The Theatrical Journalist

Improv, Comedy, Women, Melbourne and everything in between.

Amazing! How To Be a Human Being On Stage In 3 Easy Steps!

life advice

Part of the Not Sure If Improv Notes or Life Advice series.

I sell this to my students as “Hayley’s Philosophy for Great* Scenework” but the only thing I can really claim from it is compressing the three things I’ve learnt from other incredible people into a handy 3-step guide. If you’re super into improv schools of thought, you could argue that step 1 is iO-based, step 2 is UCB based, and step 3 is Annoyance Theatre-based. However, for me it’s just Hayley-based/Improv Conspiracy-based/playing like a Human Being-based. Playing a real person on stage can be quite hard, though. Especially when you’re doing comedy.

*By “Great” scenework I mean “Fun” scenework


know care say

Why is this person important to you?

“Relationship” isn’t about being husband/wife, mother/child, gay lovers, boss/employee et cetera. Relationship is about why these two people are in the same space together, and how they feel about each other. How and why do you care about this person? If there’s a fight going on in the scene, ask your character: “why can’t I walk away?” find out what’s keeping your character in the room and explore it (I learnt the “what’s stopping you from leaving?” rule from iO Chicago’s Jason Shotts). You’ll rarely find yourself in a room with someone who you feel apathetically towards. Think about it. You always feel something towards a person, so feel it on stage and then show it. Even if it’s just a teensy bit of irritation or a teeny tiny crush.


game react

Don’t get caught up in the details, get caught up in the feeling.

Being emotionally affected is everything. EVERYTHING! It raises the stakes, it makes what your scene partner’s saying more important, and it also makes you hella interesting. Believe me, the audience will be staring at your gorgeous face the whole time because you CARE and you’re COMMITTING and they’re waiting to see what gets you really excited/horrified/raging/aroused/all four of these things (yikes, but also YES!) Being emotionally affected throughout a scene will provide a filter through which your character views the world, and in turn this gives your words weight (or subtext). You can have the most simple conversation, but it’s still super interesting because you’re excited or sad, which makes your job on stage way easier.

What do I mean by an “emotional filter”? Let me break it down 4 U: the other day I got a parking ticket and I shattered the glass on my iPhone. Had I already been in a bad mood that day, it would’ve got a hell of a lot worse and I probably would’ve exploded from horrific first-world problem anxiety. Instead, I’d had a really good day that day, so I shrugged that shit off. Nice things had happened to me. I had warm feelings in my heart about things. So my filter for the day was joyous. That right there is a character perspective. Boom. Done. NEXT.


funny vs committed

Give yourself something. Be unforgettable.

This is something I’ve learnt recently as my Harold Team coach did an intensive workshop with Annoyance Theatre and enlightened us with what he learnt. I hope to do the course in 2015, because I dig the way it forces players to be a little bit more selfish on stage. “Playing selfishly” is my interpretation of these things and how it helped me find my own voice on stage.

Some people struggle to own the stage, thinking “supporting your scene partner” simply means staring at them and asking them a lot of questions. WRONG. Supporting your scene partner is making clear, bold choices and trusting they’ll support you. Co-exist. Some people don’t think they deserve to hit their own game hard on stage. Some people don’t think they deserve to have a fun, bold character on stage. Some people don’t believe their character is strong enough to be brought back in the second beat of a Harold. I’ve been one of those people (and I still work pretty hard to not think that way).

Some people constantly ask themselves, “is it my turn? Yeah I better get out ther- …oh wait, that guy’s got it. He’s better than me anyway so he’d do a better job of than I would. Cool.” WRONG. SO WRONG.

To quote improv advice extraordinaire Jill Bernard:

“It’s always your turn! It’s always your turn! Why have you chosen to live this half-lived life of quiet desperation?! Yes, it’s you, it’s you, it’s always been you! IT’S ALWAYS YOUR TURN!”

(from Jill Bernard’s Small Cute Book of Improv)

You deserve to be on that stage, and yes, it’s always your turn. Own it. If you feel like your scene partner has too much power in the scene, I tell my students to turn away and look out to the audience and just speak/emote about whatever your character wants to speak/emote about. This isn’t blocking if you’re honouring the base reality of the scene. Make bold, clear choices and you’re playing supportively. If you do that, I’d love to play with you!

This post is part of an upcoming and continuing series of lessons learnt, lessons taught, mistakes being made and fun times had as an improviser in Not Sure If: Improv Notes or Life Advice. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

improv advice

(All images from the amazing


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This entry was posted on December 1, 2014 by in Improv, Not Sure If... and tagged , , , , , , , .
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