Figure Out What You Need

This is the first post in a series about what to do when your scene starts to stall. 


Guys, I’m going to admit something. I’ve been doing longform for almost ten years and sometimes I still get stuck in scenes. Being human is weird. And let’s all just be honest - improv is hard. But we tend to make it harder on ourselves by FREAKING OUT when we feel a little stuck - have you been there? A scene is floundering so you get really loud or you start talking really fast or you just start doing something very very weird for no reason at all or - worst of all - you give up on the scene completely? (You have. Don’t tell me you haven’t.) 

So what do you do? 

Figure out what this person you’re playing needs.  

There. Bam. That’s how humans work. Whenever I feel like a scene I’m in is stalling, I take half a second to notice what the person I’m playing needs. And, even better, what this person needs from the other person in the scene. Normally this need is apparent from the very beginning of the scene, if I’m just paying attention. Did I start by looking at my scene partner and asking if I looked pretty? (Probably.) Great! I need attention and affirmation! But even better - I need it from that person. Maybe I’m in love with them. Maybe they’re my older sister, and I think they’re the coolest person on earth. Maybe they’re my boss and I want to get promoted and I’m using my looks because we live in an inherently patriarchal and chauvinistic society! Any of those things are fine (IN A SCENE) - the key is that I want my scene partner to make me feel good about myself. Now I can just respond honestly to what’s happening in the scene, knowing in the back of my head that that’s what I want from this other person.

Wanting something from your scene partner’s character. What does it do? It drives the scene forward. It forces you to stay connected to your partner. It makes you play emotionally. All the stuff we want to do! All the stuff that makes great scenes that don’t stall.

Recently, Michael Jastroch - one of the owners of ColdTowne Theater in Austin and a damn good performer slash coach - phrased this in such a great way when we were talking. 

Your need is the diving board. The scene is the pool. 

How perfect is that? Your need isn’t what the scene is ABOUT - it’s just what gets you in there. And once you’re in there, if you’re questioning why the hell you jumped into this pool (it’s cold! & wet! & you’re fully dressed!), keep that need in the back of your head. It will drive your choices. It will make swimming easier.

Babes, scenes aren’t problems we need to solve. They’re just experiences we need to live. Jump in the pool. You’ll figure it out.