Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Improvisation in "Bossypants"

Growing up, I loved watching the show Whose Line is it Anyway?.  It impressed me that they could not only come up with their own funny lines on the spot, but that they could also adapt and react to the other players without a moment delay.  I always thought it would be so much fun and at the same time, I was terrified of the very idea of it.  As someone who has always felt more comfortable writing out my ideas with time to revise and edit,  improvisation sounded like the last thing I would ever be interested in. 

I am not sure what I was expecting (other than a few laughs) when I decided to read Tina Fey’s Bossypants. When she began to describe how she did improv for SNL, I was excited because though I don't watch SNL regularly, I knew this book would unlock the secrets of all television improvisation.  Finally I could stop regarding improvisation as a mythical impossible-to-understand creature.

With three simple tips, all of my questions were answered.
1. Agree.  
It’s something I wouldn’t have realized the importance of and certainly would’ve messed up myself.  You have to go along with whatever the other people are saying, without question.  The first step to making the audience believe what the improvers are saying is for the players to believe it and live it.
2. Yes, and…
It’s not enough to just agree though; you have to add something to the conversation to drive the plot forward.  Again, it sounds simple, but I would be afraid I would freeze up and not know what to say!  She gave some great examples in which someone said something pretty straight forward, she agreed immediately and then adding something so off the wall that the story lays itself out nicely.  One example I remember off the top of my head was that if someone said, “It’s hot,” you could respond with “Of course it’s hot! We’re in Hell!”
3. Make statements.
If you’re always asking questions, that’s putting all the pressure on the other improvers to have the answers.  It also doesn’t necessarily drive the plot forward.  You have to contribute and you must do so with certainty so that the audience will believe that you’re really in the scene.

Her tips and examples were down to earth and easy to understand that they seemed familiar to me.   I realized that, without even knowing it, I actually had done a form on improvisation in a medium in which I was very comfortable: writing.

On the last day of my Intro to Creative writing class, we each took out a piece of paper and started a story.  After a few minutes, the professor stopped us, and had us pass our stories to the right, where our neighbor read our story, and then added on to it.  That continued until every student in the class had written on each story. It was an absolute blast and we had written some entertaining stories.  

Suddenly, my interest in improvisation doesn’t seem so strange.  I would never be comfortable getting up and acting in front of an audience, but I can get the same thrills out of writing.

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