Spontaneously extending and varying music ideas in response to initial material or responses invented by other performers in an ensemble.
Improvisation is spontaneous enactment taking on roles and situations to create dramatic and extend the given stimulus. Improvisations are usually short and are structured into a complete little play. An extended improvisation is one that is reworked, shaped and refined.
Improvisation will include:
- Situation: the opening of an improvisation in which the performer or performers establish who the character or characters are, where they are (including the qualities of that setting), what they are doing in that setting and why that action is important to them (who, where, what, why). The clear establishment of a plausible platform allows for the possibility of a complication or conflict which leads to dramatic action in an attempt to solve a problem.
- Offer: one person offers a time/place/situation/conflict and another accepts the offer by going along with it and extending the offer by taking the dramatic action further. ‘Blocking’ occurs when an offer is not accepted. All concerned in the improvisation need to accept the offer to suspend disbelief and pretend.
- Accepting: one person offers a time/place/situation/conflict and another accepts the offer by going along with it and extending the offer by taking the dramatic action further. All concerned in the improvisation need to accept the offer to suspend disbelief and pretend.
- Extending: developing and further exploring an offer.
- Advancing: contributing a new idea that shifts the dramatic action of the improvisation.
- Breaking patterns: the aesthetic practice in improvisation of varying the dynamics of an improvisation: light then dark, busy then still; chaos then simplicity; dialogue then unspoken action or vice versa.
- Working with complications: the discipline in improvisation of the actors finding actions to address conflicts and complications. That is, to show dramatic action in improvisation where conflicts are being worked through instead of waffling (talking about the conflict only).
- Finding a resolution: the challenge of finding a way to cue the audience that the improvisation is coming to an end as the conflict has been resolved as far as is possible.
- Signalling a conclusion: the dramatic convention of cuing an audience that the performance is over and that they may applaud what they have seen. This includes finding a natural exit, freezing or constructing a final sentence that naturally ties together both the central conflict and narrative using a “simple sentence” structure. This is sometimes used to deliver a performance’s “moral”.
See Climax, Dénouement,
In improvisation students should avoid:
- Blocking: one when an offer is not accepted. This can include taking an idea in the direction for comic effect (sometimes called ‘Gagging’).
- Gagging: trying to get an audience to laugh at the expense of a story, character or idea in an improvised performance.
- Waffling: the poor practice of talking about a conflict at length without engaging in any action to advance the narrative or work with the complications.