What's in your Background?

published16 days ago
3 min read

September 2021

Happy Fall, y’all!

One quick item of admin before we dive into this month’s improv goodness…

You probably heard that Apple has been making changes to their email system designed to “enhance privacy.” If you haven't already, the next time you update iOS you may be asked to turn on the new Mail Protection features.

Following Apple’s lead, it’s likely other popular email systems will soon make similar changes. Nothing wrong with all this, privacy is a good thing. But it makes things tricky for us small-time newsletter producers.

Now more than ever, it’s important for YOU to make sure your email system is sending messages to the right place. Gmail and Apple Mail are especially tough on newsletters, which often land in the Promotions tab or Spam folder.

I put a lot of work into producing these updates and other content, and I’d like to make sure it’s actually READ by people. So could you do me a BIG favour and go follow my Approved Sender Instructions?

It takes just a few seconds to set up, and will help you avoid future problems. It also sends signals to your email system that help others get their messages, too.

Thank you VERY much. This really does make a difference! I’m grateful for your help, and honoured that you’re here.

Now, moving on…

Scene Backgrounds - filling in the picture

There’s no doubt that the visible set of a stage play draws an audience in more than a blank stage. People don’t have to do any work to see the environment and objects. Our challenge is to create the same sense of place in our improv shows.

This can be especially tough for long-form, because a lengthy scene in a blank space creates visual fatigue. If you can refresh or add to the stage picture from time to time, you’re working in a much richer world.

Responsibility for this shouldn’t always fall on the improvisers inside the scene. Players on the outside can also find ways to help.

Take your average restaurant scene, for example. It usually features a couple at a table, a server moving in and out, maybe an encounter with an angry chef or snooty sommelier. But how many restaurants in the world have a single table? Players can add other tables of diners nearby, creating the sense of a busy restaurant. These people aren’t involved characters, they’re part of the stage picture, like extras in a movie. Yet they can still affect the tone of the scene. What happens to the stakes of a breakup conversation when we can see another couple within earshot?

Every scene is full of opportunities to add to the background. Like the restaurant, most public places have more people in them than the characters of a scene. Office employees can pass by a conversation between a Boss and Assistant. Dog walkers can saunter through scenes in a park.

Next time you’re in the backline, remember you can enter scenes to add to the background. Do it quickly and try to avoid pulling focus too much. You’ll make the environment richer, which inspires the players and draws the audience further into the experience.

More for the Improv Illusionist

Emotional Safety Resources

Improv Exercises for Physical Skills
Including an exercise for Stage Picture Backgrounds, as discussed in the feature article above.

Improv Books — Reviews & Recommendations

Improv Podcasts — Reviews & Recommendations

News and Links

Spolin Games Online
Gary Schwartz has compiled a large collection of videos demonstrating the teaching and exercises of Viola Spolin. Excellent resource for improv teachers and performers who want to work on their environment skills.

The Dubious Book of Famous Deeds Podcast
If you’re a fan of the ILLUSIONOID improv comedy podcast (and you should be), you might like Paul Bates’ new show. It explores the lives of historical personalities through a Victorian-era book that Paul found in an alley one day, featuring many Toronto improvisers as guests. It’s not improv, but fun for history buffs.

Question(s) of the Month

It’s Back to School time! Will you be taking any improv classes soon? Online or in-person? What skills will you be working on?

Hit Reply and share. I love to chat with readers, and it gives me ideas for future content to help the whole community.


Thanks for reading. Stay safe!

Do you have any feedback about Improv Illusionist, either these updates or the website? Send me a message or just reply to this email. I read and respond to everything.

Next update on October 28th. See you then!

Ex nihilo!


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