Physical Theater, Masks and Clowns

photo by illustir from flickr.com
I’ve never really liked clowns. I’ve never really thought they were funny or interesting. As a young improvisor, I sneered at them the same way I sneered at short-form improv and bad sitcoms. I thought I was above it and didn’t even think that there might be something to learn from clowning.

I also remember being confused about Keith Johnstone including so much material about masks in his book on Impro. What could possibly be the value in spending so much time working in masks?

Things started to change a few years ago when one of my friends in New York, a woman whose creative impulses I greatly respected started talking about how the improvisors she knew needed to learn how to use their bodies more. I don’t know what kind of classes she was taking, but she ended up involved in the clown community out there. I was open to the idea that improvisors needed to do more than stand on stage and say clever things, but I didn’t investigate it much at the time.

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10 things improvisors should do besides improvise

Improvisors often go through a stage where they do nothing but improvise. Every night of the week they are going to classes or rehearsals, they are seeing improv shows or performing in ones themselves. This focus on improvisation can lead to great strides in their skill and knowledge of improvisational theater, but it can also insulate them. If our job as artists is to bring the truth of our lives on stage and all we know is the truth we see in other improv shows, we do not have much to offer an audience. To be great we must be seeking out experiences so we have something interesting to share.

Here is a list of things I think improvisors should spend their time doing besides improvising:

  1. Learn to act – some people are actors before they come to improv. Many are not. These days many improvisors start by going to see an improv show and signing up for a class with no prior experience performing. There is nothing wrong with that, but if you don’t have training as an actor and you want to be great, get some. And take opportunities to act, especially in plays, but also in video projects, sketch shows, etc.
  2. Go to the theater – don’t just watch improv shows, get out to the regular theater and watch some plays. You might not think of yourself as a fan of theater. Get out there and see a variety of plays, contemporary plays, classic plays, Shakespeare, original plays and one person shows. You will get some great ideas for characters, situations and techniques to use in your shows. Continue reading “10 things improvisors should do besides improvise”