Lost in an improv scene

5 Things to Do When You’re Lost in an Improv Scene

Every once in a while we get lost in an improv scene. We freeze, not knowing what to do next. We panic, shut down, feel defeated. But if we pause for a second, we can usually get ourselves back on track – if we know a few basic tips. Think of these tips as your life preserver to use as you are drowning in the improv ocean; they’ll save you from dying a horrible death on stage.

1. Mirroring
I have found this the quickest and easiest way to get in sync with your partner when you feel lost in a scene. Mirror their character. If they are a loud, bombastic person, I mirror the same in my character. If they are a shy, quiet nerd, I am a shy quiet nerd. Some improvisers say, “I can’t do that. That’s is cheating. I am stealing their character.” I felt that way at first, too. But we are not auditioning for SNL, we are just trying to build a scene together. Remember, you are being inspired by your partner’s choice rather than stealing their idea, and even when you are mirroring their character, you are not playing the same character because you are two different people. Got it?

2. Agree Your Ass Off
When you’re lost in an improv scene, you probably have no ideas in your head, so instead of trying to come up with something, heighten your listening and agree your ass off. Anything your partner says, just reply with “yes” and hopefully add a piece of information or a specific detail to what they just said. Ok, most likely this will be a basic agreement improv scene, but so what? It’s better than staring at your partner like you are a deer in the headlights. I have found that simple, basic agreement scenes are some of the most fun, especially if you also emotionally committing your ass off.

3. Have a Strong Emotional Reaction
Having a strong, heightened emotional response to something your partner just said is a great way to jump start a scene when you don’t what to do next. If your partner says, “I am going to Starbucks to get a Frappuccino,” you might respond sadly: “You’re breaking up me with me! You’re not really coming back.”

Or you might respond frightened: “I have to go with you! It will look suspicious if it’s just you.”

Or you might say flirty: “Just like when we were dating. I’ll meet you in the bed when you get back.”

4. Touch Something in the Environment
When we are lost in an improv scene, this is a variation of being in our head, so one way to get out of it is to go to the environment. Grab a broom and start sweeping, open a cabinet, grab a wine glass and star sipping Merlot. It may give you an attitude you can play with or you it may think you are in an art gallery with all these painting hanging up, which can lead you to a relationship. I like to smoke cigarettes. It gives me a character and sometimes a place.

5. Choose to Follow
I say this all the time to my students who are either going too fast, trying too hard or finding themselves blanking out on stage. Follow what your partner is doing. If they are making the bed, you will make the bed with them. If they play a cop, you will also play a cop. If they write up a ticket, then you will write up a ticket. In these scenes, something will happen. Your partner will have a strong emotional reaction to what you are doing or it made lead to a high-status, low-status game.

What tricks have you used when you are lost out at sea to find your way back to land? Please share with us some things that have worked for you when you are blanking out in a scene.

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3 replies
  1. Anders Brekke Hausvik
    Anders Brekke Hausvik says:

    Great advices! I would say clarification helps! some kind of information about who, what, where can help to get us on the right track 😊

  2. joseph bennett
    joseph bennett says:

    Thank you for another inspiring post, Jimmy. Whenever I need to feel ‘grounded’ in a scene, I typically go to either relationship or environment. For relationship, I do my darndest to deepen the emotional connection I have with the other character. Or, I anchor myself in the environment and start eating, opening a cabinet door or opening a can of beer from the fridge. Thanks!

  3. Rich
    Rich says:

    It seems like another tool might be “do the opposite.” Either the opposite of your partner or the opposite of the preceding scene. I.e. if the last scene was on Jupiter the next scene can be in a living room. If you were afraid last time, be relaxed this time. If your partner is happy, be grumpy.


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