32 Ways To Get Unstuck in an Improv Scene – Part I

By Randall | Improv Tips
20 Mar 2012


In my previous post, I talked about five reasons why improvisers get stuck in scenes. Ideally, we would stay away from those mistakes and all of our scenes would flow smoothly, but in practice, that’s impossible. Maybe you get thrown off by your partner’s idea, maybe nothing in the scene is affecting you. If you ever find yourself mired in a slow-moving scene, here are some ways to get yourself unstuck.

These 32 items are compiled from a list that I brainstormed, and include principles that I learned in workshops from David Koechner, Micah Sherman, Mandy Butler, Kevin Patrick Robbins, Armando Diaz, Dad’s Garage, The Village Theatre, and Automatic Improv, as well as a few of my own thoughts.

  1. Don’t panic. Let go of the stress of the situation and your need to think of something. Have faith in your mind’s ability to create something from thin air. In any scene, there are many ideas. Trust your partners to rescue you, with good scene work, side support, or an edit.
  2. Refocus. Your attention probably wandered. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t worry about what you missed. Just get yourself back into the scene as quickly as you can, and try to stay focused from the beginning in your next scene.
  3. Slow down and listen hard. The answer will be in the next thing your scene partner does. Take a little time to figure out what they are saying and why their character is saying that, in that way, to you, right here, right now. Play it real; how would your character respond in the real world in the present situation? Make fewer offers and pay attention to the ones that are there. Say something, then let it lie.
  4. Be comfortable with silence. This will take practice and patience. A lot of beginning improvisers feel the need to fill every pause with jokes, and what often results is noisy, chaotic scenes. Instead of getting louder, get quieter. You can always say more, but you can’t take it back. Also, when you say less, each line will have greater importance.
  5. Be vulnerable. When you open yourself up, the audience will connect with you. They will be rooting for you.
  6. Be open, be playful, put yourself in danger. Do something just because you think it would be fun. Look for trouble. Be mischievous.
  7. Commit. Committing is scary because it is noticeable. Consider how people dance: the ones who don’t want to stand out dance half heartedly. The people around them, watching them dance, judge them for looking ridiculous. The person dancing doesn’t have fun because they are so wrapped up in what they think other people are thinking about them that they censor and stifle themselves. But the people who go all out and dance like they don’t care who sees are able to enjoy themselves and inspire others around them to do the same. Improv like nobody’s watching.
  8. Say “YES!” Don’t just say “yes.” Accept offers with enthusiasm, not trepidation.
To be continued…

Do you have additional tactics to free yourself from sticky scenes? Or do you disagree with any of the ones listed above? Leave your notes in the comments section below and share your wisdom with your fellow readers!

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  1. […] "title": "32 Ways To Get Unstuck in an Improv Scene – Part II ##improv" }); This is part 2 of a 4 part series. These 32 items are compiled from a list that I brainstormed, and include principles that I learned […]

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