Good improv technique means acting, insofar as possible, by instinct and intuition, rather than by calculation. Our deepest instincts are our survival instincts. So, if you could imagine that using good improv technique was a matter of survival, you could tap into a powerful part of your intuitive self, and greatly improve your work. Here’s how I do it at Lake Ivan:

The improvs I do at Lake Ivan don’t have a narrative structure, so I use a “musical” structure. But the same principles of technique could be applied to a narrative scene and to comedy improv.

In the current version of our technique, we prepare by imagining that the piece we are about to perform already exists in its perfect form. We imagine that it is like a piece of music, by which we mean a flow of energy, rhythms, and emotions. Our job, as performers, is to physically feel, in our bodies and with our voices and our words and our silences, every moment of this piece of music. Note that our job is not to perform, recreate, show, or explain the music, but just to experience it physically. We proceed as if the actual words or actions we perform could be anything at all, as long as they help us connect to the feeling of the underlying piece of music.

Note that you can use the same concept in a narrative or comedy improv: the difference between our nonnarrative form and a narrative form is that in a narrative structure each person is supposed to remain inside the point of view of an individual ‘character.’ The narrative version of our technique would be to imagine that the scene you are about to perform already exists in it’s perfect form, and that your job is to remain inside the point of view of your character, and feel every moment of the scene (by using your voice and words, your silences, and your physical movements.) Note that the actual words you say and actions you perform are incidental, the “real” scene is the underlying flow of energy and feelings with lie underneath the surface.

This underlying layer of energy-feelings-and-musicality is the lifeblood of the scene. It is the source from which everything in the scene springs. To the extent that you are able to fully immerse yourself in that energy flow, and feel it with every cell in your body, your work and the scene itself will flourish and thrive. To the extent that part of you moves outside of that energy flow (to worry about something, self-criticize, etc.) your work and the scene itself will be weakened.

When we are preparing for the scene, we imagine that the flow of energy-and-feelings which is the scene is like oxygen. If we remain fully inside of it, we will experience great pleasure, and our performance will flourish. If we move outside of that flow, even a little bit, our work will start to flounder, wither, and die, and so will the scene itself. This makes us work in a very instinctual, low-on-the-brainstem sort of way: INSIDE THE FLOW: GOOD FEELING!! OUTSIDE THE FLOW: BAD FEELING!! Just as if we were trying to stay inside of a place that had delicious, nourishing air, and not go into the surrounding area which had poisonous air.

The preparation could be phrased this way: The scene I am about to perform already exists in it’s perfect form, as a flow of energy-feelings-and-musicality. To the extent that I keep myself completely immersed in that flow, my performance will flourish, so I will do whatever it takes to keep 100% inside of the flow.

The formulation “whatever it takes” is very useful, since it allows your intuitive self to solve the problem of getting back inside of the flow in the fastest, most efficient way, without needing to remember a complicated set of instructions.