5 Reasons We Get Stuck in Improv Scenes

By Randall | Improv Tips
15 Mar 2012

One of the greatest dangers for an improviser is getting stuck in a scene – that sinking feeling when you can tell that a scene is not going well and the audience is not engaged. Your mind freezes, hijacked by the thought of “I don’t know what to do,” and you get stuck in a cycle of repeating over and over to yourself “Something needs to happen, something needs to happen, something needs to happen…” It pulls you down like quick sand, and the harder you struggle, the faster you sink. The easiest way to get out of quick sand is not to get into it in the first place. Here are five things that can cause your scenes to start stalling, so you can be aware of, and learn to avoid, them.

  • Not listening. At best, you ignore some offers that your partner is making and have to scramble to find additional material to explore; at worst, you contradict something that has already been established, derailing your scene partner and confusing the audience. If you ever notice that you are forgetful, confused, or negating offers made in scenes, slow down and listen. Take an extra second to break down what your partner just said and digest it. The audience will wait for you.
  • Not making things important. This can apply to both your own offers as well as your scene partner’s. The audience cares about things that you care about. If you aren’t impacted, they won’t be impacted either. If nothing perturbs or excites you, why would we want to watch?
  • Not adding. If you’re waiting for your scene partner to take the lead and direct the scene, you’re not improvising; you’re just another audience member who happens to be on stage. Your partner will run out of steam, and the energy in the scene will die. Be generous with your ideas, we want to see them! Don’t do us the dishonor of keeping them to yourself.
  • Not being specific. Making vague statements evokes vague images and doesn’t engage the audience’s imagination. It also doesn’t give your partner much to play with. Making a specific statement like ‘My Volkswagen camper van blew another gasket” instead of “my car broke down” not only gives us a more interesting picture to imagine, it also informs us about your character. Don’t worry about right or wrong; a specific statement is always better than a banal one.
  • Not knowing who you are. You need to focus on figuring out your character’s point of view, primarily about your scene partner but also the world at large. Everything you say and do, how you react and respond, should be filtered through the lens of this point of view. You don’t need to choose this before you step out on stage, but you should pay attention to the first few statements or actions you make and notice any emotions or attitudes conveyed by those. Stay true to your character throughout the scene.

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