Adal Rifai and Jimmy Carrane

How to Bring More Darkness To Your Improv Scenes

If you’ve ever taken my Art of Slow Comedy improv workshops, you know that they can be charged with emotions, and often participants can be more vulnerable than they have ever been in improv before. Students often get angry, cry, and show all kinds of emotions that they aren’t used to expressing in public.

My goal in my workshops is not to break people down, but to show them that they have the capacity to be well-rounded and believable on stage, making them better actors and better improvisers.

Recently, I taught an improv workshop at the Houston Improv Festival, and a few weeks later, I received an email from Steven Saltsman, the Conservatory Director at the Station Theater in Houston, who took the workshop, asking how he could continuously achieve such raw, emotional scenes in improv without having an external force, such as a game or exercise in a workshop.

This is such a great question and one that I have been getting variations on for years. I think the easiest and most practical way to “consistently achieve” these kind of moments is to find a group of like-minded people who want to play this way, so when a player initiates an emotionally charged scene, the other players aren’t freaked out by his choice.

To go to an emotional or raw place, whether in class or on stage, you need permission to do so. In my workshops, I am giving people permission to show their complete range of emotions. In a group or show situation, the entire group has to “buy in” to the same, specific style of play to make it work. In order to create a group that feels safe enough to do more emotional scenes, you need to develop trust, and often times it takes several rehearsals for players to feel comfortable enough with each other to start getting real.

Another way of doing more emotionally charged scenes is to just add more real moments into the long form show you are already doing. Don’t forget that having a variety of energies in your scenes is an important ingredient in any long form show, and adding some darker scenes is a great way of varying the energy.

Recently, when I was teaching at ColdTowne Theater in Austin, TX, I tried a new approach to having the students experience what it’s like to do a darker, more emotional scene. We did a series of scenes, alternating between grounded and real scenes, which I called “Acting Scenes,” and sillier scenes, which I called “Improv Scenes,” which were similar to the types of scenes the players would normally do at a typical improv show in Austin.

What we found by doing these darker and lighter scenes in succession was that the two different types of scenes began to blend together, and after a while, you could not tell the difference. The Acting Scenes affected the Improv Scenes, and vice versa, giving the form a nice blend of different energies.

Remember, the goal of a good improv show is to make the audience feel as well as laugh, and having the ability to add some more serious, touching moments into your work is a wonderful way to do that.


Are you coming to Chicago this July? Want to study with me. Then  check out my award winning Art of Slow Comedy Summer Intensives July 11-12 and Jul 25-26. Register today!

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