What I love teaching the most in improv is connection — players connecting on a deeper emotional level.
So many improvisers focus on trying to be witty and fast and funny, but they don’t realize that you can’t really do any of those other things well if you don’t first form a real emotional connection with your scene partner.
Having an emotional connection with your scene partner is essential to having a good scene, because if you do, you can go over anywhere with your scene partner and your scene will be believable and honest, which is what we are going for in the first place.
Connection between two players happens before the scene even starts. You don’t need words to create a connection. I have actually seen words kill the connection. It’s a sad death, killing the scene before it even gets started.
Whether you’re in person or on Zoom, all you have to do is look into the eyes of your partner, feel the energy going on between you, and trust the clues you are getting from your partner. It’s like a treasure map.
Does your partner look happy? You could be old friends that had a crush on each other who haven’t seen each other in a long time. Does your partner look sad? You could be a couple breaking up.
This is all you need to begin a scene, and then just trust that the scene will unfold.
If you work this way, you will not have to rely on your wit or cleverness, which can always dry up during the scene. Instead, you will be making organic discoveries and not inventing.
It’s truly amazing what you can pick up off another person when you take the time to take someone else in and be affected by them. Spending just a few seconds being present with someone else can give you so much information. Take in their body language, their facial expression, their unspoken energy and then sense how you feel in relation to that.
Although I first learned how to form a connection in a scene from Del Close, I really honed this skill by taking several Meisner acting classes over the years, and I’ve seen how it has made me so much more attune to people all around me and helped me be able to read the unspoken energy in the room. And on stage, it’s been an invaluable tool in creating believable characters and genuine connections.
You might think that forming an emotional connection with your scene partner will always make your scenes depressing and heavy, it’s not true. In fact, being more emotionally connected to your partner just creates a relationship between two people that is more honest, and what’s honest is often what’s the most funny because it’s what resonates with people. People laugh because they recognize themselves in the characters. Even if the scene is set on Mars, if the two players have a believable connection, the audience will laugh because they relate to how the characters are reacting to each other.
So the next time you are about to do a scene in an improv class or in a show, take a couple of seconds to mentally check in with your partner and see what they are giving you before you speak. Then trust that the scene will unfold and see if it takes you somewhere better than you could have planned.