5 Roleplaying Tips from an Improv Coach
If you’re new to sexual roleplay, it can be intimidating. By the time we’re adults, most of us have long since stopped playing make-believe, and tapping into that same un-self-conscious, interactive, impromptu creativity can be difficult.
But there’s one group that continues to hone this skill well after their schoolyard days: improvisers. And who better to share expert-level roleplay tips than an improv coach?
With that in mind, I spoke with Jill Eickmann, co-founder and artistic director of Leela, a San Francisco-based improv theater and school. I wanted to learn some of her best improv tips, and find out how those can transfer to roleplaying.
Get in the zone
Almost anyone who’s taken an improv class will be familiar with warm-up exercises, but don’t worry, you don’t have to incorporate Zip Zap Zop into your foreplay. An easy way for a couple to prime themselves for roleplay is by bringing up some different scenarios they find hot: nurse and patient, boss and employee, pizza-delivery guy and unsatisfied housewife…the list goes on.
If you want to ease into the act with a more formal exercise, Eickmann suggests the “mirror game.” She often guided couples through this when her theater offered date-night improv lessons. In the exercise, couples face each other, maintain eye contact and have one person act out movements while the other one imitates the movements. She said it’s a good way to “get folks on the same page and in sync with each other.”
“You’re really working together, because it’s not just that the leader gets to do whatever they want to do,” Eickmann said. “They're setting the mirror up for success by not moving too quickly or sporadically.”
You might “feel kind of silly,” Eickmann added, but “some really beautiful intimacy can come with that.”
In roleplay, just as in improv, a lot of your success will depend on saying, “Yes.” That starts by saying yes to yourself, as well, Eickmann explained.
“Something we really practice as improvisers is having confidence in our ideas and saying yes to them,” Eickmann said. “Then that ‘yes’ also extends to supporting other people’s ideas.”
One key to doing that, according to Eickmann, is to never “deny the creative reality of your scene partners.” Basically, that means going along with the premise your partner establishes. For example, if they mention how sexy your cheerleader uniform is when, in fact, you’re wearing leggings and a T-shirt, don’t point out the discrepancy. Instead, shake your pretend pom-poms and maybe perform a cheer or two.
Declarative, creative statements are a gift, Eickmannn said, even when they take you in a different direction than you were expecting. And remember, you can always put your own unique spin on it.
“When you get a gift of a scarf from somebody, you can use that scarf however you want,” Eickmann said. “You can wrap it around your head. You can tie it around your waist. You can display it on your wall. It’s still a scarf. We’re not going to deny the reality that it’s a scarf, but you get to be creative and use that gift how you want.”
Roleplay can’t be a one-way street. If you want to make it fun, sexy and immersive, everyone involved has to contribute.
“Not only do we have to support each other’s ideas and say yes to our own ideas, but we have to add to that,” Eickmann said.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to constantly add plot twists or dial it up to the extreme; you simply always want to be building off of each other.
“We often say, ‘Build your scene brick by brick,’” Eickmann said. “You don't have to bring a cathedral to the stage. You just have to bring your bricks and add one at a time.”
Let’s say you’re roleplaying as a personal trainer and your partner is the client. If they talk to you about how they want to strengthen their quads, you can add to that by showing them some “special exercises” to try.
Be aware of your inner critic
The adage is true: We are all our own harshest critics. When that critical voice comes up during roleplay, it can totally throw you off. After all, it’s difficult to be fully present and creatively collaborate when you can’t stop thinking about how dorky you must sound.
“At Leela, we say, ‘Develop a mindful awareness of your inner critic, and then also find strategies to decrease its power over you,’” Eickmann said. “I also encourage folks to get into that space of surrender: Surrender to the unknown.”
The improvisational nature of roleplay means you won’t always know exactly what somebody’s going to say or how the scene will unfold. Going into it without preconceived notions or expectations can help you avoid self-judgment.
“I have an improv teacher I really like who comes from a Buddhist philosophy,” Eickmann said. “Before he does a show, he doesn’t tell his fellow improvisers, ‘Have a good show.’ He’ll just say, ‘Let’s have a show.’ There’s no judgment or weight on the product that you’re about to create.”
Channel your character
One of the most exciting parts about roleplay is that it allows you to become a different person. Take advantage of that.
“It’s all about continuing to stretch yourself and challenge yourself,” Eickmann said. “Try on these characters that you would never be in real life and have fun with them.”
If you’re normally a quiet, timid person, maybe you want to explore your more dominant side by roleplaying as an authoritative figure. To channel that kind of person, Eickmann suggests “thinking about your character’s spine”—the core of who that character is.
Ask yourself questions like: “How does your character hold their body?” or “How do they walk?” or “How is their voice different than yours?” Doing so will help you get into their headspace and bring them to life.
From teacher and student, to monarch and servant, to rock star and superfan, there’s no limit to the scenarios you can explore through roleplay. While it might feel awkward at first, it can also be fun, intimate and hot as hell. If you’re ever in doubt mid-scene, just channel your improv training.