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.
Happy New Year!
I hope you had a peaceful and relaxing holiday to close out 2022.
January is always a great motivator for planning. A whole new calendar year ahead – what will you do with it? And especially with your improv?
Let’s look at some options to consider…
What are your 2023 improv intentions?
I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions, but I do believe in setting intentions. They don’t have the rigid pass/fail attitude of a resolution, which helps you keep them alive all year.
Our biggest intention as improvisers is always to get better at our craft and explore new ways to tell stories. If you’re new to improv, you may not have thought about the many different ways you can gain more skills and experience.
Here are some intentions to consider as you’re planning the next year.
Take a class
Improv classes are the most obvious way to increase your skills. But it’s your choice of class that can really affect your progress.
It used to be you were mostly stuck with the improv training available close to you. With the growth of online classes, you can now get easy and affordable access to instructors around the world.
A class should challenge you. It’s fine to study with a super-popular teacher, but I’d argue that if they already teach in a style that matches yours, then how much are you really going to learn? Remember that cross-training your weaker skills helps reinforce your stronger ones.
For further reading, I’ve got more tips on how to take an improv class.
Produce a show
Creating, staging, and promoting your own show teaches you a lot about the activities that support your improv. Even if you have no interest in the business of theatre, thinking about how to make your show stand out will stretch your creative instincts.
Whether you design a new format or put your spin on something more familiar, there are a ton of learning opportunities. Casting a show teaches you about relationships and skills assessment. Rehearsing helps you work specific skills relevant to the presentation. And every show is different, so the experiences will always be unique.
Visit a festival
Whether or not you register to perform in them, festivals give you a chance to hang out with improvisers from all over the world. Most festivals also offer in-person classes with very experienced instructors.
Unless you live in an improv “centre”, there will usually be travel expenses involved. But the learning and experience opportunities are well worth the investment.
Write sketches based on your improv
Golden moments happen in improv all the time, but most performers let them disappear into the past. When you stumble into a great premise or character, why not work to turn it into a sketch, or even a larger project?
The writing process forces you to figure out why an idea is compelling and how to expand that idea into a proper story. This experience helps you spot and develop future opportunities in your improv more easily.
Writing from improv is how The Second City and other companies produce fantastic comedy shows. As you build a library of sketches over time, you’ll eventually have your own show to promote.
Take a break?
The counterintuitive option to grow your improv skills is to put them away for a while. Like all theatre, improv is an exploration of our common humanity. If you’re too focused on performing all the time, you miss out on the life experience that fuels your ideas and creativity.
This doesn’t mean you have to take a full sabbatical. It could be as simple as taking one or two weeks off. Fill your creative tanks through reading (fiction or non-fiction), exploring art, walking in nature, social activity, and other non-improv pursuits.
Stepping back from improv occasionally will also help you think about your career more objectively.
Write it down
As I often do, I encourage you to make notes about your improv goals. Your time on stage is limited, so it helps to think about it off stage so ideas come more readily to mind when you perform. If note-making is new to you, check out my article on how to get better at improv for ideas and a downloadable template.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for January to set intentions. Come back to this list anytime to think about how you can level up your improv skills.
What are you planning for your improv in 2023? Send me a note – I’d be happy to help with ideas and encouragement. Whatever you get up to this year, I wish you every success!
Things to Try
Ideas for exercises or scenes to work out your physical improv skills.
- New Year’s Eve was quite the party. What would a scene about cleaning up after that party be like? Is the mess a reflection of the characters’ emotional state? How could you show that through environment work?
- Play Viola Spolin’s game of Finding Objects in the Immediate Environment. Play a scene with two or more other players. While you’re having a discussion, each player must must handle objects found in the environment. Try not to invent objects, but rather discover them. Keep the discussion going! There should be dozens of objects by the end.
- Have you planned your improv intentions for 2023? Taking some time to think about it will put you on the path to boosting your skills.
More for the Improv Illusionist
News and Links
The Friends I’ve Made in Improv
Jimmy Carrane reflects on the social aspect of an improv career.
How to Use Pantomime as Acting Training
Some interesting notes on mime and object work here.
Question(s) of the Month
What intentions have you set for your improv in 2023?
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.
See you again on Groundhog Day! (February 2nd, 2023)