In improvised theater, there have been discussions on and off about the “Rules”. Say yes. Heighten your scene. Don’t ask questions. Give information. Start in the middle. Like your scene partner and so on. Mick Napier among others is a proponent of not being a slave to the rules or even seeing them as sacred. I like to say that they are more a set of tools than rules.
I had a discussion with my level 1 class last night about just this, and it was great because they are an astute bunch of learners. The distinction of identifying these ideas or guidelines as tools helps to deflate them as some form of checklist formula for a good scene, and places them in a category of things to use in different contexts. I like this because improvised scenes, just like life, require different approaches for different situations. Maybe asking questions actually will heighten the tension and relationship between characters? Maybe an introduction can vault us into the middle of something?
If you have a good grasp of the “Tools”, you will be better able to use the tool for the job than standing and staring while your brain digs through its toolbox trying to apply every tool to the job at hand. Instead of just grabbing the phillips screwdriver and getting the job done. If there’s been a common complaint in peoples’ journey through learning improv, it has been the mental blocking power of too many things to think about and apply while building a scene in the moment. In my opinion, the “rules” can drive a person into a cloud of worry in their head sometimes more than liberate them to act appropriately to develop their scene. Mick Napier’s words ring in my head “Fuck it!” It’s all disposable whether its brilliant or not.
This is not to say discard the tools. It’s more to say start thinking about best applications for each tool. The best improvised scenes come from good listening and staying present. The tools are what we rely on when we don’t find that great chemical connection with our scene partners and the material at the start of the scene.