Aerodynamics of Yes: book review

Whilst it’s pretty hard to learn to improvise from a book* there’s loads to learn from reading the insights of other performers from all over the world. I’ve read a fair few improv books over the past year from the classics (Truth in Comedy), to the concise (Cute Little Book of Improv) and the comprehensive (The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual). Plus others that I can’t describe with a C-word. Christian Capozzoli’s Aerodynamics of Yes is, if not the best book on improv I’ve read for a while, certainly up there and has the same aggressively refreshing approach to the art form as Mick Napier’s seminal “Improvise: Scenes from the Inside Out”.

Christian Capozzoli is a performer at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in New York (on the house team BUCKY) and created the critically acclaimed show 4TRACK at the Magnet. He taught at the UCB and currently teaches at the Annoyance’s New York outlet. Christian holds a Masters in Literature and Education from Harvard University, and is currently prototyping an improv curriculum for New York City high schools.

Christian Capozzoli

It’s this last detail in particular that helps set Christian’s book apart. Not so much that he went to Harvard, but that he’s studied how to teach. Whilst I love the rich oral tradition that has grown around improv, I’ve seen phenomenal improvisers run terrible workshops and classes with meandering, unfocused
thoughts and vague exercises. Those who can do, can’t always teach.

We’re performers being asked to teach people how to do what we do, when we might not know exactly how we are doing it ourselves.

Christian’s book faces both sides of this. Packed with useful approaches, exercises and philosophies – not just for students but also for teachers and teams – calling upon everyone involved in the art form to “challenge yourself to be better in every way”.

Sweat the technique, be empowered by it, study, be hard on yourself, understand the science and why it works.

The book follows a structure of sorts, throwing down the gauntlet at the state of modern improv education (“the people who succeed or shine do it despite most training”), and then proceeds to layout a framework for how he feels improv should be taught. He even gives homework.

If you love improv, commit to it, and make your time matter.

After looking
at improv in general Christian starts to zoom in. He talks in detail about what it takes to make a great team.

Don’t align yourself with laziness. Drive is harder to find than talent. Energy should be spent on getting better, not on making excuses on why we’re not or arguing about schedules. Everyone should pull his own weight.
Push each other, promote shows, and be just as hungry and enthused as the next person. Don’t let the least committed person squelch the group’s drive because he isn’t willing to meet. When we bend to him, the group suffers; we may see it as a “greater good” thing, a way of protecting the psyche of the team, but we will also never reach our potential.**

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He also covers how to run a rehearsal, a good way to coach and ways to push your students outside of their comfort zones, without just parroting the same old improv rules about not asking questions or not being coy. However the book really takes off when he dives into improv fundamentals, and how to create an environment of instant acceptance and zero judgements. Christian is a great performer, and clearly a very, very smart man but his emphasis is on putting students in their bodies instead of their heads.

Our level of acceptance should be what we ratchet up in our scenes, not our wit.

After covering exercises designed to make us cherish gifts from our scene partners, Christian covers how to escalate character wants and play game in a realistic way to avoid becoming “lifeless skeletons hammering game”.

We are what we want. Our wants inspire and excite us… when our characters have wants, our scenes have heart, weight, stakes and leverage.

The book then really delves into the 4TRACK form, which combines high energy matching scenes with patient, grounded two-person work. The form itself is very easy to explain but Christian really takes time to unravel the nuance of all its parts. He packs each section with illustrations and examples which really help bring certain elements (like his approach to Sound and Motion) to life. Even if you have no interest in doing the 4TRACK form (although if you do get in touch), there’s so much in here about approaching patient two-person scenes and having really dynamic group games that it’s worth the price of admission.

Don’t just move objects. Be moved by objects.

From stage picture, through callbacks, to movement and environment, there’s a surprising amount of wisdom in a such tiny book (I got through it in a day). Plus an appendix of warm-ups if you’re ever in need of inspiration.

Aerodynamics of Yes is out on Kindle and the iBookstore, for just £8.04.

  • although as Let’s Be Friends have shown, not impossible.

** As a counter to this he points out

A lot of teams choose not to grow. They are purely recreational; they don’t set goals, or aim to improve much at all. But with that agreement, they’re all on the same page, they probably have a fun time, and once in a while they’ll do a great show.

Posted on April 19, 2014 in Improv Tips

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