Knowing some improvisational acting, or improv, is necessary for a hospital clown because it helps with partnering and thinking “on your feet”. A hospital clown must be able to collaborate well with a partner and be ready for anything.
Following are some basics of general improvisational acting. Keep in mind that improv is usually done with little to no props or costumes, so most of the action is mimed and requires imagination. Clowns mostly have actual props and costumes, and I will apply these improv principles to hospital clowning in the next post.
Although it’s mostly made up on the spot, improv has rules and they are necessary to move the scene forward and keep it interesting. The rules will be broken sometimes and SOMETIMES that’s ok.
Yes/And: Don’t deny what your scene partner offers/suggests. If your partner spoke first, accept the reality they have created and add to it. If you had something else in mind, you may have to drop it, but there are times that you can adjust it and therefore justify what your partner suggested:
You pick something off the floor and smiling, you’re just about to eat it.
Your partner says “Yay! You found grandma’s diamond ring!”
You say “Yes, it sure looks like it; let’s see if it’s the real thing...” and take a bite (maybe you even break a tooth in the process).
Avoid asking questions (unless you’re playing an improv game called “questions”): This puts all the pressure on your partner and it’s a scene that will probably not go anywhere. If you begin this way, try to get out of it as soon as possible. If it is a skit that requires it, make sure there is a purpose for the questions.
Instead of asking "Why are you always late?", say "I see you're late again".
Better to show something than to talk about it:
Instead of saying “Maybe we should try picking the lock”, pick the lock and make your action obvious.
Don’t talk about what you’re doing as you’re doing it:
Don’t say “I’m peeling some apples”; if this action is not obvious enough to communicate it to your partner or audience, comment on it: “These apples are hard to peel”.
Begin the scene in the middle: Unless it’s required by a clown gag or skit, you are not strangers. You already know each other and something just happened. Anything else will take too long to get to the focus of the scene and is less interesting.
Keep scenes focused on the relationship/current actions on stage among the players: In a hospital, you should also involve your patient. Try not to discuss someone or something that is not currently present.
Don’t play crazy, and avoid playing drunk. No “bathroom” or filthy words/humor: Obvious reasons, especially for a family show.
Take care of yourself first: Be/have/feel/do something; it’s a gift to your partner and the scene. This is not selfish, it’s initiation. It’s especially helpful when working with an inexperienced partner who may have the “deer in the headlights” look when entering the performance area.
Scenes should be about RELATIONSHIPS between the people on stage, even if what they are physically doing is important. This makes the audience care about what happens next. Essential to this is the EMOTION you bring to the scene. A strong emotion is the most valuable thing you can bring to scene, even if you don’t start speaking, just expressing it.
* Remember: Improv Currency - what is valuable for the scene:
$1 = (Say) Words (Good to start the scene speaking.)
$50 = (Do) Actions (Better to do something when you get on stage.)
$100 = (Feel) Emotions (Best to bring a strong emotion into the scene.)
Don’t get in your head: Don’t plan or worry about what you’ll do/say/feel. Trust the process, your training and your partner. Audiences can smell fear. Observe, listen, feel and you’ll find plenty to react to or create. Have FUN!
Check out my next post to apply all this to hospital clowning and partnering.
Lucy E. Nunez has been a theatrical performer since 2002. She created Nurse Lulu for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in 2014. She was a resident clown there and at Baptist Children's Hospital. For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds