Shaking off the rust

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.

The Improv Illusionist Newsletter is a monthly newsletter by me, David Raitt, with a focus on the improv skills of environment, object work, and physicality in character and performance.

Happy December, maestras and maestros!

It’s been an eventful year, inside the improv community and out.

We all know what’s been going on OUTSIDE, but if you’ve been away from improv, you might have missed the huge variety of online events.

Players worldwide are coming together like never before. And even though our theatres are (slowly) reopening, it seems like the online stuff won’t be going away anytime soon. Check it out!

Now, that said, the prospect of returning to a live stage has been a dream that finally came true for me last month.

And I got a few insights that might help YOUR journey back to the stage…

Shaking off the rust

So, I finally had my first LIVE, in-person improv show in almost two years… and it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all!

On Sunday the 29th, my friends from the Oakville Improv Theatre Company gathered in the local music bar that sponsors one of our monthly shows.

With capacity restrictions, nearly a third of the crowd were players in the show! But the rest of the place was full with fans, well-wishers, and even a few new patrons.

We were nervous about getting started, but also excited to be there. It was fascinating to meet new players who joined us during the pandemic.

You feel like you have a sense of what a person looks like when you see them on Zoom all the time. Then you meet them in person, and they’re very different!

INSIGHT #1: If you’ve been away from each other for a long time, you might want to schedule a pre-show rehearsal to feel out the live playing experience first.

Our stage at The Moonshine Café is small, but I feel like it was what we needed to transition from online. The energy was high, and many of us had a strong desire to move. But we were constrained by the small space, which channeled that energy into characters and narrative.

Very few if any of the scenes dragged, and those where the lights came down “early” were clearly capable of going longer.

INSIGHT #2: Try playing in a smaller space at first, before opening up your performances on a full-size stage. And don’t forget about physical safety!

We got some physicality in, but also really noticed when we were just standing. And I think noticing makes it more of a conscious choice. Standing still can be powerful, as long as you’re playing it and not just defaulting to it.

We’ve been joking about how online improv has been “just a placeholder to keep our skills intact.” But I think those skills really did show in our first set back.

Everyone looked really on top of their game, and the listening forced on us by Zoom made the scenes shine.

INSIGHT #3: Don’t discount the value of online improv to help your live skills!

Very soon, we’ll get our own (larger) stage back. It will be interesting to see what happens when we have more room for physicality.

Wherever you are, I hope that you’ll get the chance to do in-person improv again soon. Even if it’s just to jam out with your friends.

I also hope that, if you’ve avoided online improv in the past year, you give it another try.

Yes, it’s different. It feels weird and there’s little audience connection. But if you enjoy playing with partners and exploring your spontaneous creativity, there are plenty of rewards for you.

My friends and I can testify that it really does “keep your skills intact!”

Things to Try

This is a NEW monthly feature where I give you ideas for exercises or scenes to work out your physical improv skills.

  • It’s the Holidays! Gift-giving is a common occurrence this time of year. Obviously, you can open a gift and find some crazy objects in there. Some other scene ideas with environment possibilities are: wrapping presents, gifts for different cultural holidays, Santa’s workshop.
  • It’s also family gathering time. A reunion dinner works well as a scene for large groups. In rehearsal or workshops, focus on the reality of eating: passing food, chewing and swallowing, talking with your mouth full, etc.
  • Happy New Year! Another possibility for a party scene. Try a split-screen with other locations across the world, or watching the Times Square ball drop in New York City. (Maybe someone can play the ball?)

More for the Improv Illusionist

Emotional Safety Resources

Improv Exercises for Physical Skills

Improv Books — Reviews & Recommendations

Improv Podcasts — Reviews & Recommendations

And coming soon… a brand new, free email series… Learning the Improv Illusion. Watch your inbox for an introduction to join!

Improv Interviews Podcast with Margot Escott
I stumbled across this interesting series of interviews. Margot Escott is a social worker and therapist who uses applied improv in her practice. She’s also a huge improv comedy fan and has talked with dozens of very big names. Tends to be more historical than practical, but great for those interested. And many guests have significant ties to Viola Spolin’s work, so there’s some good insight for physical improv students.

Question(s) of the Month

Will you make a New Year’s Resolution this year, improv-related or not? What is it? (Don’t worry, I won’t hold you to it.) 😉

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

I’m resolving to stay focused on a BIG project. But I have to keep it a secret for now. I’ll let you in on it soon…

As this crazy year winds down, I want to thank you for reading, and for your work in improv. The world NEEDS live theatre and comedy, and YOU are a part of that. My very best wishes to you for more success in the new year.

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

Next update on January 6th, 2022! Enjoy a restful holiday.

Ex nihilo!

— Dave

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.

Learning the Improv Illusion

A free series introducing the techniques of Physical Improv.