Principles of Improv
Note: As part of our Art Month theme, some of us are sharing the creative pursuits that enrich our lives, both at work and outside of it.
by Jordan Bainer
If you look hard enough, you start to see connections between various components of your life. For me, improv comedy is a hobby that strangely blends into my work life interactions. Many times in my career, I’ve utilized improv rules to simplify and improve my work. I’ve identified a few improv comedy concepts below and explained how they link to life in the agency world.
- “Yes, and…”: A cardinal rule of improv is “yes, and…”, meaning that if someone says something, their partner on stage should accept it and build upon it. Denial or minimizing something your partner gives you quickly halts any progress in the scene and stifles creativity. For example, if I tell you “we’re in a helicopter” and you respond with “no we’re not, we’re in a canyon”, sounds like a weak story, right?
This improv rule applies nicely to brainstorming. A common trap in agency and client brainstorming sessions is to rule out or filter ideas as the group comes up with them. During these times of free idea sharing, we have to remove all filters. All ideas are accepted until the brainstorm is over and the group is narrowing down ideas. Those ideas that are thrown out early on could have sparked other ideas that eventually become the winning concept. In brainstorming, the rule “yes, and…” supports and builds on creative suggestions.
- Tagouts, swipes, edits: In a slight contrast to “yes, and…” are tagouts, swipes, and edits. “Yes, and…” teaches you how to accept and move forward a partner’s agenda. Transition tools like tagouts, swipes, and edits cut a scene and move on to another scene or time period. Since it’s important to end scenes on a high note, players on the back-line need to listen to the audience and move the story along where appropriate.
During client presentations, a common practice is to review each concept in a linear fashion until all material been exhausted. The client can then “react” to those ideas presented at the conclusion. Unfortunately, this presentation strategy doesn’t allow for open discussion, which could potentially save an idea if there is any client skepticism or misunderstanding. Those involved in client presentations need to be cognizant of what’s happening in the audience and ready to jump in when ideas or concepts can be explored further. Editing or tagging out your presentation partner isn’t bad manners as long as you are building on the larger story and ending on a high note.
- Finding the Theme: For many long-form improv performances, the group is looking for an overarching idea or theme to link disparate scenes together to create an overarching narrative or story. Themes can be decided upon by the audience or formulated throughout the course of the improv performance.
Themes are crucial for organizing complex ideas or recommendations for integrated campaigns. Taking a step back and identifying the theme will make it easier showcase work and link back to a larger strategy. Clearly stating themes and concepts early on demonstrates your knowledge of the client’s brand.
Once you start to think about general concepts behind different experiences or interests, it’s amazing how everything begins to blur into one another. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to try new artistic endeavors to fuel those links and continually learn.