Improv and Storytelling.

It appears this may be a week of improv-related posts.

I’m teaching an intro-level performance track improv class at the Brave New Workshop these days and the subject of story and scene came up, and this is a subject I’ve been kicking around in my brain for a while. It this particular situation, there was speculation that, if the players in a scene can feel it has reached its natural ending in the story arc, should the scene be cut or is it okay to let it continue and see what else happens. I’m of the opinion both approaches can work – on a case-by-case basis considering the scene, the players, the audience, etc. – if the players involved treat the situation with truth.

Let’s say a two-person scene establishes two characters who are ex-lovers. They are both upset about their relationship and want things to be better. Finally, they make up and tell each other, “I love you.” If this scene were in a movie, the scene would fade to black and the credits would roll. But that’s not how it would go in real life. In reality, something happens after two people say “I love you.” They talk more, or cuddle or make hot chocolate. Whatever they do, it takes what just happens and begins a new story arc. The “I love you” moment moves from the climax of one story to the beginning of the first act for the next story. To this end, a scene could continue and explore the characters’ relationship further.

In improv ensemble work, this approach requires patience from both the players in the scene (deciding your scene has ended from the inside can be dangerous) and the players on the back line (particularly for ensembles who often cut scenes when the “big laugh” happens). Instead of looking for the high point or the “big laugh,” I wonder what would happen if more improvisers cut scenes by looking for story arcs. And on top of that, I wonder what would happen in more improvisers recognized story arcs, let them run their course, and let them carry on beyond into truly unknown territory.


Leave a Comment