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You Got to Have Faith
by Jake Plumley

Lights come up. Two improvisors take the stage. The suggestion; fishing.

Improvisor 1. "Hand me that fishing pole." (Reaches out into the space by improvisor two.)

Improvisor 2. "That's not a fishing pole, that's a lawn mower." Shakes head in disbelief.

Improvisor 1. "Um… You're right. I need to get these glasses fixed."

Improvisor 2. (Shaking head even more vigorously) "You don't wear glasses. You're crazy. Did you remember your medication?"

Improvisor 1. {Panic in his voice} "Uh, right. I took it this morning when we were eating breakfast"

Improvisor 2. "What do you mean, eating breakfast? We've been out here all night."

And so on ……

I have been both of these actors at one point, and chances are you have too. Sometimes, behavior like this is categorized as denial, or running a scene. It can also be a symptom of an even bigger problem; lack of trust on stage. Lack of trust can manifest itself in many ways. It could come in the form of denial, running a scene, not listening, or even crossing a physical barrier by slapping the other actor so hard his eyes roll around. It can be frustrating and exasperating to perform an improvised scene under those types of conditions.

Without a feeling of reciprocated trust, it can be very difficult to do great improv.

Most of those types of scenes are probably not much fun to watch either. And, while it may be possible to have an entertaining scene without high levels of trust, it is reasonable to assume that trust is essential to consistently great improvised scene work.

Why is trust so important to the performance of improv? "If your teammates trust you, you're more willing to take risks, which can give way to risky, original improv," says improvisor Ryan Locante. Without a feeling of reciprocated trust, it can be very difficult to do great improv. Great improv often comes from truth and life experiences. And, whether you're drawing from a life experience or simply exploring a flight of fancy, if you know that your ideas and insights will be accepted, you will be more willing to share with your fellow improvisors.

Trust is not letting other people make choices for you, however. Jesse Parent had this to say on trust. "It's feeling able to do whatever you want in a scene and knowing it will be supported. As far as letting the other person do what they want, I feel it's more about not judging what has been said."

What trust is on stage is agreement of the reality you're in. "But," says Kevin Mullaney, "Agreement cuts both ways. You shouldn't establish something your scene partner won't want to do. That doesn't mean something their character wouldn't want to do, but instead, something that they themselves would be uncomfortable doing on stage. This is almost always a judgment call and the standard is quite different depending on the sensibilities of the performers and the trust level between them."

"I feel it's more about not judging what has been said." - Jesse Parent

When an improvisor shows trust in the choices made, the audience will automatically assume brilliance in the choice. A "mistake" gets weaved into the pattern and from the pattern a theme emerges. The theme is supported by everyone on stage and the scene ends with applause and affirmation in the choices made. The choices made on stage aren't right or wrong by themselves. They are simply stand alone ideas and suggestions. It is the acceptance of those ideas by all improvisors on stage through listening, and trust, and the interweaving into what has been established that makes these ideas brilliant. Since it is those same decisions that help to shape the scene you are in, it is imperative to keep an open mind and treat every idea on stage as a precious gift. It seems that trust is a mix of acceptance and agreement. Agreement does not mean always having to say yes.

Kevin Mullaney had this to say on this topic. "There are some teachers out there who believe that you can never say the word "no" in improvisation. They are dead wrong. You can. Often you can create really incredible scenes with characters who can't agree on anything at all. Note here that the players are still agreeing on all matters that are factual. Their character just might not have the same opinion about it."

Trust can be placed on a person and it can be either of the physical type of trust, or the type of trust that allows you to walk out on stage, completely comfortable and confident without a thought in your head. What trust isn't, is letting the other people on stage make your choices for you. Trust comes from knowing that your ideas will be respected and held on to.

Trust can make the difference between an exhilarating moment shared by all, or an uncomfortable journey taken reluctantly, which is in turn criticized, judged and measured.

The other people on stage are ride operators. And you are placing your trust in them to arrive back safely.

Think for a moment the joy you experience on a ride at an amusement park. The difference in the exhilaration you feel is because you know, no matter how terrifying or death defying the ride is designed to be, it's also designed to bring you back whole. One minute of unexpectedness, then the chance to brag about how tame that ride really is, now that you have experienced it. We can get on this ride because we see the people in front of us get on and off safely. We know that we will come through the experience safe and unharmed. But what happens when you see a bolt pop or an unexpected rattle. Terror ensues. Panic sets in. Rational thinking goes out the window. In a way, that's what happens on stage. The other people on stage are ride operators. And you are placing your trust in them to arrive back safely. It makes sense then, that the people you know the best off stage, the folks you hang out with, the improvisors you have played with countless times before are the ones that you place the most trust in.

One day you may be standing in front of a fifteen year old ride operator that is doing this summer job so that he can scam on chicks. What do you do then? Place your faith in the designers of the ride, and learn to trust quickly. Cause there's other people behind you waiting and you don't want to look like a sissy in front of your date.

Jake Plumley owns and performs with Quick Wits Clearfield in Clearfield, Utah and has performed with a variety of other Utah troupes as well.
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