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by Darren Held

The rules of engagement exist for your safety and that of your team. They are not flexible, nor am I. ~ Viper

Okay, okay. The rules of improv are not quite so inflexible as the rules of engagement at Top Gun. But they DO exist for a reason, and I’ma tell you why. Guess that’s just how I roll.

It’s really all about percentages. Plunking two or more people on a stage, giving them a random suggestion like “artichokes” and expecting hilarity is akin to going to a party at a trailer park and expecting Dom Perignon. I mean, it could happen, but it ain’t likely.

So the rules are there to help you hedge your bets. When you agree instead of denying, you improve your odds. When you add information, you improve your odds. When you commit, you improve your odds. Every time you play by the rules, the game gets stacked a little more in your favor.

But don’t get cocky – it doesn’t work like a savings account. You can play by the rules for 2/3 of the scene, then go for a joke or get sarcastic or ask a lame question or deny something, and now your odds of having a successful scene are right back in the “astronomical” range.

Not all rules carry equal weight in terms of improving your odds, of course. And sometimes the importance of the rules is mitigated by the experience of the players, their on-stage chemistry and how well they know each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Andy and I quite enjoy setting each other up in certain games and scenes, by either asking a question or being sarcastic – but we have the longest history together of anyone in our troupe and I know he’ll get what I’m going for and vice versa. Still, it’s not the strongest choice.

And don’t forget, when you ignore the rules, you’re risking the game for all your scene partners as well as yourself. That’s a big gamble, if you ask me.

Which, I realize, you didn’t. But it’s my blog.

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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