A Practical Guide to Modern Improv

Written in 2014 by Rob Norman

Rob Norman is an award winning improviser, he produces the Backline Podcast, teaches at Bad Dog theatre and is Department head of the Long form programme at Second City Toronto.

Improvising Now is a 139 page book aimed at performers, and is absolutely packed with strategies to help create successful long form. Initially the author explains that after he started learning improv, all of the boring people seemed to disappear from his life. Following a journey of introspection he realised that this was because his own perspective had changed, improv had taught him to bring his attention to the present moment, and build fun where he was now, instead of looking for fun elsewhere. This may seem like a deeply philosophical claim to make in an book about improv, but the author gives many very clear and practical examples of how adapting the way you think, will help you to get out of your own way and enjoy creating brilliant improv scenes, now.  

The underlying premise is that good scenes don’t happen because you avoided a bad scene, meaning the traditional list of things you shouldn’t do, may be unhelpful. The book is an attempt to document a more empowering philosophy and help overcome the social conditioning that limits us on stage. The idea, that the aim of performing ‘shouldn’t be to entertain the audience’, but to ‘explore the world you find yourself in’ may sound like a very minor shift in perspective, but it has a profound effect on outcome as there is far less pressure to ‘explore’ than there is to ‘perform’.

By slowing down and staying present in the scene, you will notice that you already have all of the information you need in the dynamic between you and your partner, and that dynamic is the only ‘real’ thing happening. Once the dynamic has been established the shared goal should be to agree on how we are going to treat each other. If we again slow down then we realise that the answer was right in front of us all along, all we needed to do was to look at the situation from a more empowering perspective. All of the common pitfalls and limiting thought processes we experience are identified in a way that feels like someone has read your mind, then fresh, more pragmatic perspectives are offered in their place. Later chapters go on to explain how scenes can grow into shows, how shows can grow into a lifestyle, and how perspective matters.

Throughout the book it is clear that the author is very passionate about comedy and has spent a lot of time reflecting on the problematic self talk we experience on stage, then developed solutions for them. A great book for intermediate and advanced performers who are open to a modern perspective, and also for anyone who wants to get out of their own way and start enjoying their time on stage (and maybe make the boring people disappear as well).  

Available to buy on Amazon:

Backline Podcast

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