These are notes from an email I sent to an actor after a videotaping session on 3/22/09, in which I address the difficulty of doing an improvisation after one which has gone particularly well:

There is one potential (avoidable) difficulty that can happen when you do an improvisation, just because the previous time we worked together the work happened to go particularly well. The danger of course is that you can load your expectations for the improv, either by hoping that it will be as great as it was the last time, or by having anxiety that it will not be as great as it was the last time.

Here’s how I would avoid this difficulty:

First of all, simply recognize the truth that every time you improvise, it is a unique experience which has nothing to do with any other improvisation you have ever done (except for sharing the same underlying technique). It will have its own perfect form and its own particular qualities and feelings, which cannot be compared in any meaningful way to any previous experience.

Secondly, recognize that all you need to do is to do the correct preparation in a fully conscious way, and then trust the piece, and the improvisation will turn out very well every time. This is why I refer to my technique as a “technique:” because, if one uses the technique, it enables one to do improvs which are always good. When looking at the tapes later, one will naturally still prefer some pieces to others, but, if you have used the technique, you can always feel confident that the result will be a well structured, well performed and well “written” piece.

Specifically, then, it is worth your while to look at the preparations we used in Sunday’s improvs, since these preparations obviously worked very well. You may perhaps remember some details of your own preparation which you feel were significant and helpful.

What I found significant about our preparations was this: I reiterated the point that you have to think of yourself as deliberately “opening yourself up” or “opening up your pores” in order to achieve saturation. It is not enough, in your preparation, to simply say “I will get more and more saturated.” You need to say “with every phrase I will open myself up more in order to get more saturated.” In my previous email I pointed out that it is important to understand which aspects of the scene are allowed to happen “by themselves” and which aspects are things that you willfully and deliberately make happen. In this form of improvisation, the one action that you deliberately and willfully perform throughout the scene is “I will open myself up in order to get more saturation.”

(Note the rationale behind this thought. “The piece” already exists in its perfect form, therefore you cannot and need not do anything to “improve” the piece; the piece is already perfect. What is under your control is your own “instrument.” You can keep opening yourself up, so that you become a better and better medium for the piece to flow through. By continually opening yourself up, you are improving that which you have the power to improve, and thus allowing the perfect piece to become more and more available to the viewer.)

I think this idea was very helpful to us.

Looking forward to next time.