“Your partner is a smart improviser. She knows the difference between what you want in a scene and what your character wants.” — The Tao of Improv
There are many elements that can make an improv duo exceptional. The one I’d like to focus on is “chemistry.” That’s a force that can make all other scene elements irrelevant. If you are lucky enough to run across it, don’t take it lightly.
We’ve all seen improv duos or teams that have killer formats, an unforgettable central idea or a unique gimmick. All of those things are so cool, and they help make improv the diverse art form that it has become.
But chemistry can beat all other elements. When it exists (truly exists, on a deep level), it can do more than just make improv pieces better. It can be the piece.
It’s more than just brilliance. Sometimes, it’s unconscious. It can, on an individual level, be made up of mundane moments. But the total effect is anything but mundane.
For example, my partner and I don’t spend too much time fretting over format. Sure, we can and do wrap up an improv duo set in various interesting packages. But the packages, in our case, are not the product. They are not necessarily relevant.
The product is us. It’s the connection. It’s personal. I’m endlessly fascinated by what she does or might do in a scene. It’s never what I expect, yet I always understand it when it occurs. I’m rarely standing on two feet (metaphorically), but never off balance. Her words, actions, silences and expressions evoke responses in me that surprise me. I’m surprised by the fact that some inner part of my character gets drawn out into the open, over and over. And my main goal is to do exactly that for her, and watch the result.
If someone asked what our style is, I wouldn’t know how to answer. I don’t know why what we do works. I can’t describe what I think is good about it, or what an audience might like about us. We do pay attention to technique, and sometimes we even give a nod to premise.
But that’s not it. It is chemistry, pure and simple. After all of the many things we’ve both learned about scene work over the years, technique seems to be the least important aspect of what we do.
We don’t know why or how that happens. We pull each other’s innards out and display them to an audience. And we hope it’s as fun for them as it is for us. And after each performance or rehearsal scene, we end up gaping at each other with our mouths and eyes wide open and ask, “What the hell just happened!” And if that’s not a reason to do (or watch) improv, I don’t know what is.
What’s my advice? If you find something like this, revel in it.