Inspire Your Partner

Inspire Your Partner is a very important phrase.  It goes hand in hand with Make Your Partner Look Good.  Both of these are my impro mantras and what I aim towards each time I teach, perform or direct.

Time and time again I see a huge difference in the style of play between a player who is there playing to inspire their partner and a player who is not.

When someone aims to Inspire Their Partner it shifts their focus outwards instead of inwards.  It connects them in a deeper way. They are really watching, listening and observing actively not passively.  They don't look at the scene as 'what can I do or what can I use'. Instead they look at the scene as 'what is happening now or what is needed now'. Can you hear the difference? One mindset puts people slightly in the future the other connects people more to the present?

I believe actively playing to inspire your partner trains you in many positive ways. It trains you to be more relaxed and therefore more available to the offers being made moment-to-moment. In being open in the moment you pick up on more creative stimulus. It shifts you from an intellectual thinking style into a more impulsive and intuitive style of play. It builds trust and eliminates internal competition for the scene.


Now HOW do you Inspire your partner? Well, the truth is the technique is the same but the action is going to be different for each improviser and in each moment. That is the fun of it, the joy of it. Impro lives in the moment.

As people explore how to inspire their partners, I see an approach that is actually making it difficult for people. Frequently in Super Scene or Maestro™ I see directors stressed. They tell me they’ve been thinking and planning how to inspire their partners. They want to inspire someone so much and they want to get it right. There is a little sneaky dangerous thing happening here. This stress is communicating that the focus is actually on the director needs. It becomes about the director getting it right instead of the experience of the players. Their compass is off.

I know this isn’t the intention, but it is the action. At heart most of these people want to value their partners and give them a good experience. However, the director’s pre-show stress and planning starts making it feel like cramming before a major exam. High stakes! Must be prepared so I can pass!

Breathe – it is easier than you think.

Sure it is okay to ponder some ideas before a show. If you find yourself thinking any of the following They love to do that, They are so good at that, That would be hilarious, then maybe change your thinking to What have I never seen them play, What is the opposite of what they always do, What triggers a passion in them (ideas, point of view, belief, stories, characters)? Open the doors of possibilities in your mind before you even come to the show. If you are in the mindset of replaying the past, you’ll probably direct from that place.

Many Maestro™ shows suffer as a result of director’s working so hard on being a good and inspiring director. They take a great weight onto their shoulders and confuse success (often equated with getting laughs) and inspiration. Inspiring someone is not giving them something they have done a thousand times that they can be successful in.

So what is inspiration?

Inspiration is Origin

Middle English enspire, (in the sense 'divine guidance'): from Old French inspirer, from Latin inspirare'breathe or blow into' from in-'into' + spirare'breathe'. The word was originally used of a divine or supernatural being, in the sense 'impart a truth or idea to someone'.


  • Verb:Fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative

  • Synonym: Create (a feeling, especially a positive one) in a person

Inspiration Noun:

  • The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

  • Stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity.

  • Stimulation or arousal of the mind, feelings, etc, to special or unusual activity or creativity

  • Theology: A divine influence directly and immediately exerted upon the mind or soul.

In these definitions above I love how the act of Inspire or to be inspired is about stimulating or prompting the other persons thoughts, creativity or emotions. This is what we should be doing in our improvisation work.

Here is one of Keith’s quotes that I learned early on, which has always stuck with me.


“The greatest skill of an improviser is his ability to inspire his partner’s imagination’~ Keith Johnstone

Inspire your partner is a technique developed by focusing your energy on your partners needs and allowing yourself to be available moment to moment in the scene. Abandon yourself to the moment, stimulate (inspire) your partner’s imagination then hold on for the ride!

When I am playing with someone, who gives this gift back to me, and we are both in the impulse and intuitive it’s like flying. Flying into the unknown and the scene is organically happening from the gut not the intellect. It’s a beautiful freefall and feelings, thoughts, emotions ideas just arrive. My imagination is triggered and I am feeling the joy of being inspired.  It is such a great gift to give, receive or watch others in the act of sharing it.

”When it is working, you completely go into another place, you’re tapping into things that are totally universal, completely beyond your ego and your own self. That’s what it’s all about.” ~Keith Haring

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