What do you do when improvising with a terrible improviser?

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What do you do when improvising with a terrible improviser?

Postby kliphtin » May 2nd, 2013, 11:08 am

A friend once told me about a conversation with Mick Napier who was asked what to do when improvising with the worst improviser ever.

Mick said something like, "make them look like the best improviser".

It's all hearsay, but I thought it interesting anyhow.

So, I'll ask you, forum-

What do you do when you are improvising with the worst improviser in the world?
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby Jastroch » May 2nd, 2013, 11:44 am

Every single time I've improvised with someone "terrible" (am making huge air quotes with my feet while typing this), I do one of two things

1) Unconditionally trust and support that person's ideas and have fun or
2) Get judgmental

One of those choices has always led to an awesome show that I walk away from feeling good about life. The other has always left me feeling like an entitled dickweed and wanting to shoot myself after taking a big hairy dump on stage.

The responsibility to trust and support someone and to have fun is always on you, no matter how "terrible" the other person is. And it's always a choice you have the ability to make. It's liberating, in the sense that you have the power to turn anything into a great experience. It's depressing when you realize how often you make the choice to judge, and that how much that reflects on you as a person.
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby trabka » May 2nd, 2013, 12:02 pm

I have roughly the same responses that Jastroch cited, but I read this blog post recently and it's really helped me avoid #2:

http://improvnonsense.tumblr.com/post/3 ... go-to-them
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby Roy Janik » May 2nd, 2013, 1:24 pm

Very specific technique stuff:

1) Lock eyes with them. Maintain it at all times.
2) Use "You look, you seem" statements. Look at their actual face and state exactly what you see, emotionally. "You look sad." "You look nervous." "You look frustrated." This immediately grounds the scene and reconnects you to each other. Aside: This also works with the best improvisers.
3) Joyfully play whatever dumb game they're playing. Heighten it.
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » May 2nd, 2013, 1:40 pm

i stop doing one man shows. HEYO! but seriously, folks...

when i'm mindful enough to do so (and that's less often than i'd like), i double down on my commitment to the scene and treat their "bad" choices as characters choices. what would MY character do in a situation with someone who was being obnoxious or not listening? recommit to that, over and over again. try to establish an emotional connection to the character, which hopefully connects me with the performer, and then we find the shape of the scene. and when i'm NOT mindful enough, i'll just steamroll right over them. which then makes ME a pretty terrible improvisor. :?
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby happywaffle » May 2nd, 2013, 2:47 pm

Jastroch wrote:I do one of two things

1) Unconditionally trust and support that person's ideas and have fun or
2) Get judgmental


#1 is easier said than done in my experience, at least the "trust" part. I can't escape from the part of my head that recognizes "this person is blockasaurus" or whatever. Which is surely my own personal limitation as an actor, but I'm probably not the only one.

Supporting, though, can be done. I love Roy's eye-contact note. In general: give them the power. Make them the captain/owner/boss/president/head vulture. You can play with status, but if you put them in a position of high status to start, your character has no choice but to agree with every crazy thing they say.

Also I really want to see Jastroch make air quotes with his feet.
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby kbadr » May 2nd, 2013, 4:19 pm

Yep, eye contact. Make everything they say, no matter how negative or crazy, make sense. Accept it fully. Agree with and support everything they say faster than you're able to second guess or judge it. I actually love performing with audience members and very inexperienced performers. It's an interesting sort of mental Judo, where you have to take all of their negativity or nervous energy and use it to make them look awesome. When you're the more experienced person, particularly if the person on stage with you is clearly uncomfortable, it is absolutely your job to make them look good.

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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby SarahMarie » May 2nd, 2013, 5:11 pm

I think of this as a mastery skill in our artform, and one I hope to achieve.

