Emotion in Improv

Jon Jon here. As most of you know, I regularly perform and teach at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. Two passions of mine are writing and improvisation, so imagine my thrill recently accepting a writing position for the Voodoo. In the new year, I will be writing articles about improv regularly and they can be found right here on the Voodoo Comedy site. In my inaugural article, I wanted to focus on the power of emotion in improvisation. Enjoy!

Let’s get all up into yo’ feelings in this post! Improv scenes are more captivating to watch when involving one crucial element: emotion. Feeling emotions in improv enables audiences to enjoy a deeper level of performance and comedy. Often times, the best movies, stories or memories, have a strong tie to a feeling. Think back on a strong memory. Your grandma’s kitchen, you first apartment, your favorite bar- all of these things illicit emotion, which lead to memory of details, smells and environment. The focus of this inaugural article will be about how and why to bring feelings to an improv scene.

Feel something! At the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse School of Improv, one primary component of the curriculum is called the furnace. Through the furnace, students navigate an array of skills to develop a character. One of the favorite furnace tenets, of course, being emotion. By having an emotion, any emotion really, it enables the actor to quickly have a reason for a scene. If an actor chooses to be a pissed off (anger) PTA mom at a bake sale or a proud (pride) dad at his daughter’s wedding- there is an immediate focus and reason to the scene. Audiences become intrigued by these two choices. Why? Because everyone can relate to emotions; everyone has felt proud, everyone has been pissed off. One easy tool to use to fuel an improv scene is to feel. Feel something. Anything.

Emotion Wheel
Source: Feng Shui Dana

Feel something deep!
 “Go deeper.” This is something an ex once said, who I never saw again. Also a truth in improv. Go deep; feel deep. This is a topic that many new instructors do not explore. A good friend introduced me to this wheel and I have used it teaching improv since. I often speak to improvisers feeling generic emotions in a regular scene. Sad, mad, happy. Challenge yourself and other actors to think deeper when it comes to emotions and feelings. Let’s explore mad. We’ve all seen the typical mad scene.Let’s take a traditional hetero-sexual married couple scene. Husband and wife. The wife is mad at her husband. In this example, she is mad at him for not listening. Using mad as the primary emotion, the scene quickly fizzles. Using the emotion wheel (above), develop this character’s feeling from mad into hurt. Hurt propels the scene into a different level. What will someone say or not say when they are hurt? Now, take it one step further. Imagine the wife as distant to her husband. What does that do to the dynamic of the scene? Not only will dialog be fueled by the red emotion (distant), but so will the body language. The same exercise can be used for all emotions. Use the color wheel to explore different elements of mad, scared, joyful, powerful, peaceful, and sad. Simple shifts in the depth of an emotions can fuel two improvisers to have a deep, meaningful scene.

There are two kinds of scenes. Either a day in the life or the day the shit hits the fan. When choosing either on of these choices, there is always an emotion behind it, sometimes even unknown. By broadening the scope of an emotion, an improv comedian has the range to make viewers experience alternative to the chuckles a typical improv show can bring. Feelings. Get all up into yours!

Jon Jon
Jon Jon Lannen is a new writer for Voodoo Comedy. Lannen is also an instructor for Voodoo’s School of Improv. More about him here.