One of the wonderful things about improv is that it’s always a learning process. Every single time you step on stage or into a class, it’ll be a new experience.
And to keep things fresh, you have to constantly be in learning mode: reading new books, taking new classes and gathering new life experiences.
That’s why those of us at the Improv Embassy travel to festivals (like the Del Close Marathon in New York City) and go to other cities, so we can get new perspectives on the improv artform that we can bring back to Ottawa.
Once a year the directors of the Improv Embassy travel to take intensive workshops at some of the top schools so we can sharpen our skills. In 2015, Dani and Chris studied at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City. In 2016, Dani, Chris and Val spent five weeks at the legendary iO (Improv Olympic) Theatre in Chicago.
This year, Dani and Chris ventured to the Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, one of the oldest improv theatres in North America and home of Keith Johnstone, creator of Theatresports. Here are three things we learned.
1. Be Spontaneous
Theatresports shows (which have spread from Loose Moose across Western Canada and internationally) are typically fast-paced, meaning improvisers will have only a few minutes to create a scene from scratch and tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. That means you definitely don’t have time to plan anything — you’ve got to just get out there and trust in your creative impulses. Don’t judge your ideas, or you’ll spend all your time thinking and not saying anything. Just be spontaneous and let the ideas flow freely.
2. You Will Fail…And That’s OK
The Loose Moose formats that have spread around the world are competitive: teams compete in Theatresports, directors compete in Gorilla Theatre and individuals compete in Maestro Impro. After every round, the audience votes and, in the case of Maestro (formerly spelled Micetro), you can be eliminated partway through the show. As a performer, that can be pretty tough on your ego. … until you realize it’s not really about you. Sure, you might feel like you “failed” if a scene you were in went awry. But as long as the audience had an evening of entertainment — with the requisite downs as well as ups — you, as a cast, have definitely not failed.
3. Be Real
A lot of time improvised comedy scenes can be wacky, especially when you’re playing in a fast-paced show. But to make the comedy really work, you need a dose of heart. On the night we performed, we had scenes like a man saying goodbye to his beloved dog or a woman who’s been stood up on a date confiding in her waiter. The next night, seasoned Loose Moosers set up serious scenes about a couple debating whether to get a gun to protect their home and a grandfather confessing to his grandson that he wanted a medically assisted death. These topics may not seem like the source of great comedy, but when done truthfully, these topics can raise scenes above entertainment and become art.
And bonus thing we learned…in improv, you can find friends everywhere! While in town, we met with some very cool improvisers from The Kinkonauts: Calgary’s Improv Lab, who let us guest in a show one of their performers was putting on. If you’re in Calgary, they’re a great group to check out, too.