Denial kills improv scenes.
“You are a beautiful wizard.”
“But I’m not a wizard, I’m a doctor.”
“That’s true. You’re so good with medicine, it’s why they call you “The Wizard”.
“They don’t call me that. They call me Dr. Goldstein.”
Denial kills improv scenes.
As a beginner, this is tough to overcome. The idea that you have to say “Yes” to everything AND you have to add something to it seems hard.
“I think it’s time to retire. You’ve put in 35 good years at Boca High School.”
“Yes, it’s been a good run and I’m going to miss you the most Patrick.”
And that’s all you need to start. Accept the gift that’s been given to you, receive the gift and add something. Don’t worry about being funny. Just worry about your scene partner. Accept everything they provide you.
Advanced Improvisers are more advanced at Denial and it still kills improv scenes just the same.
Sometimes seasoned improvisers forget the basics of a scene. They find it more difficult to drop an idea or accept a gift, but instead of blatantly denying it, they turn it into conflict.
“That’s the last of them Frank. I’ve painted every house on the block.”
“Oh! Good for you! Bob! You must feel SO SPECIAL! Well, guess what! I spray painted graffiti all over your houses when you weren’t looking.”
“OH Yeah! Well, …..”
“OH yeah! Well….”
And the scene doesn’t go anywhere. By definition, they aren’t denying their reality, but if you look at the subtext of what’s happening, both actors are denying the other to “win” the scene. If you enter a “One Up” contest, the entire scene will lose. Break the pattern. Deliberately lose. Give in.
“You did? I like it. It’s even better than that boring scheme I used on the houses. You have some real talent Frank. This could make you famous.”
YES, You Can Say NO
I don’t admit this in our first three levels of classes because it’s confusing. How can you say NO, but also be saying yes? In improv, you aren’t speaking the words “yes” and “no” to communicate reality. You are either accepting your reality or you aren’t.
“Tanya, will you marry me?”
“No, I can’t. I’m not good enough for you Mark.”
“That’s why I want to marry you Tanya. Because you’ll always owe me something.”
You’ll notice that even though we said no, we also provided an alternative idea. We also didn’t deny reality. Tanya, didn’t deny the proposal just happened. She didn’t deny her name. She simply provided an answer. In that case the word “No” didn’t end the idea generation.
Sometimes, NO can mean YES. Stop. You know I didn’t mean it that way.
“John. Did you throw away all of my coupons?”
“Tell me I look fat.”
“No. I’ll tell you that you look hefty.”
Denial is more about denying the reality provided and less about saying yes and no. If someone mentions there are 5 goats surrounding you, that’s real. If you have been named the shepherd; herd. If someone points out a gate to keep your goats protected, use it. Use your gifts.
“It’s time to sell the boat Darlene.”
“But it’s not my boat to sell.”
Aha!! Tricky. You accept the boat exists, but you deny it’s yours when clearly it is up to Darlene to do something with it. This conversation might happen in real life, but it creates too much work for improvisers. Saying that something isn’t yours means we have to add another character and it also means that one of the two characters involved isn’t important.
“The results are in Daniel. You are the Father.”
“Funny. I wonder how that can be since I have no sexual organs.”
Well, this sounds interesting doesn’t it? The beginning of some weird sci-fi romcom. However, it throws away the first gift given. Why not just react to the news that you’re going to be a father?
“I wasn’t planning for this to happen, but I’m excited. And nervous.”
“Daniel. You should consider using protection next time.”
“Am I in danger?”
Now we have a new gift… A new thing. What if the Doctor accepted this statement as truth. What if Daniel really is vulnerable to some sort of attack when he is fornicating? What if the doctor recommends that he wear a bullet proof vest, helmet and shoulder pads? What if his wife becomes violent during sex? These are all threads this line provides.
Of course you could keep the scene going by saying:
“Yes. Anytime you have unprotected sex, you’re putting yourself in danger.”
There is no wrong answer as long as you are accept the reality. Be connected. Have emotions and keep adding to your scenes.