How to Save a Scene that Sucks

This is adapted from a handout I gave out at my How to Save A Scene that Sucks Workshop:1. Figure out what information is missing and provide it (From inside the scene or making a cross on stage)
2. Be changed (Make a physical/emotional adjustment)
3. Make things more important to your character (Raise the stakes)
4. Find a physical action (That expresses an emotion or objective)
5. Be honest about how you feel (“I have no idea what’s going on.” “This is lame.”)
6. Be honest about the suck (“That was awful. Thank you!”)
7. Get off stage. (Maybe someone else has an idea)
8. Refocus on your partner and make eye contact (Stop for a moment and ask yourself, “What did my partner just say or do.”)
9. Want something from the other character in the scene (Define an objective and start pursuing it.)
10. Make whatever’s going wrong the game of the scene (Repeat it and heighten it)
11. Think about what questions the scene has raised in the audiences mind and try to answer them.
12. Make the scene about your partner.
13. Make it Meta (“Ladies and Gentleman, this concludes our lecture on how to NOT get a date for prom.”)
14. Direct from on stage (“Did you hear me? I just said I’m leaving you!” “Be still for a moment”)
15. Find a button (Say something funny, even at the expense of the story, to find the ending.)
16. Ask for clarification. (Especially if it’s directed improv)
17. If it’s a confusing/nonsensical situation, try to acknowledge it and justify it. (“We Eskimos are at your New York Dental Office because our HMO is really screwed up.”)
18. End the scene and do something else (Wave the lights, step forward and say something with confidence, or quickly find a resolution)
19. Practice directing scenes, it makes you a better improviser

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About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.
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  1. Sara said:

    I’m thinking about writing as many of these as will fit on my arms for tonight’s LBs show. I’m thinking I’ll go with brown marker so it will look like henna body-art.

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