It was the only thing I could say at that point. So I threw up my arms and cut my losses. What happened next surprised me:
There was a round of thunderous applause!
It’s a nice feeling not being able to fail.
I was confused at first; though it sure did feel liberating. I goofed up. Yet people were cheering me for it?! I guess I could get used to that. As I would learn, to free your mind, to open your arms and embrace risk-taking, and to really “put yourself out there” we were being taught a lesson in positive reinforcement. Yes. Yes. Yes. Those are the words that move an improv story forward. Blocks? Not so good.
In this special episode of Stark Insider TV I explore the mysterious, magical world of improv. We’ been covering theater around San Francisco since 2009, but we had yet to go script free. I admit, I was nervous as I headed to BATS Improv at the Fort Mason Center. The idea is that the cast would take me–and my complete lack of stage experience–and teach me how to perform improv. Soon enough I found myself rolling on the floor, pretending to be a tree, and even speaking as a sex expert on a talk show. It’s all (painfully) now available for all the world to see in the video below.
Here’s a few of the games seen in this Stark Insider TV segment with the cast of BATS Improv. These acting techniques and exercises are designed to open your mind, get you comfortable expressing yourself, and to help build trust with your teammates.
The Clown Bow, or, I failed
Everyone stands in a circle. Each actor takes a turn throwing up their arms in great joy and declaring loudly “I’ve failed!”. The rest of the group cheers and claps loudly in support.
The first person starts by asking someone to name three things – it could be three things they’d find in their pocket, or three types of hairstyles, or three things in the back of a car. The actor has to quickly name three things. Rapid fire. Then they ask the person to the left to name three things. And on it goes.
I am a Tree
This a great introductory game, where, as BATS actor Jenny Rosen says, “we move your body before you even know what going to come out of your mouth.” It starts with someone saying, “I am a tree.” The actor creates a tree however they want to (“There’s no wrong way!”). Someone else–we don’t know who–is going to come up and say “I am a …” and fill in the blank.
Here’s another fun one. It works with two, three or more actors. Each work as a team to respond to a question, and to make conversation by using only one word. Each actor takes a turn saying only one word in an effort to string together thoughts, and sentences. (in the video below, I’m one of three actors acting as a subject matter expert on a sex talk show!)
What happens when you have no script, and you’re facing audience awaiting your every word, ready for you to make them laugh?
The cast of BATS Improv answer that question every weekend. Themes guide the evening. Last year the troupe staged murder mysteries. Now they’re right on point, and giving a Downton Abbey spin to the shows. Ultimately, though, everything is made up on the fly. The laughs are real, spontaneous. So are the awkward moments. This is what makes live theater such a treat – it’s a potpourri of the unexpected.
“Improv is like radical cooperation. People coming together to tell a story.”
We might not all think quickly on our feet. But I learned that these acting games and improv techniques can help you overcome innate roadblocks that prevent us from true and open expression. You might surprise yourself!
So how did I fare as an improv player?
There’s only one way to find out. Roll the tape…
My eternal gratitude and thanks to Kasey Klemm, Kimberly MacLean, Jenny Rosen, and Jason Leal for entertaining my dream to be an improv actor for an evening.