Recently I have been working a lot with new improvisers from a variety of backgrounds; some totally new to performance, some experienced pros who haven’t improvised but are very versed with scripted work, and many from various areas in between. Predictably, I’ve seen an old nemesis pop up in the work.
That nemesis? The dreaded “make your partner wrong/bad/less than/look silly” thing. You know…..It’s an anxiety reaction. If I am out there, nothing to grab hold of, and I am scared—here’s my partner. I am drowning. Lifeguards know: I instinctively look for the way to pull myself up. The only thing I have to pull against is my partner. So I pull my partner down, into the water with me. This leads to a series of hostile, boring scenes.
So, I created this:
“That’s What I Love About You”
Player A is instructed to make a series of self-denigrating or low status remarks.
Player B is given the task of yes anding the CONTENT of the remarks, but starting these yes ands with the words “That’s what I love about you!” Then, player B spins the content, making it into a positive aspect of character A’s personality/being.
This isn’t always easy: Sarcasm can creep in, as can “yes but” or arguing. The challenge is to truly yes and, AND put a positive spin.
There will come a point in the exercise, when player A starts to agree with a positive spin—a great point to call attention to, and perhaps discuss. You can actually run this twice and set up that the group look for that point and call it when it happens.
After running this exercise, a quiet sidecoaching of “That’s what I love about you” will often get a scene that is veering negative back on track.