The so-called "old testament"
The following are some guidelines compiled eons upon eons ago by
Jonathan Pitts from numerous sources and edited by
- These are not steadfast rules because there are no rules.
- Consider them as strategies.
- ..."Yes, and" is always better than "no," or "yes, but..."
- ...Always agree; never deny any verbal or physical
- ...Don't invent, instead remember; Don't remember, instead
- ...John Lennon's "Life is what happens while you were making
other plans" applies to improvisation.
- ...Don't block, accept.
- Accept what your partner says or does as you would a gift, not
- ...Everything is important; everything matters.
- Once a choice is made, there's nothing so stupid or banal that
we can't respect it.
- Accept the other player's reality.
- Onstage we need ecological thinking; nothing goes to
- Ours is a theatre in which every decision is relevant,
- There are no minor plays by a player.
- ...Follow the process, the product will come.
- ...Be aware of patterns - play with them.
- ...If the whole is to be art, the parts must strive not to
- ...The challenge is to lose control, a mental vertigo changing
"whoops" into rarefied logic.
- The discovery of improv is landing in the same space/place of
"oh my Gawd, what are we going to do now?"
- ...Always take the active choice rather than the passive
- Ideas reveal more in action, rather than idea to idea.
- Action begins with the disruption of a routine.
- Move action forward, not sideways or backward.
- Keep the action on stage.
- Don't plan the future.
- Don't bring up the past.
- Don't focus on people who aren't there.
- You can't have a scene on what isn't there.
- ...If you're bored, you're not building something.
- If you're bored, so is the audience.
- You can do just about anything to the audience - disgust them,
scare them, please them - but never ever bore them.
- ...Always bring a brick, not a cathedral, into a scene or an
- Expand and brighten.
- ...Less is more.
- Don't ask questions. Instead assume something and build.
Questions put the burden on the fellow player to invent. Make a
- ...Know each other. Avoid introductions; share an assumed
- ...Avoid pre-conceived ideas.Start each improvisation like an
open canvas, waiting to be painted with detail.
- ...Whatever you can do and take for granted is obviously
- ...If you are always turning something into something, you can
never see what it's becoming. All your characters in your dreams
understand your dreams better than you do.
- ...It's interesting how dull can be interesting.
- ...Learn to discover human nature instead of what you want the
scene to say/show/tell.
- ...Harolds are like holographs; the more we add to it, the
clearer the picture becomes.
- ...There are no holds barred, anything can happen. It's just a
matter of when the holds are used.
- ...You enter the aesthetic state to achieve something else. We
have an ordinary reality and a non-ordinary reality.
- ...To improvise is to become more than human, and yet
ultimately, utmost human.
- ...Through our theatre, mirrors become prisms.
- ...Expanding expansions. The aim of religion is the method of
science, is the medium of theatre. The original function of theatre
was to focus on problems and information.
- ...There's a difference between improvising and making things
up. "Let's Pretend" as we played as kids is only the doorway. You
can feel the difference between "thinking" and the sailing state of
grace that improv is.
- What we are is definitely more interesting than who we
- ...Everything can be obvious as in a dream.
- ...Pull back to reveal.
- Reveal by concealing.
- ...Think of improv as worshipful play; in scenes, to try to
think profoundly will just result in pretentiousness. Profoundness
will come out of co-being.
- ...Self-consciousness can destroy your thinking.
- ...In terms of content, the lower the manipulation, the more
- ...Don't push a scene, follow it.
- ...Think of all the possibilities; or think of all your
- ...We have to be rational about our irrationality.
- ...Improvising is like zen archery, you must misdirect yourself
to hit the target.
- ...Surrender unto the loss of control. Give it up, it's okay to
be confused. If you are completely lost onstage, then obviously you
- So, do a scene on being lost. Realize that the next best thing
to perfection is being damn good at whatever you do.
- ...You must conspire with yourself to surprise yourself.
