Improv and the Entertainer by Mike Ficher

January 13, 2009 by Mike Ficher

 

The ins and outs of on-the-fly performance

 

Strange as the analogy may initially appear, the parallels between creating successful improv and crafting memorable experiences for our mobile entertainment clients are remarkably rich.

While many types of improv exist, from long-form plays to skits to games, basically, performers create a scene or play a game based on suggestions-usually just one or two-from a host and/or an audience. On the spot, no script, no play-calling huddle, no consultation…just creativity on the fly. No two scenes or shows are alike. Sound familiar?

Preparing to Be Spontaneous

Improv players work as a team to produce a snippet of theatre, albeit often a bit of a wacky or slightly off-center one. Like Colin Mochrie, Ryan Stiles and Wayne Brady of Whose Line Is It Anyway? fame, performers try to produce an engaging, entertaining, usually coherent but occasionally bizarre, slice of life for the audience, based on their submissions and input. If the troupe succeeds, the audience will laugh with them or grin at the absurdity-and/or accuracy-of the relationship and the situation. If they struggle a bit, well, on to the next game. Sound familiar?

Perhaps, surprisingly, to those unfamiliar with the art, improv players generally practice extensively to develop teamwork and trust, to hone their skills in creating lucid, flowing scenes, much like mobile entertainers-who may not be receive similar recognition-prepare and practice bits to enhance their chance for success. Then, improv entertainers execute on the spot without a net, modifying and adjusting as needed to create the most memorable experience possible. Sound familiar?

Given the parallels, what tools, knowledge or experience in improvisational comedy can translate into assistance for a mobile entertainer?

United We Stand

“The goal of every improviser is to make the team look good. Period.” noted Renie McClay, president of Sales and Marketing Training and an improv comedy teacher for No Foam Productions in the Chicago area in a recent newsletter. “When that happens, the performance works and the audience is pleased.”

Similarly, contrary to self-serving conventional wisdom, success at a gig is not restricted solely to the efforts of the entertainer. Working in conjunction with a caterer, photographer, videographer, facility manager, florist, and, more frequently, other entertainers, the team works diligently to create a seamless, engaging and memorable event for the client.

Yes, like an improv group, individuals will sometimes take center stage, but, overall, success is commonly attributable to the efforts of the entire group. A wedding reception, fundraiser, or holiday party’s success will rest on the efforts of the team, with the entertainer often rising front and center.

Letting Moments Unfold

The fundamental underpinning of successful improv play is “Yes, and…” Simply, you agree with the other person or people and their ideas in a scene and add along the same thread. Conflict is generally avoided and teamwork is crucial to the success of the scene. Denying, ignoring or canceling another player’s idea can render a scene rudderless or incoherent, thus confusing or distracting the audience. Listening, observing and being in the moment are paramount to a thriving improv scene.

Some of my client’s most memorable moments were not activities that I initiated. Rather, I reacted, supported and added to something that was developing on the dance floor, a thought offered during a consultation or the barest thread of a foundational idea at an event. By accepting or acknowledging an audience’s idea, the entertainer has conscious, or even unconscious, buy-in. The matter, then, advances to adding just the right ingredients for execution-the “sale” has already has been made-with the chance for success greatly enhanced.

Set the Scene and Cut to the Chase

In improv, players quickly establish a platform, the who/what/when/where of a scene. Expedient communication of the platform provides the audience with context and the actors with a discernible starting point from which to advance a story. In the mobile entertainment world, particularly at a wedding, an entertainer’s platform is most often clearly established-the bride and groom, a wedding, today, the reception facility.

Since scenes in games-style improv are often short, “daring to suck big” is encouraged. To the point, over-the-top reactions and larger-than-life characters cut to the essence of the scene. No time for small talk-initiate, then do something with the story, quickly. In the mobile entertainment environment, split-second decisions are presented to spin a one-liner, activate a sampled rim shot, join the dance floor, or let a tender moment unfold and grow without an audio response. Do you seize those moments with confidence, grace and humility?

A Place in the Sun

Improvisers too concerned about their constant presence in the spotlight often struggle to inspire trust in their teammates and offer consistency in their performances. Successful improvisers strike an artful balance between selectively rising to the moment for the sake of the performance, and seamlessly integrating their efforts for the benefit of the team. Sound familiar?

In addition to owning and operating Dance Express, a mobile entertainment company, Mike Ficher is a member of Triage improv group and the Around the Bend Players sketch comedy/old time radio recreation troupe in Bend, Oregon.
Fundamentals of Improv

Mike Ficher will be offering workshops on how to leverage the precepts of improv to enhance mobile entertainment at MBLV.09 in Las Vegas, this February. Don’t miss this hands-on chance to improve your DJ/MC presentation by builidng your improvisation chops! -Ed.

Improvisation is the art of creating relationships, taking slices of life, and creating scenes without the use of scripts, on the spot. Here are a few of the basics and their applications in the mobile entertainment world:

Agree – Accepting what fellow performers present is paramount to successful improv. If my scene partner announces we are in a bustling bazaar in downtown Calcutta during lunch hour and I comment on an alluring Alaskan sunset, the bit is in trouble.

Ever seen that at an event featuring a mobile entertainer? How many performers try to force the action at an event? How many miss opportunities to build on something that is happening at an event in order to promote their own agendas?

Listen – You can’t accept and add to what has been presented if you didn’t hear it. Opportunities to elevate a scene and create memorable improv start with critical listening.

A wise woman once told me, “Listen to what I mean, not what I say.” Sage advice. Do you really hear what a client really wants at an event? Do you pay attention to what is happening around you at an event, constantly evaluating how you can enhance the activity? Are you sensitive to other event providers?

Be in the Moment – Concentrate on the now. Listen and watch for subtle verbal and physical cues to gauge the narrative’s progression. Do not invest time planning ahead or making assumptions-you’ll miss what’s going on in the scene. Focus on the moment.

When you’re in the middle of one event, are you thinking about the next one? Returning a call to a client? Something going on in your family? Whatever is happening in your life or in your business has to be checked at the door at an event. The clients and their guests deserve your best effort-and that starts with being in the moment.

Don’t Judge – If a player’s ideas are regularly dismissed, they will become less comfortable offering them. Accepting without judgment is central to establishing a supportive environment on stage. Making strong choices, with team success always in the forefront, will result in many funny and fantastic moments, be it an improv gig or a mobile entertainment event.

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Mike Ficher Mike Ficher (11 Posts)

A business analyst by day, Mike Ficher is an actor, voice artist, emcee, sportscaster, public address announcer and former mobile entertainer. He hosts the weekly syndicated radio program, The Ultimate Oldies Show, which synthesizes these varied experiences to illuminate historic connectivity and provide fresh perspectives on the mobile entertainment profession. More info at www.mikeficher.com.


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