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by Darren Held

Turns out, there are plenty of ways of adding information to an improv scene without speaking. Anything that tells us something about you, where you are and/or what you’re doing technically equals information, and that can come from spacework, emotion, using the stage, discovering things and having a character… and all of that can come before you’ve ever said a word.

That’s a whole lotta information, when you think about it.

Let’s say, for example, I have none of those things. Sadly, then I am just Sonnjea standing on a stage with another, rather unfortunate, person.

If I do spacework, though, you know what I’m doing (or at least you have an idea of what I’m doing – I’m not exactly the queen of fabulous spacework). Maybe I’m fishing because that’s the spacework I learned in improv school. Swell. Now I’m Sonnjea fishing.

If I start sobbing, you start to get a sense of my frame of mind. You still don’t know why I’m sad, but you know I am fishing and I am sad. Yay.

If I set down my fishing pole and walk over and start to build a fire while I’m sobbing, you can start to picture our location a little more. Fishing would imply a body of water, and with the fire, it’s starting to look like maybe a campsite.

(Naturally, all of these things will be called out in no uncertain terms when the dialogue comes because “imply” is not a verb we ever want to do in improv.)

Maybe I open an ice chest to grab a ham sandwich and find a map! I can start unfolding the map, and perhaps I sob even more.

And maybe I’ve done all these things with a pinched-up face and a waddle. That in itself doesn’t make a character, but they are character traits that will be added to this character’s point of view, which will become clear through dialogue.

Of course, while I’ve been doing all this, my scene partner hasn’t just been standing around being rather unfortunate. No! They’ve been doing their own spacework and having an emotion and moving with purpose and maybe discovering something and displaying some kind of physical trait.

There’s a tendency in improv scenes to rush into the talking. And sure, you have to get to the talking eventually. But by building up layers of information nonverbally first, you and your scene partner have a chance to really connect and work together to create an entire world in which to set your 3-minute story. Then, when you do speak, you can get right to your relationship and the big what.

And that, I’m told, is somewhat more entertaining than watching just Sonnjea standing on a stage with another, rather unfortunate, person.

I know, weird.

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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