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'One minute you're a drug dealer, then a ballerina'

Here’s how my second class went.

shutterstock_327439940 This is not me. Source: Shutterstock/Master1305

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

IT DOESN’T HAVE to be something good, it just has to be something.

That’s the advice of comedian and improviser Sharon Mannion, who’s currently teaching me and 16 other brave souls long-form improvisation.

You want to bring something good and funny to the table, but have relatively little control over what will happen in a scene. You need to show up and say something – whatever that is.

When you’re doing improv, especially if you’re new to it, you can go into a scene with too fixed an idea of what you want to happen.

‘Oh, I have something really funny to say about walking a dog. It will be hilarious.’

That kind of thought process is natural. You want to be somewhat prepared for giving a performance, be it for two minutes or half an hour.

But that’s the thing with improv, you have literally no idea what the other person on stage with you will say.

During the week I went to my second improv class. For one of the exercises we performed scenes with a partner on the spot.

I pretended to be a person switching channels on a TV remote, but my partner thought I trying to unlock a door (I clearly need to work on my hand gestures).

shutterstock_243577255 Source: Shutterstock/Goran Bogicevic

So, as soon as he mentioned a door, a door was there. The scene flipped backwards and forwards several times. Whenever I thought it was going one way, he’d throw a curveball (he probably thought the same thing about me). Suddenly we were talking about drills and wheatgrass, as you do.

At the start of the scene, I thought we might be husband and wife but he was thinking more along the lines of stalker/stalkee.

Dissecting the scenes 

After each scene, with Sharon’s guidance, we dissected what we had just performed or watched.

Sharon stressed the importance of establishing character early on in the scene. For example, if you’re two sisters who’ve lived together for 40 years you can probably have a deeper conversation than two strangers waiting for a bus.

She also told us not to rush for something to happen. In short-form improv you can cram a wedding and a shooting – to name two things – into a three-minute scene.

However, with long-form improv you have much more time to built up to something dramatic.

shutterstock_161639954 Source: Shutterstock/Photographee.eu

In terms of being funny, we were again told to try not to do this. You have a conversation – so far primarily bizarre ones – and just see what happens. You try to make your partner look good and they do the same for you.

While you shouldn’t have given too much thought to the content of the scene, you can have a pretty good idea of your character. Are they angry? Happy? Cool? Nervous? Just plain odd?

One of the main things I’ve taken from the class is to just let go.

As Sharon puts it, you might think you’re a drug dealer but then someone refers to you as a ballerina. So you’re a ballerina now.

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

Read: Will learning improv cure my fear of public speaking? Let’s find out

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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