Follow the Leader
“Structure is freeing. It is also inspirational and challenging. Structure can make life better. You’re probably sitting in one right now.” — The Tao of Improv
Rehearsals have structure. The good ones do, anyway. The same holds true for workshops and seminars. And shows.
As is true for most improvisers, I am a fan of the Mick Napier book Improvise. There’s so much great information, presented in an accessible way. The part of the book that stands out in my memory (I don’t have a copy at my disposal — I loaned it out and perpetually expect it to be returned) is the section that describes what to do at rehearsals and shows. I remember it because I used to occasionally read paragraphs out loud when directing. I’ll try to summarize from memory.
In a rehearsal, only the director speaks whenever he or she wishes to. For everyone else, the rule is simple: If you’re not in a scene, haven’t been asked to give an opinion or answer a question — shut the hell up. If you are not in a scene, sit as close to the stage as possible. Do not read a book, check your email, tweet, sleep, eat a sandwich or listen to music through your earbuds. While others are onstage, your job is to pay attention, support them, learn from the things they do well and the things that need improvement. Take notes if you can do so in a non-disruptive way.
I hope I got the gist of it. Let me add and elucidate.
Don’t take candid photos or — even worse — videos of what’s going on onstage without the director’s consent and knowledge. Actors in rehearsals are asked to do all sorts of things that are way outside their comfort zones. We do them because we trust that we are in a safe space. Normally, outsiders are not permitted to attend rehearsals. This is why. The suspicion that anything that you do in rehearsal may find its way onto social media is enough to inhibit everyone but the exhibitionists in the group. While some improvisers may be attention-hounds, not all are. Respect that.
Directors: Don’t be too nice. When you allow the two people in rehearsal (we know who they are) to interrupt, give notes to fellow actors, make glib remarks, tell personal anecdotes, ask endless questions that only pertain to themselves, you may think you’re being polite to them. You’re actually being impolite to everyone else. You’re wasting our time.
Structure is helpful. It keeps us from pissing away the valuable time of others. It allows us to accomplish more things more efficiently. It helps make us better at what we do. And that structure — when showtime comes along — allows us to be freer and less, well, structured.