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by Darren Held

by Sonnjea Blackwell

A student asked me if I could make them a handout of “everything you tell us in improv class.” Well, that would be a long ass handout. But I’ve boiled it down to this. Use at your own risk.

  1. LISTEN. Let go of any agenda you may have and really listen to your scene partner, and then react in a realistic manner.
  2. Agree, agree, agree. Never deny!! Always say yes.
  3. Don’t forget the “and” in “yes, and…” Respond by adding new information, not by repeating what you or your partner have already said. Don’t forget, you’re an expert. So don’t ask questions… always choose to know!
  4. Play it “real.” Audiences relate to real-life situations they’ve experienced, and the funniest stuff comes from real situations and real characters…
  5. Which also means: DON’T GO FOR THE JOKE. Throwing out a funny one-liner will get you a laugh, but it won’t add information that builds your relationship or your scene.
  6. Start emotional and have emotional changes. Your car won’t go anywhere in neutral, and neither will your scene. If nothing is happening, there’s a good chance the scene lacks emotion.
  7. Commit. Be fully invested in the scene, don’t judge yourself, your partner, the suggestion, the audience or the director, and take your emotions and character traits to a 10! The audience is on your side – no matter how wonky a scene might go, if they see you’re committed, you’re more than halfway there.
  8. Make it about relationship. Who are you to each other, and why is today the big day? If this is just the same conversation these characters have every day, there’s nothing special about today and the audience has no reason to watch it.
  9. Create a COMPLETE character. An accent or funny voice means absolutely nothing unless the character has a strong point of view. Definitely use your voice and your physicality, but don’t let them become a crutch to avoid finding a point of view.
  10. Use your location. Really see where you are, as well as what you’re doing there. Spacework will help you ground the scene, remain active and inform your characters. Let your spacework enhance your relationship, but don’t fall into the trap of talking about “stuff.”
  11. There are no mistakes in improv. As long as everyone in the scene commits and makes the “mistake” an opportunity, it can often turn out to be the thing that makes the scene fun and funny.
  12. Keep your energy up, especially when playing “low energy” characters.
  13. Don’t be sarcastic. Sarcasm is saying the opposite of what you really mean. In improv, you have 2 minutes to create your entire scene – there is no time for misunderstandings caused by being sarcastic.
  14. Don’t create unnecessary problems for your characters. On the other hand, also don’t solve problems too quickly. Find the one thing that’s important to these characters today, then fan the flames.
  15. Make eye contact. Feed off your scene partner, and let them feed off you. Without eye contact, you are simply two people who happen to be onstage at the same time. With eye contact, you are a team and you’re in it together.
  16. When in doubt, cry, fall in love or pour a drink. Basically this boils down to: make sure you have an emotion, know what your relationship is, and are using your location.
  17. Never, ever, EVER throw your scene partner under the bus by making them look foolish. Intentionally ignoring or throwing out a scene partner’s information because you don’t like it, calling attention to a “mistake” in a way that is not designed to integrate it into the scene, going for jokes to get yourself laughs instead of playing WITH your partner… these are all ways to ensure that no one will trust you or want to play with you.

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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