Brenna Dixon: Five Impro Tips!
Today's guest blogger is Impro Melbourne ensemble member and teacher Brenna Dixon.
Brenna's Five Tips for Improvisation:
1. When in doubt, be changed.
Stories require change and often when a scene is stalling, it's because the improvisers are scared of being changed. When you're not sure what the right next step is, have an emotional reaction. You don't need to know why! Have the reaction and then justify afterwards. Be affected by something small that your partner does or says, and find out after why your character felt so strongly.
2. Stay playful.
Whenever I feel tension creep into my body or I find myself up in my head thinking about what to do, I try to remember to 'stay playful'. Improvisation is a unique art form that tells stories through play. We are in play with our fellow improviser, the audience and the story itself. When I remind myself to 'stay playful' I free myself from planning and place my attention where it belongs, on my scene partners and the audience. Is my partner having a good time? Are they inspired? What offers are they making? This playful spirit keeps me present and engaged, and gives me the best chance to have fun!
3. Discover what lights you up.
Another wonderful IM improviser, Amanda Buckley, once gave me a piece of advice after a Theatresports match. I had been put into an improvised song and had the time of my life. She told me that if i enjoyed improvised singing, then I should find and make as many opportunities for myself to do it as possible. There are many things that I love about improvisation but the things that light me up the most are song, stories and characters who feel things strongly. By recognising that these were where I felt the most inspired and joyful I was led to co-create and perform the duo show "I Wish", with Katherine Weaver and Panfred Reed. This show takes written wishes provided by the audience and turns them into improvised stories, songs and soundscapes that explore what it might be like to have your wish come true. Try everything, but be curious about what lights your fire and don't be afraid to fan it!
4. Enjoy the failure.
When I first started improvising I was terrified of getting it wrong. I didn't want anyone to see me make a mistake. I would sit back when teachers would ask for volunteers, waiting for someone else to do it first so I could see how it was 'supposed' to be done. Over time I began to learn the impro philosophy of 'happy failure'. The joy in improvisation is the risk of failure. It is one of the things that makes impro so fascinating to players and audiences alike. We sit on the edge of our seats to see what will happen. Take 'Maestro', a show where the audience awards scenes with points from one to five. There is no greater joy than seeing a scene begin to crash and burn and watching the improvisers commit even harder, good naturedly going down with the ship. If the audience can see that we are not devastated but instead filled with the delight of a spectacular failure, they are free to cheer loudly for one. Later in the show they will cheer even louder when they see a scene worthy of a five, because they know that the players can take a one. There are no fives without ones and no success without failure. Our job is to find the joy in both.
5. Read 'Impro for Storytellers' by Keith Johnstone.
My favourite impro book of all time is Keith Johnstone's 'Impro for Storytellers'. It is a great resource for exercises and games, but it is also a fantastic guide for teaching improvisation. It covers Johnstone's theories for improvisation and teaching in a way that is easy to understand and apply. I recommend it for students and teachers alike.