Last week I taught a “Yes Lets!” improv workshop at Madskillz Vancouver, a festival showcasing ground-level circus and performing arts. Though many of the participants were new to improv, everyone embraced the Yes Lets! attitude and jumped right into the exercises and scene work.
As I led the jugglers through a Word-At-A-Time story at Circus West, I realized that there are many similarities between our art forms. In a somewhat particular order, here are five lessons we can learn from Circus School.
1) All you need is your partner. A fun improv scene is akin to watching two jugglers throwing balls back and forth: there is a rhythm that allows the action to continue smoothly, with an unspoken trust that each performer will make the other look good! The next time you are lost in a scene, take a moment to connect with your scene partner and find that rhythm again.
2) Keep those balls in the air. Once you introduce something to a scene – a character, an object, a pin in the air – don’t drop it. The audience sees everything you do, so if you put cup of coffee down on the table, pick it up later and take a drink. It will blow their mind!
3) Don’t throw what you can’t catch. Think of each improv offer as a ring that your scene partner has to catch and then throw back to you. If you come in as a History professor, that is a nice, simple offer your scene partners can work with. If you come in as teacher who is also an alien who also happens to be your mother-in-law who is secretly the President of the United States*, all of a sudden your scene partners have to juggle four different offers coming at once. Take care, and make each other look good.
4) The audience is on your side. The audience wants you to succeed and really doesn’t mind if you drop a ball or miss an entrance or exit. As long as you commit to what you’re doing, the audience will come along for the ride wherever you take them. And if you fail, fail big!
5) Have fun! Whether you’re swinging on a trapeze, balancing on a high wire, or telling 99 Blanks, open yourself up to having as much fun as you can. We get to be onstage with our friends doing what we love, so enjoy! ~ Daniel Chai