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  • Writer's pictureLauren Morris

Improv Toolbox: Scene Stoppers and What to Do About It

I've watched countless hours of improv scenes. In the classroom, on the road, and at my own theater. Without fail, there is a scene where a performer responds or is part of a scene that brings everything to a screeching halt. Their language makes it quite difficult to keep moving the relationship, story, or form forward. We are taught to stay away from "no" and "but" yet there are several not so obvious ways performers make scenes more difficult.

Here are some ideas on how to continue to co-create when your scene partner is saying "no".

If your partner says:

That is so stupid!

You can say:

I'm missing your point.

What you are doing here is asking your scene partner to make a clear and concise choice. An active decision. You are also avoiding a meaningless argument about your idea of being called stupid. Watching improvisers argue on stage because they are stuck is not fun for anyone. By stating somewhat neutral phrases, you can avoid the "argument scene" and hopefully find the fun and creative ways to move forward together.

If your partner says:

That will never work!

You can say: You think that ...

Again, you are actively avoiding the argument scene. You are restating what you believe your partner is trying to say. These clear and active statements can get us through the rough patch of this scene.

If your partner says:

Are you (dumb, on drugs, off your meds*)?

You can say: Maybe I wasn't clear ...

Once more, avoiding engaging in an argument about who is right and who is wrong. For one, how can anyone be wrong in an improv scene? The script has yet to be written. It can get difficult avoiding an argument on stage when one person isn't recognizing their behavior and pattern of speech is opening the door for that kind of scene. Just keep calm, restate your offers, make "you" statements, and try to find something you can agree upon to move the scene forward.

*A note about asking someone if they are "on or off meds". Not only does this not help your scene and is a lazy offer, but it also continues the stigma of mental health challenges. In essence, you are punching down. Language is powerful. Use it wisely and be aware of the impact it can make.

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