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by Darren Held

Andy, Co-Dependent had to miss class this week because he’s traveling. But he texted me his contribution for a “location” suggestion and, being the lazy student I am, I used it rather than coming up with a suggestion of my own.

And now, being the lazy blogger I also am, I’m going to use it to make a point. You can thank Andy when you see him.

In improv scenes, the more specific you can be with your information, the easier it is for the audience to visualize the scene. After all, you have no costumes, no props and no sets, so the audience has to work very hard to imagine what’s going on. It’s the improvisor’s job to make it as easy as possible so the audience doesn’t hurt their brains.

Often the audience will already be tired out by coming up with suggestions – and it’s hard enough to get them to offer suggestions that are more specific than “Ireland” or “Earth.” So if you get a suggestion like “Starbucks,” count yourself lucky!

Andy’s suggestion last night was “Starbucks in Times Square.” You might initially think, Jeez, Starbucks is the same whether it’s in Times Square or Bakersfield. That’s the thing about Starbucks – it’s just the SAME.

And yet, that added bit of information is what the whole scene was based on – cold, impatient New Yorkers and tourists demanding hotter coffee while they waited for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve, a fact that pitted one Starbucks employee against the other.

Last night, the improvisors had Andy to thank for that added bit of location information that elicited very specific information. But usually Andy isn’t in the audience, so you can’t count on any kind of suggestion being that specific. So you have to make it that specific yourself, and do it fast. If you label your beach Miami Beach, that’s going to mean something different to the audience than Jersey shore. Where are you on the beach? In a cabana? Lying on the sand? Standing in line at the concession stand to buy churros? Disneyland is too broad; Main Street USA is better; trapped in the boat on Pirates of the Carribean is awesome. Try to give the audience a location that they can reach out and touch. And remember, if you can’t really picture where you are or what you’re doing, the audience won’t be able to, either.

Naturally, Held2gether classes, which are located in a large, well-lit auditorium with a stage and hardwood flooring that’s been scuffed up by the tap dancing ladies, in the middle of Recreation Park in Long Beach, can help.

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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