24 Aug 2013

I was looking through my journal trying to find what to write about as my next blog entry. I came across a stream of consciousness document I simply called “Ramblings”. I often ramble on trying to find a subject to expound on.

In re-reading this old journal entry, I found it was pretty good advice for an improviser. I wrote it several years back and I will reprint it here, un-edited. Take it for what it’s worth. – GS


When you are side-coached to “go with what is going on” it is a call to join in. It is a better coach than saying “don’t do what you are doing”, which most likely is being separated from the action, waiting to find where to fit your joke in, or figuring out how to be funny or pertinent to the action, while watching from the sidelines (you may have already jumped into the game but are still on the sidelines trying to find your way in). If you find yourself in that separated state, PAUSE, breathe, become present, and then jump in!

Most of your best moments onstage have happened when you were not ‘in control’ of the scene. You added a valuable part to the scene. You became part of the whole and it ‘felt right’. Guess what? It was right.

I have had moments when I got into the flow of a scene. I have had just as many, if not more of the opposite; when I stood out from the game, waiting to add a funny character or plot point. When I stepped into the game from that perspective, I was totally alone, trying to get the game to go my way. It never worked the way I wanted. I usually stopped the flow of the game, and the other players had to contend with my ‘separated self’ and in dealing with me in that state, I would collapse the game and conclude it unsatisfactorily.

Many players are unconscious on stage. Unconscious of what is really happening: Unconscious of the needs of the other players. They may be all separated from each other; all trying to fit their ideas into a cohesive story or busy ‘being a character’ hoping the character is strong enough to be the focus that the game will revolve around.

As I write this, I am writing like I’m trying to say something, and in doing so, I am actually in my head, trying too hard to be cogent. This passage is similar to my being in my head in a game. I think I am playing and being ‘a part of the whole’ but in fact, I want the whole to be a part of me. I am caught in ego. The best thing to do in that case is tell the truth and wait to see what happens from there.

My goal in writing this is to take my understanding of all the successful moments I’ve had improvising and relate them to you, the reader. I’m hoping that you have had similar experiences and have been as dissatisfied as I was when I was in my head in a scene.

My wish is that a wise side-coach will see my predicament and call out to me, “go with what’s going on!” “No urgency, SLOWWWW MOTIONNN!”. Coaches like that make me pause and refocus. When I slow down in the middle of improvising, I usually am reconnected to the playing and it becomes fun again as I take my attention away from myself and my motives for making the scene what I wanted and just went with what was going on. I would fall into the present moment and have a better chance of being a real part of the scene. The scene wouldn’t always be a success, because, I may not be the only one in their head. But by my new focus, others may join me and the scene could become something.

Fun means full mind/body involvement. Fun is the life force from which all action flows in performance. Fun frees the individual from the drudgery of drill, repetition, and stale ritual. It contains within it discipline, involvement and commitment to an action without judgment. It is doing for its own sake, thus giving the individual total freedom to act in accordance with his/her own nature.

Fun is universally used by children to explore their world and associations with others. Fun is used by adults as an escape from the work of living. The effort and demands put upon them by society. What happened to the child in us? Isn’t living an exploration of your world and your associations in it? Can it be that different? The answer is no.

I almost typed the answer is NOW! and that is the deeper truth.

Now exists. Past and future do not exist in reality. They are only the traces of other nows or imagined nows. If we base our life on what was or will be we will miss the fun of living.

How do we suspend judgment? We don’t have to, having fun means experiencing without judgment. It is neither important nor trivial. It is fun. The minute we determine “this is fun!” we will immediately begin to judge it. “Oh, I’m having too much fun!” is a parental term for legitimate worry from our parents that we might hurt ourselves. Why couldn’t they say “Go ahead and have fun, but be careful!”

“That was fun wasn’t it?” is a reference to the past experience of the now, it can be a detached non-judgmental comment in which case you are now experiencing your world from a larger perspective.

One Response to Some Thoughts on Improvising
  1. Very practical advice and spot on. I was constructively critiqued specifically for this at my latest Second City Conservatory audition…to be more “embracing of what is happening”. There are times where I am in my head and miss what is being said or done within a scene. Thanks for putting it so simply Gary!

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