Flip through your mental photo album to all the improv scenes you’ve seen. How many do you remember? Ten percent? One percent? Less?
In a previous post, I mentioned that the best improvisers have about an 80% success rate. The scenes are fun, they make us laugh, we enjoy watching them. Most of us don’t approach that number.
We aspire to have good scenes, but we should aim to have memorable scenes. Those are much harder to achieve.
I can close my eyes and remember flashes of a few scenes during my decade in the trenches. What they all have in common is extraordinary specificity, emotion and usually repetition of some kind.
This article discusses the human mind and our capacity for memory. It cites a passage from “Rhetorica ad Herennium,” a textbook written sometime between 86 and 82 B.C.
“When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary and banal, we generally fail to remember them… But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonorable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable or laughable, that we are likely to remember for a long time.”
Raise your hand if you feel guilty of less-than-memorable scenes. Yes, most of us create scenes that are petty, ordinary and banal. I imagine most beginning improv teachers have seen thousands of scenes involving roommates being messy or failing to pay bills. We reflect what’s going on in our lives.
Yes, we are obligated to share some “slice-of-life” scenes. Yes, we can get laughs from portraying a familiar situation. But to really stand out in memory, we need more.
Think of your favorite movies. Can you isolate one great image or one great line of dialogue? Of course you can. Do those things stand out because we encounter them every day? Or are they memorable because they are a break from our normal pattern of life?
As you watch and perform scenes, make note of the ones that stay with you in days, weeks and months to come. See what they have in common. Incorporate that type of play into your scenework. Be memorable! Be legendary!
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com