Making ourselves look good

Discussion of the art and craft of improvisation.

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Postby ejbrammer » June 7th, 2012, 1:21 pm

I waited a while to respond on this because I wasn't sure what you meant by 'taking care of yourself' in terms of what Jill alluded to above - did it mean 'giving yourself something to work with' or 'making yourself look good/funny'. If it means 'make yourself look good/funny' then I'm not really a fan of anyone doing that, me or otherwise. It feels like trying to 'win' the scene, when I think it's better for the scene to 'win', then everyone in it looks good.

It's interesting to bring up TJ and Dave, because one of the big things I took away from a workshop with them is the idea of being in service - you are in service to the scene and your scene partner. It's hard to be in service of the scene if you don't bring anything to offer to it. (Side note: 'being in service to the scene' does not equal 'saving the scene'; the former comes from a sense of play and respect and the latter from judgement). Which brings me to a second big takeaway from that workshop for me (as well as from Viewpoints), which is to look at your scene partner because there's always something going on between you that you can build on together, and you can illuminate that, and then you'll be connected to your partner and the scene. To me the idea of 'looking out for yourself' feels like inventing, opposed to the idea of connecting and discovering. Then again, I never thought of coming to the stage with an idea as looking out for myself, just as playful contribution. Maybe it's just semantics, though?
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Postby DollarBill » June 7th, 2012, 6:53 pm

I came up doing improv with the same group of people for YEARS.
This has had a very tangible effect (at least to me) on the way I think about and do improv (obviously).
One thing that it effected is that I can vividly remember the first few times I played with people who were new to improv after I already had a few years under my belt.

I remember struggling hard with worrying if I was steam-rolling scenes. Later I heard someone (TJ? Arnett?) say something (which I have since assimilated and crossbred with my own thoughts) like... As long as you can look someone in the eye after a show and feel confidently that you gave them everything they need to respect you, then everything you did was fine. And I don't mean like you didn't make any mistakes. I mean like you tried your best to treat everything they did as gold (and there are tons of ways to do that).

This is something that I find harder and harder to hold on to the longer I improvise. I mean some things get easier, but this one I have to remind myself of. It's the best way to be, the most rewarding, though it's hard for me to maintain.
They call me Dollar Bill 'cause I always make sense.
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Postby jillybee72 » June 8th, 2012, 3:12 am

Brad Hawkins wrote:
jillybee72 wrote:In a little side note, I find it really helpful to not judge my scene partners. I just to play with everyone as if they are the best possible person I could be on stage with in this moment and as if their choices are golden.


That sounds great, but how do you do that? Any tricks?


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Postby Asaf » June 8th, 2012, 3:13 am

I don't believe in the need for establishing trust with your fellow improvisers to have a great scene.

I've done too many scenes with audience members that I didn't even know.

Jill put it wonderfully. Making the person across from you into the perfect person to play with has you accept all their offers. I worry that those who find it hard to do that suffer from a lack of imagination.
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Postby jillybee72 » June 8th, 2012, 3:14 am

If I feel let down by what my partner gave me, well, I should've written a script. Then everyone would've been a lot more comfortable.
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Postby Brad Hawkins » June 8th, 2012, 9:19 am

jillybee72 wrote:If I feel let down by what my partner gave me, well, I should've written a script. Then everyone would've been a lot more comfortable.


Good point. I'll try to remember that next time I come off stage. It's a very healthy attitude to have.
The silver knives are flashing in the tired old cafe. A ghost climbs on the table in a bridal negligee. She says "My body is the life; my body is the way." I raise my arm against it all and I catch the bride's bouquet.
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Postby ratliff » June 8th, 2012, 9:27 am

Asaf wrote:I don't believe in the need for establishing trust with your fellow improvisers to have a great scene.


I'm not saying that's how it should be. I'm saying that's how it is for me. We can agree that I'll be a better improviser once I get past it, but I can only deal with the materials at hand.
"I'm not a real aspirational cat."
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 8th, 2012, 9:49 am

ratliff wrote:
Asaf wrote:I don't believe in the need for establishing trust with your fellow improvisers to have a great scene.