The notion really struck home the night I saw Jill Bernard play Maestro. It was early in my improv career and I was shaking with excitement to get the chance to play with her cause I was suuuuper awesome**. Well, she got paired up with "yucky". I groaned and lamented the bad luck and then held my breath for the tragedy about to take place on stage. Jill effortlessly proceeded to play with "yucky" in such a way as to showcase how brilliant, gorgeous, talented and wonderful they both really were. She didn't change "yucky". She illuminated the very best within them. I was red faced with shame at my own judgment and lack. It was serious Jedi work. I've never been so humbled and inspired. I wanna be able to shine that light.





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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby Jon Bolden » May 2nd, 2013, 6:43 pm

A big "aha!" moment for me was during a lottery show, in which Kaci and I were playing a set with random audience members. Kaci and I were playing waiters and we brought a customer (played by an audience member lady) some food (totally paraphrasing):
"We've brought you that steak you ordered".
She responded "Oh no, I HATE steak."
"Oh, in that case, we've brought you some Skittles".
"Just kidding, I actually love steak, I HATE Skittles instead."
"Oh ok, we'll just grab that steak we threw on the floor. We'll clean it off for you"
"No, don't! I WANT it to be on the floor"

It was so ridiculous that we couldn't help cracking up and just jump around and manage this person that just wanted to control everything. Obviously, we didn't hold it against her, she'd never tried to improvise before!

But I'll forget that moment of "oh, it's my choice to make this a good time, no matter what".
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby Spots » May 2nd, 2013, 7:18 pm

Grow.


It's easier to develop new technique with these inexperienced folks than with people you trust.


Inexperienced improvisers are really a blessing when it comes to finding the game. You're going to have a pretty good idea where they want to take the scene. And so now you can do loopty loops within their universe & play with audience expectations.


I agree with eye contact and reacting naturally. Inexperienced players rarely if ever play straight. They have zero idea how fun playing straight can be. Work on becoming the best straight player in the room & genuinely enjoy the experience.

Like Roy said - let them take care of the silly and you just keep grounding the scene.
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby kliphtin » May 3rd, 2013, 9:54 am

Thanks people! When I asked the question, I wasn't really thinking about inexperienced players or audience members, but appreciate the inclusion of these folks.

I really liked that blog post. Thanks for that.

I too, often find myself reacting from either a place of entitled judgement or unconditional support, and find that my own mental security often dictates which choice I make.

Thanks again folks! You guys rock.
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby Jon Bolden » May 3rd, 2013, 10:29 am

I thought of a better answer: You paddle them!
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby androidqueen » May 3rd, 2013, 12:55 pm

Kevin, I totally agree that trusting your scene partner is more easily said than done, and we're probably not the only ones who feel that way. When I first started doing improv, I was in a group that really emphasized the "rules." We would critique scenes afterwards and point out all the ways in which we had "screwed up." I don't recommend this. We were pretty dang consistently good for a college troupe, but I think I ended up with a lot of messed up ideas about what was possible on stage. If you have these rigid expectations about the rules, every time someone breaks them, you feel betrayed. FWIW, I also credit Jill Bernard for an epiphany in this department. She's so happy/friendly/trusty/brave.

Often, when I'm about to perform with someone I haven't worked with much or who I find myself not trusting as much as I should, I'll actually mantra up (usually in the car these days, but a restroom works fine if you're taking public transit). I love and support my fellow players. Everyone on the stage tonight is awesome. I can accept *anything*. It's kind of cheesy, but it helps. And if that *still* doesn't work, like Jon said, I just paddle them.

Also, if, like me, you're bad at making eye contact because you fear human connection, start by looking at the tip of their nose. I learned that trick for job interviews.
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby Alex B » May 3rd, 2013, 1:56 pm

Plow them. Annihilate them. Make them sorry they ever existed.
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Re: What do you do when improvising with a terrible improvis

Postby kbadr » May 3rd, 2013, 2:54 pm

kliphtin wrote:Thanks people! When I asked the question, I wasn't really thinking about inexperienced players or audience members, but appreciate the inclusion of these folks.


What's the difference when you're on stage dealing with it?
And then, why are you performing with "terrible improvisers"?

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