I Don't Want to Work With Them

Learning to play with others

“I won’t go on stage if THAT PERSON starts a scene.”

Improvisers who say this have their reasons. Some that I’ve heard:

  • They always steamroll my ideas.
  • They are too weird.
  • They don’t do anything.
  • They just aren’t good.

Want to know a secret? You might be the problem.

If you don’t make an effort to get to know your fellow improvisers as people, you are the problem.

If you don’t learn to work with your partners and understand their style as a performer, you are the problem.

If you refuse to work with others, you are a bad improviser and you’ll never get better. Go do stand up so you can get out of the way of people who want to create something with others. Improv isn’t for you.

And please don’t confuse this with someone who is physically inappropriate with you on stage. This isn’t about weird handsy person. Talk to that person, make them stop, and report that shit if they don’t. This is about you judging someone for their improv choices.

I’ve been there
I feel like this is the part of the blog post where I stroke your hair and let you know that everything is going to be OK. You’re not a bad person.

I was far too judgmental of other improvisers my first few years. One scene that still stands out left my poor partner on stage by himself for what felt like an eternity. No one walked out, me included, and then the scene got mercifully edited. We were all judging him, and let him fail. Our coach LIT US UP after that one, and deservingly so. Man, that was a bad feeling, but I’m sure my teammate felt worse.

Learning not to be a jerk is a part of growth and how to become a pro. It just takes time. This started clicking for me when I saw other improvisers work with the performers I perceived to be problems and them go on to have stellar scenes. Why couldn’t I do that? I was judging, that’s why! So I observed how others worked together, and put in the effort. I am never afraid to take that step out anymore. I might still eye-roll from time to time (I’m human), but I won’t leave you hanging.

I’ve also been that difficult person. When I first started doing long form I would essentially throw dynamite on the stage every single time I went out and made my fellow players clean up after me. That was a bad habit, but I honestly had no idea that I was doing it. A peer asked about my choices, and through that conversation, I came to my own conclusion to play a little more quiet and build a scene WITH my partner. That feels so much better.

Alright, alright, I get it! What can I do?
Our job as improvisers is to make our partners look great. Do not forget that. Go out there and try to make them look fantastic. This is your new goal. Instead of pre-judging them before they even get on stage, take a giant step out into the abyss and “yes, and” the holy living hell out of everything they do.

Be affected positively, avoid the argument, and play along so hard you are out of breath by the end of it! If they come out as an over-the-top fire breathing dragon out of the gate, give them a villager or a knight or a princess to play off.

If the scene goes down in flames (heh dragon, flames), take a big giant step out the next time and do it all over again. Then do it again. And then fucking again.

If the person is too pensive, give them something to work with. Tell them how you are feeling. Pull an object out and interact with it. Make an observation about them. Give them a name, a profession, or a want. Keep trying!

After the show, talk to them. Talk to them about their choices if you didn’t understand them. Not from a place of judgment, but a place of truly trying to understand how their brain works. If they seemed lost or confused, talk to them about your choices. Maybe, believe it or not, your choices were just as confusing to them as theirs were to you.

Just talk to them! If you do that, you’ll be better equipped the next time to play alongside them.

It isn’t just about improv
Anything you can do to get to know your fellow improvisers better is going to help you be more comfortable on stage and be in sync with each other’s moves. Your pre-show warmup doesn’t have to be a routine of exercises meant to get you all energized. Simply sitting around and talking about your week, or something you are looking forward to, will connect you more than counting out loud together.

If you can organize a social activity outside of your normal rehearsals, even better, but don’t spend the whole time talking about improv, or getting hammered. That is so crucial! We are humans full of unique experiences. Learn what people do for a living, where they come from, if they have siblings, or pets. What’s their favorite vacation spot, food, and thing to do outside of improv? Connect with them on a human level.

But also work with people who get you
With house teams or company created ensembles, you don’t always get to pick who you play with, and like I mentioned, that WILL challenge you and ultimately make you better. However, you should also form teams with people that you get along with perfectly. You get each other and playing doesn’t feel like work. You don’t have to try so hard to understand those people and can just have fun. Remember, this is supposed to be fun too and you have the power to work with whomever you want.

So there’s your goal. Stop being judgmental and start trying. OK, you don’t have to go do stand up now.