Impro World Tour

Ramblings and Wonderings of a world of Improvisation



Today in our mini – “Impro Bit” lesson – Commitment.

Wrong ideas will be wrong whether you whisper them or scream them.  The benefit of comtting to what you send out is that you look like a professional.  If you are wrong, you can laugh with the audience.  If you are sucessful, you just look great.

Good ideas, no matter how great they are, won’t appease an audience if you don’t commit to them. Weak ideas presented appologetically can be painful for everyone.


I’m in Trondheim, Norway and just saw a show in a sold out venue.  The level of performing in the five performers was varied.  One person was on stage for the first time, one had performed sporatically over the past year and the other three have done international performances on top of their consistent show schedule for 5 or more years.

There were times I thought an audience member was on stage in a nervous panic only to realize I was watching the newest performer.

She had warmth and vulnerability but she rarely presented her own ideas. She waited for the senior performers to suggest what to do next.  When she did speak, she almost whispered.

It might be easy to blame her for lack of commitment but I felt that an equal amount of the blame rested with the senior performers.  Where their strength came from a commitment to the scenes and the audience, they seemed to ignore their partners on stage.

Improvisation is a team sport…  You should never be alone.  Commitment is easy when you know that you can’t be wrong because your team is there. You can’t damage anything if they are attending to the offers.

Commitment comes in may forms.

– COMMIT TO THE SCENE – don’t jump out and talk about yourself or make jokes. The scene is more fragile than your ego and in weak groups the scene rarely has anyone looking out for it.
– COMMIT TO THE AUDIENCE – If you’ve ever done a show where you have laughed more than the audience or thought the show was better than what the audience experienced, you probably have performed more for your self than the public that have paid their hard earned money to come see you.
– COMMIT TO YOUR PARTNER – Be WITH them.  See them.  Know what they are feeling.  Push them off the edge when they are resting on safe ground and catch them when they are in trouble.

Be with your partner, the audience, the scene and yourself.  That’s a lot to commit to.

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ISABELLA! (an inspiring improviser)



Women in improvisation (and often in life) become the shadows of the men they stand on stage with. Many groups aspire to draw women into their company only to pigeon-hole them into the roles of mothers, daughters, sexual images and princesses. It’s a tired, dark observation and a tedious, slow changing reality.

I’d like you to meet someone. Her name is Isabella.

I met her three days ago and was instantly inspired by her intelligence, humour, ability and strength. Isabella is a dark haired, Italian Improviser who speaks many languages, skilled in character work, literature, poetry and the star of her company. She started when she was 14 and quickly became the co-organizer of her troupe. She has performed for Kings, Queens and politicians as well as kids and people on the street. She is recognized as possibly the BEST improviser you might ever meet.

Here’s her secret.

She is respected and was given opportunity to express herself. AND she expressed herself. And she owned the space where she stood. She embraced all sides of her gender, personality, social background, and being. She did what all good improvisers do. She improvised with vulnerability and strength in balance. She is not a female improviser. She is an improviser in a group of improvisers. She makes no apologies for what she has to offer and no aggressive fight to be more than what she brings to the stage.

Isabella Adreini… died giving birth to a child on the way back to Italy after a show in France.

I met Isabella on Wikipedia while researching an article on commedia dell’arte?Isabella Andreini

Isabella Adreini (1562 – 10 June 1604) was a member of one of the first and most influential Commedia groups –Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi. At 14 she began performances with The Gelosi.   At a time when there were few if any women on stages anywhere in the world, Isabella became a star.

She wrote. She improvised in an art form that didn’t even have it’s formal name until years later. Eventually she ran the company with the man she married.

There are many distinguishing events in her life where she broke the mould of who she should be and became the person she was.

In 1601 she was integrated into the literary society of the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia. She was a published playwright and poet. There was an account of one performance that thrilled the audience with her ability to imitate all the characters in the play including the men, the various languages and dialects and characters. One of the stock characters of commedia dell’arte was fashioned after her portrayal and is known by her name, Isabella.

After her death, the city of Lyon gave her a tribute that was akin to a state funeral. But it was her husband, Francesco Andreini who gave her the highest symbol of honour. So shaken by the death of his Isabella, Francesco announced the immediate end to the company.  A great performer in his own right, Francesco Andreini never performed again. He spent the rest of his days compiling, publishing and promoting Isabella’s written work.

By all accounts Isabella Andreini enjoyed what she did. She was exceptional at it and did it with passion. She helped make her style of Improvisation popular and made women on stage possible.

Pioneers who step from the known world into the unknown, leave this place with more light than the one they were born into. An improviser is always looking for that darkness to shed light on. Where the moth is drawn to the safety of light, good improvisers are pulled by the mystery in the shadows.   Where there is nothing, define.  Where there is little of worth, make it better.  Where there is ignorance, shed light.




A character pulls a weapon and the audience turns to you… What will you do? How will you react?   Your reaction – NOT THE THREAT is the scene. It is the drama that makes us want to watch or turn the channel.

If you’ve ever heard of magician David Blaine, you’ll remember that his first massive impact on the public was with a tv show On May 19, 1997 called “Street Magic”. It wasn’t the magic that made the show, it was the reaction from the audience.  Penn Jilette (Penn and Teller) said:

  “The biggest breakthrough done in our lifetime was David Blaine’s Street Magic, where his idea was to do really simple tricks but to concentrate… to turn the camera around on the people watching instead of the people doing. So to make the audience watch the audience, which that first special Street Magic, is the best TV magic special ever done and really, really does break new ground.”

