A few days ago, someone asked me about the best improv scene I have ever seen. A hard choice. Improvisational theatre has been taking over my life and as a result, I have seen and played in a lot of shows. Some amazing, some horrible, some so average they have been deleted from my memory. I have seen some of the best improvisers perform and they played scenes that occasionally made me feel all emotions at once. But amidst that collection of great memories, there was one that stood out to me.
I was playing in the second half of a show of and before it began, I was backstage to chat with the players of the first half. These were starting improvisers. They had had eight weeks of improv lessons, trying out this new skill in the safety of the classroom, and this would be their first time on stage. I asked one of them, an older guy who was unsuccessfully pretending to be calm, how he was feeling. “Honestly, horrible”, he said. “I didn’t know we had to do a show when I signed up for this. I tried to get out of it but they didn’t let me”.
As the show proceeded, it started to look like he would get away with it. In every scene, he played a plant, or a dog, someone walking by in the background. Others would have the spotlight. Until the last part. It was a tag-out game, where two improvisers play a scene until another actor taps one of them on the shoulder to replace them. Except, this guy never got tagged out. He played 12 scenes, back to back. There was no way for him to get out of it. So, he had to play.
I saw him carefully say something funny. The audience laughed and he straightened his back a little bit. He tried another one. He started to play emotions. He started to mime objects. I saw the imagination cogs in his brain slowly starting to turn. In the end, he was beaming. After the bow, the group of actors left the stage and just before the door closed, I heard his voice above the rest, asking “When can we go again?!”.
Improv is capable of creating amazing moments. I have seen a lot of them, from complete musicals made up on the spot to epic science fiction journeys. But from all the things to choose from, honestly, the best thing to see is this. Someone facing their fear - and having fun doing it.