Improv discussions in 140 characters tweet!


I talked with Paul Killam about Twitter and Improv Conversations.

William: Paul you are an improviser at BATS Improv in San Francisco and you teach improv at the College of Marin.  And you have been performing improv regularly for about 20 years.   You’ve started using twitter for improv discussions.


I started using social media several years ago because my students in college were all there and I could disseminate information to them without having to send group emails.  Facebook became popular just after that and was a better platform.   Being able to reach my students is important to me.  And twitter seems to be a more immediate and less game oriented format.  Still...I’m not sure what to make of twitter.

It seems to be primarily about driving traffic to web sites but there is also another sort of sphere going on...about discussions in very-very short forms.   I was starting to understand that some people have very succinct twitter posts....and useful ones...and things that I’m interested in.

I thought it might be an interesting way for people to exchange ideas and drive conversations in a topic I’m interested in, Improvisation.  And a good discussion can help me to clarify what I’m thinking about improv.

William:   What makes it a good tool?


It’s a very short, you can’t repeat yourself over and over again.  You have to say it and cut out words....and get on with it.  If improvisers were using it, it might be a way to disseminate ideas and have discussions.

William: When you search twitter for ‘#improv’ you find mostly two things: announcements for shows and classes with a link and quotes about improv.   But the ones you post are different.  Here’s one:

 Submitted for your analysis: The real root of "problems" in improv scenes: fighting for control. Observe and report. #improv#impro


Most of the time when I hear improvisers they’re not do I put this...most of the time the exchanges seem to be besides the point on some level.  For example, how do get songs into improvisation?  Big deal, I don’t care.

You know what it is?  It’s that they tend to be about entertainment rather than about the things that makes scenes work or not work.  I don't think that anyone talks about some of the basic root problems that exist in improvisation.  

And because I am teaching rather young students I’m trying to figure out how to get them to not kill off their scenes immediately by introducing conflict or to understand that the reason they’re being negative is because they’re afraid and it’s a natural condition and that once they understand that, maybe we might be able to improve it.   So I suppose that by posting that one I’m trying to get improvisers to think about the basics...the root problems.

I’m looking the things that make scenes better and why are there always things that screw scenes up.  Why is it so difficult?  I don’t think it should be that difficult.

So with that specific one I was trying to address the basic ideas that I think are obvious and I want to see what other people think.

Do other people notice the same things I do?  Or is it only the people I hang out with that I find their ideas interesting– are they the only people thinking about these things? I put the hash tag on there in case someone else from ...say...England is searching for ideas about improvisation and they see the tweet and say, “oh look at this someone is thinking about this ...I was wondering about this too”

William: Explain what you mean by “fighting for control”.


I think that fighting for control is making sure that you get to ....oh...I’m not sure how to put this...changing the direction of a scene to fit someone’s own ideas ...or to keep themselves safe by not having to change.   Or putting another person in the scene in a position of losing, of having to change ...having to become the character that is acted-on.

It happens all the time.  People say, “Wait, wait I have the right idea that’s going to fix this.” And it takes the scene off in a totally new direction that leaves the original question just sitting there without being answered.  Or leaves the original set of exchanges unfinished.


I taught a workshop recently and these are experienced improvisers and quite often they were choosing to make the other person ‘wrong’ or the other person (or character) to lose in the scene.  My teaching has changed now, and I ask them what they were after....or what were they thinking.  That way we can uncover it rather than just be prescriptive.


That one of the things I’m trying to do with putting these ideas out there  - I don’t really go for prescriptive teaching ...but that seems to be what most teaching is.

William: One of your other tweets talks about a ‘magic bullet’.

Submitted for your analysis: notice many Improv "experts" advocate a "magic bullet" for improv success - genre, space objects etc #improv

As if saying “yes, and” to everything was THE answer, or good space object work was THE answer to make a scene good...


Or you must have Genre attached to every scene.  Or you must determine who the protagonist is...

William: Or you must find the game of the scene...


Maybe there are magic bullets out there...but it doesn’t seem likely.

William: Paul thank you for speaking with me...I’ll type this up and lets see if we get any responses longer than 140 characters.


ha ha.