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

By Randall | Improv Tips
29 Mar 2012
This is the conclusion 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 RobbinsArmando DiazDad’s GarageThe Village Theatre, and Automatic Improv, as well as a few of my own thoughts.
  1. Don’t fight; if the scene has already degenerated into an argument, end it. Be the “bigger man” and take the blame. Let your scene partner win for the sake of progressing the scene.
  2. If there is a problem, stop looking for a solution. The scene is over when the problem is solved. Instead, find ways to make it worse; look for ways to not complete whatever activity you are working on. The longer the struggle, the greater the tension, and the greater the release when you finally succeed or fail to accomplish your goal.
  3. Don’t shy away from success. We see failure a lot in sitcoms because they need the characters to stay in the same environment for several episodes or even several seasons. Improv scenes can also be about moments of accomplishment. Be confident, know what you are doing at all times. Questions like “Are we doing this correctly?” kill a scene’s momentum.
  4. Fire the gun. If there is a “loaded gun” in the scene, shoot it. If you talk about building a moat around your sandcastle to protect you and your friend from alligators, have alligators attack. This is like “Chekov’s Gun” – if you talk about something happening, we want to see it happen. Sometimes the bomb needs to explode, sometimes you have to stab your friend with a katana. Don’t shy away from it because it scares you. It’s okay to delay the moment to build tension, but wait too long because you are reluctant and the audience will realize it’s not going to happen, then they’ll stop paying attention.
  5. If something illogical is happening and you don’t know how to respond, call it out! The audience is already thinking it. That gives you an opportunity to explore what happened and justify it. However, don’t get bogged down in the justifications;.we don’t need an immediate explanation. Just explore it for a little while. Discoveries come from exploration; explanations come from invention.
  6. Do SOMETHING, even if you think it’s not good enough, and especially if you’re scared to do it.
  7. Practice. Over time, watching and doing more scenes, you will begin to get better at spotting things and start to feel where the ideas are at – like being able to look at a pond and know where to fish. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to get on stage. Take risks now, and they’ll pay off in the future.
  8. Don’t do anything in improv unless it just comes out of you. That is what “playing it real” boils down to. Stay in the moment. If you have an opportunity to learn Meisner’s acting techniques, they can help with this immensely.

There is so much to think about and keep in mind when doing a scene. The more you practice these things, some of them will begin to become automatic, freeing up your mind to focus on other aspects. Don’t try to do them all at once, start with one or a few and expand your repertoire with time.

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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