My brain doesn’t work well in chaos. When I first started taking classes, improv seemed like barely organized chaos. That is, until my first teacher, Tami Nelson, introduced me to The Formula of Improv. This formula has made improv much more accessible and understandable for me, and over the years I’ve grown to rely on it to help explain and teach introductory improv lessons. I’ve even gone so far as to build the first level of the Anubis Improv curriculum around this formula.
The formula, diagrammed above, is this—first, we establish who we are, where we are, what we’re doing, and how we feel about it. Among that information we look for the very first weird or unusual thing, bear hug it, and then heighten either on a rocket ship to the moon, or on a highway straight to heck.
This is the fundamental information of any scene. Who are our characters, where is this scene taking place, what are the characters doing, and how do they all feel about it? The sooner we have this information, the sooner we can find what’s funny about the scene and begin to truly play.
We work hard in improv to observe and discover the weird, unusual, or strange thing in scenes, as opposed to inventing them heavy-handedly. If we’re working with an open and clear mind, this information will appear obvious to us.
We then bear hug that weird thing, meaning everyone in the scene agrees that this is the thing we’re going to focus on for the entirety of the scene. Then the fun really begins.
The true humor of improv, the heighten. We make that weird or unusual thing better, worse, weirder, or more uncomfortable, depending on the game of the scene, for as long as we can. The longer the heighten, the funnier the scene, more or less. When it all comes together, we all work together to push the game as far as our imaginations will allow. And it’s incredibly fun.
Some people revel in the creative chaos of improv, and thank heavens for them. For the rest of us, a little structure goes a long way. Over the next several months, I’ll use this forum to further explore The Formula of Improv, leading sometime in the not-so-distant future to the publication of my book of the same name. Feel free to stick around and explore with us, or better yet, hop into classes and experience the power of The Formula for yourself!