3 Questions That Can Make Or Break An Improv Scene

It is crucial for you and your partner to answer 3 questions at the top of every improv scene. Failing to do so will result in an insufferable performance that no audience wants to see.

To avoid any messy or unfunny scenes you have to know the Who, What, Where

You must provide this information. Without it, your improv scenes will be vague and lack any spontaneity. It is your job as a performer to get all of this info out within the first 3 to 5 lines. That sounds like a lot, but it’s easier than you think.

Let’s break down the importance of Who, What, Where in improv.

Who: A lot of times improvisers will start off scenes not knowing each other. Total strangers who have no idea what to say. At this point, since neither improviser has made a specific choice, they have nowhere to go. Instead of being strangers make the choice that you already have a relationship. It can be anything. Mother, Daughter. Cop, Criminal. Doctor, Patient.  Marvel Fan, DC Fan. This can be established within a line or two. Example: “I gotta say I love your hat, Pope.” “Thank you! It’s almost as big as yours, Lady Gaga.” Bang! Now we know who these two characters are. Keep in mind, it’s not only establishing “who” you are, but who you are to each other. Relationship. In this case, the Pope and Lady Gaga are friends complimenting each others hat. You want specificity. It gives you something to play with, and will make for a very funny scene. And yes, it is weird to think of the Pope and Gaga as BFFs, but keep in mind this is improv. The unexpected and unusual is what makes it so funny!

What: Improvisers have a tendency to only talk about what they are doing, like building a tree house or painting a fence. They think that’s the what. That’s not the “what”. We want to know”What is this scene about?”. Let’s say there’s a scene where a Father and Son are playing catch. 99% of the time it ends up becoming a scene about a Father who teaches his son how to catch a ball. Just telling the kid what to do and how to do it. And that’s it. So how do you find the “what”? Try having a conversation and see where it takes you. Example: “I love doing this with you, son.” “Me too, dad. Anything to help you get into Major League Baseball.” “Thanks for believing in me, kiddo.” And there you have it. Now this is a scene about a Son who is helping his Father make it into the big leagues.  Neither of them are teaching the other how to catch or throw. They are working together so the Father can fulfill his dream. That is sooo much more fun to play. From there they could go to the batting cage, and maybe the Father gets hit with a fastball causing him to get hurt and then loses hope of becoming a pro. Which is great because we need a turn in the scene to change things up. “What” is more than the activity or physical business, it’s about what is happening between these characters. 

Where: This is the easiest one to miss. We need to know where you are in the scene. Location, location, location. Where are the Pope and Gaga at? Are the Father and Son in their front yard? Your audience needs to know this specific detail. You may know where you are, but how will your audience know? That’s why you have to verbalize it. After all, a majority of audiences are not mind readers. They can assume or guess where you are, but if it is not stated then they are lost. You have to establish where you are. If the Pope and Gaga are complimenting each others hat what if they are at a shopping mall. “I’m so glad Nordstroms is having a sale on hats and rompers today!”, says the Pope. Yay! They’re on a shopping spree! What if the Father and Son are practicing at a Batting Cage/Go Kart Track. “Dad, let’s take a break from your baseball training, and hit up the go kart track. Gotta get you ready for the Indy 500.” Boom! And just like that we were able to heighten the scene. Not only is the Son helping his Father get in the MLB, BUT he’s also helping him become a race car driver. All that happened because we established a specific location for these two characters.

Below is a quick video offering you an overview of what we covered in this blog. It’s a fun animated video that’s worth a minute of your time:

Every great improv scene always has a Who, What, and Where, and it is up to you to find the answers.  Simply put, if you do not know Who you are, What you are doing, or Where you are then who does?

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