A Couple of Sweet Little Books
Cassidy is constantly considering becoming a librarian. Every few weeks, she’ll review a different improv book. Get ready to get nerdy.
I read a lot of improv books that I don’t write reviews of because LIFE IS SHORT and I’M A HUMAN.
But, to make sure we’re all still learning and not getting dumb, here are some lovely thoughts from a few books I’ve read recently:
From Do It Now: Essays on Narrative Improv by Parallelogramophonograph
This is a sweet & tiny book written by Austin based team Parallelogramophonograph. I say their name wrong every time I try to say it. Here’s what’s great about them - pretty much everything. They’re the kings of narrative improv. And the book is a good delve into the way they teach their style.
“You always have as much time as you need on stage, and the more confident and at ease you are with yourself, the more willing the audience is to stick with you.”
Yes!!! You. Get. To. Pick. Your. Style. Your team can say “we’re going to play really slow and sit in these scenes tonight” and then you can do it. Even if you feel like the audience isn’t into it at first, you can keep doing it. You’re on stage. You’re in charge. Don’t be a jerk about it, but also live in your power.
“You can’t predict where you’ll find joy. But you can learn to recognize and dwell in it.”
Awesome. Do a scene. Do a show. See what happens. And then keep doing the part you love. Sink into it. We love to watch people loving what they’re doing. No matter how funny they are, people who are hating what they’re doing and judging themselves are horrible to watch on stage. FEEL JOY. THAT’S WHY WE DO THIS.
From Process: An Improviser’s Journey by Mary Scruggs and Michael J. Gellman
This book is pretty wild. I mean, for an improv book. Scruggs was the Head of Education at Second City when she was alive, where Gellman was an Artistic Director before leaving to form Process Theatre in Ontario, so they know what they’re talking about. The book is smart and very different from other improv books - if you’re into the acting side of improv and appreciate slower, more theatrical formats, you’ll like this book. If you don’t, probably not for you. (But why don’t you? That kind of improv is fun. I swear.)
“We walked through imaginary doors and into worlds where every moment had the potential of surprise, and my classmates were fellow adventurers exploring the unknown.”
Oh damn. Why don’t we all treat improv like this? Guys, we get to create worlds and use our brains in ways that most humans never get to. And we get to do it in front of people who pay to watch us do it. What. The. Hell.
“Don’t make it big. Make it strong. You can implode or explode. It just has to be strong. And by strong, I mean important. Important to your character.”
Yes. This saves every scene. You don’t have to yell or weep or kiss someone to show you care (though please know that those things can be really, really fun) - but you have to care. Care quietly sometimes. Care loudly sometimes. Hopefully learn to do both. Take everything personally.
“If you stay in the moment and don’t make stuff up or race ahead of yourselves, you’ll be fine. See, hear, taste, touch, smell. And tell the truth.”
Guys. You never have to invent stuff. You just have to notice it. Okay, you know you’re in a kitchen and you start pouring juice out of a pitcher - cool. What else does that mean? It means there’s a place where the pitcher came from - ooh a fridge! The fridge has a freezer! There’s ice cream in there! Seeing it makes you feel guilty! Oh man your character is on a diet! Look how much you just noticed! Remember your senses. Use them. And stop trying to be clever, for the love of all that is holy. Just speak honestly through the lens of the person you are playing.
This book from Jill Bernard, Minneapolis-based improviser and founding member of HUGE Theater, lives up to its title. It is cute and very, very small. It’s also very weird and full of lots of tiny drawings by the author. It’s sweet and she says things that are important. Also it will make you feel happy.
“IT’S ALWAYS YOUR TURN!! IT’S ALWAYS YOUR TURN!! WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN TO LIVE THIS HALF-LIVED LIFE OF QUIET DESPERATION??? YES, IT’S YOU, IT’S YOU, IT’S ALWAYS BEEN YOU! IT’S ALWAYS YOUR TURN!”
Hell yes. Stop being polite. Take care of yourself. Don’t be a jerk, but please stop waiting for someone to invite you onto the stage. Go out there. It’s your turn.
“Know that you are right. Know that you are good. Know that you knew how to do this when you were six years old, other stuff just got in the way. Play.”
Okay, I am absolutely all in for taking comedy seriously. But also, you should be have fun. Don’t Jimmy Fallon the scenes, but if something is funny to you, it’s okay. It should be. Stop being afraid to have fun.
Now, go read a book.