The 3 Kinds of Improviser and How to Work With Them

There are 3 kinds of improviser and knowing how to play with them is like finding the right spot to scratch on a dog.  Hit that spot right and the belly of the scene will roll over and expose itself for you to rub.

The Other One

The other one is the improviser on stage with you in the scene. The best thing to do with somebody in a scene is to listen and react to what they are doing. A lot of scenes are two person scenes, and if something isn’t coming out of your mouth then it is coming out of the other person’s mouth. Give them space if they need to monologue, reflect back their character endowments if they seem stuck. Take time to check in with them.

The Other Other Ones

Sometimes there are improviser playing supporting characters or scenery onstage. I find it useful to check in with them. Something I am reminding myself of now is that the scene is taking care of itself. I think a lot of talking in scenes is to fill in space that doesn’t exist. In life I am always picking up staplers or looking around the area I am in, that stops on stage sometimes. I was in a tableau scene where I played a mechanic making cars in a factory, and it was only after the scene was over that I realised I had just been talking to the other mechanic. I had no idea what kind of machine the rest of the crew had created. Was it old and falling apart, or new and fresh? Either one would have been fun to react to.

And from the other side, when I am playing scenery it reassures me when people interact with me or mention me, it makes it feel like there is a reason for me being on stage.

That One

The last improviser is the most mysterious one, the one that frustrates and delights in equal measure. The improviser that knows everything that you know, but doesn’t put it into practice. Then they do something incredible that blows your mind away and reminds you how far you still have to travel on this journey. The one that’s you.

This is the first improviser you need to listen to. When I started improvising I thought it was about having ideas and being ready when I came on stage, now I see it more as just listening and reacting. Whatever I am doing on stage is something that I can check in with and commit to more, and that leads me new places. Listening to myself made me more aware of blocks I had, which let me experiment more and stretch myself.

I found it a bit frustrating to turn up to workshops and feel like I was beginning anew every time. I understand it takes time to settle into a groove with people, but I didn’t want to be going round in circles all the time. Now in workshops I just go into scenes with new (to me) people and concentrate on selling their ideas and it always seems to work.


There you go, 3 different kinds of people that you will meet on this improv journey. The one you are looking at on stage, the other ones you are not looking at right now, and the one looking out from inside your eyeballs doing all the improv. Learn their ways.


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