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by Darren Held

In improv class, we frequently urge students to have a big ol’ emotional reaction to something – anything – in order to keep the scene moving. In fact, we often tell students they can have the reaction first and then worry about the justification. In other words, freak out, laugh uproariously or sob uncontrollably at ANYTHING your scene partner says, even if it’s just, “I’m going to turn on the air conditioner now.” Having the emotion will almost always lead to a justification for the emotion.

Occasionally students will argue that this feels forced or unnatural, and that there’s no reason for them to freak out about somebody turning on the A/C and, therefore, no reasonable justification could ensue.

Here’s something to ponder… You know how sometimes you can be sitting around, say with your mom or your neighbor or your cellmate, and you can be having a perfectly awesome afternoon with them, playing Yahtzee and drinking white wine spritzers or whatever? And then the other person says, “I’m going to turn on the air conditioner now,” and you’re like, “OH FUCK NO, YOU ARE TOUCHING THAT THERMOSTAT OVER MY DEAD BODY!!!!” And then your afternoon is ruined because, for the past 22+ years this person has always kept the house/trailer/cell as cold as a friggin’ meat locker and today is the day that you are just not going to freeze your ass off in order to keep the peace anymore, and you lose it.

That is honest. That’s what happens sometimes in real life because of the history you share with others. If your scene is not about relationship, you may have trouble justifying and making sense of a seemingly out of the blue emotional change. But if it’s about relationship, any outburst of emotion can be justified through your characters’ shared history. That history may not have come out yet, but once you have your emotional outburst, it’s an opportunity to get to that history, explain the “why” behind your outburst… and all of a sudden, you have a big what: Today is the day that I have had it up to HERE with your hotflashes and your selfishness when it comes to climate control.

Think about the ridiculously small things in real life that cause out-of-proportion reactions – it happens all the time (to other people, of course). Let those little things affect you in the same big, out-of-proportion way in improv!

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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