I’ve been doing improv for over 15 years, and teaching & performing improv has changed the way I live my life. One of the lessons I have learned from improv is in the area of control.
When improvisors are playing a scene, they have a few choices: watch the scene happen, make the scene happen, or serve the scene. Improvisors who watch the scene happen don’t really participate. They watch it. They may enjoy it, fear it, judge it, laugh at it…but they are only watchers. They watch the scene happen.
Improvisors who make the scene happen are the opposite extreme. They make it happen. No matter what they have to do. They control the scene, control the other players, minimize or ignore other people’s offers, force the issue. They are makers. They may control the scene out of fear of failure, mistrust of their partner, or mistrust of their team. These people have strong creative personalities and should be praised for their boldness, even if it oversteps. It is better to make a scene happen than to watch a scene happen.
In the middle are improvisors who serve the scene. How does one serve a scene? By giving it what it needs. This could be a strong character, a bold choice of movement, a high energy physical feat. Or it could be a quiet background character, a minimal activity choice, or a display of verbal wit. Another way to serve the scene is by serving the other player in the scene. Adding to what they contribute, offering more than is given, listening to everything they say. But the difference between improvisors who make a scene and improvisors who serve a scene is that makers take control and servants relinquish control.
Taking control is sometimes necessary and helpful. Sometimes it serves the scene. But oftentimes it only serves the controlling, fearful, mistrusting improvisor. Creativity is better served by a team than by an individual.