Tonight I played a show tired. I try to avoid that, but it happens from time to time. Something funny happens when I’m fatigued. I tend to play looser – a blessing and a curse.
It’s similar to being drunk. I’m willing to take chances I wouldn’t ordinarily take. I don’t censor myself as much. Those things are generally good for improv.
But when I’m not thinking, words come less from character and more from the unchecked recesses of my brain. That explains why I called someone a “turpentine-soaked rag.” What? Weird.
The audience reacts best when actions and words flow in accordance with a character. What would a sinister mayor say in this situation? What about the cocky garbageman? Or the depressed doctor? If the words and actions come through those filters, they inform the audience and the other actors about the character. That’s the ultimate “yes and.”
But if you’re so loose you’ve lost track of your character, your choices become arbitrary. Why, in one restaurant scene, did my character order “the filtered tears of a clown”? Did that illuminate my character or was it just something I pulled out of my butt because I was so tired? How you say something is more important that what you say. I got those things confused tonight.
The best improvisers have an ability to think as the character in the scene, but they can also look at the scene in progress as though they were sitting in the audience. Whiskey Rebellion once did a workshop with Jet Eveleth where she illustrated this ability.
As you’re in a scene, the outside observer part of you sees that the scene needs something (action, emotion, energy, environment, callbacks, whatever). Then you switch into your character’s mindset and figure out how to meet that need in a way that works with your character.
There are times that I’m so stuck in a character’s mindset, I take my eye off what the scene needs. And there are times I’m so concerned about the mechanics of the scene, I forget to act in character.
Tonight, I dropped the ball in both areas. You can bet I won’t let that happen in my next performance. Lesson learned.