Why dramatic improv?
Theatre Momentum does dramatic improv. There.
I said it. I've struggled with the best way to describe what we do in
the simplest terms, and I've come to realize, that's it. When people ask
me "why?" or "who is that for?" or "are you not good enough to do
real improv"? - that's when I always have to search for the
words, when I find myself getting defensive about integrity and
vulnerability and realism.
People have come to our shows and said, "that wasn't
funny at all… but it was really good." They have said, "there's
no way that wasn't scripted." When they say that, I don't need to
explain anything. That reaction, that impact- that is why dramatic
Immediacy, Bravery, Vulnerability
I've been doing improv for 25 years of my life. What surprises me
now is not the thousandth time I've hear this specific joke told,
this funny voice done, this silly walk reinvented. I'm
surprised when people are real. When realistic characters react
to other realistic characters with actual emotions, vulnerability, and
honesty. It gives me such joy.
When I teach or direct, I want my actors to act. To take
the time to actually be vulnerable to one another, honest in the moment,
and to play with real relationship stakes. Dramatic improv, done right,
has the opportunity to explore truly unique moments and connect with an
audience on a personal level, beyond just a great, fantastic laugh.
Now, I don't do dramatic improv because no one ever
laughs. Don't misunderstand me. This is part of why I hate telling
people that TM does "dramatic improv", because they're expecting
something with literally no humorous moments, and that simply is untrue.
But, I would say that the laughs that come within dramatic improv are
often richer, more fulfilling laughs, for both audience and actor. When
an audience has been quietly paying attention to your scene for 10
minutes and something strikes them as funny, it's usually because the
previous 10 minutes have set up stakes, emotion, and circumstances that
make that one moment so damned funny. It's a laugh that is well earned,
not just a quick short drunken snort of an audience that appreciates a
well-placed joke about dipping your balls in every chili bowl in the
restaurant (actually happened, actual show, not making that up).
What is there to fear?
Too many of the actors I've worked with over the years have veered
away from dramatic moments, when they arise, and it's almost like you
can hear the gears turning. They can't run away from the consequences of
the moment, if they are truly vulnerable and emotionally engaged, so
they stagger off into familiar territory, and the tired old jokes come
out again. Whenever I direct them back and refocus them on the emotional
moment they were having, truly beautiful scenes happen. But that fear of
failing is different with dramatic improv, much of the time. It's not a
fear of the unknown, of the next line of the scene being something you
didn't expect. That is old hat, after a while, for every improvisor.
It's a fear of actually being vulnerable, of truly acting and not just
doing a trick that the audience is too shy to get up onstage and do
Realism vs. absurdism
In most improv shows I've seen in my life, it's striking to me that
there is an absurd acting style that permeates most of the work. The
actors play caricatures, impressions, and jokey versions of human
beings. Very seldom do I see the acting drift away from that. I've sat
in my rehearsal studio lobby and can hear improvisors two rooms away,
and simply from the cadence of their voices, I know they're doing the
absurd bits. It has a tone. I'd prefer to step away from that tradition
and explore something else.
I would challenge improv actors to actually consider
themselves to be actors. Consider yourself to be a playwright. Craft
your words. Take the time to be emotionally vulnerable to your scene
partner. Don't chase after the laugh. Don't chase the tears, either. Go
where the story takes you, but be honest. Talk like real people.
Improv is writing. Improv is acting. Improv is Theatre.
Artistic Director, Head Instructor
Take a class!
Improv as Theatre explores the dramatic, vulnerable, realistic sides of
New classes start February 13th.
Audition for a show!
TM's newest production, Porch Play, is auditioning soon.
Auditions are January 18th and 22nd.