Tom Soter is one of the best improv teachers in the business. He’s been at it for over twenty-five years. Before he began teaching he was a street performer, then he studied with the legendary improv group, Chicago City Limits. After that he turned to teaching as well as founding the longest running improv jam in New York City history, The Sunday Night Improv Jam. The Jam brings together improvisers from different groups for a wonderful evening of comedy and music.
Tom, (along with another excellent improviser and co-founder of the Chicago City Limits group, Carol Schindler), has written a new book on how to do improv, titled A Doctor and a Plumber In a Rowboat, a Book on Improvisation. If you have any interest in performing, whether it’s serious acting or comedy, this is an excellent place to start. Or, if you’re a seasoned performer and want to get some tips from a couple of pros, check this volume out. I actually think that knowing about improv can be very helpful for writers as well. As a writer you are creating stories, scenes and characters from nothing, which is exactly what improvising is all about.
Many people confuse improv with stand-up comedy. In fact, the two are nothing alike. Stand-up comedy is about telling jokes to an audience in a monologue and improv is about creating characters in a scene with another person. The humor, if there is any (some improv scenes can be very serious and dramatic) comes from the characters, the relationships and from the situation. If a funny improv were filmed, then transcribed on paper, it wouldn’t be funny. To an audience it looks deceptively simple but like any art form takes years to master.
By the way, A Doctor and a Plumber In a Rowboat, a Book on Improvisation is not Tom’s first book. He’s recently published two books of essays, Overheard on a Bus, and Disappearing Act. These are excellent collections of essays about a variety of subjects including his childhood, his eccentric but loving parents (he may be one of the few writers around who actually had a happy childhood) and his meetings with such well-known people as Patrick McGoohan, (Secret Agent, and The Prisoner), Charlie Chaplin and Fess Parker, who played Daniel Boone in the long running TV series. Tom’s essays are funny, poignant, honest and enjoyable. His previous books include one on James Bond, (Bond and Beyond) and one about film and TV couples that solve crimes called, Investigating Couples. In that one he looks at such duos as Nick and Nora Charles, The British Avengers, and The X-files. This is a fascinating study of the dynamics of these couples and at the same time, an examination of the mystery, suspense, and spy genres. Great stuff!