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by Darren Held

There is a natural tendency in improv, especially at the beginning of ones improv education, to try to pre-plan things. To a very limited extent, that’s fine. For example, if you think to yourself, Ya know what? I’ma do a spinster-y character in class tonight! or I WILL have a huge emotional reaction tonight, no matter what information I’m given, that’s fantastic and you should stick to your determination. With practice, you’ll learn how to make those choices instantly in the moment, but it’s fine to pick a skill to focus on in any given class and, uh, focus on it.

But any kind of pre-planning beyond that is bad. According to the interwebs, which are never wrong,

improvise [ˈɪmprəˌvaɪz]
1. to perform or make quickly from materials and sources available, without previous planning
2. to perform (a poem, play, piece of music, etc.), composing as one goes along

The heart of improvisation is that it happens without previous planning. Which means you cannot have an agenda. You can have an idea… but you can’t be committed to your idea (it’s the one thing in improv you don’t want to commit to). You still have to listen to your scene partner(s) and let the group idea emerge. You can’t insist, “I’m going to be his wife, and I’m going to be making stew for dinner.” You can’t insist, “I’m an astronaut and she’s an alien and I’m going to kidnap her.” You can’t insist anything if you want your scene to work.

Agendas are hard to let go of sometimes. Of course, we like our ideas. And why not? We have awesome ideas! But when you are married to your idea, you choke out the literally infinite number of other possibilities that could emerge over the course of your scene. When you force that agenda, your scene will strangle and drag you (and everyone else) down with it. If you don’t want to get dragged, LET GO. You don’t know everything; I don’t know everything. But consider the possibility that when we come together and let go of our pre-conceived notions, what results is greater than the sum of its parts.

It’s easier said than done, I know. But to be perfectly honest, if you are driving any kind of agenda, you aren’t really doing improv. You’re acting in a play in which only you have the script. That’s not just a bad play, it’s downright unsportsmanlike.

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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