Improv: Action vs. Dynamic Scenes
All ensembles want their audience to care, to be interested and engaged. And we love to have recipes to reliably produce this engagement so we can control the process.
Now inconveniently, improv is the art of not controlling the process.
At some point, many improvisers decide that they have figured out how it is done and mentally unplug during the show, following the recipes that turned out to work. I’ve seen ensembles lose their audience even though they knew everything about storytelling and character. So the first thing I’d like to ask you for: If you start getting bored, please make it interesting for yourself again or just let go of it.
Now back to action vs. dynamics:
What improvisers love to do on stage, is to deliver. The audience has given their time and possibly paid, so they expect something.
This urge can lead to over-delivering causing scenes like this one: Carl the Cop does open heart surgery to the sorcerer who fell off the rainbow cliff, while – split screen – Admiral Suzy is defending the planet against the invasion of the mind-controlling jellyfish of doom that are raining out of the sky. Cut! – Meanwhile: Princess Clara is riding on a twelve-headed dragon to the Pentagon to stop the machines from initiating the zombie apocalypse – bam!
Everyone on stage is loud, wild and fully engaged. So many ideas, so much going on, so much energy and commitment, still no one in the audience wants their autograph.
Then there is an ensemble you’ve heard of, where they sit and do literally nothing. They sit there, pretending to be fishing. All they do is talk, and the audience is engaged, cheering, laughing, gasping, trying not to miss one bit of a sentence they say.
How is that? What is going on?
While the first scene might be an ideal example for 100% action with 0% dynamics, the second one is the opposite: all dynamics, zero action.
Action is „many huge things happening“,
the equivalent to a movie with mighty CGI
and lots of colourful special effects.
Dynamic is „characters being affected or changed“.
While a dynamic scene easily grabs the attention and interest of the audience, scenes that offer solely action start boring the audience in no time. Even though it is naturally way harder to produce impressive action on an improv stage than impressive dynamics, many ensembles chose action.
Because action is easier to control and because it comes solely from your wit; no emotional involvement, no danger. Action is the safe option for scared improvisers. But the result is meagre – the audience disengages. Reliably.
If the people IN the scene are unaffected, why would I, as an audience member, even care? Action isn’t wrong. Just like special effects in movies aren’t wrong. It’s just that movies which rely solely on these effects are boring.
Learn how to make your scenes more dynamic in this improv course April 28th – 30th in London.
Claim your spot: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mario is the artistic director of the TmbH improv ensemble (est. 1993) and looks back to more than a decade of playing and teaching improv in Europe. He is known for his physical approach.