How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

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How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby kliphtin » June 15th, 2013, 6:31 pm

I have been lucky enough to perform with some very talented people, and sometimes I get very intimidated when I am performing with someone super great at the improv. So I'll ask the forum, how do you bring your good stuff when you are performing with people way better than you are?
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby kbadr » June 15th, 2013, 6:33 pm

I have been performing with improvisers who are better than me my entire improv career. It's a blessing. You just trust that you'll be taken care of and know that anything you say will be accepted and used to its fullest. Totally relieves any pressure to be good. Even doing nothing will be taken as an offer when you're performing with a really good improviser.

Ask Roy about how he won his first Maestro.

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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby DanC » June 15th, 2013, 7:02 pm

It was intimidating at first; then I learned that you're lucky to be on stage with better performers and it enables you to take more risks, because they will save you from looking too bad.

As with tennis or chess you get better when the people you play with are better.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby jillybee72 » June 16th, 2013, 4:19 am

Johnstone's advice was to "be efficient." For some reason that's really helped me.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby Roy Janik » June 16th, 2013, 2:14 pm

kbadr wrote:Ask Roy about how he won his first Maestro.


The first time I won Maestro I was the token student/newbie in an All-Star Maestro. It was a seriously stellar cast, and I was way out of my league. Craig, Mikey D., and a bunch of other bad asses.

I wound up winning by basically doing nothing. I stayed out of the way and contributed when I could, but I largely just supported. I felt very taken care of in that whole show, and laughed about it for days afterwards. I remember specifically doing a scen in reverse that COMPLETELY fell apart. But the guys I was in the scene with were so jovial about it, that the audience gave it a five.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby Katie T. » June 17th, 2013, 3:24 pm

This made me laugh a lot since I lurk on here and have read the companion thread. But it's really a great question.
I have a lot of voices in my head while I'm playing. They go, Say yes. Agreeing is funniest. Agreeing is funniest. Don't offer too much. Stick with what's happening. Just be there. Just be there. Is this a game. Is this a game. I need a pattern. How 'bout some space work! What do they want? I'll just be a character. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I don't know why you wanted to play with me anyway. This is what I got.
This morning I was thinking about Johnstone, too. I heard "be average" and I thought, maybe that's about just saying what the average person is thinking. I think that is maybe what people like me for. I just say what comes to mind and I'm not very funny. But, that's funny? To hear what you're thinking?
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby Jon Bolden » June 17th, 2013, 5:50 pm

I feel this way / think about this every time I do Squirrel Buddies with Roy. Our first of couple of shows, it seemed like Roy didn't even need me, he was so "in the zone". Then afterwards, he would tell me "oh man, I had no idea what to do there, I'm glad you did/said xyz..." I had no clue that he was just as unsure of what to do as me, he always seemed to be genuinely inspired every single moment onstage.

So! A big take away from playing with people that are "better than you" is that you are more similar to them than you think, and realizing that over and over again will relax you & make you a stronger player.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby jillybee72 » June 18th, 2013, 2:26 am

If you can set aside your ego and lack of ego, this is going to be the best show of your life.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby androidqueen » June 18th, 2013, 12:45 pm

jillybee72 wrote:If you can set aside your ego and lack of ego, this is going to be the best show of your life.


I feel this way about pretty much every show I ever do!
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby Spots » June 18th, 2013, 4:58 pm

Sometimes you'll instinctively be polite out of respect for their talents. You'll think they have an idea everytime they get onstage so you "yield" to their ability.


Don't. Do the opposite. Set out to be playful, confident, unhinged, and step a little on their toes. If you miss this goal by a little bit and end up somewhere in the middle-- I'd say you were successful.


Their confidence is no reason for you to let up on yours. Hold your own and realize that even though this person is a great improviser, this is no excuse to stop listening. Listen intently and make inspired choices. Amazing things follow.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby Spots » June 19th, 2013, 4:26 pm

Also -- don't do what I call "spiraling." Don't just snatch up whatever they are doing and focus on it-- essentially narrowing your partner's choices and finally milking it to death.

Instead give yourself a little something. Walk into the scene with an inspired character or perspective. A way to hold your body or inspired object work. Trust the process and trust your partner that it will work. Focus on giving yourself a gift so that the scene doesn't simply "spiral" into what the other person is bringing to it.

This happens with players who intimidate others. Players fail to feel entitled in their presence. For this reason, a disproportionate amount of the scene falls on the experienced player's head. But initially this player was hoping their scene partner would bring an inspiring choice of their own to the scene.

They were hoping to make fun choices too. Based on your offers.


Treat it like a potluck. Yes there are many exciting gifts to grab. But bring some cheese dip or something. Even at your worst, most terrifying moment. The more you feel inspired by this thing the better.


Avoid the spiral at all costs. Scenes with a spiral will create an environment of stress for your partner. The scene will feel like work for them.

You know what I'm talking about, right? One day you exit the stage and you can't figure out what went wrong. You did everything right-- you thought. And your partner DID "yes and" you. But it still felt like work. Playing felt like work. Why? There's a possibility that your partner spiraled you down to a fine point. They yes anded you a bit too much.


This is why it's crucial to give yourself a few gifts of your own. And to focus on self enjoyment as much as the other person. You can still "yes and" without obsessing about what the other person has brought.
Last edited by Spots on June 23rd, 2013, 2:58 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby ratliff » June 22nd, 2013, 10:04 am

Try to make them look good. If they're really better than you, they'll return the favor in spades.

When You're Not My Real Dad first started, I'd been doing improv for less than two years, while everyone else in the group was already well into double digits of improv experience. I was essentially dead weight. But two of my all-tme favorite scenes happened during that period, both with Dave Buckman, who was (and is) my teacher and who at that time was incredibly intimidating to me, onstage and off. At the time I would have said I didn't contribute anything to those scenes, but that wasn't true. What was true was that he made all my contributions valuable. By really listening to what I said and building on it (i.e., by doing improv), he made us equals.

That's how people who are really better than you play. If they're not good enough to make you look good, they're not as good as you thought they were.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby jillybee72 » July 1st, 2013, 10:58 pm

This weekend was my third time to play with Dave Razowsky and I finally feel like I did a good job.

--> I made big choices.
--> I listened and responded and was affected.

It worked out really swell.
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby ratliff » July 1st, 2013, 11:06 pm

jillybee72 wrote:This weekend was my third time to play with Dave Razowsky and I finally feel like I did a good job.

--> I made big choices.
--> I listened and responded and was affected.

It worked out really swell.


I love this! One of my favorite things about this artform is that everyone, no matter how long they've been doing it, is working on the same stuff. I'm always telling beginners this but it's nice to have specific evidence: "Hey, guys, JILL BERNARD is working on listening and being affected too! We're all in the same boat!"
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Re: How do you improvise with someone way better than you?

Postby jillybee72 » July 2nd, 2013, 1:15 am

Also I revealed on Razowsky's podcast that in related news I'm working on shutting up when other people are saying things. And I talked at length about the 43 Hour Marathon...won't that be exciting to listen to?!
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