Listening may be one of the hardest skills to master in improv, because it requires us to pay attention to others, taking the attention off ourselves. We have to put our egos aside and let someone else take the spotlight. If you don't listen, you risk debilitating a scene. And trust me, the audience will notice when you don't listen. They'll notice that you're forcing the spotlight on yourself, that the scene is no longer a group show. But if you listen and respond to what was immediately said, a tandem is created. That is something more interesting to see. Audiences love to watch parts working together toward a whole. And your fellow performers will love you too, because you're acknowledging the creativity and genius within them by responding to what they say. This acknowledgement is one of the best ways to build energy in a show.
Brenda Ueland has a great insight about listening in her book If You Want to Write.
For when you come to to think of it, the only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the god, the poet, in them. For by doing this, you keep the god and the poet alive and make it flourish.
This week, work on really listening to others. You'll find that the more you listen, the more you'll be listened to.
And if you have some great listening exercises or examples you'd like to share, please do so in the comments.
(Photo via Flickr: Niclas Lindh / Creative Commons)