- ...A scene is hardly ever about the words that are being
- ...Trust your players, and trust the games, forms, and scenes
you are playing/being.
- Make your partner look good and you'll look good.
- ...Playful, direct, co-developed ideas, informations, and
dreams will always be far hipper than one person's alone.
- ...You alone are not responsible for the scene. You are not
responsible for the scene alone.
- ...Follow the leader; lead so others can follow.
- Be each other's stage managers.
- ...While onstage, look at your other players with the same kind
of newness as you do the object.
- ...Play the game. If you don't play the game, you become victim
to the game's punishments. Be careful not to win the game at the
cost of going off board.
- ...Silence creates tension.
- ...Be specific.
- ...Start in the middle.
- ...Play the opposite. (Go for the less obvious choice).
- ...Play against clichés.
- ...Be alert.
- ...Follow your fear.
- Trust your instincts.
- ...Be prepared for anything.
- ...Make accidents work.
- ...Think on the laughs, talk on the silences.
- ...You should always know what the audience knows or has just
- Remember details.
- Be aware of insignificant details; your audience sees
everything. Always respect your audience and their intelligence. As
a group, their intelligence is higher than yours, simply because
they have 25 to 200 people in the group mind, whereas we only have
6 to 9 people playing together.
- ...Let the audience make the house call.
- ...We set up the rules for when the audience feels
uncomfortable for us.
- ...No attempt should be made to emotionally affect the
audience, unless the work being done at the time demands it.
- ...Don't bother to build a character, they're already there;
just let 'em out. Every character ever written, played, made, is
within you; release them as necessary.
- Wear your character as lightly as you would a straw hat; be
ready to tip it to reveal yourself.
- Masks are empty unless they are inhabited by the actor.
- ...Always play off the top of your intelligence. Know what you
know. Know what you can do. If you truly don't know, play your
ignorance and explore what you don't know.
- ...Don't go for the joke. Let humor arise from the situation.
As soon as you start to tell jokes, you treat you other players as
objects. Comments to the audience are not to each other. Wit is how
one idea plays off others. Don't joke the jokes.
- ...The rule of threes is inflexible. If something is done
twice, it must be done a third time. A scene can be something said
or done three times.
- ...The lowest level of humor is social satire (not to mention
puns); the middle level is thinly veiled allegory; the highest
level is high fantasy.
- ...Satire is dignifying the object-subject by recognizing
- ...There is a tremendous amount of comedy available through
- ...There is no idea as good as the inevitable. So if in the
middle of someone else's beat you have the feel of a great idea,
let it sit a while. If later the idea is no longer valid, then
chances are it was only a comment on the action. But, if a couple
of moments later the idea of yours is still applicable, rave
- ...The actor's business is to justify.
- What are you doing to justify your existence in the where
- ...Play the realities as if you are living them for the first
time (because you are).
- Take responsibility for your actions.
- You are not responsible for the "material," but for making the
- ...A space can be anything you want it to be, with anything you
want to be in there. But once it's there, it's there. Recognize the
space, own it, and make it yours. Adapt, adapt and improve.
- ...Think of your environment as a six-sided where, of which the
audience is part. The environment also has an outside and an
inside. Focus in, focus out.
- ...In order to create a real "where", find one thing you love
and one thing you hate.
- ...You can do anything onstage; if you do it honestly, it's
- ...Invest importance in what you are doing (i.e.,
- Remember the opportunities for rhythm - on every level.
- You must play out and fulfill one moment before you move
- As soon as you find the beat, sing it, then lose it.
- A scene is one idea and a comment.
- Cut just before peaking.
- When the original idea starts repeating itself, the scene is
- Cut a scene after an element's been added, or a discovery
- ...Remember the levels; as above, so below.
- ...We can handle conflict and disagreement, if it's all
contained within a larger over-agreement between the actors.
- ...Occasionally play against your feelings/emotions.
- ...Make the strange familiar, the familiar strange.
