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  • Writer's pictureLauren Morris

Improv Tip: Use Your Words

Words matter on stage. Yes, silence can be even more powerful when we show instead of tell. This post isn't about silence. It's about using your words.

Words especially matter when edits, walk-ons, and tag outs are in use. Most players add information when a scene actually needs to end. When we add instead of edit we find ourselves working harder for the scene to come together. This post isn't about edits. It's a post about the importance of words.

Let's take a look at words when we use them to add to a scene. The person doing the walk on or tag out presumably saw a way to heighten and add layers to the scene in progress. The burden now falls to them to ensure their offer moves the scene forward. You have to be clear about your offer in order to do this. Your words matter.

If you start with something physical and it's funny, you can leave the stage and we can all move on. Most times that's the function of a walk on move. If, however, you start with that and then opt to stay in the scene, please, please, please say SOMETHING! Having a player flit around for 45 seconds in silence after the laugh has subsided causes panic and confusion to the performers and the audience. Everyone then finds themselves in a scene that is about creating versus discovering.

As the performer on the receiving end of this offer, I don't know what it is you want from me. You initiated so I want to work with you and give you the right of way. If your move is not clear and you continue your silence, chances are you are going to make me feel lost. The following internal conversation goes like this, "oh no, I don't know what my partner wants. How do I yes, and this? What do we do now, please send help!". If your goal is to support the scene and treat your partner like a rockstar, this approach has missed the mark.

Perhaps you started with a physical choice and now you are thinking "uh-oh, what's next?", let your body inform your voice. Your physical movement can inspire a sound and please make that sound. From that sound see what words follow and express them to your partner who can then respond. Brick by brick we are back to building a scene.

What about the person uses words but they aren't so clear? I don't mean volume or pattern of speech. I mean the performer has walked onto the stage and said something that makes everyone have to stop and go, "huh?". The player who wants to show that being clever is more important than the scene and their fellow performers.

For real, playing coy, keeping your intentions secret, or being clever over authenticity and listening is not a person I want to be on stage with nor is it a person I want to watch on stage. If you have to prove how clever you are then you should go and write a script!

Funny, clever, and wit will follow if you are authentic, truthful, listening, and connected. Some of my biggest laughs come from reacting truthfully to the last thing my partner said.

I get it, sometimes it can be scary to say something because you fear it will be the "wrong" thing. How can it be wrong when the words have yet to be written? That's the beauty of improv. You are discovering together moment by moment what is true on stage. Stop berating yourself with thoughts of "this is wrong" and instead tell yourself, "let's go and see what happens". You and your scene partner will have much more fun with that approach.

Remember the next time you are on stage: be honest, listen, and words matter.

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