Compare and Contrast

Contrast is the theme of our classes this week over at AndAlso. Contrast may seem like an odd choice of theme in an artform that is all about agreement and building, but this is precisely the reason that I love it for improv. Because contrast is all about making a choice in relation to something else. You cannot contrast if you haven’t first created the first block from which to contrast. So for me, it’s a lovely twist on ‘Yes And.’

In any case, here’s 5 ways improvisers can use the idea of contrast to inspire their scene work this week

Contrast between 2 characters

It is possibly my top choice in improv to mirror my scene partner. Whether it be emotion, physicality, attitude – really anything. For me it never fails to engage me with my partner and delight the audience. A slightly different tack though is to notice what my partner is doing and choose something that contrasts. This doesn’t need to be in opposition, it can just as easily be something that complements. So even though the two characters might be different they can still have an agreement scene. 

N.B Nothing wrong with a conflict scene from time to time, just good to know that difference doesn’t have to equal argument.

Contrast in a single character

Just because a character is created in the moment doesn’t mean they can’t have depth and complexity to them. So try creating a character and then discovering an unexpected contrast within them e.g a tough east end bouncer who cries at memes of cute puppies or a molecular physicist who can’t look after themselves or their home properly. 

Contrast in a single scene

Once a platform or mood or genre is firmly established in a scene it can be extremely fun to find a contracting point of change. This is particularly good for genres that benefit from the element of surprise like horror, or for practising finding and resting game but even a sudden change in emotion or status can add so much to an established scene.

Contrast between several scenes

A wise person once said that a good improv show is like a good mixtape; you want a mix of different styles of music, song lengths, artists, moods. You want the thing to have a great variation and take you on a journey. Not a bad way to approach an improv show – think of the contrast between scenes and the ebb and flow of the whole piece rather than getting hung up on plot and narrative moves. Infact, these actual rules for making a good mixtape are not bad ones for an improv show.

Contrasting your choices

You spend your whole improv life trying to get good and once you feel you’re getting there, there might be a temptation to do what you know works and stop taking risks. It is my opinion that this way danger lies. Whether it be meal planning, your job or your improv, pretty much everything benefits from a little shake up now and then. It’s even the theme of our Spring Retreat this year. So if you find yourself stagnating – just look for a little contrast.

I hope you enjoyed this short read and it inspires you to find a little light and shade in improv.