I'm not saying that's how it should be. I'm saying that's how it is for me. We can agree that I'll be a better improviser once I get past it, but I can only deal with the materials at hand.


yeah, i can get by in a scene if i don't know/trust the other person, but it's not going to be a great scene for me. that's true for me in scripted acting too, though. but it feels for me like the stakes are higher in improv. in scripted acting, it feels like "let's build this castle together and walk around inside." in improv, it's more like "let's jump off this cliff together and build a plane on the way down." i'm not saying this is how it actually is, and like Ratliff i'm not saying it's how it should be. but it's certainly how it feels for me.

if i don't KNOW my scene partner, i'm going to try my damndest to trust them and let them know they can trust me. if they start making me feel like i can't trust them, my instinct is to punch out faster than you can yell "GOOSE!" and i'm trying REALLY damn hard to get over that, stay engaged and keep the scene going.
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Postby diamond9 » June 8th, 2012, 10:08 am

Hi everyone. I am so very new at improv but love reading the posts and seeing shows so I can learn. (Just completed Level I at The Institution, so I am still crawling and making goo-goo sounds.) 98% of you have no idea who I am, but I am imp stalking as much as possible to glean some wisdom. I watched 7 hours of the Marathon and wish I would have watched more. I was riveted to every single player and scene.

I do have a question if you care to elaborate... What does it look like for you personally when you feel a scene partner is untrustworthy and you want to bolt out of the scene? Are they trying to be the star? Blocking? Or are there more subtle vibes you feel are going on? It may differ each time, but am curious what a breach or lack of trust looks like for those who have that concern when working with new or unknown improvisors. I am just curious as to what might block your feelings of trust and how to avoid doing that to someone myself.

Or... should I just not even think about this right now but instead just focus on "learning to walk and talk" ? :wink:

I really, really appreciate the transparent sharing. Thank you!
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Postby ratliff » June 8th, 2012, 10:15 am

diamond9 wrote:I do have a question if you care to elaborate... What does it look like for you personally when you feel a scene partner is untrustworthy and you want to bolt out of the scene?


I regret using the term "trust" because of the moral connotations. It might be more accurate to say that when this happens I don't understand what my partner is trying to do, so I have trouble connecting with her. I can handle self-aggrandizing behavior, even if I don't like it, but what's most frustrating for me is when someone is either behaving so inconsistently that I can't home in on their character or is making offers so obscure that I can't support them, because I don't understand them. I agree completely with Jill and Asaf that taking care of yourself is a priority, but as a means of connection, not as a replacement for it.
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Postby diamond9 » June 8th, 2012, 10:17 am

Aaah! [light bulb] Thank you for furthering your thoughts on it. That helps.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 8th, 2012, 10:28 am

ratliff wrote:I agree completely with Jill and Asaf that taking care of yourself is a priority, but as a means of connection, not as a replacement for it.


yes. this.

as for "untrustworthy"...i don't know if that's the right word, because "worthy" has certain connotations. and it's not always just newer or student imps. but for me, it's usually a feeling that they're not listening or not bothering to connect with me. they sacrifice the scene and the relationship to get the funny. and that just immediately puts me off. and it doesn't even feel like it's coming from a place of "taking care of themselves," more often it feels like it's coming from a place of fear.

this is not to say i don't enjoy some mischief in a scene, playing with expectations or establishing something new that doesn't just tilt the platform but makes you realize you've been standing on a wall the entire time. but there's a difference between subverting what's been established and ignoring it entirely. and that takes some experience and a HUGE amount of trust, on both parts.
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Postby diamond9 » June 8th, 2012, 10:36 am

Thank you too!

True... my choice of the word "untrustworthy" didn't relay an appropriate connotation but you both caught the intent of my question and answered beautifully.

Very valuable thoughts to throw into my improv hopper.
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Postby jillybee72 » June 9th, 2012, 1:12 am

Please don't play small because you're afraid that people won't trust you. Play big, people always like that best. Break a lot of eggs. Get your hands dirty. You're not going to break improv. It's 600 years old, no one's broken it yet. If your pendulum swings too far in the other direction, your teacher will tell you. It's unlikely, precisely because you have the wherewithal to ask the question.
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Postby mpbrockman » June 9th, 2012, 4:23 am

ratliff wrote:It might be more accurate to say that when this happens I don't understand what my partner is trying to do, so I have trouble connecting with her. I can handle self-aggrandizing behavior, even if I don't like it, but what's most frustrating for me is when someone is either behaving so inconsistently that I can't home in on their character or is making offers so obscure that I can't support them, because I don't understand them.


I can identify with this. There aren't many singers I can't dial in with (even if they're not my favorite people); but every once in a while I sit there with nothing to work with - no melody line, no rhythmic cues, no emotional set-up. Then I have the choice to not play, hack-job it or ram something down their throats. None of these are attractive or supportive options.
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