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

By Randall | Improv Tips
27 Mar 2012
coffee art
This is part 3 of a 4 part series. These 32 items are compiled from a list that I brainstormed, and include principles that I learned in workshops from David KoechnerMicah Sherman, Mandy Butler, Kevin Patrick Robbins, Armando DiazDad’s GarageThe Village Theatre, and Automatic Improv, as well as a few of my own thoughts.
  1. Don’t be boring; be interesting. Don’t spend the scene talking about inanimate objects. If your scene partner brings you coffee, don’t talk about the coffee. No one cares about the coffee. Instead, think about why they are bringing you coffee, and explore that.
  2. Go back to the beginning. Your first choice in the scene communicated something about your character’s point of view. Filter the world through that.
  3. Stick to your point of view, but hold loosely to your plan and adapt it to new information. Imagine that there is a white board in your mind, and throughout the scene you are adding assumptions about what you think is going on in the scene, and erasing ones that turn out to be incorrect.
  4. Support whatever has already been established. Trust that the answers are in the scene. If you mention you’re at a beach party, keep it going. Make references to the bonfire, or the waves, or the music.
  5. Keep the focus on the here and now. Don’t talk about people not present on stage. The implication is that they are more interesting than you and your scene partner, and the audience will then want to see them. Also, avoid talking about past or future events. The further events are from you, chronologically or geographically, the less they impact you and the audience. We care much less and feel less stress about tryouts in 2 weeks than tryouts starting in 2 minutes. Proximity is important.
  6. Raise the stakes. Heighten what is happening. How can you make the action more important? How can you make it matter more to the characters? Why should we care?
  7. Resist the temptation to go off the deep-end (“be original”), fishing for laughs. Keep it relatable. Even if the situation becomes ridiculous, your character should still respond in a relatable way, so keep the emotional content of the scene truthful. Comedy isn’t about weird things, it’s about how humans cope. The genius comes from how to make it ordinary, how to get through it and be true to your character. Don’t get caught up in the invention; you’ll run out of silly ideas.
  8. Stay positive. If we like things, we’ll want to do them more, we’ll explore them more. If it’s awful, you’ll want to stop doing it.

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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