In the old days, one of the cool jobs I was lucky enough to fall into was teaching drama at a junior high. We had a great time. One of the things we did was improvise scenes.
It was easy – we’d put two or three kids on the floor, give them a first line (something like “What do I do now?” or “Why, tell me why you had to do that!” or “You’re not the person I thought you were!” or something), and then say “Go!”
Then their job – everybody else’s – was to carry the scene forward with whatever came up. No rules (junior high kids LOVE that), no script, with a wide-open road as to where things might go. Usually it was fun – sometimes really funny (usually unintentionally), sometimes emotional, sometimes as mixed up as life. The part we were looking for: When you’re off-script, it’s a little scary, but often honest.
Every so often, we’d get it going, maybe with saying, “What do I do now?” and…the kid would respond with, “I don’t know.” Then the first person would say, “OK,” and we’d be done. So then we’d use the same people and start it with, “Wow, you look funny!” and they might respond, “Oh, OK. Thanks for telling me.” And we were done.
We really didn’t want things to die there.
So then we had to make some rules for this no-rule lesson plan. Frankly, I don’t remember them, ’cause I used to, well, improvise. But I heard that Tina Fey (in this article) has these as her Improv Rules:
The Rules of Improvisation
Say Yes, AND…
After the “and” add new information.
Focus on the Here and Now.
Establish the location.
Be Specific, provide details.
Now that changes things. That makes you want to stay in the conversation, and see how it turns out. Part of improv comedy’s genius is the ability, even necessity, to say, “Yes! And…” even in the face of the strangest things. In real life, we just end the conversation & walk on.
Wait. Maybe we don’t have to create a “real life” like that. The more I think about it, I like the Rules of Improv. Good way to wrestle with the stuff that comes our way.
I have an early night, so I think maybe you & I will visit about this some more. Because that’s the way you are…I say something, and no matter what, you agree, so that you can say “Yes! And…” (not “Yes! But…”) and we take it from there. And that’s why it’s fun talking to you. I love it.
Love you & the way we make all this up, together.
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