What we do is a unique art-form. We entertain while re-creating famous personae. While modern improv scenes can sometimes go anywhere, we need to stay “on-topic” as we create our stories. Just FYI, styles of improvisation have been around for quite a while–from ancient days with things like Commedia Dell’Arte to modern re-invented styles used by famous improv troupes like Second City, the Groundlings, and more. Shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “Whose Line Is It, Anyway?” have given us some of the best performers in media today. And you will note, they are awesome even if they are not doing comedic material! Learning some improv could be very useful for you indeed. Here’s the next three handy tips.
4. Never be afraid to be YOUR Character. If your Mrs. Claus is a bit of a fuss-budget, always tidying up, or she’s always perky and helpful, be in character the whole time you are “on-stage.” This is not to say you can’t shift moods or feelings, but come back to your main character. And you can be in character very successfully, even if quiet. If your tidy character immediately goes to straighten your apron or says, “Tsk-tsk, Papa, you have crumbs in your beard!” these little things can help create the dynamic between you and others. Practice being in character beforehand with your other performers before you go out.
5. Always Praise. While this might not be needed for improv scenes, as Christmas Performers we are trying to build a story or a shared narrative. We want to be seen as a positive character, and human beings love being praised and acknowledged. The more supported a person feels, the more likely they will “buy in” or invest in the shared story. Which is not to say you cannot ask, “Have you been Naughty?” or raise a skeptical eyebrow. Far from it. But if you do end up on a negative point, “I hear you have not been cleaning your room,” try to follow that with a positive shift. “But, Santa did hear that you did very good in school. Well done! Do you think you can do a better job on your room? Wonderful, Mary! Now how would you like to help me with a song?” One great technique is to ask a leading question and then to respond to the answer positively.
6. Don’t be afraid to have fun or be silly. Yingle the Elf picks up a beautiful bow and slaps it on her forehead. “Look Santa! I’m a Unicorn!” Santa smiles, sighs, nods his head and says, “Why yes! Yes, you are.” Two things are going on. One, Yingle is doing some improv schtick and Santa went for the agreement. Two, Santa might follow up with an aside to the children. “Don’t encourage Yingle on this. Last time, Yingle the Unicorn ate some Christmas wrapping and got very sick! Blech! Yingle the Unicorn is silly!” The main thing to remember is that most Christmas events move from segment to segment, and any schtick needs to not distract from the planned pacing too much. If Jingle gets up and starts prancing, it might be hard to get people to do photos or whatever comes next. As the old saying goes, “Spontaneity is wonderful, as long as it is carefully planned.”
Please feel free to pass this article on, and share it. If you have questions or topics on Performing you would like to see us cover here at CPW, please let us know. Santa True will be teaching several classes at Discover Santa in Branson. When the survey comes out, please sign up! I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend, and a shout out to my fellow vets. Thanks!
Photo by Gremly Photography