“Remember, while you’re doing improv, you are part of a dream. It’s not your job to wake up just yet.” — The Tao of Improv
I’ll describe the pattern of a typical dream.
It begins with some kind of image, thought, emotion or sense stimulation. It could be someone you saw the other day, the smell of lavender, a scene from a movie, a problem you’re grappling with, a sound you barely are aware of while you’re sleeping, a childhood memory…pretty much anything.
It resolves itself into pictures and sounds, and these resolve themselves into a scene. It might be a very loosely defined scene, and it may make no sense. But it takes place somewhere with someone and something is happening or about to happen.
Then, some image or sound from that scene stands out, and it spawns its own scene. This keeps branching out, with scenes bubbling up and creating others. And, whether you’re ready or not, it’s over. You either wake up or your dream state ends. Nothing usually gets resolved. The story doesn’t necessarily resemble a movie plot. But if you were able to recall every bit of the dream and work your way backwards from the end, you’d see where each new scene came from, until you worked your way back to the initial seed that gave life to the whole thing in the first place.
I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. Because this resembles improv — particularly long form improv where a single piece of input spawns a scene, and scenes beget other scenes.
This dreamlike quality is what drew me to improv in the first place — both as an audience member and as a participant.
Because, in this improv dream, we are all participants. If you have a totally engaged audience, and a committed cast that performs honest improv, everyone is dreaming the exact same dream at the exact same time. And I find that amazing!
As the actor, you have some control over the direction the dream takes (like a lucid dreamer who can sense she is dreaming but is not quite awake). As an audience, you have less control (although your laughter or other responses will influence the dream, just like the noise of a passing fire truck siren can alter a dreamer’s dream).
In theory, the players and the witnesses will be content to be inside the dream without needing to know where it is going. In the back of their minds, they know that this feeling is ephemeral and will evaporate as soon as it is over. Try to capture it on video. That quality will always be lost.
And the dream just ends. The woman in the tech booth turns out the lights, and it’s over. And you’ve all done something so cool: you’ve dreamed a communal dream.
That’s good improv, in my opinion.