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You probably won't spontaneously combust, just get up and say something

You can’t really prepare for improv – that’s what makes it scary … and fun.

This article is part of a series on learning long-form improvisation.

I PLAYED FREEZE-tag for the first time in years this week, but with an improv twist.

We had a new tutor, Michelle Read – and she taught us some short-form improv techniques to get us thinking outside the long-form box.

The concept of freeze tag (the non-running-around-a-playground version) is simple: Two characters act out a quick scene and when one of the other players thinks it should end, they shout ‘Freeze!’ and tag one of the characters – that means they’re out and the new person assumes the exact same posture before beginning a new scene.

03 Believe it or not, I'm removing graffiti from a wall. Source: Tom Maher/Gaiety School of Acting

In another version the two people close their eyes while the other improvisers move their bodies into certain positions – maybe they’re about to get into a fight, or embracing, or one is giving out to the other.

I found this a really fun way to perform. As the name suggests, short-form improv gives you even less time to think of what to say and do than long-from. But, like some previous exercises, by focusing on something else – in this case your posture or the gesture you’re making – ideas often seem easier to come up with.

You’re tagged in and out pretty quickly. Before you know it, you’ve been at a crime scene and a fashion shoot, and helped a woman give birth for good measure.

Another technique we tried was one-word exchanges. The scene was decided by the other improvisers – a video shop (’90s flashback); an ice cream van or a laboratory – as was your activity: Are you painting or reading or stealing something?

I was doing the latter – stealing videos from the shop where I worked. I cannot be trusted and clearly haven’t figured out how to watch films online and/or that DVDs exist.

My partner came in as a customer and we had our one-word exchanges.

I recommend he didn’t watch a tragedy and, after a few shifty movements on my behalf, he revealed himself to be a security guard.

Your words are precious so you choose them wisely. You can say more than you think with these type of conversations.

As our showcase is now less than two weeks away(!), we again turned to montages and were inspired by a single word.

The amount of variety you can get from ‘apple’ or ‘pencil’ is surprising.

No hiding in the corner

Michelle said something in this week’s class that hit home with me. In improv – and day-to-day life – people can be inclined to sit back and try to not grab attention, thinking ‘Someone else will speak first/raise their hand/put themselves out there and I won’t have to’.

I’m guilty of this a lot. This harks back to why I’m doing the class in the first place. I’ve definitely felt my confidence grow week-by-week, but I’m not sure if this will be replicated outside of our improv family bubble.

A common thought process in my head can look a bit like this:

  • Will I say something stupid and/or stumble over my words?
  • Will I freeze in front of other people?
  • Will I spontaneously combust?
  • What happens if I say something so unbelievably stupid someone else spontaneously combusts?

kenny Kenny gets it Source: Screengrab/South Park

All of these things could happen, but they *probably* won’t. I’m trying to adopt an attitude of ‘So what if the words come out wrong, it’s not the worst thing that can happen’. (See previous combustion-related fears.) This is a lot easier said than done, but I’m working on it.

As with many things, I can turn a molehill into a mountain into my mind – all while other people barely noticed that something happened.

A few people have said to me, “Once you’ve done improv, you’ll can do anything’ – public speaking-wise, I’ll hold off on the open-heart surgery for now.

Improv is in the moment and something you can’t really prepare for. That’s scary but also incredibly freeing. You show up and say something, and – more often than not – it works out.

More information on long-form improv classes at the Gaiety School of Acting is available here.

For those of you looking for a video of my exploits, that’ll come at the end of the series.

Read the rest of my improv diary here.

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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