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Stepping off the Cliff: The sharp divide between training and performance in improvised comedy

Stepping off the Cliff: The sharp divide between training and performance in improvised comedy

McLaughlin, James ORCID: 0000-0002-2146-6884 (2017) Stepping off the Cliff: The sharp divide between training and performance in improvised comedy. In: Theatre and Performance Research Association Annual Conference (TaPRA 2017 Performer Training Working Group), 30 August - 1 September, New Adelphi, Peel Park campus, University of Salford.

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The improvising comedian’s training ends the moment they step on stage. Improvisation training helps to develop skilled performers, but there is a fundamental difference between the activities of training and performing in this genre. These two modes are so distinct that in a very real sense training ceases when performance begins.

The comedian’s fundamental aim is to provoke a specific reaction from the audience – laughter. Their virtuosity depends upon how well they instigate and modulate this in the audience; the performance itself resides in this dynamic rather than in the actions of a performer that are observed by an audience. Pre-performance training can therefore not access the key feature of a comedy performance.

This reliance on the audience is amplified in the case of the improvising comedian who not only cannot access performer-audience dynamic in their training, but cannot rehearse the means by which they will do so in performance. Improvisation training therefore focusses on the performer’s reactions and how they relate to their fellow performers. This training must then be set aside, and left as an unconscious background, as the performer engages with the audience in the moment of performance.

This paper will provide a phenomenological analysis of the modes of training and performance in improvised comedy to show the unique manner in the improviser’s training ends when they begin their performance. It will draw on original and archival interviews with improvisers and comedians as well as my own experience of training and performing at The Covert Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand. It will build on Oliver Double’s explorations of stand-up comedy and provide a critical robustness to the growing body of work surrounding popular performance training.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: improvisation, keith johnstone, improv bandits, chicago improv festival, comedy, phenomenology, ab lines
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Humanities & Social Sciences (HSS)
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > Literature & Drama Research Group
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2019 10:53

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