Etan Muskat is one of my favourite people to talk to. He’s always smiling, like he knows a secret or is about to play a prank on you. He doesn’t (or at least, I’ve never caught him), which means he’s not making fun of me, and is in fact just having a good time. This tells us two things about Etan:
1. He’s joyous.
2. He’s genuine about that joy.
Etan improv is in the moment, and he’s always connected to his partner. In that way, he’s able to always surprise and delight fellow players as well as the audience. His choices are unique, unexpected and dynamic.
How long have you been improvising for? Where did you get your start?
I did a smidge in high school (I was in my school’s Comedy Troupe in the 10th grade), but I didn’t start back up until my mid-20′s. So 7-17 years. I got most of my basic training at a place called Theatre Ste Catherine in Montreal. It was founded, and at the time run, by Loose Moose alumni. So my training comes from the Keith Johnstone school of thought, and I actually got to take a workshop with him a few years ago. His ideas are pretty brilliant, although I’ll never understand his obsession with talking animals.
What takes good improv to great?
There are a lot of things I could say here, but one thing I’ve really been appreciating lately is when something is just seamlessly played. It’s really the mark or greatness for me: creating a compelling reality and maintaining investment in it, keeping the energy flowing, making offers that support that reality all the way through. Whether it’s funny, heavy or totally weird, if players can get through it without a moment of uncertainty or unbelievably, I’m totally impressed.
What makes a player a joy to improvise with?
Generosity, fun, and listening. Plus, there’s something to be said for compatibility. It’s like a ven-diagram: enough overlap that you get each other, but enough difference that there’s some contrast.
Have you ever had a game-changing moment as a performer?
I’ll never forget the first time I really got a big laugh without trying really hard to be funny or smart. It was in a class, there were about 20 people there, and we were doing some emotional-type game… maybe emotional quadrants? Anyway, I was doing “scared”, and the instructor kept saying “go bigger! GO BIGGER!” So by eventually I was standing there, clutching the back wall, with my mouth and eyes as big as they went and my eyebrows as far up as I could get them, and everyone was howling with laughter.I kept thinking, “They’re laughing at this? It’s so silly!” And that was a key moment for me: the value of connecting with the audience, in doing simple, clear things that are universal, rather than always trying to be a hilarious genius. Just being committed and transparent is worth so much.
Have you ever gone through a rough patch as an improviser? How did you handle it?
Yeah, I think you go through about 2 a year. It’s often when you’re tying to learn something new, you get pretty ‘in your head’ and hesitant. Or you just have a bad show and you feel like you’re out of tricks. Improv is just one of those things where you’ve gotta keep learning and improving, or you start to suck. There’s very little treading water. The only way to get through it is do another show and try not to torture yourself.
Any advice you’d give someone who’s just starting out in improv?
Be open, honest and bold.