Some tips for improv teams staying together.
1 - Get a coach. Have someone watch your rehearsal runs, they don't have to teach. Getting honest notes from an unbiased opinion forces you to think about how you're communicating to the audience. You want to get genuine laughs, not just entertain your teammates with in-jokes.
There are loads of experienced improv coaches in the UK who can really make a difference to your team, and who charge very little.
Even the most mediocre improv teacher can be the best audience member, and their opinions matter. They can find things you won’t be able to spot while you’re busy exploring your scene.
2 - Get the keen beans! Some teams put on auditions to get new people in their group. Spending too much time looking for the ‘right’ person can be risky, and may cause arguments. Go for players who genuinely want to be in the team, and they seem like decent folk. They might not be as experienced as others, but they make up for it in effort. These players usually end up improving way quicker.
3 - Spread out the work. It’s not healthy to have one person do everything for the group. Marketing, bookings, ticket sales, tech, it’s not a one person job, even if they’ve self-proclaimed themselves to be in charge of the group. Spread that shit out, be involved. You’re not showing up to perform, that’s what guests do. You’re in a team. Work as a team, on stage and off.
4 - Stop improvising all the time! Go out. Do something together. Get a drink at the pub. Have a movie night. You shouldn’t have to be funny 24/7, give yourself a break. Too much improv is a problem, believe it or not. Have the time to relax, get to know each other outside of improv too.
5 - Warm ups. Do your warm ups before every rehearsal and show. Don’t ever assume you don’t need to warm up any more. Ego’s don’t survive in improv teams.
6 - Don’t feel pressured. If you really aren't feeling the group, If you would rather spend more time in another team, If you’re constantly missing rehearsals, If you want to give improv up for a while, You have the right to leave. You’re not letting anyone down. Improv comes second to your life. Teams only work if the players all want to be there, and there’s no shame in taking time off.
7 - Stick to your format. Commit to the format/structure that you’re doing. Keep doing it until you remember all the beats. Continue doing it until your shows become consistently good. Continue doing it until it becomes second nature to you. Continue doing it until you get bored of it! Only then decide as a group what format you want to do next.
Don’t assume you’ve mastered the format after five shows.
8 - Money isn't everything. You’re not going to make good money doing this. Don’t start a team for the financial rewards, it’s a fool's errand! Do it because you love the show, you love your teammates, and you love the experience.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim for money, if you want to make a monthly night and charge audiences, that’s great, but that money will most likely go to rehearsals, paying other guests/teams, and marketing.
9 - Watch other teams. If you’re at an improv night, do stick around and make an effort to watch the other teams. Maybe you might think they’re not very good, or it’s not your style; don’t be a dick, stick around and support. It’s good to watch other improv teams, see how they’re doing things differently, apply it to your team or your personal style, and talk to your teammates about it. At the end of the day, everyone's here to support the art form, so the least you can do is give them a clap at the end of their set.
10 - Look after each other. It can be the worst feeling in the world when you screw up in a scene. You feel like you’re letting your teammates down, you’re letting the audience down. It sucks. Make sure you’ve got each other's backs. If someones feeling really down after a show, know how to help them. Take them to one side and talk about it, encourage them to continue, talk about the good bits, or if they need space, give them space. Don’t alienate them by ignoring it. Support each other in the best and worst of times.
I’ve recently had a few students say how much they dislike the warm up game Zip Zap Zop. I was a bit confused. This harmless warm up? What’s wrong with it?
I get it though, it’s a pretty simple game with no real challenge and it’s not particularly fun.
Everyone in a circle, players pass a single clap to one another saying “zip”, “zap”, then “zop” continuously in that order, over and over again. Sounds super simple. And boring, now that I read it.
Warm ups are designed to literally warm up a part of your body before getting into the exercise and/or scenes of the listen. It’s a nice introduction to a class, and it can help shake off those pre-class nerves.
If we understand what Zip Zap Zop is designed for, maybe we can understand what it’s helping us to do, and maybe we can even start to enjoy it.
In his book ‘How To Be The Greatest Improviser In The World’, Will Hines explains that Zip Zap Zop is not being played properly. The whole point of ZZZ is to concentrate, so it’s strange to accept someone genuinely getting confused when a Zip, Zap, Zop lands on them, explains Hines.
He’s right. Triple Z is not supposed to be a fun warm up, it’s supposed to help you concentrate, keep your mind focused on one goal. This might seem like a boring place to start an improv class but the truth is it can make you think about the necessities of an improv scene. Concentration can lead to listening hard to your partner, group mind is encouraged for group games, the speed in which you play can help you react quicker, and most importantly it put you in ‘the now’, right now in the moment.
I’ve come up with a four step plan on how to play with the Z triplets. If you’re ever bored with one way of playing, or you think you’ve mastered it, go to the next step. Chances are if you’re someone who doesn’t like this warm up, you’ve probably outgrown it.
Step one: Being in the moment. The simplest way of playing it, at your own time and pace, you’re being aware, you’re looking, you’re waiting, you’re ready.
Step two: Speed. Exactly the same way but the group slowly starts to build up speed. Keep the speed going, if it gets faster, you get faster. See how quickly you can all go! If someone slows down the pace, no worries, start from the beginning, start slow again and build up.
Step three: Listening. Someone in the circle can change the meaning of one of them zeezee’s. Zip, zap, zop, zip, zap, banana, zip, zap, banana. Once the change has been made, it becomes permanent. Listen to each other, play off the change, support it. You can change the word as many times as you want, but maybe give yourselves some time between the next change so you can get used to the first change.
Step four: Group mind. This one’s my favourite. This is mostly seen in experienced improv teams before a gig or at rehearsals. The aim is to do anything, the rules don’t apply. The only thing that sticks is a passing of focus from one person to another. You can say anything, do anything, and that might seem risky as tomfoolery will be afoot, but you will notice a strong connection with the rest of your teammates. You’re supporting, yes anding, playing with patterns, you’re listening, you’re fully in the moment, it’s a great time.
Bristol Longform Comedy is starting a blog on its new website. I’m sure you are well aware as you found this page easily. And are reading this blog.
I’m not very good at writing.
I never was. I’m the kind of person who wishes he was better at Twitter.
I would spend minutes staring at that blue empty box, the sentence ‘What’s happening?’ teasing me.
I would start to write something, pause, delete it all, and go back to looking out of the bus window on my way to work.
Anyway, I want to give it a shot and approach writing as honestly as I can, detailing my faults and successes as an upcoming improv comedian, and hopefully share similar experiences with ya'll.
It's hard to get out of that improv persona where you're constantly 'switched on' all the time, especially at social events or after gigs. It's exhausting sometimes, so this will be a nice change for me.
Luckily for you this isn't just going to be me rambling, hopefully some of our lovely teachers will write some of their opinions too.
I hope you enjoy.