What now??

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 New Year!

I hope you had a peaceful holiday. Unfortunately, I had some cold symptoms for three weeks and stayed isolated to protect my family, just in case it WASN’T a cold. But at least I got a great rest and time to work on some exciting projects for 2022.

Yes, I’m very excited about possibilities for the upcoming year, despite the rough start imposed on us all by Omicron. Let’s talk about that, and how we might make use of the re-enforced downtime…

The Omicron Blues

COVID is surging again. We’re back to distancing protocols, and theatres are closing down. It’s depressing, it’s a setback, and probably not the last time this will happen.

But. At some point, we WILL get back on stage. We can use this time to re-commit to keeping our skills sharp.

For a start, I can suggest 3 ways to do this:

  1. Work on your Observation skills.
  2. Develop a note-making habit.
  3. Embrace (or re-embrace) online improv.

Observation skills are a major part of physical improv. The better we are at simulating the world through our object work and environmental choices, the more we can draw audiences into our shows.

You can practice observation anywhere, anytime. It’s just a matter of remembering to look around! Study what places are like, what objects are there, what the vibe is. Spotting unique details helps you create more original scenes on stage. You won’t be working from the usual defaults that everyone else does.

Next, make a habit of writing these observations down. Multiple brain studies have shown that we can hold onto and recall ideas much more easily after writing them down. Do this regularly and you’ll find you instinctively have more ideas when you improvise.

You could also start writing down your general thoughts about improv. Reflecting on your improv experience is one of the fastest ways to get better.

Finally, keep improvising with online workshops and shows.

No doubt about it, online is different from stage improv. If you expect it to feel the same, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

But online improvising DOES use the same fundamental skills. Listening. Supporting your partner. Developing scenes and narratives.

I read a quote in a recent Chicago Reader article that made me rethink my approach to online improv (the full article is in the News and Links section below):

“I bloomed doing Zoomprov because it was so freeing. I was making choices that I thought the scene needed. Since reopening, I was able to transfer that over into live performance. Before, I was very conscious of audience reactions. I caught myself thinking, ‘Is this funny?’ The best shows were when I didn’t ask those questions.”

— Mo Phillips-Spotts (Chicago)

Until I read this, I used to be upset by the lack of audience feedback online. It sometimes feels sad when we can’t hear people laughing.

But maybe we’ve been too wrapped up in what the audience thinks. Maybe we need to stop worrying whether we’re being funny and just follow the scene.

Online improv can help us reset our expectations about performing. We can use it to experiment. To focus on skills and get satisfaction out of using them. To learn to trust our own sense of what’s fun instead of waiting for a crowd to tell us.

And then, when we return to stages, not only will we be happy to make the audience laugh again, we might just be able to do it more often.

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.

  • Practice your observation skills. Take regular time to notice the objects and environmental details around you. Focus on each of your 5 senses. Think about how you could convey a sense of this place to an audience using object work, environment choices, or even dialogue.
  • Challenge yourself to take a class or do a show online. Go beyond your local theatre company and explore what the world has to offer.
  • If you haven’t already got one, get a notebook and start writing down your observations and thoughts about improv. Reflect on your strengths and loves as a performer and how you can make more use of those. Think about how you can improve your weaknesses.

More for the Improv Illusionist

Emotional Safety Resources

Improv Exercises for Physical Skills

Improv Books — Reviews & Recommendations

Improv Podcasts — Reviews & Recommendations

AND… I’m putting the final touches on Learning the Improv Illusion, my brand new email series about Physical Improv. Watch for your invitation in the next couple of weeks.

‘What happened in the community was almost like a brush fire’ (Chicago Reader)
This is the article I mentioned in my feature above. An interesting examination of what’s been happening in the Chicago improv community over the past year.

Question(s) of the Month

What one thing will YOU commit to working on to keep your improv skills sharp?

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 updates or the website? Send me a message or just reply to this email. I read and respond to everything.

Hang in there. Stay safe. You’re doing great.

Back again on February 3rd.

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.