Directing Maestro™ Impro by Timothy Redmond
“Players four and twelve please…”
And a pair of number-bibbed players stand before the director awaiting instructions for their scene - and thus, Maestro begins. Players are called up randomly. The audience scores the scenes. The lowest scored players are eliminated – Maestro.
But a director? I mean, how do you direct an improvised show? It seems counter-intuitive. If a show is truly spontaneous, how can a director call actions and scene beats? Isn’t that planning?
You see, the director is improvising too, they're just using different tools. While the actor is focused on their scene partner as a source of their ideas, the director has the good fortune of witnessing the whole scene as it develops. In that way, they’re the audience advocate and even the two players rising from their cast seats when called has the potential to become a scene if a director is really watching. It’s about using what’s already there.
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” Shakespeare was right. While an actor may employ gesture, sound and movement to explore and advance narrative, the director’s primary tool is their voice. (and an occasional waving hand) Their task then is to sculpt the drama in front of them in as few words as possible. A pithy direction can spark a player’s imagination and create action and consequence. A laboured direction can confuse and burden a player and they may feel there is nothing for them left to discover. The joy of discovery keeps us in the moment.
Let's say the two above players felt bold and began a romantic scene beneath an oak tree. That's all we know. Perhaps the scene has motored along nicely enough, but then an offer is missed, something goes astray, and they begin to look a little lost.
A director could call, "see each other" to respark the connection they’d already created..
Or, perhaps player twelve just happens to be gazing up at that moment, up in their head trying to figure out the scene. The director can use the expression and gesture and say,
"Remember her..." to perhaps spark an emotional change.
Or "It begins to rain..." to spark physical connection
Or, "tell her..." to spark revelation and change.
The key is that the direction, like any offer, is born from the moment. That the direction excavates what is already happening to heighten the drama that is already there. With a snappy direction, the players are reminded of what they’ve already created, and so the next step, the next action, the next beat, can feel obvious and playful.
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