David Blaine didn’t SELL the trick like most magicians begging us to believe the importance of his work.  He under-stated it with phrases like, “Does this look weird to you?”  He let the audience reaction move us to believe it was totally weird and amazingly amazing.

The reaction tells us the level of importance about the act.  It also informs us.

If you laugh, cry or scream, you supply important information about the scene. You tell the audience who you are and what might happen. Do nothing, and the audience is left outside. If you do nothing and then continue to do nothing, the audience feels that you are part of another tribe that eventually they will lose interest because they can’t relate to someone who they have nothing in common with.

There’s an interesting game that Keith Johnstone sometimes plays with students. Basically he makes you do a scene with a stuffed animal. It’s important that the animal has big, “alive” eyes. The roomate walks in and the stuffed animal is sitting there on the sofa staring forward. The performer speaks to it:

“I know, I know, I promised I wouldn’t go out to the casino anymore but I lost our money…”

What does the audience do? Most of them look towards the stuffed animal.

These aren’t stupid people. They know that the wide eyed, fluffy, blue bear will do absolutely nothing.  Hard wired into our beings is that desire to see what the story is.  And the important part of the story is the REACTION from our partner. You can picture your ancestor waving a stick at a wild beast and watching if the fanged creature shows signs of fear or anger. The story is important. It’s life and death.

React big and the audience reacts big with you. React artificially, out of context of your character  and the audience will pull back. But, as most of us UNDER react, there’s a lot more room for response than you might imagine.

Give something back when an offer has been made. Let your partner know they’ve been heard. Show the audience who you are. Those who argue that the perpetual straight face, immovable, stoicism is dramatic and strong might want to watch any of a number of Hollywood bombs where the hero is impervious to any emotional change. They succeed in defeating the villain and the audience leaves as unmoved as the hero.

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A telephone rings, ANSWER IT!

A vampire bites, REACT TO IT!

A person speaks, LISTEN TO THEM.

The obvious isn’t the easiest.  Watch a show where the performers constantly miss what the audience wants.  They still get a laugh but they miss the oppurtunity for a better story or bigger laugh or other emotion.

The stress that forms in our brain when we feel the expectation of our audience and partners makes us do a number of things:

  1. We doubt that our initial idea is good enough
  2. We look for BIG ideas
  3. We panic and fall back on stereotypes and crutches
  4. We miss the obvious
  5. Thinks just get wierd


What to do?

BE OBVIOUS… Don’t entertain for a couple of seconds and just look around, listen and know that you aren’t responsible for this moment.  Someone else will take up the slack. Believe it or not… giving up a little bit will help the audience connect to you better.  It’s the audience who gladly takes up the slack as they observe (like good improvisers) what the scene is all about and what the individuals are offering.  Be at least as good as the audience.

Trying to be BETTER than the audience actually makes you worse.  If you could see just like them, you could give them what they want and then you would be good enough.  And then… you would be good.


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Controlled Folly


I remember a writer, Carlos Castaneda, wrote something interesting about a topic: CONTROLLED FOLLY.  He wrote lots of interesting things.  This one interested me.

Consider that the scene you are in and the life you lead is like a movie.  With movies, (good movies) you are wrapped in the complete experience.  You jump with fear at the Zombies, your tears fall when the lovers die, you laugh when the guy walks naked from his bedroom into his surprise party with his family and close friends… unless it’s happened to you.

With a movie, you know that this is only real in an imaginary sense.  You know that in 93 minutes, the story will end.  You may even know the ending.

Why do you feel the emotion?  Colombia joy

You choose to.

We want to feel something.  It’s a more enjoyable way to live.  Given the choice to FEEL something or go like cardboard through a grey life, I would choose the “something”.

The problem comes when YOU become the fear and sadness and lose perspective.  When you won’t let the movie end and you hold onto that emotion because you accept the emotion as you, you lose true connection to the world.

There is little difference with the experience and emotion of a movie and the experience and emotions in life and on stage.

You have the choice to react to nothing and feel no emotion.  The safety you live by will be rewarded in an unexceptional experience for you and the audience.

On stage, if you choose the emotion strong and commit to it, the audience will thank you  by feeling a piece of what you feel.  (more-so if you feel it as close to honesty as you can).  But keep perspective.  See the story.  See your partner.  Don’t lose the path because you have become the rage, the confusion, the love.

And, when the scene is done, failure or success, let it go an move on to the next moment fully.  You aren’t the success.  You aren’t the failure.  Leave that behind and be the moment now.

You control it.  Whether you choose to BE it 100% for the moment or not is up to you. Whether you choose to disengage is your choice too.

Here’s a little quote from Castaneda:

You should know by now that a man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting, nor by thinking about what he will think when he has finished acting. 

A man of knowledge chooses a path with heart and follows it; and then he looks and rejoices and laughs; and then he sees and he knows.  …he knows, because he sees, that nothing is more important than anything else. 

Thus a man of knowledge …is just like any ordinary man, except that the folly of his life is under control. 

Nothing being more important than anything else, a man of knowledge chooses any act, and acts it out as if it matters to him.  His controlled folly makes him say that what he does matters and makes him act as if it did, and yet he knows that it doesn’t; so when he fulfills his acts he retreats in peace, and whether his acts were good or bad, or worked or didn’t, is in no way part of his concern.  ‘

Carlos Castaneda (1931 -)

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