“Magic becomes art when it has nothing to hide.”
It’s possible to compare improvisers to magicians. In fact, I’ve heard this comparison made in more workshops then I can remember and have probably used it on more then one occasion. I think it’s pretty accurate. We set the stage as if what we are about to do is impossible. No script! No planning! It’s magic! And for the most part, the audience believes there is no trick and the fact that we are making it up is magic. The magic is what we are selling at $10 a head.
That’s usually where the comparison end. Let’s take it a little further, shall we?
Magicians also do a lot of planning and have a lot of paraphernalia that the audience never sees. Such as trap doors, angels hair, fake thumbs, string and wires, smoke and mirrors, etc… and so do improvisers. We use editing techniques like sweeps and tags and sliding doors. We have formats like narrative collage, and domino, and even the Harold. And yet like magicians, we never tell the audience. Most improvisers nowadays, just get on stage and say “All we need is a word…” and they leave out the part about format and structure, and all the other little games they’ve chosen to use.
And to that I say: not cool. Why? Because we are not magicians. We are improvisers. We aren’t doing tricks we are supposed to be improvising. There is a big difference between a trick and a lie. Both sides know when it’s a trick, but the only people who know it’s a lie, are the liars themselves. We aren’t tricking anyone, we’re just holding back the truth (also known as being dishonest (also known as lying)).
Audiences don’t even know to look for the rules of a domino, they have no idea what a lotus is. They leave the show amazed thinking, “they just made that whole thing up, how did they know revisit those three scenes after that first group game…” (okay maybe they don’t think exactly that, but I think you get the idea).
Audiences go to see magicians because they like being tricked, they go see improvisers because they like being amazed. Unfortunately, they usually get what they want…and that makes me sad, because they don’t even realize they’re being tricked.
I always tell my audience exactly what’s happening. I explain the form I’ll be using to the best of my ability, or I don’t use a format, and I tell them that. I believe we as improvisers should be honest with our audience so that they too can be in on the act of spontaneous creation they are about to see. Because honesty…now that’s magic.