By: Rosie Grant
Remember watching your first improv show? At times it seemed like magic or, at the very least, scripted. The quirky characters onstage patiently developed relationships, hilarious jokes were timed just right, and the ensemble seemed so aware of one another it was like they had one mind. After taking a few improv classes you begin to notice these abilities unlock for yourself, and you didn’t even have to be tossed in nuclear waste to get them. Below are a few of the superpowers practicing improv gives you that thankfully don’t involve being bitten by a radioactive spider or originating from the planet Krypton.
A master improviser is a master listener. Players onstage
have open dialogue by responding honestly to what a teammate says, asking questions, and speaking their truth. Developing characters and relationships comes from responding to tone, word choice, or even allowing a silence to last a few beats.
Improvisers build a scene the way one builds an Ikea desk: one piece at a time in a developing order. When group mind is present on a team, players make it look like they’re following the same manual without one even existing. Group mind involves team chemistry and learning to stop steering scenes, all the while making it look natural and easy.
Memory Manipulation/Time Travel
While not exactly like the Professor X’s superpower, improv gives you the freeing ability to develop character’s memories and experiences, seeing it played out. If a character starts talking about a strange childhood (ex: “I was raised by wild dogs”), teammates can cut to that bizarre childhood and have fun playing in that world. Even more satisfying is cutting back to the present and watching a player take on the bizarre gifts created during their childhood (“And that’s why I don’t like mailmen”).
Bring Objects to Life/Materialization
You don’t need Green Lantern’s ring to do good object work. Adding objects to interact with in a scene helps to build the world characters live in. If you treat your objects like they’re real, they become real to the audience. To hone this superpower, become an observer. Notice how you do things in your daily life: when you drink a cup of coffee how heavy is the cup? How hot is the mug? Where do you place it when finished sipping?
While Mr. Fantastic has flexible limbs, improvisers have flexible scenes. Players learn to be flexible and adaptable by being fully present and listening to what’s going on. If you think the scene is going to be about two farmers in a field, and suddenly a space alien arrives, then you accept the teammate’s gift and let your scene be about this (even if you had a really funny cow joke you wanted to make). Flexible scenes involve being in the moment and not getting attached to a scene’s outcome.
While most can’t shoot spiderwebs from our hands, improvisers spin a web of stories. They do what any practiced storyteller does: mine content from their own experiences, have vulnerable and real characters, and understand that simple stories are sometimes best. Some of the funniest scenes involve the most mundane scenarios the audience can relate to, like waiting at the doctor’s office, standing in line at Starbucks, or picking out toilet paper at the store. The key to storytelling in improv is the team agreeing on who the characters are, where they are, what they’re doing, and speaking honestly how they feel about this.
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