Improv Notes From Joe Bill

“Before I start teaching a new round of classes, I like to go back to notes I’ve taken from instructors and books throughout the years. Here are some notes from a workshop I took from Joe Bill from Chicago in 2006.” – Johnny K

Scenes Occur with:
Action
Emotion
Talk
Action and Emotion are the strongest places for scenes. Talk is where most scenes are.

Scenes should be balanced with different energies. They should also be balanced regarding where they come from in the action/emotion/talk spectrum.

There are three things one can focus on in a scene:
1.  Yourself
2.  Your partner(s)
3.  Your Environment

If ever you run out of things or get stuck on one of them, go to another. Searching for balance, if a scene is mostly about oneself, the next should be about partner or environment.

Scenes should be dynamic. The only pure emotions are love and fear and everything else is a mixture.  It’s fuck or flight. There are two ways to get there: Curiosity and suspicion.  

Stage problem: the natural instinct in love scenes or arguments is to go toward each other. On stage, however, no one will ever actually fight. No one will ever actually fuck. There may be a stage kiss, but it will never be enough. Stage combat is eh, okay. Just allow the distance between the two of you to work for you both.

Give yourself selfish gifts. Name the things you want and why you want them. Give yourself a stake in the matter and tell why something is important to you. That will always give you something to return to.

Edit Options: the “Bolt”. In a two person scene, one drops character and quickly bolts out. This theatrical gesture means the character is still there even though the person is not. Also, an improvisor can theatrically place a chair on stage. This chair must be used somehow in the next scene.

Really listen to the other character.

Improvisers spend much of their time moving objects, but rarely do the objects move us.

Figure out an object and what it is. Let it process through the mind, heart, gut/groin and figure out what it means.

Difference between short and long form is the audience tension:
Short form: the audience tension is will they execute the game they have explained, and will they do it in an interesting way.
Long form: the audience tension is whether or not they believe you.
In long form, everything should take three times longer than you think it should take.

Feel free to throw in your Chekov, Brecht, self-indulgent acting shit and do that stuff too. If a scene breaks out that is it so serious that it makes people not want to be alive, then that is fine.