How to take a class, revisited

Note: This is a reprint of a previous Improv Illusionist newsletter. If you’re not receiving my email newsletter, you can subscribe here and get my “Learning the Improv Illusion” series as a bonus.

Welcome to another issue of the Improv Illusionist Newsletter, a monthly update from me, David Raitt, with a focus on the improv skills of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance. I’m honoured by your interest.

Hello out there!

It’s an exciting time for my friends and I at the Oakville Improv Theatre Company. We finally got the permit to return to our Black Box theatre and perform all-ages Theatresports shows again!

Yes, there’s still much concern about safety at group events. But it’s so nice to have the chance to get back on our biggest stage. How are things going where you are? Drop me a line and let me know.

Now, school may be out for us in North America, but improv classes happen all year round. I was looking over a past post, and had a few extra thoughts…

Choosing and taking an improv class

Back in late 2020, I posted some tips for getting the most out of an improv class. Now that in-person classes are opening up again, it’s a good time to revisit this. I recommend you read the full post, but here are the biggest takeaways…

Understand the tension between instructor and concept. Even in the most basic classes, every teacher filters their advice through their own experience. Learn from that teacher, but recognize there may be other ways to approach the same concept.

Push yourself. Workshops are the best place to fail: you get instant feedback, and sometimes a chance to try again! A good class should challenge you. Also, take classes to work your less-developed skills, especially if you find yourself purposely avoiding them. You don’t have to do a six-week intensive, but a cheap or free workshop is excellent for helping you become a well-rounded improviser.

As always, safety! Ideally, every training centre and instructor should have policies and procedures for both physical and emotional safety. In reality, not everyone does. Ask about safety and advocate for it in classes.

Watch out for “Rules.” As I wrote in last month’s newsletter, rules are at best guidelines to help you stay out of trouble while you’re learning. But apart from safety, there should be no absolutes in improv. Often, instructors are simply repeating what they were taught. Anything explained to you as a Rule should have a good explanation.

Adjust for online. Everything runs slower online. Expect to cover less ground. And remember that listening is even more important online.

As both teacher and student, I LOVE improv classes. I wish you nothing but the best experience in yours!

Things to Try

Ideas for exercises or scenes to work out your physical improv skills.

  • Whether it’s summer or winter where you are, it’s always a good excuse for a vacation scene! Some environments to try: the beach, camping (forest or back-country), or even just getting there (planes, trains, automobiles).
  • Home improvements or renovations are a great activity to include in a scene. Be specific about the location and the type of work you’re doing!
  • The double take is a classic comedic reaction to something odd within a scene. You register the event once casually, then have a second more emphatic reaction as you realize what’s happening. Experiment with this in rehearsal – how many variations can you come up with?

More for the Improv Illusionist

Emotional Safety Resources

Improv Exercises for Physical Skills

Improv Books — Reviews & Recommendations

Improv Podcasts — Reviews & Recommendations

Learn to be a better improviser by using physicality
Great article about improv physicality from The British Improv Project. The accompanying video of choreography from Frantic Assembly theatre company is fascinating. But be careful about trying any of this in improvisation without LOTS of practice!

Liverpool Comedy ImprovCast – Episode 61 – Boundaries in Improv
Host Iain Luke Jones and guest San George discuss boundaries in improv – what they are and why it’s important they’re discussed.

Question(s) of the Month

Have you taken an improv class recently, or do you plan to take one soon? What’s your experience with classes?

Hit Reply and share. I love to chat with readers, and it gives me ideas for future content to help the whole community.

Do you have any feedback about Improv Illusionist, either these newsletters or the website? Send me a message or just reply to this email. Seriously, I read and respond to everything.

I hope everything is going well for you, in improv and elsewhere.

Back for more on August 4th!

Ex nihilo!

David Raitt - Headshot

Hi, I'm David Raitt. I've been performing and teaching improv and sketch comedy for over 25 years.
MY MISSION: To help improvisers everywhere (re-)learn the power of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance.

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