What happens if I don’t have any ideas in my improv?
Mick Napier’s big catchphrase is “do something.” To move forward in your scene, you should be engaging the space, engaging your scene partners, and just doing crap all the time.
But what happens if you ain’t got nothin’ to say? What if you are so seized with fear, you have no ideas? What happens if you’ve done so much scene, then you just don’t know what to do? What do you do?!
Keep. Being. Quiet.
Your silence is a decision. You might not think it’s a decision because your brain is rushing at 1,000,000 miles an hour to try and find something to say. Too bad, though, because you’re already saying the thing you are doing.
Use the silence. Use it to be indecisive. Double down on the indecisiveness. Get panicked. Use that to influence what you’re doing.
We also have this natural tendency to fill every single silence with words and stuff because we were told that saying a bunch of words was really good but the truth of the matter is that sometimes words, as many as there are of them, will just be put together and sometimes you can be struggling to get to the points of a meaning that you meant to articulate in a much more concise manner but because you didn’t have the one thing, you didn’t let you have the one thing, you didn’t let yourself have a beat to yourself to articulate the thing which was–
Emotion. Depth. Silence.
Silence is a gift and we don’t use it. We run things together like too many trains on the same track. A silence, when used properly, is the perfect decision to engage the audience and make them go, “What is she thinking?”
If you are stalling on stage with nothing, emote. You have your body, so make an emotion.
Then go backward.
If my character is shaking her fists very subtly and she’s not saying anything, what does that mean?
You can deconstruct the work while on stage. Since you’re doing improv, the scene you are doing has never been done before. Ergo, you are not stuck to any preconceptions of what you’re supposed to do. That means you can do anything. You can course correct later if you accidentally go down a rabbit-hole you didn’t want to.
What is not cool is course correcting by talking too much. Silence is a big decision because of the sensory overload we face on a daily basis. We are bombarded with so much information that, when we encounter silence, it resonates with us. It can feel uncomfortable, but it can also create a huge sense of awareness in ourselves and our surroundings. That’s why we’re probably uncomfortable with it.
Instead of launching into something that makes you be funny, dig down and wonder why your character (not you) is silent. You have just expressed a big viewpoint. Don’t back away from it. Be silent, measured, cool, collected.
What you are participating in now is a gift. If you have done all of the prior activities to try and do something and it hasn’t worked, then you are engaging the space in silence. You are now in pure improv because you have nothing locked in your head. You are nothing and you are operating in a floating abyss of creativity. How lucky are you? This is pure improv!
So it’s really up to you on how you use the positive space when you’re out on stage. If you walk onstage with the greatest decision, then you blank out, then you are making the decision of hesitation and waiting. Now your audience is on the edge of their seat impatiently because they want to see what’s going to happen.
That’s where you have suddenly won.