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How Do You Get Better At Improv?

Our guest blog this week comes from Andy Balloch, LMA Melbourne’s School Coordinator and Producer who has studied at iO Chicago and The Improv Conspiracy, where he now coaches Levels 1 – 3. Andy regularly performs in ‘Us Plus One’, is a member of the  Deconstruction Ensemble (Laugh Master’s Academy) and is one-half, and producer of, The Sparrow Men, Melbourne’s premiere improv duo. Andy also chairs the diversity panel, not to mention lecturing improv at RMIT University as a specialist instructor.

Let me start by saying the following list is simply things I have learnt, that are applicable to me. They MIGHT be applicable to you, they might not be. Some things are universal, like “you have to learn and practice to get better”. Some things, like “go out to dinner with your comedy partner, in character, for two hours, without dropping the ‘scene’” are probably infinitely more specific to some people.

  1. Take classes.

This seems like a no-brainer, especially if you’re a student starting out, but it extends further than that. All of the improvisers you love to watch still regularly train, in one way or another. For me, teaching classes is fantastic training. In addition to that, I still train fortnightly with my comedy partner Marcus. I discuss the craft of improv almost daily with my friends. I listen to their ideas, their viewpoints, their notes. It’s a constant learning curve and one which can never be completed.

  1. See shows.

There’s no point in studying art without seeing the art others have produced. It reminds you of what’s possible. With improv, watching shows can show you how the techniques you’ve trained can be implemented on stage. It can show you how NEW techniques can be used. Watching shows can teach you about the kinds of improv you like, and the kind of improviser you’d like to be. Watching shows can remind you that anything is possible.

  1. Read.

Blogs. Books. Notes. There are a million different ways to learn, and, for me, it would seem remiss if I didn’t employ as many of them as possible. Learning the techniques in class is one thing, but, more often than not, reading about them helps to solidify and create the ideas and notions. I attended a whole term that was focussed solely on ‘game’ (which I wasn’t very good at), but it wasn’t until I started reading about other people’s ideas on it that I started to understand it better (I still, and probably never will understand it completely).

  1. Perform.

There’s absolutely no point in doing all this if you never get up on stage. Improv is the only artform where “the process is the product” (David Razowsky). There are weekly jams and other opportunities to perform. Go. Get up. Fail. Try again. You’ll never truly learn until you learn how to fail. Embrace the bomb.

  1. Live life.

As improvisers/actors/comedians, we have the ability to put life on stage and comment on it. The comments might range from “how fucked is this” to “see, everyone feels like this”. “Observe life. Steal from life” (Viola Davis). We have the ability to be conduits for the human experience, but to do that effectively, we have to be open to experiencing as much of the human experience as possible.  Live life as much as you can. Allow yourself to feel, and don’t be afraid of it.

You’re all artists, geniuses, and poets!