If you’re passionate about improv, you likely seek out as much information as you can about it. There is a decent-sized handful of improv books out there, and half of them are halfway decent, but one to put toward the top of your reading list is Improvise by Mick Napier.
The intro-level improv class I’m teaching at the Brave New Workshop took most of our rehearsal time to discuss this book last night. They talked about ideas they liked (listening, taking care of yourself, etc.) and ideas that didn’t quite click for them (thermodynamics), and overall walked away more excited about improv than ever, which should be the goal of any good improv craft book. At least two students commented on how something Napier posits pinpoints their exact improvement issues, and it was cool for them to read about them.
Napier talks a lot about the “rules” of improv, and how in many ways, improv doesn’t need them to succeed. On many levels, I agree, thought I think the “rules” have been misinterpreted and misconstrued over the years to become the “rules” they are now. For example, asking questions – I think it’s perfectly acceptable for characters to ask questions in scenes. However, if the questions that come out in scenes are coming from the actor, because they truly have no idea what is going on, that’s the actor coming from a place of fear and they need to get over it. Yet I hear people say not to ask questions in a scene. I propose one can, so long as the question comes from the character, not the actor. To me, the “rules” are there for a reason, and they can work quite well for many people. Also, I wonder about improvisers who never learn the rules whatsoever and their success rate. For example, the book concentrates on re-teaching those who have learned the rules already, which to me says despite any burdens the rules may cause, they’re still out there for everyone to try.
Napier will be the first to avoid terms like “guru,” but he truly is one of the smartest improv coaches today. As one lucky enough to take a few master classes with the man, I witnessed him sense hundreds of young improviser’s “deal” after witnessing just one scene – and when it came to me, he was on the nose every time. Track down his classes and failing that, read the book. Then re-read it.