4 Different Ways To Listen In Improv

In improv, listening is one of the most important principles. It’s also one of the most difficult principles to learn. The best improv is done by listening to what your scene partner is saying (Hyper-Listening), and then responding to what was said. You should never plan a response in your head, but instead respond to what is happening in the moment.

But listening is much more than just hearing the words that are being said, it’s also listening to the physical, emotion, need, and intent.

Here’s a few different ways you should be listening as an improviser:

1. Listening to Physicality – 93% of communication is non-verbal. It is important to pay attention to physical communication. What is this person saying with their physicality. Observe others closely. The way they are standing, their facial expression, their mannerisms, and the way they move on the stage. Very important to make eye contact with your partner at the top of the scene. That way you can check in with them and take in everything they’re giving you.

2. Listening to Emotion – Everything that is said has emotion behind it… and should be “listened” to with the intent of understanding what that emotion is. If I were to say, “Here is your dog.” in a dry casual voice, you might respond, “Hey, thanks… I was looking all over for Noodles.” But if I were to say, “Here is your dog.” in an angry and spiteful voice, you might respond, “It’s about time you gave him back. Here’s your baby.”

3. Listen to Need – Listening for need has to do with listening to the need of the scene. Listening for the beats of the scene, the rhythm and movement of the scene. Listening for the need of the scene has as much to do with finding out what is needed and what is NOT needed. (This is a tricky concept to grasp, but the more you improvise the easier it is to understand.)

4. Listening for Intent – Once you have learned to listen for physicality, emotion and need… you must then learn to listen for intent. What is the intention of the other character or performer. The intention of the performer is often different from the intention of the character… for example, a performer may say, “Whatever you do, don’t eat that salad.” The character is saying one thing… BUT the performer is saying, “Eat that salad!”

Great stuff to always keep in mind when you are improvising. Listening, without a doubt, is extremely crucial for strengthening your improv ability and awareness.

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