The Bear Hug in Improv
As mentioned in our last blog, bear hugging in improv is closely tied to finding the weird thing and playing the game of the scene. Once we’ve established the details of the scene, we look for the weird or unusual thing, bear hug it, and heighten to the moon (or to heck).
Agree on the Weird Thing
As we discussed in the last blog, identifying the weird or unusual thing is all about paying attention, being present and open minded as we enjoy the creation of our scene. One danger in having so much fun in our improv scenes is that we might not agree on what the most fun thing to play with is. Ideally everyone in the scene is bear hugging the same game, so that we can heighten together, feeding each other with joyful offers and responses. Agreeing on what to bear hug is as simple as making a decision and communicating it to our scene partners and the audience. Oftentimes the audience decides for us, by having a big reaction to something said or done in the scene. In these instances, we’re rewarding the audience by bear hugging their idea, creating a more immersive and collaborative experience for audience and performers.
Communicate it Clearly
Once we know what we want to bear hug, we communicate that choice to our scene partners and the audience by calling it out and identifying it as weird. We then move to play with that weird or unusual thing by adding ideas or elements to the scene that heighten that weird thing. This can be done in an infinite number of ways, as we’ll discuss in the blog on heightening, but the main thing to remember is that we want to stick with our main game, even if we diverge slightly for fun tangents, we want to always come back to the very first weird or unusual thing that we bear hugged. We teach this as the trunk and branches of a scene. The trunk is the main game, that very first thing that we bear hugged. We want to stick to the trunk of the scene as closely as possible. If we venture out on a branch because something fun sparks our interest, we need to be sure to only stay out on that branch for a short time, lest we get too far and the branch breaks, that is we lose the thread of the scene and devolve into chaos. Moving out a branch for a short period of time is fine, and often very fun, but we always want to make our way back to bear hugging the trunk, playing with and heightening the original game we established at the beginning of the scene.
Bear hugging in improv is the agreement between scene partners as to what the focus of the scene will be. There are often limitless possibilities for what we can bear hug as we begin a scene, but once we identify what we see as the very first weird or unusual thing, we communicate that to our scene partners, and by extension, the audience, and we bear hug it, focusing the vast majority of our attention on that thing as we heighten to comedy bliss.