The 4 Dirty Secrets of Improv

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DSC00515I want to be clear that Sick Puppies only has only one rule.  YES And.  Everything else we provide are just guidelines or best practices.  You can create a great scene without these, like blindfolding a baseball batter and expecting a home run.  It will eventually happen, but it’s probably better to let him see, use good form and practice.

Where are You? Establish this early.  Say it.  “It’s pretty dead at the funeral home today, don’t you think?” I bet we could get a scene going pretty quickly there.  Identify where you are and sometimes that will spark something in your partner.  The more specific, the better.  “I’m literally buried in caskets here.” Navigate the space.  “I’m gonna need to lube up this coffin… well… I guess it’s really only opening and closing once, right?”.

Who are you to each other? It’s important to know who you are, but it’s more important to know who you are to each other.  You need a connection in a scene with your partner.  Instead of worrying about your character, do your partner a favor; paint them.  “Dad, you don’t have to wait up for me.  I’m 16 now.” You’ve established the relationship immediately.  Your partner thanks you for the gift and hopefully returns the favor. “Honey, I know you’re 16 now, but you’ve been arrested 3 times for drinking and driving already.  I have a right to be worried.”

Beginners will try to create transactional relationships:  Doctor and Patient, strangers in line, clerk and customer.  Be careful.  It’s difficult to create an emotional connection when the relationship doesn’t have one.  That said, any relationship is better than no relationship.  Nothing is more devastating to a scene than dialogue like this:



“let’s go to the mall”


7 seconds in and I want to jump off a cliff.  Make the relationship big and make your character make bad choices.  “I’m cooking our dog for dinner honey.  I was hungry and he’s an asshole.”

What do you want from each other?  This is the most difficult part of a scene.  How can you create a want from your partner that isn’t transactional, but also not aloof?  “Can I have your water?” You’ve asked for it and likely your partner will say “Yes, and I’ll put some ice in it for you.”… then what?  You need a new want.  A scene comes together when you want something that isn’t so easy to give.  “I want you to be a better husband.” Shit.  What does that mean?  Well, it means that you can have an entire scene based on the husband trying to figure that out.  So what does the husband want?  Maybe more sex?  Maybe a man cave?  Maybe he wants out of the marriage, but he’s afraid of alimony?

A tip on this.  Make sure your scene partner knows your intentions early.  Don’t be subtle.  Since you don’t have a script and they can’t read your mind, it’s up to you to put everything on them.

How did we get here? This is often forgotten in scenes, but is just as critical as the other three pillars.  What’s the back story?  “Here we are, another Friday night; without dates.” So now we know, we’re dealing with two single people that suck at finding dates.  “I’m not going to tell you again; I’m allergic to date rape drugs.” Yeah… I went dark in my example.  I think you understand where I’m going there.  It tells you how we got here though, doesn’t it?

Paint the scene.  Expand on the scene.  Most importantly, project as many details as you can onto your partner.  Give them everything.  “Mark, you’re a terrible doctor, but you’re my best friend.  I’ll give you one last chance to cure my cancer.  Shall we do this here on the couch or somewhere more sterile… like the garage?”

Connect. React. Add. Accept the reality and move forward.  You can make your world anything you want it to be.  Your scene partner will thank you many times over for providing the details.

There. Now you’re an improviser.  Share this article if you found it helpful.

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