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by Darren Held

Improv is all about making choices: choose to agree, choose to lose, choose to know each other, choose to care.

In the span of 30 seconds, you need to figure out who you and your scene partner are (and who you are to each other), what you’re doing and where you’re doing it. Then you have to figure out why today is special.

That is a lot of information to come up with based on a suggestion like, “They’re trying on hats.”

But making the right choices in those few seconds will get you pretty far. Want me to break those choices down for you? Well, I choose to anyway cuz I have to write something.

  1. Choose to Agree: You know this. Agreement is the #1 rule of improv. First line out, wins. If you think you’re a ballerina but your scene partner speaks first and says you’re feeding giant squid, you are feeding giant squid. And let go of your agenda – you are not a ballerina feeding giant squid, okay? Also, remember what you’ve said during the scene and don’t say things later to negate what you’ve set up. The audience will remember.
  2. Choose to Lose: This works in two ways. One: if an argument or contest develops in the scene, someone has to lose. If no one loses, the scene loses, which means the audience loses. So bite the bullet and take one for the team. And two: scenes involving status are hilarious, so choosing to be a low-status person in the scene (ie, being a loser) can give you and your scene partner something to work with.
  3. Choose to Know Each Other: It’s much harder for you and your partner to have anything meaty develop if you’re strangers, or even relative strangers. If you’re on a date, make it at least the 3rd date. If you get stuck in a transaction scene, be a regular at the store and know the clerk well.

No, I didn’t forget Choose to Care. It’s my topic for the week, so it gets its own special paragraphs and everything.

There are a few reasons why it’s important to care about what’s happening in an improv scene. First of all, audiences take their cues from the performers. If you don’t care, they won’t care. So when your scene partner gives you some information, make it matter… a lot. Remember, there’s no “kind of” in improv. You’re not kind of sad or kind of angry or kind of happy. You’re devastated, or enraged or f*ing giddy. Then the audience can get behind you.

Second, not caring is equivalent to a denial (see “Choose to Agree” above). If your scene partner says, “It’s time I told you the truth, Brenda. I’m having an affair with our dogsitter,” and you just blow it off or take it totally in stride, you’ve cheated your scene partner and the audience. That was big information! We want to know what that means to you! And your dog!

Third, nothing can save a floundering scene better than an emotional change. So if things are going nowhere, show you care about the last bit of information – no matter what it was – by bursting into tears. Or laughing hysterically. Or confessing your love. Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem to make sense; just being in an emotion will help you find the information to justify that emotion.

Obviously, learning to make choices quickly and decisively is a skill that will benefit you in every area of life. So choose to come to a Held2gether improv class and we’ll choose to make it the most fun you’ve had ever.

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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