Some people think that all it takes to put together a great improv group is picking the right people. Though that it is important, I would argue what is equally important is bonding as group. I have found the formula is pretty simple: Time + play = bonding as a group.
I have found as a teacher, director and performer there are no short cuts to bonding as a group. The process is like aging a fine wine; it cannot be rushed, even if you are playing with a bunch of seasoned improv veterans.
I have been thrown on improv all-star teams and even though we had great people on them, we didn’t take the time to rehearse, so our play time was our shows, and we never fully bonded or lived up to our team’s potential.
On the other hand, I was on two other improv all-star improv teams at iO Chicago — Carl and The Passion and PENT — where both teams made it a point to rehearse, even though everyone on the team was very experienced. Sometimes the rehearsals were as fun as the shows, a sign we are both playing and bonding.
Unfortunately, today most improvisers don’t spend enough time rehearsing, and when they do, they don’t emphasize the necessary element of play.
I am re-learning this lesson again from my 15-month-old daughter. Lately, I have been spending a lot more time with her, and lucky for her, at her age it’s all mostly play. I have noticed that as a father, I have a much stronger connection when I take the time to play with her instead of just running around doing errands. Before, she only wanted to be picked up by her mom, but now that we’ve spent more time playing together, she wants to be picked up by me. When I am away from her for extended periods of time I miss her and I am happy to see her, and she’s happy to see me.
This is because I have spent more time with her playing, and we feel more connected.
The same came be said for improv groups. Taking the time to play, especially warm-up games, is something some people don’t see much value in. They want to get right to doing scenes or forms or working on the show.
You can also play with your team members outside of rehearsals as well. When I played with Carl in the Passions, sometimes instead of rehearsing we would all go bowling. When I was on Jazz Freddy we would rehearse in a park district building, so we’d often find ourselves playing basketball for part of our rehearsals. This really helped our chemistry as a group.
Taking the time to bond can be as easy as getting together your team and playing a board games or all going out to a party and doing bits. These things are easy and fun ways to bond and, believe me, translate on stage. Taking the time to play and bond is never wasted, and unless you are literally getting wasted, which I don’t recommend, it’s the one thing that separates the good teams from the great ones. Here’s hoping you get to be one of the great ones.
Tell us some ways you have bonded as a group. We’d love to hear from you!