A recent headline on Lifehacker read "What You Want to Do is Who You Are," and it reminded me of something Rich Talarico said during a Dallas Comedy Festival workshop: Know Everything. It's a two-word sentence, but we often forget it when we step on stage to perform improv. We get in our heads that scenes are about discovery--and they are!--however, they're about discovering each other.
"Long-form improvisation isn't about jokes and the cheap laughs," Del Close said. "It's about people exploring and discovering situations and relationships."
The most difficult scenes to perform are the ones in which the improvisers don't know who they are or what's going on. Once those elements are nailed down, it's easier and more fun to figure out the what of the situation (another of Talarico's lessons).
Do yourself and your scene partner a solid next time you perform: know everything. Know who you are and where you are.
But, but, but, I can hear you stuttering, isn't improv about being flexible and going with the flow? Yes, it is. However, you can still know everything and go with the flow.
For example, imagine a performer stepping on stage acting like she has a broken leg (that's who you are). Not noticing the character trait, a scene partner steps out and immediately says, "We're going to have to swim all night or the sharks will eat us" (the where of the scene). More often than not, the first performer will drop the character trait in an effort to go with the flow. A more interesting scene, though, is one in which a character with a broken leg has to avoid sharks and how this will affect the two characters' relationship.
Knowing everything creates richer scenes, and the less wishy-washy we can be on stage, the less wishy-washy the audience will be to us.
(Photo via Flickr: Ty Lettau / Creative Commons)