I’ve just had my first workshop with Mark Beltzman, and one of the notes I got from him immediately gave me a clearer perspective one of my most personally irritating improv habits – trying too hard. 

I’m of the opinion that the most entertaining scenes often have an unforced, unhurried and organic feel to them. But when you’re on the spot, there seem to be a million and one different reasons and ways to contrive unnecessary details, bits of exposition or clever things to say – pushing the scene into more personally comfortable territory. Although it seems reasonable enough, in longform particularly this approach is as difficult to make work as it is ultimately futile. I think it’s primarily based on a fear of floundering.

I was a poor swimmer as a child (and probably a not a great deal better now). In particular, I remember how I felt when I was just starting to learn. I moved stiffly and used an incredible amount of energy just trying to stay afloat. When I reached the the edge of the pool, I’d clutch it tightly – exhausted, fearing I lacked the strength to make another full length.

The analogy with improv is pretty direct: if you feel your improv is weak, whether consciously or otherwise, you’ll automatically look for all manner of ways to find security in the face of the scene’s inherent uncertainty. You’ll spend lots of energy trying to compensate for your (perceived) weaknesses in order to feel more in control of the scene. Most of it will be wasted. Your technique is inefficient, resists the flow, looks inelegant and only makes things more difficult in the long run.

If you want to swim long distances, you simply can’t ignore these aspects of your method. You have to overcome the insecurity, loosen up, make the minimum necessary effort and trust that the water will hold you.

Don’t overdo it – just do it.*

  • What do you find yourself doing when you feel like you or your scene is ‘floundering’?
  • What are your ‘go-tos’ for security?
  • How do you go about ‘getting out of your own way’?

Today’s key ideas: discovering the scene at the same time as your partner and the audience, making your scene partner look good, talk about how your partner’s actions make you feel, getting out of your own way, attending to your partner closely, trusting and offering

*Yes, I’m aware that is also the Nike thing. Swoosh.
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