Improv Advice from Walt Frasier, Artistic Director New York Improv Theater

Some general notes (recently given to new cast members) from me and other MCs. I babble but please read all. 

Remember my three #1s

  • My #1 rule: HAVE FUN but never at another’s expense. I find that even when technique flies out the window if everyone has fun, chaos can be survived. Stay focused, in the moment. Never give up on self or others. Remember “mistakes” are gifts so celebrate perceived hiccups and blunders. Push through with smiles and laughter.
  • Improv #1 Yes And…. SUPPORT, SAY YES, etc for Rehearsals, and showcases, outlaw the word no, can’t, won’t, etc just to break habits.AND give your partners fun stuff to work with. Make simple choices WHO WHERE WHAT that move a story along.
  • #1 skill LISTEN: Sometimes we need to slow down and just listen to our scene partners and the world. Listen with our eyes. You never have to think if you truly listen. The words will be there.

Other notes

Before shows, be on time, connect with your team. What’s the show order? What can you do to help get the venue ready? Help seating etc. We are a team on and off stage. If you need some energy, or have extra to share, together find a common space with a quick warm up game. Set each other up for success!!!

AVOID QUESTIONS in scenes: These too often put all the work on your partner. Catch your self asking questions, answer the question with WHO WHERE WHAT choice. Especially in SWITCH. Kills this game.

VISUALIZE the choices: instead of trying to think of words to say, visualize the choice your partner makes. See the WHERE, embody the WHO, play the WHAT. Treat improv scenes the way you should treat and great theater, losing yourselves in the moment.

Watch and Learn

Study your team, especially the Vet’s. Learn from their choices. How to better play the games. The second you think you know it all, you know and learn nothing. But also learning your team style, strengths and weaknesses will help you better set them up for success, which is our #1 job in improv. Make THEM look good.

EVERY SHOW/CLASS/REHEARSAL

Journal your progress, or at least in your mind, after ever song, think of ten words you could have rhymed. After every world’s worst, ten things yi could have said/done. I used to do this in my first few years on the subway after every show. What could I have done. Better. Have a hunger for self improvement. After a show have a game plan for the next time. (Too many do this work during a show and takes them out of the moment)

Don’t try to impress!!!!

Ego and insecurity equally DESTROY creativity. 

Be ok with SUCKING ARSE. Because if you don’t fear failure or looking foolish, the creativity flows. (Remember my#1 rule). Let go of trying to be perfect. After 20 years nothing impresses me, so don’t try, yet everything delights when it’s honest and spontaneous. Don’t try to be funny or clever. Trust that everything coming out of your mouth in that moment is great. Trust your partners to be even greater. During a show JUST DO. Listen and respond. Think in the 1st person of your character. Open up. Be vulnerable. Focus on giving your team what they need to succeed. They will return the favor.

Lastly, four weeks of rehearsals, understudy etc does not make anyone ready to rock. Ask any vet, they did not truly feel part of the team for 6-12 months, with rare exception.  Right now on weekend shows it’s you plus 2-3 other new cast and 1-3 vets, but mostly our newer “vets”.  When you start doing gigs when it’s you plus 3-4 vets, be a sponge. They have been with me for 3-12+ years for a reason. But at some point they were all you. I still treat every show like I’m the baby, wide eyed, open to new. Learning from all of you. No amount of classes in acting or improv truly prepares you for the real world. Don’t be thrown off by that, don’t let that scare you, etc. But acting is a life time of learning new. The worst show/production taught me valuable lessons. The best shows overly inflated my ego, blinding me to some opportunities. Be a sponge. Listen with your eyes on and off stage. Learn from each other and your own “mistakes”. The day I stop learning I will be retired or dead. 27+ years after my first pro production I still have so much to learn.

  • International credits include costar roles on Billions, Blue Bloods, Royal Pains, Lilyhammer, Naked Brothers Band (NICK); sketch comedy on Friends of the People (truTV), Letterman, MTV, and HBO.; commercials / industrials; 25+ years of live theater, music and comedy.
  • SINCE 2002: Artistic Director at the New York Improv Theater (EIGHT IS NEVER ENOUGH, LMAOff BROADWAY, ABSENT MINDED COMEDY, Improv 4 Kids) with shows & classes LIVE from Times Square, Touring Nationwide and online worldwide. Off Broadway Weekly, Corporate Events, College Comedy, K12 Educational outreach, Team Building, Professional Development, Murder Mystery.
  • AUTHOR/EDITOR of various Improv & Stand-Up Comedy Text Books.
  • EMAIL for more info, booking etc
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