The Improvisers’ Guide to Better Writing – Part 1

Can learning the skills that make good improvised comedy help you as a writer? Yes, and over the next few weeks you will find out why and how. Today, we’ll start with the very basics: the warm-up.

Since 2009, I’ve been involved with an improvised comedy group here in Nottingham. Despite being pretty ropey to begin with, I’ve attended countless workshops, shows and events over the last three and a bit years, to the point where I’ve reached of a standard where I can not only perform on stage but also teach the subject.

Of course, the instant reaction I get from telling someone that I teach improvised comedy is “How is that possible? Surely you make it up on the spot?” Of course, this is true. But, as with any other pastime, it is possible to learn skills and techniques that make you better.

Since September 2012, I’ve been teaching kids drama and comedy in Nottingham to a lovely bunch of 8-12 year olds. The Little Imps have come on leaps and bounds since the sessions began, culminating in a ‘mini show’ to their families just before Christmas. And, as well as teaching the basics of stagecraft and how to perform improvised comedy, it struck me that teaching improv has dozens of other positive benefits in other walks of life.

Many corporations use improve as a teambuilding exercise. Team GB’s women’s hockey team did a day of improvisation as part of their build up to London 2012. As one of the parents pointed out to me after a recent session, it’s obvious that improvisation offers other benefits than learning to be funny on stage. It develops skills from social interaction and confidence building to listening

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skills and teamwork.

And, the basic skills needed for improvisation also help us to write better. How? Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of the skills that will make you both a

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better improviser and a better writer. Today, we’ll start with the warm-up.

Part 1 –

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The importance of a warm-up

Most of the people who attend our sessions don’t like the warm-up. To start with, I was the same. What is the point of spending the first 15 minutes of a session jogging on the spot or making weird noises?

Now, I don’t suggest that you do a hundred squat thrusts before you start to write a press release. Neither do I think it’s

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imperative that you make motorboat sounds with your lips or repeat a tongue twister before you start on that website rewrite.

However, warm-up games and exercises can really help improve the quality of your work. They are designed to get you in a cheery mood, focus your mind on what’s about to happen and sharpen concentration.

I’ll talk about some basic group exercises to focus the mind next time. However, the point is that a warm-up takes you from whatever mindset you were in before – stress from your work, the traffic you’ve just sat in, the row you’ve had with your partner – and moves you into a place where you are ready to perform.

I think that is a brilliant lesson for anyone who’s about to write. Emptying your mind of everything else that is going on in order to concentrate on the matter in hand makes for more focused, interesting improv. It also makes for better writing. Try it sometime. You don’t have to spend hours running around the block. Just do some simple breathing exercises, stretch your back and your arms out and try and shake off all the other things competing for your brain’s attention.

As I’ve learned along the way, warm-ups are absolutely essential to a decent

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performance, particularly on stage. Without it, you’re not in the mindset where you’re ready to perform. And, that can apply to practically anything.

Next time I’ll look at how basic improv games and exercises focus your mind and help you to get ‘in the zone’. In the meantime, please share your thoughts below.

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Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 29 January 2013