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by Darren Held

I’ve given it some thought, and I’ve decided it’s time to talk about the C-word.

Uh, commitment, people. It’s one of the 3 main rules of improv and, arguably, the most important. Today for sure it’s the most important, because it’s what I’m writing about. And I’m totally committed to it.

If you do improv long enough (and by long enough, I mean about 13 minutes), you will encounter a suggestion, label or situation that you know jack about. Or, for those of you who hate ending sentences with prepositions, “about which you know jack.” See, I’m like a real writer and stuff.

Anyway. Commitment. Let’s say you get a label you know nothing about. The best way to make the scene tank is to let on to the audience, or your scene partners, that you know nothing. The best way to make the scene work is to make an instant decision, and totally commit to it, 100%. Even if you just pick one little aspect of that label (whatever that label means to YOU) and run with it.

For example, last night a student was labeled a softball player. That’s not such an out-of-the-ordinary suggestion, and clearly she knew stuff about softball. She played the scene kinda butch, but rather than just being a softball cliche, she found something to commit to – this character’s love of sandwiches. She was totally on her own side, defending the brilliance of sandwiches because they contain all 4 food groups and whatever. It was hilarious.

Another group did a scene in the genre of a vampire movie. There were constraints on what they could say, but they totally changed their physicality and voices and there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that they were vampires. And it was hilarious too.

I think the message here is clear: commitment = hilarity.

Oh, and before I go, I just want to give you some ideas of what commitment is NOT.

  1. Commitment doesn’t necessarily mean loud. It might, it might not. Being totally committed to a scene, completely engaged, enthusiastic and energetic does not have to mean LOUD. Loud is fine; however, it’s not a substitute for commitment. I can have big, huge energy and be loud and shit, and still bail or make it clear that I am judging myself, the scene or my partners.
  2. Commitment also doesn’t mean forcing an agenda. In that sense, you should let go of your commitment to your agenda and instead commit to the bigger picture.
  3. Commitment also doesn’t mean going for a laugh at any cost. Improv is about playing it real, layering information and allowing the humor to come through; it is NOT about going for the joke. If your idea of commitment is to get the audience to laugh every time you open your mouth, you should do standup.

Just sayin’.

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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