Performing improvisations can feel vulnerable and scary. It’s hard to get up in front of an audience, particularly a New York audience with attitude, without a script as a safety net. What you need, in the absence of a script, is some kind of alternative safety device. When you are in the middle of a complicated scene, and you can feel that something is going wrong, you need the simplest possible thought or reminder you can give yourself that will fix it. You don’t have time or mental space to think of a very complicated set of technical requirements. You need a way of instantly bringing your work back to the Basic Professional Level. (The Basic Professional Level is the level in which the audience thinks the work is “amazing” and “wonderful.” In reality, you can probably soar much higher to more transcendent levels, but the Basic Professional Level is good enough so that the audience will feel like very satisfied customers.)

Here’s the Safety Device I use:

I’ve been working on improvisation long enough that I’m very familiar with the sensation that I am “inside” the flow of the scene.

In the abstract, nonnarrative work I do with Lake Ivan, “inside” the flow of the scene simply means I’m inside the flow of feelings-and-musicality which makes up the scene.

In a narrative form such as comedy, “inside” the scene also means inside the reality of the situation and my identity (character).

The safety device:

Whenever I sense that something about the scene is not right, I remind myself “just be inside of the scene, and anything you say or do (or don’t do) will be good.” This is true. As long as you place yourself inside the flow of the scene, you can’t make a bad choice. Everything will be at least at the Basic Professional Level.

Once you are securely back “inside” the scene, you can work on opening yourself up and being ever more fully “inside” the scene, which may lift up the scene above the Basic Professional Level to an even higher level.

The usefullness of the Safety Device is that it is simple, it’s fast, and it always works.