Yes. We ARE making it up as we go! A good improv scene can leave the audience in disbelief - in disbelief that it was really made up on the spot.
The trick is, that just like any other craft or skill, there are fundamental principles that govern a good improv scene or good improv work by any player. These skills can be learned and practiced, just like practicing kicking a soccer ball or swinging a baseball bat. Remember to keep your eye on the ball!
Basic Scene Improv Guidlines
Here is where every scene starts: with an Offer. An offer is anything that adds any kind of information to a scene. It can be the simple, or complex.
A Simple Offer:
"Good morning, Jake."
This quick offer adds 2 simple bits of information. It establishes the fact that it is morning, and that the other character's name is Jake.
A More Complex Offer:
"Doctor Lazarus, thank goodness you've scrubbed in. The patient is open on the table and his new liver has just arrived."
It may not be brilliant, but it's specific. The information paints an instant picture of a hospital O.R. with smocks and scrubs, it implies a relationship between the speaker and the newly labeled doctor, and adds some drama to the scene. It also gives the scene a place to go, although the options are still endless.
Scenes progress as we Add Information. The quality and specificity of the information can determine the richness of the scene.
But how does a player deal with information that is offered by another player? This leads us to...
Comedy Improv is a collaborative art; "acceptance" is the priceless priciple that allows scenes to flow. The concept is very simple: when an Offer is made, the other players must accept the offer that has been given.
Essential, an improv scene is made up of playing the game 'yes and.' This simply means that whatever offer is made to you, it is your responsability to accept that offer (yes), and then add a new piece of specific information (and).
That's it! Accept each offer, and add specific information.
Listen! Listen! Listen!
It sounds so simple, but when people get nervous, they don't listen. They plan their own agenda and force it on the other player.
Relax! Take a breath! Listen to the offers from the other player!
If you don't listen to the offer, there is no way you can accept it. If you're not listening, you may as well be doing improv by yourself.
If you listen, then accept, and make your reaction based upon the offer just given, your scene will flow and people will enjoy doing improvisation with you.
Questions are to be avoided because they don't add information to a scene. They shift responsibility for adding the information to the other players. Of course some questions are ok, but in general they are to be avoided.
PLAYER 1: "What's that over there?"
This question forces the other player to answer, and essentially controls their choices for the next move in the scene.
Here is the same offer, but rephrased as a statement that adds information:
PLAYER1: "Look at that over there! I haven't seen a time machine since 205 A.D."
If you find yourself asking questions, just begin rephrasing it as a statement.
"He who asks questions is a theif."
Have fun! Don't overanalyze everything. Say the first the first thing that comes into your head. It can be easier than you think.
We improvise every day in every conversation we ever have. The only difference is that in an improv scene, you're playing a game and people may be watching you to be entertained.