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 Learn Improv Basics

Improv Tips

Scene Building Tips

1) You are Tellling a Story
Good scenework is good storytelling. Many of the same storytelling principles apply. The biggest difference is that your working as a team to make a story and you're acting it out and writing it all at the same time as you go!

2) Establish the Who, What and Where
All stories have a who, what, and where.

The "Who" is both your character and the relationship to the other characters in the scene.

The "What" is both what activity is going on in the scene and, what is REALLY GOING ON in the scene. Two characters may have the activity of knitting and chatting, but what's really going on is that one is trying to steal the secret recipe from the other.

The "Where" is where the scene takes place. Is it in a Hotel Lobby? In your living room? At the Taj Majal? In your living room at the Taj Majal?

You can always get more specific with the location. Yes, we may know you're in the living room, but where is the couch? Show us the shag carpet, or the torches on the wall. These details paint the picture for us to really enter the scene with you.

3) Advance and Expand
Scene Improv can go in two directions: You can ADVANCE the story, or move the plot forward, or you can EXPAND and get more specific with one element of the story.

Joe put his hand on the doorknob. He turned it and pulled the door open. He walked in, slamming the door behind him and stomped to the dresser. He opened the top drawer, rifled through the underwear and pulled out....

Joe turned the doorknob and pulled the door open. There was a horrific creaking noise as the door moved along it's old rust hinges. Surely his parents would could sleep through that kind of noise. He stopped the door to stop the creaking, but there was not enough room for him to fit through without opening the door further. Joe looked at the hinges; if he could only open the door a few more inches he could slip through.

The advancing expample moves the action forward with event followed by event. The expanding example basically takes one event, the opening of the door, and adds drama by giving us more information and danger.

A mixture of both techniques are very usefull in an improv scene or a story.

4) Relationship: Make the Scene about the Characters Onstage
We want to see what is going down between the characters onstage. It can be really boring for the characters onstage to talk about how they are really upset with someone who isn't even there. We want to see the sparks fly between the characters onstage

5) Play Characters that can Add Information
Information and offers advance a scene. If you play a character who can't add information or make offers, you can't advance the scene.
For this reason, avoid playing:

  • young children & babies
  • mentally deranged people
  • animals
  • people who can't talk for whatever reason
  • strangers (they have no relationship history to draw on)

While these types of characters can be fun now and then to add to a scene, keep in mind their limitations because they can't add information.