Last week, I went on a walk with my husband, Blade. He is not an improviser, but has been to countless shows, because he is supportive and lovely.
On our walk, I was brainstorming exercises that would help players I’d be guest-coaching that night produce natural, grounded scenes.
Blade, speaking more loudly than usual, said, “We’ve been married, what, two years? A little more than that?”
Blade said, “And now we live in this new neighborhood, because we moved into a house not long ago.”
What are you doing?
Blade said, “I’m holding your hand, because I love you!”
Blade’s voice returned to its normal tone. “I’m being an improviser.” He was quite pleased with himself.
He clarified that he wasn’t trying to be a good improviser. He was being a beginning improviser who is trying to establish the who-what-when-where-why of the scene rather than living in the scene.
But that’s what we do when we panic, right? An edit has spit us out on stage, and we don’t know what’s going on, so we rush to clarify everything as fast as we can? With lots of words? “It’s so good to be working here, boss, at my job in this nonprofit office, which you manage, and where I am an underpaid grant proposal writer.”
No one talks that way. It sounds newly human and strangely literal.
I wish I could find a clip of just that scene without awful music behind it, but you get the idea. Anya from Buffy the Vampire Slayer hasn’t been human for very long, so she is not always convincing. She’s all text, no subtext. Most people aren’t like that. So why are so many improv characters like that?
I think the reason we do this in improv is because we know we’re supposed to be humans. In real life, humans just know who we are, where we are, why we’re doing what we’re doing, and who the people around us are to us. Maybe not always on an existential level, but on a basic level. We don’t talk much about it. We just know.