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by Darren Held

One of the things that’s difficult to convey to new (and even not-so-new) improv students is to spell everything out. Naturally, you don’t want to insult the audience’s intelligence, but you also can’t assume they’ll all be on the same page as you. If you call your scene partner honey, you may think that means she’s your wife. It might. It might also mean she’s

  • your girlfriend
  • your daughter
  • a hooker
  • someone you barely know
  • your pet dog
  • a beekeeper
  • a woman named Honey
  • an acquaintance whose name you can’t remember
  • I think you get my point

Everyone in the audience – not to mention your scene partner – will have associations with the word honey. And if they make an assumption that’s different from yours, the scene doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t just happen with relationships. You may think your information is crystal clear, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve critiqued a scene and the student tells me, “Oh, well, in my head, we were counting jumping beans and he was my 6th grade teacher, and we’d recently met again and now that I am 39 the age difference doesn’t matter and I was trying to convince him to go out with me.”

All right. Technically zero times for that specific example. But I do hear, “In my head, blah blah blah.” Guess what? We’re not in your head. You need to find a way to make that information clear and, ideally, in a relatively organic-sounding way. Don’t worry about that organic-sounding thing at first; that will come with practice. But until you get there, exercises like Add Info Lineup, where each player spells out a specific piece of the puzzle (who, what, where, relationship), will help you get in the habit of spelling it all out. That’s why, at H2G, we never stop doing Add Info. Getting out the foundation of a scene is a fundamental skill. Um, hello… professional baseball players still do batting practice, you know.

Being clear with your thoughts and information is helpful in real life, too, in case you hadn’t noticed. In my experience, most misunderstandings come from muddled communication. If you don’t spell out your position, your friend may make an assumption based on their own way of thinking – and if their assumption is different from what you have in your head, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up pissy at one another when you have that, “Uh. Whatever, you just don’t get it” conversation.

So spell it out. In improv and in life, people appreciate knowing where you stand and what’s in your head. So don’t keep it locked up in there. What’s in my head right now is, Ugh, I probably should’ve waited a few more hours after having the stomach flu to eat.

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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