What makes you a fun person to improvise with?
At the start of the last Thursday improv lesson before Christmas I asked the actors a really simple question:
“The people you enjoy performing with on stage – what is it that they do that makes you enjoy improvising with them?”
I thought there would be hesitation in answering this, but actually the class had some immediate responses to this. Some of the class were relatively new to impro, some had been doing it about a year, and some were experienced performers.
I was tempted to discuss these responses, but actually it’s more interesting just to see them in their raw version. So here’s what the class said, in order of what they said, unedited:
They are happy to be there, I love the way Conor always so happy about being on stage with me.
They want to be there.
I like people that make me do stuff I wouldn’t usually do.
They make offers about me.
They draw me into their plot.
They hurl themselves into ideas that aren’t their own.
They involve others in their story.
I like it when people make great offers when I’m stuck.
They involve everyone in their scenes, sharing.
When I’m acting with them it feels like the story is telling itself.
Listening, incorporating, adding.
They listen to the audience, and give them more of what they enjoy.
They have a natural ability to come up with ideas and don’t stop themselves.
Coming on with strong ideas and not having a second thought.
They’re having lots of fun.
Sometimes they are enjoying themselves so much that they are constantly holding back a laugh.
Acting with them feels like a game of volleyball, with the ball constantly passed from person to person.
The Negative Version
I then asked the opposite question:
“People that you don’t enjoy improvising with – what is it that puts you off?”
At first there was hesitation in answering this, until I point out that if we just did the opposite of the following statements we’d have some really positive things to act on.
So they next answered the negative version, and here’s what they came up with pretty much instantly:
They talk in a muffled voice that I can’t hear.
They aren’t really listening to me.
I find it hard to hear what they are saying.
They gag from the start and destroy the most obvious platform.
They don’t do the obvious thing. They don’t do ‘the thing’ that obviously should be happening.
They aren’t physically free, the don’t respond to light touches and won’t move with the other actors.
They do little one liners at the expense of the scene.
They are always playing the same actor/character.
They show disappointment in being selected to go up with the other actor.
Forcing out their own ideas at all costs.
People taking it (impro) way to seriously.
Steamrolling – just being loud without letting other people’s ideas come in.
Hitting, in or out of character it’s not acceptable.
Being leechy/creepy with the other actors.
Giving up too easily.
I can’t understand what they are saying or doing.
Negatively criticising the other actors.
Suggesting alternative content for scenes after they’re done.
Trying to be funny by being overly layered.
Turning the Negatives into Positives
We then wrote down the opposite of the above statements, and they formed another batch of great positive aims for improvising. Here they are in order, the positive opposites of the negative statements:
Talk clearly and loud enough and slow enough for the actors and audience to hear.
Listen to the other actors.
Talk clearly and loud enough and slow enough for the actors and audience to hear.
Be obvious, start seriously at the start and build a believable realistic platform.
Be obvious. If something is obviously going to happen in a scene, do it. Do ‘the thing’.
Be physically free. Allow yourself to move with the other actors. Everything on stage should be a light touch. Allow a light touch to move you far across stage.
Don’t break the reality of the scene.
Play different characters.
Be thrilled, happy and excited to be with your fellow actors.
Share. Put in your ideas, but also adapt and build on other people’s ideas.
Don’t take impro seriously. You can play a serious character and a serious scene, but in your heart be playful.
Share. Let other people alter you and build on their ideas. Leave gaps for other people.
Take physical care and have respect for the other actors at all times.
Be respectful of the other actors at all times.
Just keep playing and be determined, it’s not that important anyway.
Be clear and obvious in your speech and movement.
Don’t critisice the other actors, leave that to the director.
Don’t discuss alternate content of scenes, only discuss technique and even then see above.
We then improvised lots of scenes, with people picking one of the positive list things to play and me directing them so that they achieved the positive aims. The result was lots of fun scenes.
I love the way that the statements reflect underlying things that are in loads of impro theory, but use different language that is actually more common sense. It suggests most people already know what makes good improvisers, even if they haven’t thought to put it into words yet. I also love that the priorities are a different order to most impro books, for instance ‘being heard’ and ‘being happy to be there’ were really high up and incredibly important to the whole cast.
I was really tempted to now categorise the responses and spot patterns, but that would probably make it way too serious and remove from the beauty of the exercise. I do think it’s altered my Hoopla workshop aims/topics for next year though, I’m going to be carrying it around with me everywhere I go.
Hope you have a great New Year everyone!
Lots of love,
ADDITIONAL – Added after asking the same question to a bunch of improvisers at a Saturday workshop soon after the above
The improvisers including more people from an acting rather comedy background, which generated some interesting other responses. Some of them are contradictions of each other, but that’s impro for you. Here are they are, written as they were said:
Stuff they give you
Not outdoing each other
One turn at a time
Picking up the smallest of offers
Listen – whether you’re in it or not
Not worrying what you are going to say
Quirky strange people / new choice
Played very naturally
Don’t be afraid of silence.
Don’t expect, but accept everything.
Not rushing, slower pace.
Stuff in between the lines is important.
Moving in silence.
Setting up something in silence.
Improvise in different styles.
ADDITIONAL – From asking the same question to the cast of Imagine If You Will at the start of rehearsals
Again, there are contradictions, but that’s impro whoop yeah!
You look, you feel, you are
High level of commitment
Commitment towards story and character
Committed to action
Obviousness of labeling characters and things
Sense of fun
Make em laugh and cry
Guy looks me direct in the eyes and makes a genuine emotional connection and physical connection, he’s being a real person
Bounce of emotion between us
Focusing on each other
Eye contact – looking at other person
Trust each other
Get each other’s back
Filling an empty stage
Commitment to each other
Fall in love with each other and mean it
Dead pan and committed to stillness
Grumpy old men, two terrible old villains
Fun and incompetent partnership
Like it when people want to have fun
Impro as if high drama
Trust them and they trust you
Intuitively painting a scene
This scene is really important and matters
People that make things significant
People pick up on small offers, make it bigger
Reflect stuff back at me
Referencing characters back
They give you character
Open and honest in a scene
Dave keeps the game going without loosing the point of the scene
Casie enthusiastic and playful
Duncan gives emotional endowments – “why PC Bloggs you seem very happy today”
Make it about you
Engages with the same objects
Share space together
Commitment to object
Having fun on stage
Playing with it
Not being frightened
Like being used as an object, if I’m playing a table it’s nice if someone puts something on top of me
Friendliness, happy, easy going
Relaxed and secure
Listening, everything is full of 800 ideas
Focus on things
Involve and build and care
You must listen even if your character isn’t
Offer at a time
Accept, build up, explore
Support reality of scene
Be obvious at start from suggestion