Improv scene templates: Non Sequitur

This scene template is a particularly fun one. It feels a little like a trick, but it can have surprisingly delicious results. It starts very much like the Activity to Point of View scene template that I described on Wednesday. One person enters and starts an activity and another person joins that activity. But when the players speak, it’s completely different.

One person starts a conversation
The first person says 1 or 2 statements about whatever topic they like. They can be describing something that happened to them, their state of mind or sharing their opinion on some topic.
Second person says something which is a non sequitur
The second person listens to what the first person says, but responds by talking about something completely different. Again they should use statements and avoid questions (unless they are rhetorical). If one person wants to talk about their job, the other wants to talk about their heartburn. If one person wants to talk about their sex life, the other wants to talk about Star Trek. They do not even need to verbally acknowledge what the other person says.
Each player continues their topic of conversation
When the first player responds, they again talk about their original topic. And when the second player speaks, they are talking about their topic. It’s as if each person is doing a different monolog and pausing as the other one speaks.
Pick one conversation or merge them
After bouncing back and forth between the two topics of conversation for a few lines, one of the players should switch to talk about the other person’s topic. Or in some cases, the player will realize why these two topics go together and merge them. Don’t force it, wait until a satisfying impulse occurs to you about how to merge them. The scene continues forward at this point like any other scene.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • When the other person is speaking, you are definitely listening and considering what they are saying, you just decide to return to your topic of conversation when it’s your time to speak.
  • Although you might expect this to be disjointed, it actually implies a strong connection between the characters. Non sequiturs happen all the time in real conversation, but they usually happen between people who know each other well and have a history.
  • Force yourself to keep the topics separate for at least 4 lines each when you practice this. And keep each line relatively brief. 1 or 2 full statements are plenty. Play with variations, if one player is saying a lot when it’s their turn, maybe the other person only says a few words when it’s their turn.
  • Once you have practiced this for a while, you can add non sequiturs to the middle of the scene as well. Let the conversation merge and then a little while later bring up something completely different as abruptly as you can. Resist the temptation to segue smoothly from one topic to another.

Let me know in the comments if this is clear. I am tempted to over explain and add examples, even when they are not necessary. So let me know if it’s needed.

This is the third post in a series on scene templates for improv scenes. Check out Part 1 – You Statements and Part 2 – Activity to Point of View.

3 thoughts on “Improv scene templates: Non Sequitur”

  1. This template was the most challenging to understand when I read it but after I taught the other two templates at Open Rehearsal at Sea Tea Improv Studio in Connecticut, I tried to explain this one and was confused but through actually trying it, met with much success.

    The wild thing about the non sequitur template was it needed to be experienced by the group. The magic of the “Ah-Ha!” moment happen in the first scene when the two non sequiturs merged. I think a few video examples would better illustrate this more effectively than words.

    Thanks for sharing these templates!

  2. Topher, good to hear that these are useful to you. I agree some videos might help. I was explaining it to a group the other day and they were giving me some strange looks. I acknowledged that it sounded like a bad idea–to talk about something completely different than your scene partner–but when you do it and see it, it actually works really well. They liked it once they tried it.

    After a few of them, my students started doing different activities on stage and it started to lose something. They looked like they were in different scenic bubbles and didn’t look like they were listening to each other. So I encouraged them to do activities at a table with each other like playing chess or eating a meal.

  3. I’m looking forward to working with templates with my group. I think improvisers can talk at cross purposes, as long as they have agreed to do so. If improv is about the reaction, then theoretically it shouldn’t matter what is coming out of the performer’s mouth. Consider it crystal-clear gibberish? I may even try this particular template with gibberish to start. Nonetheless, thanks for the inspiration.

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