Explore or Invent: Improv Scene Creation

Are you an explorer or an inventor?

In improv there is a vast difference between inventing and exploring. Here is it: if you are inventing, you are making up something new in a scene that was not there before. If you are exploring, you are exploring what is already in a scene.

So what is the real difference and when do you explore and when do you invent? Generally speaking the inventing in a scene is finished within the first 15 to 30 seconds of a scene but we don’t call it inventing, we call it the exposition (Who, What, Where). Once you have established the exposition you can then begin to explore the scene. Explore the relationship, the emotions, the environment, the scene context. Exploring a scene can be one of the most rewarding parts of good improv.

What you don’t want to do is invent in the middle of a scene. Inventing new content when a scene is already going can often pull focus from relationships, emotions and/or scene plot. There is nothing wrong with revealing something about a scene that was either not divulged or not said stated yet but you want to avoid bringing new information that does not related back to the content that is already in place.

Inventing happens because of the following reasons, therefore avoid them:

  1. Panic – You aren’t getting the laugh you thought you should be getting and so you invent a dinosaur dancing across the stage
  2. The Joke – You think you are funny and you want to display your humor at the expense of the scene
  3. Weak Exposition – You don’t know who, what or where you are in a scene, therefore you invent something because you have to start somewhere.
  4. Lack of Listening – You aren’t listening to what is going on in a scene, so you don’t even know what you are suppose to be exploring.

As an audience member it is hard to imagine that improvisors don’t invent show/scene content because it seems like that is all we do, we take just a word or idea and create an entire story with characters, plot, emotion and layers. The secret is that we aren’t just making things up as we go along, we are exploring what as already there.

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