Safety Imperatives

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.

Happy Holidays, fellow illusionist!

It’s been a very busy year. I’m looking forward to some quiet reflection time to think about my improv goals and plan for 2023.

If you don’t do this, I highly recommend it as a way to improve your skills and generate new ideas to try in rehearsals and shows. Note-making is the key to doing this. Read my article on How to get better at improv for a helpful process, including a downloadable template.


My 3 Safety Imperatives

You’re probably aware that a big part of my Improv Illusionist effort is the promotion of greater safety among improvisers.

I don’t believe enough people are aware of the risks that come with spontaneous theatre. Especially for new improvisers, who are eager to play but may not understand the potential for injury, either physical or emotional.

In my workshops, I teach three safety imperatives for every performer to keep in mind when playing or rehearsing. They are:

1. Play safe.
2. Protect others (players and audience).
3. Protect yourself.

In essence, these are all fairly similar. They just look at safety through different lenses, which can help players be aware of and adjust their behaviour to avoid danger.

Let’s look at them in more detail…

1. Play safe.

Predators aside, I don’t think any improviser intentionally wants to harm their fellow players. But it’s helpful to ask yourself if what you’re doing (or are about to do) is playing safe.

Say you’re in a scene and suddenly endowed as a ninja. Is it safe to start cartwheeling across the stage, throwing flying kicks?

The answer could depend on any number of factors: the size of the stage, the presence of furniture, how close other improvisers are, your skill with gymnastic moves, any current injuries you might aggravate, and so on.

Or say you and a partner are playing lovers. Is it safe to grab the other person and start making out?

Here you might consider your level of trust with your partner, knowledge of their boundaries, whether you’ve played similar scenes before, and so on.

Generally, your instincts will tell you if something is safe — IF you take a moment to listen to them!

2. Protect others (players and audience).

This next lens focuses your attention outward, away from internal pressure to “make something happen” in your scene.

If you remain aware that any spontaneous action may be risky or dangerous if others aren’t ready for it, then you’ll be much more likely to stay safe. To protect others, you can telegraph your movements, or even say out loud what you’re about to do.

The desire for protecting others also motivates pre-show check-ins. These help everyone know where their partners are at and make appropriate decisions during the show that respect physical and emotional boundaries.

You can also step in and edit scenes if it seems like things are becoming dangerous. Or raise concerns in your post-show notes so that everyone learns for next time.

Protecting others also extends to the audience. If you invite volunteers to play with you on the stage, look after them! They’re probably not used to bright lights and being the centre of attention. Remember to stay close and help them around.

3. Protect yourself.

Considering any dangers to yourself is the last lens. Most improvisers feel like they’re “up for anything” and will sometimes push their own safety limits, risking injury.

If you’ve never done a ninja cartwheel kick before, this would be the time to reconsider trying. It might get big laughs, but will they be worth it if you sprain your wrist or fall off the stage?

You can still choose to do it, but to protect yourself you might dial back the intensity just a bit, or modify your idea so it’s not so risky.

Playing to protect yourself can also mean redirecting an offer or even stepping out of a scene if your partner is NOT playing safe. Especially if they’re violating your physical or emotional boundaries. You don’t have to endure inappropriate behaviour for the sake of a show.

A final reminder

Safety doesn’t mean taking the fun out of improv. All we want to do is create an atmosphere where creative play can flourish while maintaining enough control to avoid injury. Keep these 3 safety imperatives in mind when you work, and you’ll be much of the way there.

Things to Try

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

  • In the north-western part of the world, I’m excited for the snow! Try an outdoor scene with some snow play: skiing, building a snowman, or even shoveling the driveway.
  • The holidays have lots of bustle. Balance this with a quieter or silent scene. Maybe explore movement to music.
  • The year-end is perfect for evaluating your improv progress and goals. Think about what skills you want to work on in 2023. Make some plans – make some notes!

More for the Improv Illusionist

Emotional Safety Resources

Improv Exercises for Physical Skills

Improv Books — Reviews & Recommendations

Improv Podcasts — Reviews & Recommendations

News and Links

The Second City Toronto’s New Home at One York Street Will Have Its Grand Opening on November 30
Good news and bad this month for North America’s best-known improv and sketch theatre. Toronto just opened a new theatre and training facility.

But then there’s this…

An Open Letter to The Second City
Teachers, music directors, and facilitators allege they’ve been left out in the cold by the company’s recent decision to close the Hollywood location. Looks like the new Second City management still has a lot of work to do to improve relations with their employees.

Question(s) of the Month

Have you ever been injured while improvising? What have you learned from your experience that can help everyone stay safe?

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.

As the year winds down, I’m reflecting on the unique opportunities I get to share ideas with other improvisers. I’m so grateful to you for your interest in this newsletter and the Improv Illusionist project. I wish you all the very best for a wonderful end-of-year celebration.

See you in the new year! (January 5th, 2023)

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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