Trust. Trust your partner, Trust the process, Trust you reactions. In improv comedy “trust” is a word you hear about over, and over, and over again. This is because in improv, the scenes you see develop are built brick by brick between the individuals involved. Improv scenes are conversations, whether it be verbally with words, or non-verbally using physical actions; either way each person involved in a scene is directly affected by the other. You see if you and I begin to improvise a scene, we step out and are in a blank space until one of us somehow labels where we are, who we are, or what we are doing. Using words this is simple, I may say, “I’m so happy these ambulances have more storage on the inside than the ones over at General.” As my partner in this scene you are directly affected by this statement because now I’ve placed us BOTH inside a rather spacious ambulance. All you need to do is simply react in a truthful way to my statement to show your position and we are off and running.
Lets see some examples of reactions. You can react happy, “I know right! This cabinet doubles as my mini fridge!” Or you can react sad, “The space in this ambulance reminds me of my studio apartment that caught fire over the weekend.” Both of these statements would be fantastic because they both offer more information about who you are, while at the same time offering more stakes to our situation. In response to your happy reaction I may then say, “Mini fridge really Mark? I can’t believe you’re drinking on the job.” This could then lead to a scene about a Paramedic who is drinking on the job, being both on the wagon and in the wagon (hehe!). Or as a response to the sad, “I’m sorry that you lost everything in your apartment. It was joke; I thought it’d be funny.” Now we’d have a scene about a Paramedic who goes a little to far with practical jokes.
Notice how each set of reactions leads to different outcomes. Notice that with each following statement the improv process takes over and we begin to learn more information about our two characters stuck in the ambulance. What is important in improv is knowing to trust your reactions. Your reactions are a reflection of how others experience your situations. By reacting truthfully, the audience learns more about who your character is and what affects them. These reactions may also reflect the reactions of your audience, therefore, allowing them to immediately place themselves into that situation and relate to your circumstances. Maybe they can empathize with one of the characters because they too had a friend who drank on the job.
As an improvisor I must also trust that my fellow scene partners will offer me new information to drive the scene, as I will. I must also trust that we both will react to that information. Without adding new information or reacting we are unable to separate what’s normal from the unusual.
What I’ve learned is that as a counselor I need to learn to trust myself as I do in improv. Trust my client, Trust the process, and Trust my reactions.
Jaime Castillo is a counselor who works for a non-profit agency in New York City.