One of the greatest things about improv theater is that it only exists in a particular moment. Unlike a favorite film or novel, an improv scene cannot be pulled off the shelf to enjoy whenever fancy strikes. Even a scripted stage performances which might slightly change from night to night, has a consistency alien to improv theater.
What an audience sees during any particular improv show is something special, just for them. Scenes or story arcs are the products of unrepeatable circumstances: the experiences each player brings to the stage, the energy in the room, the suggestion that inspires the first scene, the connectivity between the performers, etc.
Improvised shows are built in tandem and in-front of that audience. Whether they take an active role or hid themselves in the back of the room, an audience member is party to a moment of creation, of making something out of nothing. For that reason, even if an improv show is captured on video, the humor and energy of the original often feels lifeless or flat. The magic that only exists in a moment of creation cannot be bottled or reproduced.
Anyone who has ever tried to explain why a particular improv scene was so amazing to someone who wasn’t at the show knows how difficult it is to translate that energy. Being there for the spontaneous emergence of a new idea or an unexpected plot twist that surprises the performers as much as the audience is a reward that few other art forms can offer.
On the other hand…
One of the worst things about improv is that it only exists in a particular moment. It’s virtually impossible to recreate or share what made a piece of improv so fantastic in the moment it was created. Like an open beer, it cannot be shared days later and expected to have the same bubbly sublime.
This makes improv a difficult art form to share and proselytize. How does one invite someone to a show when it’s difficult to explain what it will be like or about? How can journalists review improv when one night’s performance might be largely different from the next’s? It would be as though painter’s canvases disintegrated under the final brush stroke. Or musicians were unable to record their music or even put the notes onto paper.
Improv is exciting in that it is always new and always special. How exactly it fits into a world of re-mastered classic movies and YouTube clips which can be watched and shared countless times, is unclear. Hopefully, there is still and always shall be a desire for temporal things, exchanged in a particular moment in time, among a unique gathering of individuals.