Improv scene templates: Third Wheel

We tried this template at the end of a rehearsal this week a couple of times. It was a pretty fun one, although I think there is such an inherent game to it, it’s almost short form. It’s a variation on the non sequitur scenes I described a few weeks ago, but this one is for three people:

We tried this template at the end of a rehearsal this week a couple of times. It was a pretty fun one, although I think there is such an inherent game to it, it’s almost short form. It’s a variation on the non sequitur scenes I described a few weeks ago, but this one is for three people:

Three people start a scene
You can have them choose their own activity, but I had them just having lunch or dinner, sitting at a table.
Two people have a conversation
The first two people who talk respond to each other directly and talk about the same topic. The third person just listens to their conversation.
Third person responds with a non sequitur
Eventually, the third person chimes in, but talks about something completely different from the other two.
The first two people continue their conversation
Whenever the first two people talk, they are talking about their original conversation and whenever the third person talks they are talking about their own topic. Everyone should listen to each other and should react honestly to how it feels to have this kind of conversation.

From here, the scene could go in lots of different ways. Perhaps the conversations could merge, or the third wheel could keep trying to merge the conversations and failing. Since we only did it a couple of times, I’m not sure what all the variations could look like.

I’m realizing that a major theme in my improv thinking these days is how important surprises are. The dialog of improv scenes is often way to linear and gets stuck on whatever topic the players start with. Non sequitur is one tool to fight this tendency.

Please let me know in the comments if you try this and what your thoughts are.

Also, please take a look at my other posts on scene templates.

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.