Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Time for more improv tips!

Last time I talked about how to handle climaxes in long form improv. Today I'm going to talk about something a little more basic, but completely instrumental to musical improv... conflict! Specifically the overarching conflict that fuels a musical piece.

This one is sort of specific to musical improv. Musicals hinge on a conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. Making that conflict one that draws in the audience and gets them excited is what makes a musical fun! However, for all you people who don't do musical improv (and let me tell you, you're missing out) the principals here can be applied in other ways, too.

The first thing I want to mention about conflict is this... make it personal! It's way more interesting to see a musical where the protagonist and antagonist know each other and have a history. When your protagonist and antagonist have a person relationship, it opens up so many opportunities in the musical.

The other big point I want to make about the conflict is the reason I wrote this post... go crazy with it!! It's amazing how improvisers tend to forget that we're doing improv. The conflict doesn't have to be obvious! We've done several musicals with the suggestion 'Airport,' and that suggestion can be taken many different ways.

When you hear 'airport,' you can take a security guard trying to keep the airport safe, or you could have a renegade passenger who wants to highjack the plane and fly around the world. Which sounds more fun to you?

This game can be played with any location. If we get the suggestion 'bar,' we could do a show about two competing bar owners, or about a 15 year old kid drinking at the bars and fighting tooth and nail with his band of rebels to avoid getting kicked out.

I guess the point I'm getting at is that the audience wants to see a non-intuitive conflict. Break out of the day-to-day stuff!

One more thing on this... oftentimes the protagonist gets put in the spot of playing the straight man because the audience needs to be able to empathize with them. So use the antagonist to introduce unexpectedness.

For example, one of my personal favorite DeBono musicals involved a protagonist who was cheating at the casino to win money. Rather than just have a casino manager who wanted to prevent cheating, we had a sociopathic control-freak casino overlord named Master Deathclaw. He had a claw for a hand. It was pretty hilarious. His 'I Want' song was called 'Only I Can Win.'

So have fun out there, and remember that even when you're in a conflict with another character, you need to be agreeing with your fellow improvisers. Improv is a team sport!


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