for the audience. It is a generalisation that does not fit every improv comedy production that has ever been made, but the point being made is what is being endorsed.
It is obvious that if adding great imagery to your work is useful, then putting in sound too would be wise. Using multiple musicians for a strong, textured, sound adds quality to the production by bringing about an atmosphere. The American history or modern improv comedy used pianists to add to their sets, which worked well. In the modern world, some use electronic music. Either way, the additional sound supports the improvised scenes. For example, a horror film without the music and sounds behind the action would not be scary at all. Onstage, a strong silence is stronger when there has been sound. The musician can set so much about the scene, including scenic details as well as the ambiance.
The contradiction to this is that it must fit the production being offered. This only means using the right musicians. The other issue is that musicians aren't always available and costly. There was one production that used a odd instrument as the sole music to the production and the guy ran off with most of the profit of the run… and didn't really do a lot. Unfortunate, but the point to take is to use the right instruments and reputable musicians. In that production, it was a random find that was gambled on. Create the work, don't let it create you: as the fools’ world suggests.
Use appropriate staging and sets
When you enter a theatre, what do you see? The auditorium might be gorgeous and stimulating the brain. However, if you're not in an old or fancily designed space, then you will need to alter what else your audience sees. They look at the stage. What does that tell them that is relevant to your production? You could have a full-scale set, if that's the design of the show, or something more simple… and the word keeps appearing… an atmosphere. There is no reason to not add something for your audience to get intrigued by to start with. They came to see your production, you might as well congratulate them on doing so by giving them a night to remember.
Have an audience that came for what you are presenting (less ambiguity)
Do you know what production you're performing? Will the audience, which may love that production, be aware what it is? It seems simple to say, but how frequently do improv comedy companies set the audience in the right frame for their events? The answer, even for someone who is well aware of such, is not often and rarely. This is also on the thought to create your work, the ‘why perform’.
Many people rely on that marketable gimmick that alludes to what they are performing to sell their tickets. It works, obviously. A sustainable production on the back of a well understood genre, famed cultural classic or person will enable the new spectator to improv to instantly feel acquainted. However, there are a lot of them that exist, and they are not all the same. How do production companies frame their version of Hamlet? Audiences mostly know what the play is, but if you are setting it in 1930s with WW2 - I am certain (not only due to recently hearing about something similar) that they want to know. The purist Shakespeare fans will not want to come to be disappointed. This is the same for improv purists with what you may be doing with your productions.
Therefore, sell your production and not just the gimmick. Furthermore, do this so as to get your audience that you deserve and who would love to see your production. Know what you are selling and tell people what it is and not a vague overview of what a Harold is. Of course, everyone has done it and probably will slip into doing so still; however, let’s try to be clear.
Stop clenching the buttocks about achieving the form
Once you have sold the production, you must perform it… however, there is little to nothing worse that a bunch improvisers trying to do their production. The form is just the ‘house you shit in’ (as per Messing; the year I first heard her say this is forgotten, otherwise I would state it here). Hence, the need to not be overly concerned with it. Leave the process of building and guiding your production to your director, or coach (the person in the audience, hopefully) watching you. On numerous occasions, there have been shows that did not meet the performer’s desires - this gets in your way: it is a greater problem when you are performing and the director and/or producer and have so much hope and aspiration for the production.
So, remember that you are onstage to improvise: improvise first and let the form exist based on rehearsal and not mental capacity to recall what you ‘should’ be doing. No one wants to see you ‘should on yourself’ (Razowsky; I am sure I first heard this from him before meeting in person).
The obvious problem with all of these tips is that you may not have the facilities or resources to do them. On the other hand, you can manage something. A small stage can still be lit well. A empty room above a pub can have an audience knowing what they have come to see. Fundamentally, it has to fit your event. If these don't work due to your audience type, your production, then the reality is that all the above are being used the way your production requires. Engage in your art and theatre with your audience, in the way you design it. Lastly, remember that not all of your improv can be improvised.