Teaching Improv

I've been very fortunate to work with some amazing, talented people over the years.  I've worked with people of all ages and experience levels.  In many cases I end up working with people who are my peers, so the relationship is a collaboration rather than a teacher/student dynamic.  

But regardless of whether I am the "teacher", or the "workshop facilitator", or whatever other label is used, the role is very much the same.  I am here to help you find your creative voice.

Connect First

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Improvisation is the ultimate collaborative pastime.  It's very important that you trust (and hopefully like) the person who you are on stage with.  For this reason I always begin a workshop by having the people in the group connect with each other as individuals.  

With an established group this can be really easy and informal.  I often just let it happen organically.  People come in, chat with each other, start bullshitting about something they saw during the week - whatever.  The important thing is to keep a reasonable limit on it.  I suggest no more than 5 minutes.

With a less familiar group, especially one where the participants don't yet know each other you need a more structured approach.  You can something like an Achievement Circle or a Check-in.

Warm Up

Warm-ups can be helpful in freeing you up in preparation to improvise.  They are especially helpful before a show, and also have value in preparation for a workshop. I think the most important things you can do in preparation are...

  1. Free up your consciousness by letting go of anything that has been bothering you prior to the workshop.
  2. Connect with each other (continuing on from the above activity).
  3. Prepare vocally.  You want your vocal apparatus in good condition.
  4. Stretch.  I don't put a huge emphasis on a physical warm-up.  Most improv is not very strenuous, but a little stretching can be helpful.

One of my favourite warm-ups that I created with my group in Sydney is Mind Puppets.  If you are working with a new group is can also be useful to do an exercise that helps everyone remember names.

Exercises

In my workshops I am constantly adapting and reworking exercises.  Some are my own or adaptations of others, or they are taken more-or-less verbatim from great teachers I have worked with.  Here are some guidelines I try to adhere to...

  • I use exercises that are suited to the group and their current needs.
  • I do not over-explain exercises.  Doing the exercise and clarifying concepts as needed is more productive, and helps retain interest levels.
  • I am not afraid to drop an exercise that is not working.
  • I unashamedly repeat the best exercises (because repetition is not redundancy).
  • I only use exercises that I understand.  (That should be obvious, but I've seen teachers who don't.)
  • I keep a balance between the established goals of the exercise, whilst still allowing participants the freedom to explore beyond its bounds.
  • I reinforce that this is just an exercise.  

Exercises are generally designed to work a partiular muscle.  The principles can be applied to performance, but the structure of them often does not.

Think of professional Rugby players (or other sportspeople).  During the week they train at the gym.  Maybe they do pushups to improve upper body strength.  It does not mean they are going to suddenly drop to the pitch and blast out 20 in the middle of a Rugby match.

Feedback

I like people to aks questions (within reason).  For myself I've always found exercises and warmups to be far more useful when the teacher has been able to clearly explain their purpose.  It's also important for participants to have their input into the process, and this in turn can help me further tweak the exercises and understand which ones work best for different people.

I try not to let discussions drag on for too long.

See also...