Reaction and meaning

“If you want to know the meaning of your words, look at your partner. Their reaction defines the meaning.” — Marko Mayerl, 17th July 2016, Hamburg (DE)

Beautiful, isn’t it? And so true. If your character says something along the lines of “Stephan, I’m divorcing from your sister”, you might think it holds a lot of meaning. But this is totally out of your hands, as it’s the character Stephan’s reaction to your words that instills (or detracts) any meaning to them.

On the other hand, if your character has a line “Do you want some coffee?” and your scene partner turns silent and looks at you angrily, all of a sudden this inconspicuous sentence appears to imply a lot of shared history and thus meaning.

Another great example of how in improv the responsibility of a scene or story can never lie with one person. Improv is always working together at heart.

"If you want to know the meaning of your words, look at your partner. Their reaction defines the meaning." -- Marko Mayerl, 17th July 2016, Hamburg (DE) Click To Tweet

Your imagination

“You’re not responsible for everything you imagination comes up with. It doesn’t define your personality.” — Tony Totino, 4th July 2015, Milan (IT)

Shame is a major source of self-censorship on stage, or even in improv workshops. We don’t want to be that person who always thinks about sex, or that actor who’s characters commit suicide in every show.

Think about the creations of famous artists like Hiëronimus Bosch, Agatha Christie or Alfred Hitchcock for example. Bosch wasn’t obsessed by human failure and sin only because he painted it, Christie didn’t have murder on her mind all the time and Hitchcock wasn’t preoccupied with scaring people in his daily life.

Our imagination lives a life of its own. It doesn’t tell us who we are, so don’t let other people judge you on what you come up with.

Ant colony

“Improv actors should behave like ants in a colony. Every player is an agent of the group mind.” — Bart Van Loon, 3rd May 2015, Würzburg (DE)

How can an ant colony be so effectively managed? How do most distributed systems in computer science work? The key is that every part is doing its best, without having all the information or taking all responsibility. There’s no question even on who is in charge. Nobody is ever. Yet everybody is all the time.


“You are not responsible for the scene; the group is. You are responsible your partners on stage.” — Rod Ben Zeev, 15th November 2014, Utrecht (NL)

Pretty self explanatory, isn’t it? The concept of group responsibility is really core to improv. No individual can or may make all of the big decisions.

Mind that you’re not even responsible for yourself. The others are! You are only responsible to take care of your partners.