Confronting Your Improv Problems

I like to think of myself as someone who can improvise well with anybody, and to my relative delight I’ve gotten compliments throughout my time in Chicago for my ability to have great scenes in class/jams/sets/etc with players who (will remain nameless and) are difficult for others to work with.

I didn’t decide on this recently. It’s one of the first improv goals I set for myself, dating back to my time improvising in Seattle. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a class, group or show where we didn’t have one or more people that people didn’t like performing with due to inabilities, character issues or other bad habits.

Will Hines did a fabulous job describing and addressing the most common dilemma my classes and groups ran into: That one difficult performer that dragged everyone down, aka That Guy.

I always lent an ear to my peers’ concerns and complaints about That Guy (or That Woman). But I always approached scenes with That Person as a challenge to myself, doing my best to make a decent scene with this person.

One of my heroes growing up was the wrestler Ricky Steamboat, not just because he was a talented and charismatic wrestler who wrestled legendary matches, but because I learned after he retired that whenever he was paired in throwaway non-televised matches with poor wrestlers, he would personally challenge himself to have the best match possible with that guy. And despite no expectation or reward other than doing his best for everyone, Steamboat and those guys would tear the house down in a terrific match, often the best match his opponents ever worked.

This in turn inspired in me the mindset that, whenever I had to do work with weak or limited performers, I would play the best scenes I could with those performers and make us all look as good as possible. I figured it would make me better, and whether or not it made those troublesome scene partners better, at least they could hopefully enjoy playing in a great scene.

I didn’t always succeed at first, mostly because when I started actively doing this I was still a newcomer learning improv.

When I got back into practice in Chicago, I surprisingly found myself having more fun in scenes and feeling less self conscious with these ‘difficult’ players than I did with better players I enjoyed watching and performing with.

It reflects how I approach a lot of serious issues and problems in my life. Usually, when I’ve got something that needs to get addressed, I confront it, whether it involves another person or it involves myself. This approach (while not one I ALWAYS use; some circumstances make it a bad idea) has solved a lot of problems for me, and it’s an approach that I recommend when people share issues or concerns with me.

It’s also an approach people don’t like, for the same reasons kids don’t like getting shots: The idea of confronting your fear seems painful. Sometimes confronting the source of your issue is as painful as suspected, but often it not only isn’t painful, it’s quite a relief once you do it because it wasn’t as bad as you made it out to be.

In any case, I appreciate Will Hines’ putting into words the approach I’ve tried to follow as much as reasonably possible.

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