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by Darren Held

Sssshhhhhhhhhhhh!

You know that saying silence is golden? That’s a polite way of saying, Shut the hell up.

Of course, I would never say something so rude. But the premise definitely applies in improv, and I for one encourage everyone to embrace it.

There’s this natural tendency on stage to want to fill up all the empty space with words. Players panic and vomit information, or they think it’s some kind of race and they have to begin their line within a nanosecond of their scene partner completing their line.

Relax. Take a breath.

In real life, we don’t talk that way. Sure, in some circumstances, folks get excited and jabber on or talk over each other. But when I’m having a serious conversation and someone says something to me like, “I have a confession, Sonnjea. I only eat palm fronds, and I think you should also,” it takes me a couple seconds to digest that information (no pun intended) and a couple more to formulate a response that doesn’t sound snarky.

Feel free to take that same time in improv. The audience isn’t judging you on speed, after all. They want to see the scene played for real, and in real life we aren’t terrified of silence. Silence on stage is not boring. Tension builds during the silence, drawing the audience in as they wonder what they heck you’re going to say. If your improv conversation is all wham, bam, thank you, ma’am, there’s no suspense or tension or build in the scene and it’s actually less satisfying to the audience and more stressful for you.

So give yourself the gift of truly listening and taking in the information that’s given to you instead of feeling compelled to pounce on every line.

Or, as I like to say, shut the hell up.

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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