Having taught for as long as I have, I’ve seen how improv attracts all types. And those types fall into groups, those groups into patterns. One thing I’ve noticed are certain tendencies among my older students that gets in the way of their playing.
Stop trying to “keep up”. Stop thinking this is a young person’s game. This is a fun-loving person’s game. You are fun-loving. That’s why you signed up for improv. The boring people may check the webpages, but they never sign up. You did. So bring more of yourself into your scenes, more of what makes you fun.
You don’t need to know shit about Pokemon, SnapChat, Taylor Swift or any of the other references improvisers are making in scenes with you. You just have to respond to them, but not from a place of “not knowing anything about that.” That won’t empower you. If you know what they are generally (it’s a game, a phone app, a singer), then speak generally on that theme. Even if you know nothing about the reference, you can still connect to it on your own terms.
“Pokemon sounds like the new fusion restaurant that opened downtown.”
“I can’t SnapChat right now. I have to SnapGo to SnapWork.”
“I used to be in love with someone named Taylor.”
Don’t let them keep making you the parent/grandparent. You want to play the romantic lead every once in a while. You want to play the bumbling intern, the mischievous child, the brave explorer. Furthermore, you’re entitled to it. That’s one of the great things about improv, how we don’t have to adhere to our real world attributes. We can play whatever gender, size, and age we want. So, if you keep getting labeled in a parental role, say something. Don’t be mean about it though. Realize that it’s usually the other improviser’s fear that is making them rush to label you on the most superficial information, just to nail something down.
Don’t be intimidated by how young your improv teacher is. The older you get, the better chance of your teachers being younger than you, sometimes considerably younger. But improv isn’t technology. Meaning, there haven’t been these huge advances in the artform that you are behind on because of your age.
Ultimately, teachers look to learn from you as much as they are teaching you. They want to see what lurks inside your brain. Share it with them. Don’t worry if it’s something “no one else in the room will be familiar with” or will understand or whatever. As a teacher, I want to see you have fun. I want to see you be creative. I don’t want to put any parameters on that. Tap into what makes you YOU.
Take care of yourself physically. You are not a bad improviser if you don’t go along with the physicality of the scene. Let me share something with you: at my age, I’m not getting on the floor anymore. It just isn’t that easy for me to get back up. I don’t care if we’re in a foxhole during World War II and it makes sense that everyone is on the floor. I’ll be the guy standing in the foxhole in danger of being shot. That sounds like fun. Remember, you can make choices that are a variation of what you see going on, especially if you need that variation to spare your knees, back, etc.
Improv is 90% casting. That’s because the uniqueness of every show comes from the uniqueness of the players and what inspires each of them. So the more you bring yourself into the show, the more the show benefits.
Written by Asaf Ronen
Education Director, The Institution Theater