Pay Attention to Your Partner
This is the second post in a series about what to do when your scene starts to stall.
Okay, so we’ve talked about how figuring out what you need can help a scene that’s stalling. But one cool thing about improv is that there’s never one right answer - both in the scene and in your approach to the scene. There are so many ways to do good improv! Which can sometimes be overwhelming. We’ve all had those moments where you’re all like “what did I just name that person - did we get the who what and where out - oh god I haven’t done any object work at all - how do I make this funny - help please someone help”?
Guess what? You have help. Right there. On stage with you.
Look at them. Take a deep breath and look at them. Or a shallow breath. Honestly, I’m not a yoga teacher and I don’t care that much about your breath, but do breathe, and LOOK. AT. YOUR. PARTNER.
That’s really all you have to do. Look at them and goddamn notice what they’re doing. Are they looking at you? Or looking away from you? Do they seem calm? Excited? A little sad? Are they shifting their feet? Are they holding something?
Sometimes they’ll be doing something obvious: spinning in a circle while holding a suitcase like they just got off a train in Grand Central Station. (Just as a very normal and casual example.) Sometimes they’ll be doing something less obvious: smiling softly and looking at the ground. Sometimes they might seem to be doing nothing at all. Here’s the trick: they’re still doing something and that is what the scene is about. It is about what they are doing and how it makes you feel. And then what you do because of how you feel and what that makes them feel. And then what they do because of what you did and how it makes you feel. What a beautiful mill of tiny actions and emotions!
Have you heard of the idea of pinch and ouch? That’s what it is! If you pinch me, I say ouch. Cause and effect. You don’t need to be clever. You just need to notice what’s already there.
Here’s a thing I hear sometimes when I tell students this: “But my partner in that scene wasn’t doing anything.” Surprise! Yes they were! You weren’t paying attention! What they’re giving you might be so so tiny. But it’s still something. Notice it. And feel something.
You don’t need to be clever. Please stop being clever. Just pay attention to your partner. Notice. React.