Use Everything in ImprovYesterday, a friend suffered a stroke. Don't worry, he's OK. The ambulance arrived, the Sacramento EMTs were attentive, and he was rushed to a hospital. He's OK. (I recounted the story to a class last night, but failed to mention he was OK...until the very end. Understandably, the class was a little stressed. I shan't bury the lead again!) All this happened at about 8am. Now, le's skip ahead to 11am. Time jump!

I'm sitting in my cubicle, typing some reports. Menial task, no big deal, but noticed something interesting. I was making a lot of noise. I was really striking the keyboard, while typing. I was being aggressive. Towards a keyboard? "That's weird, and unnecessary," I thought. But, it was necessary. It was necessary, because I was stressed out. A friend had a stroke! The tension and anxiety I had buried, was seeping out. I was "beating up" a keyboard for some cathartic release.

"So, um, how does this relate to improv?" Good question!

One of the best teachers I have ever had, Mark Sutton of the Annoyance Theater in Chicago, once told me, "don't move the object, let the object move you." The way you move something informs your character. Do you like that object? Hate it? Ashamed? Motivated? Be aware of how something affects you. Everything can affect you on stage... if you let it.

You also need to let yourself observe (the audience is observing everything, so you better too). How are those objects affecting your partner? Is he pounding on a keyboard? Explore that! I didn't realize I was pounding on a keyboard until I asked myself, "why?" Everything has a 'why' onstage, and you can uncover that, if you're patient and open. Even if you don't know it, the things you do onstage happen for a reason. Have fun discovering why that happened!

-Paul Burke


You can find Paul Burke every week in Roseville teaching at Blacktop Comedy and performing on Saturday night with The Colony.