Practice Your Practice
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.
Hey there, fellow improviser!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching the latest round of my extended “Improv Illusions” class for Oakville Improv. I love teaching because my ideas about improv change through watching others work with them.
Having taught for over 21 years, I’ve noticed some trends that might help your own improv learning…
Practicing your improv skills
I try to start most days with a few minutes of meditation. I’ve found it helps settle and focus my mind for writing, teaching, and performing.
The point of meditation isn’t to clear your mind of all thought. You simply observe your experience, noticing all the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that pass through. As you practice, you understand that all of it is transient. When bad things happen, you can use those skills to work through negative feelings without them owning you.
But while meditation is simple to do, it’s not always easy. Even after many years, I can still get angry or upset, or get caught up thinking too much about the wrong things.
Meditation is a practice because, while you can know and use the skills well, there’s always room for improvement. And there will always be days when things don’t go well.
Of course, we can say the same about improv. You can get really good at storytelling and getting laughs, but there will always be days when it’s a challenge. A “bad” show or workshop is always around the corner.
But like meditation, daily practice helps build your improv skills away from the stage or the classroom. This lowers the likelihood of a poor performance, or at least helps you be more comfortable with one, by knowing you tried your best.
Use solo exercises
You don’t have to wait until you’ve got improv partners to work with. There are many solo exercises out there for practicing character, narrative, physicality, and other skills.
Mick Napier’s Improvise has several exercises for practicing solo, and Viola Spolin’s Theater Games for the Lone Actor adapts many of her best exercises for a single player. You can also find solo exercises on my list of Improv Exercises for Physical Skills.
Most importantly for physical improv, I think you should regularly work with Muscle Memory practice, which I introduced in the “Learning the Improv Illusion” email series.
Prepare for class
Recently, I updated my thoughts about taking an improv class. Remember that you’re only in class for a couple of hours a week, and most of the time you’ll likely be watching others perform. Class preparation helps you get the most out of your time and expenses.
Getting better at improv is a simple process…
- Make notes on your improv.
- Review your notes for patterns, connections, and future ideas.
- Set your objective(s) for the next show.
I’ve written a complete guide to this process which includes a note-making template you can download.
If it seems hard, it’s often because we buy into the belief that we shouldn’t prepare for improvisation. Writing and reviewing notes takes time and effort, but it helps you keep your skills in mind while you perform. You’ll spot opportunities to work specific skills in front of an audience, which is where the best learning happens.
Just like meditation, practicing your improv is simple but not easy. But doing the work pays off. When you need your skills the most, you’ll feel more confident with them.
Things to Try
Ideas for exercises or scenes to work out your physical improv skills.
- November 11th is an important day of Remembrance, especially considering the current situation in Ukraine. Serious or comic (it is possible), try a scene about war and conflict.
- Yard work is a common activity in the fall season. Try an outdoor scene where you’re preparing for the winter.
- Take a pause prior to the holiday rush. Think about what improv skills you want to work out over the busy performing season. Make some plans – make some notes!
You may already know that I’ve written a book about environment, object work, and physical improv. I can now publicly confirm that publishing is officially happening! “The Improv Illusionist” will be released by Bloomsbury in Fall 2023.
I recently turned in my final changes to the manuscript, including a Foreword by the amazing Bruce Hunter, my first improv mentor and the one who introduced me to the power of environment work.
The book now heads to production, where we’ll make many decisions about the layout and appearance of the book. It’s a long process, but I’m really excited about it. I’ll keep you posted.
More for the Improv Illusionist
News and Links
“S” is for “Space Objects”
Here’s David Charles’s (@ImprovDr) take on the concept of “space objects.” Some excellent tips here if you struggle with object work in your improv.
Question(s) of the Month
Do you practice your improv skills away from the stage? Any exercises you can share?
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’m excited to keep in touch with you every month. Back again on December 1st!