Rule #2 of Improv
In a world of number ones, here comes number two. If the number one rule of improv is to always say “yes, and” then what is the second rule? NO QUESTIONS! What? I SAID NO QUESTIONS!!
In improv, asking questions is the kiss of death. A scene full of questions goes nowhere and puts all of the pressure on the other actor to come up with the funny, the gold, the meat and potatoes of the scene. I like to think of improv as a fine sauce that should be boiled down into a rich gravy. How do we do that? By not asking questions.
Questions take time and lead us in a circle. “What do you want to do today?” “I don’t know, how about you?” They can really kill a scene on stage.
Luckily, the solution is very simple and it happens to be what I like call rule number three: Be specific. Instead of asking a question, the best thing you can do in improv is to label things. Instead of “Look, over there, what’s that?, try “Yonder, on the horizon, a pirate ship is upon us.” This time, I’ve been specific and told my scene partner some crucial information for him to build on. And if that sentence was my first line of the scene, we now have a location and an urgency to deal with.
Instead of saddling my scene partner with the task of coming up with where “over there” is and defining what “that” is, I’ve given him a gift. And just as quickly as that, we’re deep into an interesting scene.
Labeling items and events can be daunting for young actors. It requires taking risks and trusting. Instincts are your friend when it comes to improv. As an acting teacher at Gary Spatz’s The Playground, I always tell my students to trust themselves and never to be afraid of making mistakes.