Quotes: Arthur C. Clarke

“How much of this, Jan wondered, had Karellen planned, and how much was masterful improvisation?”

– Arthur C. Clarke, “Childhood’s End”

When it goes well, we’re all Karellen and the audience is Jan.

When it goes really well, Karellen himself starts to wonder.

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Quotes: Robert Jordan II

“It was easier to be brave, he discovered, when someone needed your protection.”

— Robert Jordan, “The Eye of the World”

Part of how improv brings those low on self-confidence out of themselves, in the moment, is by placing them on stage, in crisis, in a situation where they need to help take care of another person who is counting on them.

Like the petite Mom who lifts a car off of her daughter’s leg, the shy, hiding person suddenly stands up tall, projects his voice, and embodies the world’s most flamboyant mad scientist. He would never do it alone, on his own behalf — but he’ll do it when it’s what his comrade, and their shared project, needs.

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Improv is crisis. That’s its power. That’s its allure. That’s its addictive drug and its steroid.

Once you’ve signed up to do an improv show, you now know, for a fact, that on a specific Tuesday night, three weeks from now, at 7:05pm, you are going to deliberately step right into an absolute crisis. You’re going to be on stage. In front of a crowd of people. With absolutely nothing prepared.

I’m the type who has trouble with a blank piece of paper and an unlimited time to write something on it. For years I was terrible at handing in school reports on time.

Give me that same piece of paper and ten minutes to fill it, and I will. Make it five minutes and I’ll do even better. Throughout those same years, I was superb at taking tests.

Crisis eliminates the option of thinking about your next move forever until you give up, never to finish. In crisis, failure to act is itself an action.

If you don’t dodge left or right as a boulder rolls towards you, you have indeed made a decision.

The beauty of the crisis that is improv is that all decisions can lead to awesome. Including the decision to stand still and let the boulder flatten you.

In fact, that’s often the best one.

I’m best in crisis. Better than in non-crisis. In improv, that’s an asset. I bet most EMTs would make excellent improvisers.

Quotes: Robert Jordan

“Sheepherder! You talk, when you should be listening.”

       – Robert Jordan, “The Wheel of Time”

Analogy Friday*: Salt

This guy's prepping for his show the wrong way.

We've all been this guy.

Add-ons — tag-outs, walk-ons, entrances, sound support from the sides, etc. — are absolutely like salt. A tiny amount of it added to your show can enhance it and make it that much better. But add too much and you ruin the whole thing, and you can’t undo it.

You’ve oversalted your food at least once, right?

You’ve seen dozens of oversalted shows.

Post-show, on a bad night.

The stage after a tag-happy set.

*this analogy didn’t originate with me; I heard it second-hand. It bears repeating. If you know who coined it, please let me know.

Analogy Friday? Cliffs.

Improv ultimately should be an endless series of throwing yourself off of a cliff without looking to see what’s there, and finding every time that your teammates and scene partners have leapt off after you and formed the safety net you need in midair around you. And none of it would happen if you didn’t all throw yourselves off the cliff.

About to get a suggestion.


(demographically, it’s often more like this:

no denying it)

Analogy Friday: Skills Fingers

overkill - produces crude results

Your improv skills are like your fingers. You have  lot of them, but not many jobs call for using all of them at once.

And whipping out too many of them at once gives bad results.

Analogy Friday: Accents are Nuts

Just as delicious without the ones that fell

Character accents in a scene are like nuts sprinkled on the top of an ice cream sundae. They’re wonderful to have there, and can really enhance the whole thing, but they’re rarely what the thing itself is about — and if you drop them by accident, don’t waste your time trying to pick them back up or making a big apology-production of the fact that you dropped them. Keep eating the sundae.

And there is limited-to-zero value in being an ass and pointing it out if your companion dropped theirs.

Analogy Friday: Dialog & a Hammer

there are so many more tools at your disposal than your words

Approaching the next moment of your scene by trying to think of what to say next is like rolling a giant contractor’s tool chest up to a collapsed house, opening it, and then only taking out the hammer.

Friends and Enemies

Wherein we damn politeness and name names. These are (some of) the friends and enemies of good improv:

Your Best Friends:

Looking like a fool
Playing a villain
Playing a hero
Letting the moment breathe
Chilling out (as the improviser) and letting your character freak out

Your Enemies:

Freaking out (as the improviser) and making your character calm down
Looking Cool
Being Cool
Protecting your character from harm
Protecting your character from losing
Protecting your character’s feelings
Never shutting up
Characters without ambition
Characters without wants
Characters without names

Embrace your friends. Eradicate your enemies.