“Girl Meets Boy” (lesson plan), Guidelines to Improvised Comedy

Well hello again.

I’ve been spending a lot of time working on writing… but CREATIVE writing wouldn’t be accurate.

For the past year, I’ve written essays for my Masters course in Applied Linguistics, and every time I’ve moaned, “but I’m not doing any writing”, people have said, “but you’re writing your essays every week.” Not the same.

As always, being a teacher, I’ve written lesson plans. Mostly they’ve just been simple notes for myself. Recently, I submitted a proper one to a teaching website called Designer Lessons – my article was called “Girl Meets Boy”, and it’s a thought provoking discussion and video class, (with the link here – even if you’re not interested in teaching, the video at the start is worth watching)

And, as I’ve been running nearly every improvised comedy workshop in the past two months, I’ve done a lot of lesson planning for that, too. Even though I’ve been doing improvised comedy for, in total, about 6 years now, it’s only in the last 12 months that I’ve really started to learn how to teach it – mostly through, you know, teaching it. I’m getting pretty good at designing the direction of a class, and what particular points I want people to notice this week.

The website for my group is now up, and running well, although every time I sign on I see jobs I haven’t done yet, or problems to be fixed. At the time of writing, nearly every word you see on that website was written by me.

However, there’s one piece of writing that I was pretty proud of, but I’m not allowed to upload. I mentioned it to the other organisers, and they felt like it was ‘giving away our secrets’ – especially as we’re now planning to run classes, it seems silly to tell people on the website what we’re planning on teaching them in class.

Although I don’t 100% agree, there’s reason behind that view, so I won’t post it there. HOWEVER, there’s nothing to stop me posting my work here, on my own blog. So without further preamble, here are my Guidelines To Improvised Comedy – the rules and structures to help you to become a good improviser.

Guidelines to Improvised Comedy

What Is Improv?

“Improv” (also known as “Impro” – but we don’t like that is the vowel sound is all wrong) is short for Improvisation  – the art of making stuff up on the spot. Improvised comedy involves creating hilarious, unscripted and unprepared scenarios, usually built around written or shouted-out suggestions from the audience. As a result, every show is a unique, one-of-a-kind experience, giving the opportunity for the audience to effect the direction of the show. Oooh, interactive!

Improv is often used by acting classes and workshops as a way to warm up your brain and body, and to step out of yourself and into a new character.

Being quick is useful, and having a mind that can absorb information quickly, but again, not a requirement (it can be learnt)

How to Improvise

Improvising is a totally different skill to acting, or stand up, or indeed many other things. Here are a few guidelines to help you have a go:

Hear it, Accept it, and Add to it

Imagine this scene: “Grandma, the kitchen’s on fire! Drop your knitting and run!”/ “There’s no fire in this bank, and I’m not your grandmother – give me all your money.”  Confused yet? Sometimes, you’ve got the best idea ever for a scene… but once someone has said something, that can’t be undone or ignored. You have to accept what has come before. This is Rule No.1 because saying “no” to someone’s IDEA can kill a scene.  And more than accepting, it’s even better if you Add something to the story. Give us more information.  And it may sound obvious, but you’ve got to listen to everything they say. The audience will be, and if you miss (or fail to accept) a crucial detail, they won’t be impressed.

Don’t try to be funny; tell a story

People often get mislead by the word “comedy” into thinking that they have to tell jokes, or be a naturally funny person, to be good at improv. This isn’t true.  What’s more important is to have a good idea of what makes a good story. Read a lot of books and watch a lot of films or TV series and you should have the skills. Stories need characters, conflict / change, and resolution. If an issue has been raised, it has to have been ‘dealt with’ before the story is over.

Don´t ask questions; make your partner look good.

“Where are we?” / “You tell me” is one of the worst ways to start an improv scene. Asking questions may be a part of everyday life, but in Improv, we need answers and facts. Asking a question like “Who are you?” means that you are suddenly putting all of the creative pressure on your poor partner. Compare it to: “Owl-Man, thank God you’ve come! We have a mouse emergency!” Suddenly, your partner is an owl-based superhero, and he has a situation to deal with.

What´s happening? Be specific

The quicker the scene is set, the better. We need to know who these people are, how they know each other, where they are and what is happening / what they are doing ASAP. Characters who enter saying “How are you?” could be anyone. A character who says “How´s Dad?” is at least giving us something, and if the other person responds, “Your father’s depressed. He gambled all our money away, betting on Eurovision”, and suddenly, we know their relationship, and a whole load of facts besides.

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