Improv is collaboration. That is why we do it, because we love to collaborate with other people. But when you have been improvising for a while, you can get set in your ways. You can start to feel comfortable only playing a certain style of improv or playing only with certain people.
I know this works for some people, but for me, it’s important to play with people who have a slightly different style than I do to ease me out of my comfort zone.
That is why I enjoy playing with John Hildreth in Jimmy and Johnnie. Although we are from the same generation of improvisers in Chicago, our approaches to the work are very different.
The guy is a genius. I am constantly trying to figure out how John comes up with a point of view so quickly at the top of every scene. I typically work slower, and I’m more serious. John brings a lot more silliness and boldness to his improv, which helps me get out of my improv rut. That is what can make it fun.
Each month, we also invite different guests to play with us, and each of them plays a different style. Though it can be scary to play with different people all of the time, it can also be fun.
Recently, we played with Thomas Kelly and Michael Brunlieb from one of the best improv groups in Chicago, Sand. They are quicker and more absurd in their play than I am, and they really know how to have fun on stage — three things I still need to work on in my improv.
I was blown out my comfort zone like with a stick of dynamite from the first scenes. The pace of the show was like a runaway freight train. It was exciting, but because I don’t usually play absurd, I spent a lot of time trying to stay on the same page with everyone. Some of the time I succeed and sometimes I was confused, and I am sure I confused them. It was terrifying and fun all at the same. I am looking forward to having them back.
When someone plays differently than we do, it’s easy to judge their style of playing and to want to look down on them. And it’s natural to want to find others who have a similar artistic sense to you to want to form a group with.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever play with people who have different styles. Having new experiences on stage or off should be part of every improviser’s homework. That is how we grow and get better.
So, if you always play silly, maybe you should find someone who plays slow and serious to play with and see how that feels. If you only play long form, try short form. If you typically play really angry characters, find someone who can help lighten you up. You can go to an open improv jam to play with new people, or you can invite a special guest to join you in your regular show.
However you can make yourself more open to other ideas can only help you. Let me know how it goes.