Updated: Jan 27, 2021
Take risks, fail good-naturedly and build resilience.
Someone said if you’re not failing, you’re not growing. It’s so true because if you’re not failing, you’re not challenging yourself enough. Improvisers expect to fail, and they embrace it because they know it’s wise to learn from failure and celebrate the growth made in the process.
Working without a script implies all sorts of risks for players. You probably don't know who or where you are before a scene begins, so let's start with a suggestion from the audience. Say yes to it.
Suppose, the audience suggests you and a scene partner are two friends camping in the woods, and the scene begins. The two of you begin to establish named characters, a relationship and where you are as a foundation for the scene to play out. The setting or environment is the W in C.R.O.W.—Where the scene takes place. By simply saying, “Hey, man, I’ll secure the tent to this redwood tree, would you work on starting a fire?” everyone, players and audience, will understand that it’s a camping scene. Maybe the dialogue veers into discussing objectives—what you want from the camping trip or perhaps a heart-to-heart conversation—and then all of a sudden your scene partner looks terrified and says, “Dude, there’s a bear.”
It's wise to learn from failure and celebrate the growth made in the process.
What your scene partner has done is made you an offer. An offer is anything your scene partner says or does. The offer is that there is now a terrifying bear in the scene, and your partner doesn’t have to say how high the stakes are if they can show it physically or in their face. Actiiing! Norma Desmond would be so proud.
What would you do in that situation in real life? Close your eyes and imagine how you would react if a bear was in your campsite. Did you run away screaming? They say to play dead, but no thanks—I’d run away as fast as I could.
In this case, going down the rabbit hole takes on a different meaning. A trained improviser knows to accept the offer that there is a bear, to say yes to it with enthusiasm, and make a positive choice in response to what their scene partner has offered, even if it’s a little unorthodox or outside of the box. A trained improviser knows to take a risk and will respond with some form of Yes, And!, agreeing with the offer and adding to it: “I see it, dude…let’s invite the big hairball to sit down and have some tea with us. I packed extra Darjeeling.” And now, rather than the scene ending with a chase offstage, it can develop into something more unexpected and rewarding for the players (and probably the audience too).
Go down the rabbit hole and see where it goes. Think outside the box. If you fail, celebrate the risk you took and the knowledge you gained in the process to build resilience for the next time you see a bear in the woods.