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by Darren Held

Along with information and agreement, commitment is one of the three pillars of improv. On any given day, I could argue that any of those is the most important. Today I say that commitment is the most important.

Yes, I’ll tell you why. Cuz that’s just how I roll.

Let’s say you have a 2-person scene. If one person denies something, it stops the momentum and the scene basically has to start over. But as long as both people aren’t in denial mode, it’s still possible to make a scene work. Same with information: if only one person goes to Crazyville, the other person can still justify the weirdness. If both people are spewing randomness, then you’re screwed.

With commitment, it only takes one person to eff up a scene. As soon as one person bails, you have no scene – because you can’t do improv alone.

I was in a non-H2G class recently, and we were doing an exercise involving relative status in the scene. After connecting with my partner and getting a hoity-toity vibe from her, I inferred that I was the low-status person in the scene so I became very small and meek and said, “I’m sorry we ran out of gas, Donna. I know I was supposed to fill the tank, but I forgot. I’m really sorry.” Perhaps not a brilliant start to an improv scene, but at least I gave her a name and some clear information. She looked at me for a second, then spun around to the non-Darren teacher and said, “What is she doing? I don’t know who has the higher status!”

I was beyond startled, because as we learn from the very first Held2gether improv class, you don’t bail. Like Jester told Maverick, “You never, never leave your wingman.” Sure it’s a class, and class is about learning, but by staying in the scene and working it out herself, “Donna” woulda learned more than she did from the non-Darren teacher telling her, “Well, she’s acting very meek and apologetic, so it seems like she’s given you the status in the scene. And by the way, don’t ever bail like that again.”

To be fair, abandoning a scene outright is very rare, even in a classroom setting. But there are other ways of bailing. Like making it clear to the audience you think your scene partner’s information is idiotic. Or starting an argument with your scene partner because you don’t like where their information is going. Or just having no energy or enthusiasm for the scene, or your character, or the information. Any of these forms of bailing also make it impossible for the committed partner to make the scene work because, essentially, you’ve forced your partner to try to do improv alone. You’re mocking the scene, or you’re trying to steer the scene, but you’re not playing with them in the scene.

I actually think commitment may be the easiest of the pillars to adhere to, once you make up your mind. Agreement and information both rely to a certain extent on your brain functioning properly while you’re in a scene – and sometimes brains have a mind of their own. But commitment only requires, um, commitment. Just decide that, no matter what, you’re not gonna leave your wingman. Then don’t leave. Period.

Sorry, I have to leave. It’s time to go watch Top Gun.

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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