- ...Wonder why you're not onstage as opposed to why you are
- ...Remember to give and take.
- ...Incorporate the mistakes of the past into the institution of
- ...If you do a teaching scene, the role of authority should
keep feeding in and out of the scene. The teacher should not
dominate or take control.
- ...If you go offstage, try to keep the reality going. Visualize
your offstage actions, keep real time going and then come back.
After an exit, with your entrance, come in with the same attitude
and new news.
- ...In a group scene: introduce the characters-players one at a
time. Let everybody have their moment. This will let the audience
and you know who's what. Remember also, you only have to do an
equal fraction of the work. So relax. If there are seven of you,
you only have to do one-seventh of the work. Don't be
- ...Don't follow one group action with another.
- In building a machine, go with different motions from what was
first started, then interconnect with at least two other
- ...For object transformations and switch; use what shouldn't be
- ...For object work: focus on the object, visualize it, feel the
weight of the object, so the object gains more reality.
- ...On getting suggestions: 1) put the audience at ease, don't
put them to a test, or on the spot. 2) define what you want. 3)
encourage them to be creative and at the top of their intelligence
to suggest what they want to see.
- ...When in doubt, seduce!
- ...Once playing onstage, take on a competence, a confidence. Be
an impeccable warrior.
- Hey, gang, this is the ultimate in disposable art; it's toilet
paper. If one sheet doesn't work, so what? Next sheet, please!
The so-called "new testament"
- ...If it's not one thing, it's another. use the another - far
more interesting to watch; anyone can come up with just one
- ...I love you - I hate you - I want what's in your pocket
- If you don't give it to me, I'm going to kill you.
- ...You may be talking about used cars, but you're thinking,
"Pussy, pussy, pussy."
- ...Surprise yourself. Try to make unexpected choices. Throw
yourself and your partner off-balance. You will never reach satori
- ...Don't be afraid of characters and extremes. Character can be
limiting, but if you do it correctly, it can inform the fantasy of
the scene. Extremes - PC is nice and sensitive but it can ruin
theatre. Don't be afraid to explore the politically incorrect - it
can be fun!!
- ...Don't be afraid of physical contact on stage. Cooties are a
- ...Find the game in the scene and play it.
- ...Improv is about making choices and exploring each choice you
make. Start making choices early and follow each decision to its
fullest, funnest potential.
- ...Don't stick to structures. Break down every wall in your
- ...Fear and uncertainty are a part of improv; if everything
always worked, there would be no suspense and nothing new to
- ...Intuition is the key to satori.
- ...They say that people who talk incessantly of sex are
impotent. This is so with improv. Talk is cheap. Get up off your
ass and DO.
- ...ON CHARACTERS: True characters are rarely, if ever, one
dimensional. Those are caricatures. True characters often know a
great deal more than we do, and sometimes they even have a bit more
- ...Everyone - no matter how strong they may be - everyone needs
- ...Be careful with genre work. Sloppy genres are painful to
watch, e.g., sci-fi, horror. If you're not sure of the specifics of
the genre - INVENT THEM. It's far more interesting to watch
something detailed and "wrong" than something vague and
- ...Those who forget the mistakes of the past are condemned to
- ...Those who forget the errors of history are destined to
- ...See what I mean?
- ...Yep &
- ...Economy! They don't call them Yugos for nothing.
- ...Truth lies within the core of your being. When you feel a
gut reaction, go with it.
- ...Let's get physical - physical! I want to get physical. Let's
get into physical. Let me hear your body talk.
- ...Satori cannot be learned:
- An old man took his grandson outside to show him the stars. The
child wanted to see the moon. The old man extended his left arm
towards the sky. The boy said that he still did not see the moon.
The old man responded, "I can only point at the moon. Stop looking
at my finger and gaze into the sky."
- ...Moon and finger aside, Satori must be stumbled upon, not
necessarily learned or understood. The moon is always just at your
Last updated: $Date: 2001/01/23 17:46:09 $