Jill Bernard has traveled extensively in the name of teaching improvisation. "I just got state number 33," Bernard says in a recent interview. She began in 1997, and she has even had the opportunity to teach in Norway. "That was amazing. I discovered you have to let them do scenes in their native language. Even though everyone speaks English wonderfully, it's just too hard to improvise while you're translating in your head."
What could have been a difficult learning experience instead proved to be an entertaining one. "It was funny how I could still coach the scenes," Bernard said. "It didn't matter that I couldn't tell what they were saying; I could still tell if the emotions were authentic and the players were making strong choices."
Teaching improv has been Bernard's primary gig since 2009. And in addition to her duties at the newly opened HUGE Theater, which are purely a labor of love for her, she is busy with projects including commercials and voice-over work. She is also the author of Jill Bernard's Small Cute Book of Improv, a tiny tomb that started out at two and a half inches square. Now in its third edition, the book has grown. Over time she has added new essays (and modified some illustrations). Though it is a light-hearted 20-page book, the lessons within are important.
A short but useful section titled "Eating the Fun" is directed at improvisers who routinely ruin scenes. In another chapter, "The Sine Wave of Suck", Bernard explains that sometimes scenes will blow, whether you're a beginner or an experienced improviser. "This happens to all of us at some point or another," Bernard writes. Her tips for getting out of the suck are not only priceless improv tools, they are useful for every day life as well. "Take a break--long or short--and do something else," Bernard writes. "A dance class, a trip to the art museum or the beach; it doesn't matter, just something to fill your brain with fresh ideas. Trust that [the problem] is not permanent, because it's not."
Minneapolis has a tight-knit improv scene. For many Twin Citians, the Brave New Workshop and ComedySportz come to mind for venues, and now HUGE Theater is making a name for itself as well. For beginning improvisers and anyone who is thinking about joining the local scene, Jill Bernard's Small Cute Book of Improv is a helpful push in the right direction. For those who have long been immersed in the world of improv, her words are an encouraging pat on the back to keep at it.
Bernard includes tips for reviewing the fundamentals of improv, as well as other avenues to research, mentioning books to read like Truth in Comedy. But, being the instructor that she is, she is able to fill most of the pages with examples of her own experiences--good and bad. The playfulness Bernard exudes in her performances has most certainly made it into the pages of her small, cute, and, most importantly, handy book.
Jill Bernard's Small Cute Book of Improv can be purchased online for only $5. See Jill Bernard in action at HUGE Theater, where she will be performing her show Drum Machine on January 1, 8, 15 and 29 at 10 p.m. Tickets are $5.