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by Darren Held

One thing I’ve noticed about different improv schools is that they seem to have differing opinions about the importance of spacework. I suppose an argument can be made for each opinion, but the only argument that’s worth explaining here is mine.

Don’t pretend to be surprised. You know that’s how I roll.

First of all, let me just define “spacework” for you once again: It is using your hands to create and manipulate objects that don’t really exist. You could be brushing your teeth, or doing open heart surgery or fixing a watch or literally any activity that people do in real life – except without the actual objects.

Dancing isn’t spacework unless you’re holding a drink or texting or writing a guy’s number on your hand or passing out your business cards at the same time. You know, like you normally do when you’re out dancing.

The reason spacework is so important in improv is because we don’t have props or sets to help set the scene for the audience. They have to imagine everything, and that’s a lot of work. If you expect them to also laugh, then you gotta help ’em out by giving them as much information as possible.

Doing spacework defines your location. When you’re flipping pancakes, we can now imagine a stove. If your scene partner pours a cup of coffee, we can see the cupboard that the mug came from and the coffee pot. If you open the fridge to get some OJ, we know more about your kitchen.

Doing spacework also grounds you in the scene. It gives you a reason for being where you are, otherwise your scene could theoretically be taking place anywhere. Not only that, but if you aren’t doing spacework you are just two people talking.

FYI, two people talking is not much of a spectator sport.

Doing spacework also gives you a starting point for dialogue. Naturally, we don’t want to hear two people talk about flipping pancakes for 3 minutes (see “spectator sport” above). However, if one of you says something like, “Dammit, Maureen, you know I hate it when you flip the pancakes way up in the air. There’s still batter stuck on the ceiling from the last time we had pancakes,” we have already gotten to something about your relationship.

Okay, I hope that’s cleared up the subject of spacework and why Held2gether improv classes teach the proper use of spacework as compared to, say, everywhere else. You’re welcome.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

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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