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by Darren Held

We did an exercise called Emotional Store in the Intro to Improv class last Saturday. It’s a game where you have a shopkeeper and two shoppers, and they have a short little transaction scene.

Please don’t yell at me, people! It’s an exercise. Of course I know transaction scenes and scenes involving strangers and scenes that include questions are not optimal improv scenes. I didn’t just start doing this yesterday, you know.

The point of the exercise is to show how even a not-optimal scene, such as one with strangers asking questions and conducting a transaction, is improved by the addition of emotion. Duh.

So the players do the short scene. Then they run it again quickly, just to get their lines down. Then we get an emotion from the audience, and all 3 players adopt the same emotion and replay the exact same scene with this new HUGE emotion. The lines stay the same, but the spacework and movement can change.

It’s often pretty damn funny, even though certain lines like, “I’ll take the pink one cuz pink makes me giddy” don’t work that well with an emotion like rage.

This week, I made sure we had time to do it once more – and this time, instead of an emotion, we got a movie or tv genre. And they redid the scene again, this time in the style of Western or spy movie or whatever.

What I like about the genre version is that, even the people who have a hard time showing emotion can usually commit to being a cowboy or a spy or a cop or a soap opera star or whatever, and those scenes are HILARIOUS.

I’m not a shrink, but having spent a little time with one (er, never mind), I think it’s because some people have taught themselves to be stoic when it comes to expressing emotions. But there are no stigmas attached to being a cowboy or whatever, so people can totally commit.

Of course, the lesson here is really that if you can commit to being a cowboy, you can commit to being angry, or sad, or giddy or whatever because the commitment is the key, not the thing you are committing to. So don’t overthink it when it comes to having a big emotional reaction! Just scream or laugh or cry or cower in fear or whatever – and if it helps, do it like a cowboy.

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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