This is my prediction of what Romeo and Juliet would be like if it was done by many improv teams (abridged):
- Romeo and Juliet fall in love
- The Prince says Romeo can't hang around.
- Romeo is all like, "but I love Juliet"
- The Prince is like, "Oh man that sucks."
- Juliet maybe is like "Guys, if you don't figure this out, I am gonna...kill myself!"
- Romeo steps in like, "Yo J, don't kill yourself I love you too much."
- Juliet is like: "I don't know maybe I should. But Romeo does love me..."
And on and on. Not as compelling as the original is it? What's the problem? We never get to the point where DRAMA transpires and people are able to emote about it.
I think a lot of improvisers are afraid of action. They are afraid to make bold moves, to offset the course of a scene or show in progress. They are afraid to drink that poison and leave their scene partners to deal with the consequences.
But we go to the theater and to movies to watch people deal with the consequences of their dead lovers! Not to watch them debate whether or not to drink the poison (notice I didn't pick Hamlet).
The more I coach teams to move toward action, the more I see truly incredible and surprising moves. Often their teammates are surprised but once we move past the initial surprise we get into such rich and deep scenes where we deal with the fallout rather than swimming in the muck of indecision.
- I am not promoting unmotivated "invented" action. If we're at your family reunion and you stand up and start throwing baseballs at your Aunt June, that doesn't make any sense and confuses everyone. If we're at your family reunion and the scene has been about how your childhood was taken away by your Aunt June, who made you work in her store since you were 4 and you never got to do anything normal kids do. Then your biological father shows up with a bag of baseballs in tow to make up for lost time, and you stand up and start throwing them at your Aunt June, bravo!
- This sounds like the old improv adage: Show Don't Tell. I support that thinking, and they are related. But to me, this is a shade different. Show Don't Tell means rather than talking about going to the store, just go to the store. Going to the store may not be that big a move though. It may just be something we were talking about. I am particularly advocating that you make bold choices that we are afraid of specifically because they could potentially change (or deepen) the course of the piece.