Relationship in improv: What does that mean?

When I taught at the UCB in NYC, the most important word was ‘game’. In Chicago, the word I hear from students is ‘relationship’.

Photo by Ivan on Flickr

When I taught at the UCB Theater in NYC, the most important word was ‘game‘. In Chicago, the word I hear from students is ‘relationship’.

Often students are told to focus on the relationship by teachers. It sounds like a good idea, but I think it sometimes trips students up. The reason is that students often equate it with back story. Defining it seems to mean labeling it to these students. They aren’t just a manager and an employee at a McDonalds, but they are also cousins that live next door to each other. This added detail often doesn’t help much, and it doesn’t actually say much about the relationship.

How much back story do we need? Just enough for us to understand who these characters are and how they might behave. If you want to create a compelling relationship in an improv scene, focus on behavior and not back story. For instance, when you ask someone about their romantic relationship, it matters if they are dating, engaged or married. That can tell us something about how they relate. But what matters much more is how they treat each other and how they make each other feel. That’s the relationship!

A little back story helps. But if you want interesting relationships, focus on how your partner is behaving and how it makes you feel. This may lead to discoveries about the characters back story, but what keeps an audience engaged is how characters treat each other. And unique and specific behavior leads to compelling games in your scenes.

This was originally a thread on twitter:

You can follow me on twitter at @ircmullaney.

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