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You're having a baby, then learning interpretive dance - that's the joy of improv

Our show is now less than a week away.
Mar 12th 2016, 8:00 PM 15,176 8

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

WE HAD OUR last improv class this week, meaning our showcase is now just days away.

The nerves are setting in but everyone is looking forward to the performance. It’s hard to believe that our ten weeks are almost up.

I went along to an improv show at the International Bar in Dublin a couple of days before the class to get some inspiration and/or scare myself.

Live comedy is always fun and I really enjoyed seeing some of the short-form improv games in action. The show kicked off with some audience inspiration in the form of a character – Austin Powers – and a word: ‘egg’.

giphy Source:

The players stood in a row and had to tell a few lines or words of a story connected to Powers and an egg, before the person in charge pointed to another player who had to pick up the story exactly where the other person left off.

If they stumbled or took too long to come up with the next line they were cut out of the game.

It took a while before anyone was knocked out and the speed at which they could come up with plot twists was impressive.

The comedians did several sketches throughout the course of the night, with the audience providing prompts when asked – they chose the genre and settings of scenes while the actors switched characters and accents at breakneck speed.

Improv is second nature to these guys and they made it look very easy and very funny.

Our showcase will be long-form. We’ll get inspired by a single word from the English language at the start of the show and off we go.

In this week’s class we again focused on montages – quick scenes where we edit ourselves.

05 Source: Tom Maher/Gaiety School of Acting

You go from having a baby while waiting for a taxi – “Worst first date ever” – to being in possession of a very mysterious briefcase, and learning interpretive dance.

Our scenes always come back to the same principles:

  • Say ‘Yes and’ or ‘Yes because’ (this doesn’t always need to be out loud but reminds you to agree with the other person on stage and keep adding to what they’re saying, rather than going for a quick joke by disagreeing with them – nothing ends a scene faster);
  • Get on stage and say or do something – whatever happens, happens – just start; 
  • Listen;
  • Try to make your partner look good and they ‘ll do the same for you (in improv you rarely know what you or your partner is about to say – it’s suddenly just out there and you need to react);
  • Don’t try to be funny, keep talking or miming and the funny will come. 

You and I 

In another exercise we tried this week, you had to take turns starting every sentence with ‘I’ while your partner started their sentences with ‘You’ – and vice versa.

The purpose of the game is to highlight that if you feel more comfortable saying ‘I’ a lot you’re probably driving scenes too much and need to let others get their ideas in there too. Alternatively, if you find it easier to say ‘You’ you might be prone to passing the buck and leaving it up to others to decide where the scene goes.

Our tutor comedian Danny Kehoe said that, ideally, we’ll be comfortable in both roles.

He has told us not to worry about the showcase, that we just need to show up and have fun. He reckons we’re ready and he’s an expert so I’ll trust his judgement – even if I’m slightly bricking it.

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.

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Órla Ryan


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