|Polar Express Rafi wants YOU to trust your scene partners!|
Part of the reason why improv is so amazing and effective at uniting an audience and performers is the vulnerability that it asks of everybody involved. Vulnerability is super scary, especially if you're in a room full of people who you want to impress. When an improv show happens, it works best if everyone in the room can allow some cracks to appear in their personal armor. To let some of the actual person who's hidden away beneath the strains of the real world seep out. That's scary! As improvisers, we have to agree to trust the audience with who we really are and then, hopefully, they'll return the favor by giving us amazing suggestions and laughing at all our dumb jokes. It's a pretty cool symbiosis (not as cool as Venom, but definitely better than Carnage).
Trust with improvisers starts before shows, though. In many fields you can dislike and distrust somebody but still manage to work with them on a professional level. In improv that is very difficult. It's possible to hate your whole troupe and still put on a good show, but jeeze what's the point of that. If somebody doesn't trust or like me, they won't come save me when I'm drowning on stage. They'll be reluctant to accept my ideas, they might talk over me or squish my jokes in line games. If they fundamentally don't like me as a person, then it's much more difficult for them to care about me as a performer.
We played a game in rehearsal this week that is very much like song circle. Someone steps in the middle of the circle and sings a song until they decide to stop on a random word. The rest of the group then has five seconds to tag that person out and start a new song that features that word. If the first person isn't tagged out, they're eliminated. The time is gradually cut down to 1 second and there are a bunch of other ways to get eliminated, but the point is to strive to never let someone just die in the middle of the circle.
It was very cool to feel the kind of pressure that put on us as a group. For me, it became "If I don't get in there right now I am directly eliminating and letting my friend down." Normally "Save People" games don't make me feel so directly accountable for their fates, but I was diving in desperately to save as many people as I could. I actually got eliminated because I tagged someone out and didn't have a song on the forefront of my mind. Watching people dive on improv-grenades was absolutely inspiring.
I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I'm asking you to like--no, love the people who you're doing improv with. What happens to them, especially on stage, should be more important to you than what happens to you. You are a tough, smart, grown-up person who has seen a lot of tough situations. You can take care of yourself if it comes down to it. Your Improv Friends? Give them everything they need! Be their sugar daddies and tell them how they're never gonna have to scratch and struggle for anything while you're around. And you know what? They're gonna love you back for that. They're gonna trust you and try to give just as much back. If they don't then you'll survive, but if they do you both will thrive.
Opening up and trusting takes a lot of courage, but the reward of finally being able to let your guard down for a little while is worth the damage risked. Plus, it makes your improv hella good.