I answered Christian’s question in the HUGE Newsletter (http://us4.campaign-archive1.com/?u=789b44d1ce73ebf01a485b40e&id=2f9e748883&e=6bfd0eb7f8 )but it comes up so very often that I wanted to post here too.
Christian U asks, “How do you balance the ‘rules’ of improv with trying to be in the moment and spontaneous? I know it’s a basic question but it’s my biggest hurdle. The reality is that you CAN make a ‘mistake’ in improv and not everything can be spun into gold. I’ve watched those mistakes completely derail sets before.”
Walt Whitman said, “Be curious, not judgmental.” It’s hard for people in various professions to wrap their heads around how improv works; if they spend all day making something run perfectly and there’s a specific outcome expected and desired, it is really hard to convince them there’s an entirely separate paradigm under which to operate. The truth about improv is this: if there was something specific we needed to have happen we would write a script. All the best scripts, particularly in comedy, are being written by improvisors right now. We are more than capable of writing scripts if that’s what the situation called for. But we’re not writing scripts because we’ve decided something else is important. The “rules” of improv are a series of derived ideas that make for some lovely moments, but a moth can upstage you if it finds its way in front of the lights, no matter how many rules of improv you are nailing. e.e. cummings wrote: “since feeling is first who pays any attention to the syntax of things will never wholly kiss you.” The reason the sets you are referring to derailed is because the participants lost faith or hope or courage and didn’t play the hand they’d dealt themselves like the winner it could be. It’s already gold, no spinning needed.
I can tell you these words but I don’t know how to tell them to your heart and not your head. I can only hope that maybe someday you get off a train at the wrong stop and there’s no train back for hours and instead of being upset you wander through the village and discover a small shop where they make a sweet candy more delicious than you’ve ever had, and the old man behind the counter tells you a story like you’ve never heard before, and there just happens to be a small string band playing in the gazebo in the square where people are dancing badly but with passion; and then when you finally get on the train it turns out they were fine without you all day long at your original destination.