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by Darren Held

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.

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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