In workshops it’s a good idea to train yourself to be positive in improv scenes and games. I’m not suggesting that all improv scenes should always and only feature positive characters, it’s just good to train yourself in the top end of your positive scale so that your default isn’t always to go into scenes as a dreary character who doesn’t really care about anything.
Happy and positive characters are a lot easier for an audience to watch on stage and care about. If stories are about characters we care about going through change (Dylan Emery) then having a positive default energy can help you create characters people are likely to care about.
Scenes featuring positive characters are also more engaging, as there’s nothing stopping us from wanting to switch off, so the improvisers won’t have to be in such a rush to find story game or jokes.
In my opinion improvisers are negative on stage sometimes as a form of self-defense. They are subconsciously trying to signal to the audience that they’re not really bothered, and that they’re not really worth watching, because deep down they don’t actually want to be watched.
Being negative keeps the improviser closed off emotionally to the audience, but opening up our emotions and vulnerability to the audience is exactly what makes good theatre.
Positive improvisers are engaging, real, touching, vulnerable and we care about them. So in practice I’ve found it’s good to practice the upper limits of positivity, so we have access to this emotional range.
Three Line Scenes Positivity Challenge: Four Pairs of Improvisers up. Each have to improvise a three line scene with nothing negative happening whatsoever. It goes up and back down the line, so each pair goes twice. If anything negative happens they all have to start the whole challenge again. The audience shout out the number of the scene after each one.
Positivity Record Breaking: Two improvisers up at a time. They have to improvise a scene with nothing negative happening, positive scene. Time it. When something negative happens a gong goes off and another pair start a whole new scene. Longest scene wins.
You Are My Best Friend: Two people sat on a couch. One has to start the scene by saying ‘You are my best friend’ and mean it. Repeat the scene, adjusting the body language of both improvisers until they really mean it.
I Love You: Two improvisers play a scene, at some point one of them will say ‘I love you’ and mean it. Don’t let them reverse or gag their way out of it. They have to react to the line and give it space like it’s important.
Jobs/Occupations: Improvisers are given occupations and have to then play the scene as if they are really good at these jobs, happy to be there and capable at said job. Pilots know how to fly planes, and know where they are going. Ice skaters can do tricks. Tightrope walkers aren’t afraid of heights. Factory workers are happy and sing and chat while they work.
Negative to Positive: First improviser starts negatively with bad news, second improviser turns it round into a positive platform and justifies why this is actually great news.
Finding Relationship and Agreement instead of Conflict: Two improvisers are put into a situation that would usually just bread conflict, for instance they have just bumped each other’s cars in a car park. Instead of finding conflict they have to find agreement and relationship and warmth by really listening to each line and treating it as a chance to find common ground.
Again, I’m not saying all scenes should be positive all the way through, it’s just a nice place to start and a good skill to have.
Lots of love,
This topic is practiced in our Beginners Improv Course where we help improvisers have fun improvising in a supportive playful environment.