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by Darren Held

by Sonnjea Blackwell

Some people think spacework isn’t that important in your improv scenes. I would argue that those people have not seen good spacework OR bad spacework and are basing their opinion on so-so spacework.

When improvisors do amazing spacework, it helps the audience really visualize their location and what they’re doing there. It also helps the people in the scene: good, clear spacework is unambiguous and leaves less chance for confusion. If you do vague spacework, you might think you’re washing dishes, but your scene partner might think you are throwing a Frisbee. Solid spacework helps you get on the same page.

Bad spacework can be funny, but not for the right reasons. Watching somebody “eat” a mountain of mashed potatoes by shoveling their arm mindlessly and repeatedly in the general direction of their ear soon becomes what the scene is about to the audience, because they can’t focus on anything else.

The trick with spacework is that your scene should never be ABOUT it; your scene should always be about why today is the big day between you and your scene partner. Talking about stuff will lead you nowhere, and it’s not interesting. In real life, we rarely have long conversations about doing the dishes. We might have a conversation while we’re doing the dishes, but it usually doesn’t go like this:

“Wow, this is the 12th plate I’ve washed so far, Elena.”
“Good for you, Frank! I’m enjoying the hand-softening qualities of this dish soap.”
“This fork has a lovely pattern in the handle.”
“Look how absorbent this sponge is!”

ARGH! Nobody wants to watch a scene that’s about stuff. On the other hand, Nate and I did a dishwashing scene recently where we did make mention of doing dishes IN THE CONTEXT OF OUR RELATIONSHIP. I evidently had this notion that doing dishes would get us in the mood for sexy time, and of course it went horribly awry. We used our location and our spacework to further what was happening between us. I’m not saying it was the best scene ever, but it was a good example of the spacework adding to the scene, while not making the scene about the spacework.

And the good news about spacework is, you can practice on your own at home. Do some activity and pay attention to how your hands move, how they hold the object, how the object feels, etc. – and then put the object down and do the same activity as spacework.

And please, all you people whose minds just went somewhere dirty, keep your pervy spacework at home, mmmmkay? Thanks!

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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