Cassidy Russell – a member of our Mainstage Team as well as Botox or Bangs, Rufio, and Taylor & Cassidy – is constantly considering becoming a librarian. Every few weeks, she’ll review a different improv book. Get ready to get nerdy.
Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out
by Mick Napier
What did I think in general?
This book is sort of a mix of terrifying and refreshing. The author, Mick Napier (founder of Chicago’s – and more recently New York’s – Annoyance Theatre), is all about throwing the “rules” (don’t ask questions, who/what/where, etc) out the window. As in never learning them at all. The first chapter of the book focuses on the equation “Adherence to The Rules does not equal a good scene. Thinking about The Rules can equal a bad scene. The Rules of improv are irrelevant to good improv.” As someone who has been doing improv for a long time, all I can think is “Thank God! Finally! Yes!” As someone who often teaches Level One classes, all I can think is “Wait! How? Help!” – but that may be just my cross to bear. Here’s what I do believe about “the rules”: focusing too much on them will absolutely freeze you in a scene. Here’s what I’m working on figuring out: how to teach improv without them. Humanity!
There are some amazing parts of this book (a whole chapter of exercise you can do alone at home to get better!!) and some really weird parts (a whole chapter about the second law of thermodynamics!!). It’s easy to read and the author often talks about things like the importance of the “quality of funny” rather than the quantity, which makes me want to kiss him right on the mouth.
What’s my favorite part of the book?
If I were to sum up the greater part of my improv philosophy, it would essentially be the one page section of this book called “Take care of yourself first.” We always hear about “taking care of our partner” and “making our partner look good”, but what does that mean? The pitfall with thinking so much about your partner is that we are all so damn polite! Napier suggests that the best way to take care of your partner is to make bold choices and be powerful – thereby giving your partner gifts and removing their need to take care of you. It doesn’t mean being a jerk! Or trying to say the who/what/where before the other person can! It just means playing with power. I often jokingly refer to this as the Ayn Rand style of improv, but guys, I believe in it 100%. Napier writes, “when my fellow player selfishly makes a choice, any choice, at the top of the scene, I feel very supported. I feel supported because now I’m on stage with a powerful, playful person who isn’t afraid to take a chance. I’m on stage with a fearless individual, and not someone in her head, rendered speechless by fear, and waiting for me to do something.” Amen.
Who would this book be most helpful for?
In the preface to the book, Napier writes “this book is for those that have a desire to improvise scenes better. I truly hope it helps.” And I truly think it does. It covers everything from specific tips – in scenes with more than two people, think same rather than different – to general views about having your character care about things (yes!). If you’re newer to improv, so much of this will be helpful to get you out of your head and into a scene. If you’ve been doing this for a while, there’s a whole chapter about how to change things up and continue improving as an advanced improviser. Score.
Plus, everyone, please read the whole section on “the perfect actor” and do all of it. (Shower! Show up on time! Don’t give notes to fellow actors unless they ask for them!). Seriously.
Finally, a great thought from the book:
“For God’s sake, do something. Anything. Something. At the top of an improv scene, do something. Please, do it for yourself. Do yourself a favor and just do something . . . It will snap you out of your head. And that’s half the battle. It will allow you to make a choice out of power as opposed to fear.”