Lately, I have been noticing that students in my improv classes feel they have to create some sort of problem at the top of the scene.
They’ll say something like: “You didn’t pay the rent,” or “Oh, great you broke the TV, now what?” or “I broke Mom’s favorite vase.”
This is not a good initiation. A better one would be something where you state how you’re feeling about the other person or noticing how they’re feeling. You could say, “I feel hurt you didn’t come to my birthday party,” or “Boy, Carol, you look sad today.”
I can’t think of anything that will bring a scene to screeching halt faster than INVENTING some problem.
By inventing a problem, you automatically put the other players into plot mode. Instead of improvising, they will be desperately trying to “play write” themselves out of corner. Plot is death to improvising. I have even seen scenes going along nicely and then out of nowhere one of the players will slam on the brakes by manufacturing some cliché problem. It’s tragic to watch.
Why do improvisers do this? The simple answer is fear. We are afraid that nothing is happening in the scene, when really, the opposite is true. Instead of taking a couple of seconds to breathe and focus on our partner, we’d rather rely on our cleverness, our words, to force something into the scene that doesn’t belong. Forcing something, like “You broke my mom’s favorite vase” or “You did not pay the rent again,” makes us feel safe and in control, and in the process we stop improvising. We traded the feeling of “being in the moment” for the illusion of being in charge.
Of course, there are other reasons improvisers create “problems” on stage, too. Are you the type of person who is always creating problems that you can avoid the connection and the joy in your life? If so, then chances are you may be doing the same thing in your improvising.
Improv Tips to Try
Next time you’re up on stage, try this: When you start panicking, stop and wait in the silence, then look for the emotion in the scene that’s already there. You’ll find you have great stuff to work with.