Improv scene templates: You Statements

Scene templates can be very useful for improv scenes. It’s good to have a simple game plan or strategy to help start a scene. And it’s good to practice those strategies over and over so that they become second nature. There is no single right template. Just like there are lots of good ways to begin a chess game or lots of different successful plays in football or basketball, there are lots of good ways to begin a scene.

Here is one that I like.

Enter simultaneously
Enter the stage at the same time. Choose some spot on the stage to be and go there. No need to preplan any emotion or character or situation. Just enter, notice your scene partner and stop.
Look at your scene partner
Take a few moments to just look at your scene partner. You don’t need to turn your whole body to them, but look at them for at least five or six seconds.
Make a ‘You Statement’
One of you, make an observation about the other person’s behavior or emotions. Keep it simple. Don’t invent anything, just look at them and say what you see. For example:

  • “You are annoyed with me.”
  • “You have a mischievous smile on your face.
  • “You are radient.”
  • “You’re in a good mood.”
Yes-and the observation
If your scene partner says you look suspicious, be that. If they think you look happy, be that. Respond and behave in whatever way they have observed.
Talk about that behavior
For the next few lines, just talk about that behavior. Don’t worry about the circumstances of the scene. They will tumble out when you are ready. If the first observation is that one character looks depressed, both players should talk about the player who is depressed for a few lines. Eventually you will realize who you are and what you are doing.

Obviously, this covers just the first 20 or 30 seconds of the scene and there are lots of ways to go from here. But that simple act of observing your scene partner and caring enough to call out their behavior instantly connects the two players. The audience is drawn into moments like this. It’s always interesting. Nothing clever is needed, because humans are fascinated with human behavior.

As you get better at this, you can probably shorten the amount of time you wait before you say something. Eventually you may want to force yourself to make the observation quickly instead of waiting.

Behavior is a Game, A Workshop with Kevin Mullaney

Kevin MullaneySaturday, June 1, 2013
11:00 am – 3:00 pm

At Upstairs Gallery
5219 N Clark
Third Floor

A Workshop with Kevin Mullaney
Behavior is a Game
This is a four hour workshop with CIF Artistic Director Kevin Mullaney.

Observe your scene partner, call out their behavior, respond impulsively and let the circumstances tumble out to make a game.

Some of the most fun games to play in a scene come from the emotional interplay of the characters. One player’s behavior inspires an impulsive response in their partner. Patterns of behavior emerge and help form behavior-based games. Justifications bubble up from your unconscious to make sense of what’s happening which leads to more ideas of how to play the game.


For more information about what this class will be about, take a look at the following essays:

This one day intensive class is open to improvisors of all levels.

Let your scene partner provoke you

You’ve probably heard that if you react or behave in a particular way in an improvised scene, you should continue to behave or react in that way throughout the scene. That’s good advice. It’s no fun to see a character react to something in a specific way and then drop it for the rest of the scene. If your scene partner does something and you react suspiciously, you should probably react to other things suspiciously too. That’s how you create a game1 for yourself.

The key though is to let yourself be provoked into these reactions by your scene partner. You shouldn’t have to invent things in the scene to treat suspiciously. It’s far better to be provoked by your scene partners actions instead. You could notice the bookcase and the copy of the Bible, pull it out and glower suspiciously at it. But it would be far more interesting if your scene partner said, I want to show you something and pulled out a book from the bookcase and then you became suspicious.

In rare cases, your scene partner may not be doing anything at all and then you have to actually discover things on your own to provoke you. But most of the time, once you have a template for how this character reacts, you should focus your attention on your scene partner and when your gut tells you “React!” go for it.

For more on this, checkout my posts about Emotional Yo-yo and Behavior is a game.

1. Game as in anything you do more than once, but not necessarily what we mean by game of the scene.
Also, the photo is by miguelb on flicker.

Workshop at Chicago Improv Festival – Behavior is a Game

mullaney smileSaturday, Apr 6, 2013
10:00 am – 12:00 pm

The Atheneum Theatre – Studio One

A Workshop with Kevin Mullaney
Behavior is a Game
This is a two hour workshop with CIF Artistic Director Kevin Mullaney (UCB, IRC).

Create fun behavior-based games in your scenes. Respond impulsively to your scene partner. Turn those impulses into a game by provoking your scene partner, and making them your emotional yo-yo.

Emotional Yo-yo

Emotional Yo-Yo is an approach to creating dynamic, interesting improv scenes with games that are playable, surprising and funny.

Last week I wrote about reacting strongly to innocuous lines from your scene partner to immediately create interesting moments. It’s quite easy. Just listen to your scene partner, take what they say personally, and respond in way that is specific, strong and believable. That’s a great way to create a single moment, but to make a great scene you need to learn how to play with it.

Here is an exercise called Emotional Yo-yo:

  • Start a simple scene: like two people involved in an everyday activity. Don’t prethink it too much. Just start talking.*
  • One player should choose to react strongly to something from the other player. Once someone reacts in this way, they are the yo-yo and the other player is the hand.
  • If you are the hand, you should play with the yo-yo. Your job is to do and say things that either provoke the yo-yo or placate the yo-yo.
  • If you are the yo-yo, your job is to be affected. Every reaction doesn’t have to be absurdly strong, but often it is. Sometimes the hand will push you away, sometimes the hand will pull you back, sometimes the hand will spin you around. You should be flexible and let yourself be moved.

Some hints and notes

Continue reading “Emotional Yo-yo”