Eric Farone Throws Away the Script on Improv
We thought we knew all about that wildly entertaining form of live theater called Improv. The fact that the characters, plot, and dialogue are created on the spot; the fun and quirky audience suggestions; the magic moments that arise from purely unscripted performances.
But then we hosted our Explorer Experience Improv Happy Hour and found out there’s much more to Improv than we thought.
As Eric Farone, co-founder and artistic director of the Bovine Metropolis Theatre in Denver, told us, Improv is also “The art of accepting and moving forward into the unknown gracefully. It’s about listening and adding to someone’s thoughts, being authentic and honoring other people’s authenticity as well.”
We weren’t about to let Eric stop with that insightful revelation, so we asked him to take us deeper into the concept of improvisational theater.
What’s the key to doing improv well?
The key to improvising well is to not want to improvise well. If you want to improvise well, you will fail. It’s just about playing. If my focus when I am playing is to take care of my partner, the show and the audience, then I free myself up from worrying about how I am perceived.
What happens when improv is at its best?
When improvisation is at its best it is a communal experience of connected support in the moment. One where the audience and the players are all watching a moment unfold that examines the frailty of human existence with humor and grace. This takes an incredible amount of trust, support, and emotional intelligence on the part of performers. When you see it (and play it), it can make you laugh, take your breath away, and even make you cry.
Can you describe a particular moment like that?
One of my favorite improv scenes happened on stage with a group I directed called The SansScript Players. It started with a woman trying to cross the street. A “car” (just an improviser holding an invisible steering wheel moving quickly) came down stage, stopping her from crossing. A few more cars came by to thwart her cross.
Then a young man stepped on the other side “of the street” and tried to cross. Cars stopped him and this went on for a few moments. Then the two pedestrians caught a glance of each other. They exchanged smiles. The man tried to cross the street to meet her only to find traffic still stopping him. The woman reached out on her tiptoes towards him, and for some reason everyone in the audience knew we were going into a dream. The man on the other side of the street started reaching out to her as well. They strained to connect over the traffic.
At this point two improvisers on the woman’s side of the stage and two improvisers on the man’s side lifted both the man and the woman up and floated them toward each other. Traffic froze. The improvisors brought the man and woman towards each other, still floating, until their hands almost met. Then the improvisers spun the two of them around each other in a circle and eventually floated them both back to their original spots on the stage.
Then traffic started again, and the woman let her arm drop and just walked away upstage and the man brought his arm down, did a knowing shrug and walked down stage never to meet her. It was beautiful.
Sounds beautiful. But can improv go terribly wrong?
There are so many ways that improv can go terribly wrong. When you are a beginning improviser for the most part your focus is yourself and your fear and that’s terribly wrong. When you become a “good” improviser you might focus on just getting the laugh, and that too is wrong—but at least you may get some laughs.
Why is improv so accepting of novices?
Improv is about inclusion and listening and adding to someone’s thoughts. It doesn’t matter if you are new or experienced, your contribution is valuable. As an improviser we understand and respect everyone’s humanity. We’re optimistic by nature and that optimism hopes that everyone can get in touch with themselves.
It sounds like Improv can make your life better.
Laurie Anderson once said, “Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much, much better.” What that means to me is that we live our lives with so much fear, judgment, and comparison that we rob ourselves of the joy of being in paradise. Improv is a way to be fully present in the moment, without fear or judgment or comparison.
By: Daydream Guest Contributor: Eric Farone
Eric Farone, Co-Founder & Artistic Director at Bovine Metropolis Theatre
Since 1993 Eric has trained thousands of improvisers and professionals in the art of improvisation. He studied improvisation in Chicago at the Second City, Improv Olympic, The Annoyance Theater, and Center For The Working Actor.