Q&A: How long should we practice?

Q. I’m new to improv and just formed a troupe with other newbies. How long should we practice before we start performing?


A. Michael: Many improvisers begin performing in front of an audience almost as soon as they start to study improv. Is this a good idea? Well… maybe. 


Improv traditionally has a low bar for entry. By that, I mean many improvisers begin their performing career without a lot of the extensive training that typically is expected in the performing arts. (Imagine a bunch of untrained adults strapping on toe shoes and jumping into Swan Lake! Ouch!) Improvisers tend to be kind of a rag-tag bunch, from diverse backgrounds, who have in common a love of making stuff up with others. That’s all they really need to get started.


MopCo's Student team: Controlled Chaos opening or the main stage troupe

MopCo's Student team: Controlled Chaos opening or the main stage troupe

It’s possible that getting out there in front of an audience will provide the new improviser with huge amounts of learning. It has been said that “one performance is worth ten rehearsals” in terms of learning. And certainly, if one is eager to get out there on stage, there’s a lot to be said for getting that quick fix of audience-fueled adrenaline. 


On the other hand, when people first start to study improv, they are often still fighting some potential bad habits. Trying to be clever. Driving the scene. Or, hiding in plain sight—making their partner do all the work. Or they might be really good at gagging—getting a big laugh at the expense of their partner or the scene. Starting to perform too soon can sometimes reinforce these bad habits, and then they are harder to overcome. 


So what to do? I usually suggest that people get a strong grounding in the fundamentals in classes, and then enter the world of performance gently.


Perform for other improvisers! Other improvisers “get it.“ They are perhaps the most loving audience possible. At Mopco, we run a monthly Jam (usually the third Saturday of the month) that is designed to bring improvisers of all abilities together to play. 


Perform for friends and family! A very informal performance for a handful of supportive friends and family is a great way to start out. Letting the audience know that this is new to the performers, and inviting them into some of the games, can make the whole experience easier and more joyful. Improv is great, because you can do a show in a large living room—you just need a few friends on hand. 

The real test of whether you’re ready is simple: Performing improv is supposed to feel good. And if you start with a knowledge of the basics and a supportive audience, it should.

The Skinny on… Laci Lee

Mopco cast member since 2014

What was your favorite toy as a child?

I had a Birthday Barbie that I was obsessed with for years. I wouldn’t let anyone play with her and she had her own stand. 

What’s your favorite local restaurant?

It used to be Mingle, in Albany, but they closed so now it’s New World Bistro

Would you rather travel to the moon or the bottom of the sea?

To the moon, better peripheral vision. 

What’s your motto?

I don’t know if I have one, but I have a Pinterest board of quotes and sayings and here’s one I like: “I’m a simple woman, I like handsome bearded brunette men and breakfast food.”

Come Make Up Songs!

Admit it. You were skeptical when you read that class description for Mopco’s “Sing Your Butt Off! Summer Music Class.”

Beginners learning to improvise songs? you scoffed, inwardly. Impossible!

Nevertheless intrigued, you wanted to know more. You wanted to know what happens in the class. How this is possible.

So I went ahead and asked for you. Here’s what Mopco Musical Director Mark S. Meritt explained.

 1. The class covers aspects of melody, harmony, working with an accompanist, and basic song structure. The building blocks, really, for creating a song.

2. Students who’ve improvised before can use their improv skills to create lyrics (otherwise known as just plain words). The only difference here is the words are set to music. 

3. Students who haven’t improvised before will still be able to do this because the entire process is broken down into simple steps.

And suddenly, learning to improvise songs sounds like an attainable goal, after all.



May I Ask a Question?

By Amy Nolte, Mopco member and instructor

One of the basic “rules” you hear early in building your improv muscles is that if you want to be a good scene partner, then “don’t ask questions.” 

Wait a minute… Our mentors and improv instructors encourage us to think, “If this is true, what else is true?” which, I will point out, is a question. And isn’t there is an improv game where the point is to keep a conversation grounded in reality while only asking questions? To even get more meta, we ask questions in real life; why not in improv?  

So what is an improviser to do? 

Personally, I would encourage improvisers to think about improv as having not “rules” but rather some guidelines that can help us navigate our scene work successfully.  When we ask open-ended questions that don’t offer any information in our scenes, we put pressure on our partners to fill in the blanks.  There’s a huge difference between asking, “Why are you crying?” as opposed to, “Are you crying because you didn’t get the part of the tree in the school play, David?” Although questions legitimately exist in the real world, you’ll find that the ability to make stronger choices and gravitate away from open-ended questions in your improv really does happen the more you practice this skill. 

I recently gave a group of improvisers homework to think of ways to turn questions into statements, or take baby steps by asking questions that inform.  Over time, improvisers learn to make definitive statements like, “David, I’m sorry you didn’t get the part of the tree in the play. It’s okay to cry, honey.”  Can questions occur in that scene naturally?  Of course they can. The conversation could easily continue with the question, “That Jenkins’ kid didn’t get the part, did he?”… but it helps that we’ve established a base reality, a relationship, and some context already.  Taking a tip from Mopco’s “K.I.N.D.” improv (Know, Inform, Need, Delight), a question that defines a relationship and informs your scene partner certainly is a big “yes-and” to all of those components…and a good place to start. 

So, what do you think about questions in your improv work?

Man, we are bussssyyyyyyy at Mopco Headquarters


Here we go!!!


Be Brave!

By Heather Schwartz

Does the thought of taking an improv class both intrigue you and scare you to death? If so, you’re not alone, especially if you don’t think of yourself as a performer. Let’s face it: In an improv class, you’ll be doing stuff—i.e. performing—in front of at least a few other people. It’s not the kind of thing everyone is naturally inclined to jump into.

Surprisingly, though, respected, talented, well-loved professional performers often experience those same feelings that might hold anyone back. Judy Dench lives in fear as a performer, according to The Stage. And E! Online reports Adele has a nervous habit of tossing her cookies before shows.

Why do tormented souls continue performing when it creates so much stress? That’s a question to be explored further in another post. The simple answer is this: Performing creates positive feelings, too. There’s a payoff. And it’s so amazing it’s worth working through some anxiety to get it.