Asking Questions in Improv Scenes
- October 3, 2018
- Posted by: - LMA
- Category: Improv.Blog ,
There’s a “rule” in improv that says you should never ask questions in a scene.
In fact, asking questions is generally considered to be lazy improv. And there are some good reasons for this. One of the biggest is that it puts all of the cognitive load on your scene partner to come up with all of the answers while you sit back and wait to respond. It’s not fun for your partner/s and it’s not fun to watch.
Through our corporate training work, we’ve learned that behavioural science proves that there is a finite amount of questions you can ask someone before they start to feel suspicious, or interrogated. For most people, it’s around three to five.
So I often hear myself telling our students and performers “don’t ask questions,” but what I really mean is:
Try not to ask questions.
The fact is that improv as a theatrical art form, is meant to replicate (at least in some aspects) how we behave in real life. And in real life, people ask each other questions. So they can be a vital part of an on-stage dialogue in terms of making a conversation flow and feel real.
But if you start asking too many, or asking the wrong kind, things can fall apart. Fast.
So what do you do if you hear yourself asking a question in a scene? Jonathan Pitts taught me a great trick which I love, and it’s as simple as this:
Add the word “because” at the end of your question. You will be amazed as suddenly unhelpful questions become bold statements, often filled with great gifts.
“Why are you wearing that?” turns into “Why are you wearing that because you know I can’t let you into the White House in just your underwear.
Now your partner has great new info to play with – they’re trying to get into the White House… in their underwear! And they can spend their cognitive energy yes, anding that into something awesome.
There are times when questions are OK, and that’s when they contain useful information that helps move the scene forward.
- “Officer, do you think just once I could come to a peace march and not get arrested?”
- “Shiver me timbers, that’s a big chest full of golden doubloons, how rich do ye thinks we are matey?”
- “Mom, I know I’m adopted, but how come you never told Dad?”
These are all great questions to be asked in a scene and your partners will thank you for them. The kinds of questions they will not thank you for are things like:
- “Where are we?”
- “What is this?”
- “Why are you doing that?”
So what about when you find yourself on the receiving end of questions? The trick here, that I learned from Will Hines, is to try and not act surprised. Whatever your scene partner asks, act as if you already knew the answer.
And my build on Will’s idea is to never answer the question at all.
So a boring question like “Where are we?” could get a response like “Google maps is broken, the car is broken, this relationship is broken, I want a divorce.”
Or, “What time is it?” could get a response like “Exactly! There are no clocks in this damn casino!”
Or “Why are you doing that?” could get a response like “Taking hallucinogenic mushrooms at the mall was an awesome idea.”
So, to recap:
- When it comes to questions, try not to ask them.
- If you hear yourself asking one, add because at the end and transform it into a bold statement.
- And if you’re getting asked questions, act like you already knew the answer, and try not to even answer them at all.
Your scene partners and audiences will love you for it.
And if you don’t believe me, ask them.
Add your comments, thoughts, and even questions below. It’s OK, really.