Montreal Improv: (top l-r) Kirsten Rasmussen, Francois Vincent, Bryan Walsh
(tie-strangled: Marc Rowland)
Idea vs. Execution
A common reflex is to worry about the idea of
by Francois Vincent of Montreal Improv
Successful novelists around the world will likely all be able to tell
you the same story. A stranger walks up to them and says, “I’ve got a
great idea for a book that will make millions. I’ll tell you what it
is and then you write it up and we can split the money.” Unfortunately
for these people, there are two problems. One, most novelists have way
more book ideas than they will ever be able to write in their
lifetime. Two, coming up with the idea is the easy part, all of the
hard work comes in the execution. And so it is with improv.
When people first start improv (and, in my opinion, all of this
applies to writing), a common reflex is to worry about the idea of
their scenes. Sometimes they’ll start out with some funny (or not)
premise and then once that’s been given, they are out of gas and the
scene kind of spirals into nonsense. It’s good to have an idea on how
to start a scene but that isn’t the whole scene. It needs to be
executed. The starting point is good, improvising your way from there
is the hard work.
Personally, I prefer improv where it comes from figuring out what is happening between two people, the relationship.
Ever see an improv scene that starts like this?
“Ok, I’ve got 100 pies to get rid of before my wife gets home. You’ve
got to help me!”
“The Martians are coming and we’ve only got this bag of marshmallows!”
This is the narrative dump opening. What the initiator intends is for
their premise to be enacted in some way and the “improv” comes from
figuring out how to deal with the premise. Personally, I prefer improv
where it comes from figuring out what is happening between two people,
the relationship. If I were the scene partner for either of those
scenes above, I’d take them (remember: always say yes) and try to turn
them into scenarios about the people involved.
Digression: A useful philosophy for situations like this comes from
Aikido, a martial art. The founder of Aikido stated that: “To control
aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.” One of its
tenets is to use your opponent’s energy against them and to move with
their attacks to neutralize them. In our scenarios above, our partner
is aggressively trying to control the scene. We, as their partner,
need to move with them to neutralize their aggression and bring them
to a place where you can both start improvising. End Digression.
As you get better and better with execution, you can work with simpler and simpler opening ideas.
Anyone can come up with ideas to start a scene but it takes a good
improviser to execute an engaging scene from them. As you get better
and better with execution, you can work with simpler and simpler
“I say, give me your wallet or you’ll be getting shot, my good man!”
“This new photocopier looks complicated.”
“This is some great cake.”
What I’m trying to say here is: don’t worry about your ideas. They are
far, far less important than their execution. A scene with a great
idea and mediocre execution is always going to be worse than a scene
with a mediocre idea and great execution.