Oh, the argument scene. Most of us do them. I know I do, and sometimes they work, but most of the time they don’t. I wish I could say that prevents me from doing them, but even after all these years of improvising, when I get scared, it’s my go to type of improv scene. I know they’re not fun for the audience to watch, but I keep doing them. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different same results, but if you read this blog, you already know I am pretty insane.
I have found with my students and myself that doing improv scenes that devolve into arguments is a really easy habit to get into and one that can be even harder to get out of.
It’s something I saw in my last Art of Slow Comedy improv class. With a couple of weeks to go before the students’ big performance, I started to see a lot more arguing scenes coming up in class. One night at the end of the class, one of my brilliant students pointed it out to me, thank God, and over the next two weeks, we worked on ways to avoid this trap.
When it came time for their final performance, this very dedicated group of improvisers ended up doing one of the most inspired student shows I’ve seen. They rose to occasion by taking risks, having fun, and making moves and edits that I have only seen advanced improvisers make. To say I was proud it understatement. I had a performance high the next day from their show.
So I wanted to share some things that you can do to avoid having every one of your improv scenes turn into an angry argument:
- Play vulnerable
When someone comes out and starts with a problem or wants to fight with you in an improv scene, our natural reaction as improvisers is to get angry and argue back. But instead of being angry, try to play another emotion. Go vulnerable and play someone who is scared, sad, or filled with shame and guilt instead. For example, if someone starts a scene by blaming you for something, make it your fault and take full responsibility in the situation and heighten the stakes for screwing up.Example:
Player A: I can’t believe you’re late again for work, Bill.
Player B: I know, I know. I missed the big client meeting this morning.
Player A: Not good, Bill. We did not have your Power Point presentation in there.
Player B: I hadn’t even started it. I think I am still drunk from last night. I’ve got to get some coffee.
- Mirror Your Partner
This is so easy, you’ll feel like you’re cheating. So get over your judgement and do it! If your partner enters the scene and he is jumping up and down because he’s so excited, do the exact same thing — mirror him. This automatically puts you in agreement. Your entire being is agreeing with your partner, and it makes it almost impossible to get in argument.
- Make Positive Choices
When my class gets in an angry, argumentative rut, I have them do a series of unrelated scenes with the focus on making positive choices regardless of the situation. I usually have one person initiate a heavy or argumentative invitation.Example:
Player A: Your father died.
Player B: Frank, I am glad you are the first person to tell me. You’ve been like an uncle to me.
Player A: It was a car accident it happen a couple hours ago.
Player B: He loved that old Jaguar. I am so glad he went out that way. Was there much damage to the car? He mentioned he was leaving it me.
- Substitute Blame for Agreement
If you do find yourself in an accusatory, angry scene, then agree your way through it. When we hear something strong at the top of the scene in an angry tone like, “I hate you,” we usually want to get defensive and our tendency is to blame the other character in the scene. But responding with “I hate you, too” will not help you get any mileage out of the scene. Instead, think of specific details about why the other character may hate you. What did my character do to the other person?So if someone starts a scene accusing you of something, such as “You stole my boyfriend” or “You didn’t pay the rent this month,” use this as an opportunity for a confession. Take a couple of seconds and then say, “I stole your boyfriend because I wanted your attention,” or “I didn’t pay the rent because I am addicted to Sudafed.”Example:
Player A: I hate you!
Player B: I can be a pretty bad Mom, Andy.
Player A: You won’t let me go and play and sleep over at Kevin’s.
Player B: That’s because Mommy needs you. She’s lonely after Daddy left us for that much younger, skinny bitch.
Do you have any tips for avoiding argument improv scenes? Let us know below!