250 Improv: Teaching Empathy

The definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. We do this naturally day to day, but often it’s difficult to act natural while performing on stage. So, it’s good to practice.

Often when there’s a problem with an improv scene it’s that the performers aren’t connecting with each other and are “stuck in their head”. Here’s an exercise to help connect. As a group write down a number of phrases that evoke emotional responses. (“You got a new puppy.” “Someone much younger than you is flirting with you.” “You have to fire your friend.” etc.)  Write them on individual pieces of paper.

Performers sit facing each other. I found it good for them to connect as people before the actual exercise. Make eye contact, talk about their day or something of interest.

One player will read the card and feel the emotion. Showing the emotion silently. This isn’t a “guessing game” where you’re trying to mime out or overact the emotion. Just show it as honestly as you can.

The other player says, as specifically as possible, what the emotion looks like to them.

After a couple rounds try as a scene. One player neutral the other has the emotional prompt. Neutral player states how the other player looks to them as specific as possible. Whatever the player says is the reality of the scene. If it’s different than the emotional prompt, the prompt is dropped and what is said is the reality.


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