Tolan is an Emmy Award-winning television screenwriter, director, producer and member of The Harold Ramis Film School advisory board.
Whether it’s at an audition, a workshop, a jam or a weird thrown-together shit-show in a bar somewhere at midnight, we, as improvisers, are constantly finding ourselves playing with strangers.
Are you intimidated by playing with strangers?
Try this perspective on: when playing with strangers, you lose that common knowledge of each other, yes. But what you gain is a blank slate and the excitement of discovering something about someone new AND about yourself.
You’re baggage free! Preconception free! You’re freeeee!
So how exactly DO you improvise with a stranger? Here’s my advice, grain of salt.*
*But like the fancy pink Himalayan rock salt
1. Before you Play:
- Introduce Yourself. Seems obvious, but that five seconds of human, face-to-face interaction is real nice.
2. While You Play:
- Make a Strong Choice for Yourself Right Away. At worst, you make a strong choice at the same time your scene partner is making a totally different choice, and then you get to prove how amazing you are by making both work together. At best, the stranger is so happy to have something to respond to.
- Don’t Be Polite; Do Listen. Have you ever tried to choose a restaurant with someone who insists they don’t care, and you keep insisting that you don’t care? And you want to kill yourself cuz you’re fucking starving?! That’s the equivalent of an improviser thinking, “I’ll be nice and let you go first” or, “Oh, I think I should edit, but what if it’s too soon… I’ll go ahead and let this scene go for 12 minutes.” Trust your gut; be bold. Sometimes when people hear “don’t be polite,” what they think is “yell over my partner.” Toss the ball out, listen to them and trust both of you to build it together.
- Care About Something. Ideally, your scene partner. Ideally, strongly. You’re working without trust. Give yours. It’s a show of good faith. That being said…
- Don’t Jump on Them. I love jumping on people. In fact, I’ve never met a person I didn’t want to jump. But you don’t have trust established and you don’t know what their physical capabilities are, so jumping, slapping, and fondling are off the table. This hurts me more than it hurts you.
- Never Tell Anyone to Get Offstage. Not even as a bit. Not even in character.
- Honor, Don’t Fix. If you judge a move, you play from a place of needing to “fix it.” Instead, love the shit out of your partner’s move and honor it by building on it. Don’t call them crazy. Even if they’re crazy. Especially if they’re crazy.
- When in Doubt; Fall in Love. This is also my philosophy in life. In scenes, there are so many ways to fall in love and it connects you in a strong, emotional way. In real life, it makes normal experiences very awkward. HIGHLY. RECOMMEND.
- And if all this is too much to remember, just remember this:
Stay Calm, Stay in the Moment & Have Fun
3. If You Find Yourself Onstage with an Idol/Crush/Ex/Enemy/Crazy Person:
- Be Yourself
- Trust That it Will End
I like to make it a game: Imagine you’re watching yourself in a sitcom. What a ridiculous and hilarious predicament you are in! Laugh at it. Revel in it. And try to wait ‘til you get home to pop open the bottle of wine.
Break a leg, and don’t forget to…
Play, Play, Play!
Andel Sudik has performed improv at iO, the Playground and the Annoyance and sketch comedy at Second City on a cruise ship, in theatricals, with the National Touring Company and on the e.t.c. stage. She is an alumni of Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, currently teaches sketch and improv in Chicago and occasionally writes things while looking out her window at the lake. Follow her on twitter @AndelSudik or check out her website andelsudik.com.