The One Rule About Rules

Rules are to be broken. End transmission.

But, no, seriously. Rules are there to serve us. We are not there to serve them. So when we get to that place where we feel our creativity being stifled by those rules, that means we need to change them.

That’s how we play. We make the games our own. Like Calvinball.

That’s the philosophy that I try to instill when I run warm-ups. Exercises should be about pushing the rules until they break more than getting them right. Then when they go off the tracks a little, we work as a group to get it back on track. Developing this skill of course correction as a group is so much more important than learning how to properly play Bunny Bunny.

For some (I get it) this feels counter-intuitive. We don’t want chaos, we want collaboration and if we don’t have rules that we’re all playing under, then there’s that danger of chaos. However, I think that when one person creatively breaks a rule, it actually gives permission to the group to play more.

By “creatively”, I don’t mean intellectually, as in finding a really clever twist. I mean they see something else that is happening outside of the rules that is fun and wants attention. Maybe that Clap Game gets so caught up in the rhythm that it devolves into a hoedown before heading back to the Clap Game. Maybe Zip Zap Zop turns into more of a paintball game kind of feel. Maybe Word At A Time story accidentally becomes Two Words At A Time, which gives permission for Five Words At A Time.

If it ever gets too crazy, you can course correct. One way is by returning to those familiar rules again.

It can get overwhelming when we look at our scenework based on all the rules that we’re supposed to follow: avoid questions, look for where to change, maintain that point of view, don’t walk through that imaginary table in the middle of the stage. I mean, yes, we want to do our best in all the aspects of improv. That’s not why we’re doing the scene.

We don’t want to turn our improv into a plate-spinning act. We want to have fun. We want what we’re doing to be an invitation to the rest of the improvisers on stage to have fun too. When we take away the rigidity of the rules, even creatively break them, we do that. We play.

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