By Darren Held

Don’t Fix My Problems!

by Sonnjea Blackwell

There’s an interesting paradox in improv… well, probably more than one. But I’m gonna limit myself to one for tonight, because I have some TV shows that need watching.

So tonight’s paradox is this: in real life, taking care of someone’s problems would make you a good friend, whereas in improv, taking care of someone’s problems can make you a lousy scene partner.

The thing is, your scene has to have a “what,” meaning it has to be about something that’s happening between you and your scene partner that makes today a big day. Ultimately we want to find out how this what affects your relationship. And often, a big “what” happens right away… only to be brushed aside by a well-meaning problem solver. Kinda like this:

“OH NO!!! You typed all the reports wrong! Now I’m going to get fired!”
“It’s okay, I explained it to the boss. You get to keep your job!”

In real life, YAY YOU! In improv life, ARGH!

Now we have to come up with ANOTHER big “what.” And, should you be really adept at problem solving, another… and another… until your time is up and your scene never became about anything. A stronger choice would be:

“OH NO!!! You typed all the reports wrong! Now I’m going to get fired!”
“Here, let me fix them… OOPS!” (And then spill coffee in the computer, ruining any hope of anyone fixing them.) Or, you know, something unhelpful.

Most of the folks I’ve met in improv have been super nice, friendly, helpful and responsible. They have a tendency to want to make people feel better, solve problems and smooth ruffled feathers. But to do good improv, you have to resist those urges. Fan the flames by making people feel worse, creating problems and plucking feathers!

Of course, it’s best if you go back to your mild-mannered self after your scene is over, otherwise you might find yourself without any real-life friends. And that would be sad.

By Darren Held

Problems Are Buts

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Have you noticed that human beings have a tendency to make things more difficult than they need to be? Or is that just me? We seem to think that simple is not as good as complicated. That’s just crazy talk, people.

Improv is hard, I’m not gonna lie. It takes practice to learn the rules and get the fundamentals down so that you can get out of your own way and just play and let funny stuff happen. But it’s not complicated unless we make it that way.

The simplest thing is just to listen and respond. But almost inevitably, somebody introduces a problem into the scene… to make it “interesting,” I suppose, or because they just don’t trust that a simple scene can work. The thing is, problems are just a complicated way of saying “but.”

You might have a nice scene going where you’re arranging flowers, and we might have learned that you and your scene partner are both secretly in love with each other (like how it always happens in real life, right?) Only then one of you says, “Oh no! We’re all out of daffodils and you know Mrs. Anderson only likes bouquets with 7 daffodils.”

WTF? The scene does not need that problem. It’s akin to saying, “Yeah, I realize we’re secretly in love with each other BUT I would rather talk about flowers.”

Seriously, in real life, if the guy you’ve been crushing on is finally admitting he also has feelings for you, are you going to suddenly start talking about flowers? Or anything else, for that matter? No. At that point, you don’t give a flying fuck about Mrs. Anderson and her flower OCDness, you’re just going to respond to that big news. How you respond might be different from how I respond, and that’s fine… but it should have something to do with the last thing your scene partner said.

If you keep it simple and ALWAYS reply to the very last thing your partner said, you will be less likely to introduce unnecessary problems into your scene, go down paths of freaky information or make your scene about “stuff.”

Believe it or not, taking the easy way is often the best way. Yay!