Book Review: Behind the Scenes – Improvising Long Form

Cassidy is constantly considering becoming a librarian. Every few weeks, she’ll review a different improv book. Get ready to get nerdy.

What book?

Behind the Scenes: Improvising Long Form
by Mick Napier

What did I think in general?

This is the founder of the Annoyance TheatreMick Napier’s, second book – a follow-up to Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out. (Which is the last book I wrote a review of, just in case you thought I got ahead of myself.) Where his first book really focused on scene work, this book gets much deeper into longform shows and how to make the overall show work. He goes over very specific parts of a show and provides some solid exercises for how your team can work on the show itself. He also focuses on how to get yourself out of ruts – whether it’s hanging back (“the more you wait in improvisation, the more you wait”) or just feeling fear (“the more importance you place on an improvisational experience, the less likely you are to play”). All of it is damn good. Maybe a little wordy, but damn good.

Also, this great thought: “It’s all about committing and constantly reinvesting in your scene.” There. That’s all you have to do. Pay attention to what’s happening and constantly reinvest in it. If we all just did that, we’d be perfect improvisers.

What’s my favorite part of the book?

I love how seriously Napier takes very specific parts of a show. (If you’ve ever heard how in-depth my theory of what shoes are acceptable to wear on stage is, you’ll understand how much I appreciate this.) He has whole chapters on getting suggestions, what to do when you’re offstage during a show, just on editing. Nerd city. (In a cool way.) (Right? Guys?)

I also respect the hell out of his take on improv, and I think a huge part of that is because we have very different personal styles. He describes his ideal show as one that “welcomed puns and non-sequitur, and I could take off my clothes.” What Napier just described is actually my personal hell (or would be if you also added a lot of audience participation) – and I think it’s so rad that we can have such different personal styles and such similar philosophies. We’re all the same underneath, guys. But I think it really shows that whatever kind of show you’re doing, it all comes down to commitment and investing in your scenes.

Who would this book be most helpful for?

This book is different from a lot of other improv books, in that it’s specifically aimed at people who already know what they’re doing. If you’re an improviser who is starting to think more about “the show” than “the scene”, this book is a great tool for you. If you’re an emcee or a person who wants to be a leader on your team or a better team player, just go ahead and buy this.

This is so specific, but man, Napier has great advice for the top of the show. What should we be doing as emcees or as the person on the team who introduces the show? Napier says that when talking to the audience at the beginning of the show, he thinks, “To the best of my abilities, I am going to thoroughly describe what is going to happen so that the audience actually understands it. I don’t want to be condescending, but I am going to make it important to myself that I explain it.” What should we be doing as performers in our openings? Napier discusses the point of the opening – not just getting ideas but also entertaining the audience. (Thank you!) His breakdown of what to do in an opening is perfect – “attend to the audience suggestion, create a pattern, declare the pace, and do it with performance energy.” Bam. There it is.

Finally, a great thought from the book:

“Improvisation is an art form that invites us to say or do anything we want. Why not accept it as an invitation for personal growth as an actor and an improviser?”