Lets talk about not following the rules.
Technically any move in improv can be made to work in a scene. The rules that are taught in classes are descriptive of what generally helps in a good scene, they are not prescriptive in the sense that “you must do [rule x] to do a good scene”.
Generally however, the more rules you choose to break the harder you’re making it for your scene partner. Most improv rules increase the odds of a good scene because they simplify the effort required to do a good scene. Anyway, this is kind of a rambling preamble (a Preramble? Urgh...) to get to what I actually want to discuss; how performers react when their scene partner “doesn’t follow the rules”.
Regardless of how great your scene partner is, they will at some point do something that will throw you off. They’ll mishear your initiation, they’ll fail to react to an offer, they won’t know obvious stuff, their commitment will drop below yours. This could be during a show, or it might be in a workshop. You might be doing an exercise and the other person mishears the instructions. You might be working on 2 person scenes and 3 people step out. You might be learning the Harold and someone starts a group game “early”.
This list is spiralling but there’s a core piece of advice for to all these; you can’t control other people’s behaviour, just how good you make it look.
Okay okay I get it. It can be frustrating. You’ve finally figured out how to play a good voice of reason, and mid-scene the other person implies you are the unusual one. Or you’ve finally cracked premise initiations, and your partner decides to interrupt you mid-sentence to blurt out some truly garbage chaff.
None of your frustration can show on stage, because it literally never looks good. You should have a coach; it’s their job to catch & manage bad habits. The only thing you can do is ensure you’re doing as much of the work as you can. Partner isn’t listening to you? Fine, listen to their ideas. They’re not reacting? You can react to that, it must be on purpose. Is their commitment levels weird and stilted? Maybe it’s a deliberate choice, maybe they want this to be a soap-opera or (sigh) panto style scene…so support it!
Two wrongs don’t make one right. If they’re not listening, you can’t “not listen” back. You can’t bulldoze them into your idea, even if it’s genius and you “followed all the rules”. Try and follow this logic EVERYWHERE. 3 people step out for a scene? Do a 3 person scene, don’t even blink. Someone sweep edits during a monoscene? Fuck it, not a monoscene anymore.
This all kinda boils down to the classic “make your scene partner look good” advice, but sometimes expanding on what that means can be useful.
Here’s a fun exercise that works this muscle:
- John McInnes