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We're halfway through and seeking guidance from the Karate Kid

This week we’re getting more physical and thinking less.

Image: IMDb

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

WE’RE HALFWAY THROUGH our improv classes at this point and everyone is really starting to come out of themselves.

There was a moment in this week’s class where I thought ‘I’m getting it’ – the first time I’ve felt relatively confident about my scenes.

I think the reason everyone seemed in form was because we didn’t have time to overthink. The scenes got faster and faster as the class moved along.

You had to go on stage (well, stand in the bit of the room that everyone was looking at), say or do something and then leave.

I over-analyse EVERYTHING – in life, not just improv. ‘Why did I say that? Why didn’t I say that? God, I looked so stupid there.’ In reality, I probably didn’t (most of the time).

At the start of the class I was chatting to another one of the participants about this kind of attitude.

We both agreed that everyone is pretty focused on what they’re doing and how they’re coming across. They’re more than likely too busy thinking about that to have spare time to analyse my impersonation of a nervous Tarzan. (Also, that was spot on and could not possibly be critiqued in any way. *coughs*)

I’ve found that so much of improv is about letting go and having a ‘f*ck it’ attitude. So what if I say something stupid? What if I say something funny? What if we all just have fun?

Our teacher Danny Kehoe keeps emphasising the ‘don’t try to be funny, just be’ mantra.

I’ve found the last two class particularly helpful in terms of trying to find characters for scenes.

10 I call this look 'walking in imaginary vomit' chic. Source: Tom Maher/Gaiety School of Acting

We’ve used a few different techniques in this regard. Last week, I mentioned how we had scenes where the two characters involved wanted something from each other but couldn’t directly say what it was. This led to some great interactions again this week.

Maybe the character wants to sabotage the other person’s relationship or just borrow their trousers, who knows.

By focusing on what you want rather than what to say you suddenly seem to have way more options for dialogue. Narrowing in somehow gives you more space creatively.

Let’s get physical 

Another tactic we used was allowing a physical action to dictate our mood in a scene.

Again we’d have two players in this scenario. One would turn around while the other person entered doing something physical – maybe they were clearly annoyed or had their head in their phone or were, em, walking backwards.

They would then return to their starting position. At this point the first person had to enter in an emotional state – delighted, angry, whatever.

The second person would then re-enter in the exact same way they originally did. It didn’t matter what the other person said or did, they were still annoyed or had their head in their phone or were walking backwards.

This led to some really interesting scenes. The one with the guy walking backwards turned into a really funny skit about a teacher meeting a parent whose child has trouble making eye contact. Turns out the issue was hereditary.

It was random and fun and never would have happened if the scene wasn’t influenced by a physical action.

In other scenes, people based characters on sounds: we had sex kittens, and people who were bored or confident or shy.

When you’re in a scene you constantly surprise yourself – usually in a good way.

Source: TelecomSlayerDOTcom/YouTube

At the start of this week’s class, Danny made a reference to the Karate Kid. He said we may not see the point of all the exercises we do at the time, but after a while we’ll start to get it.

He compared learning improv to driving in the dark*, you just keep going and eventually the light turns on.

I’m starting to see where we’re headed.

*the literal version of this is not recommended

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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