I am a believer that a good improv scene doesn’t need conflict. That it is good practice, when nothing is set, to Like Each Other.
But I am also a believer that you don’t have to go out of your way to avoid conflict. Sometimes the bold move is to go into the conflict.
I find it foolish to say to never have conflicts in a scene. Then again it’s foolish to say “Never Do X” in improv.
The reason some players avoid conflicts is that the scene becomes seriously not fun. Fun maybe is not the word, but inspiring is. Some dramatic improv scenes I have played were seriously not fun, but they were still in some ways amusing or inspiring to me.
So how do you prepare yourself and not shy away from conflicts? By knowing which are bad conflicts and which are good conflicts.
Sometimes you have conflicts you are uninspired to play. Either it is something too close to home, or just a topic that is just beaten down so often it has no more life in it. Break-up scenes fall into this often. These are conflicts that feel like a lengthy wisdom tooth extraction. You just hope that the dentist knocks you unconscious so you don’t have to play anymore. Or that the dentist can edit the scene.
Don’t run headlong into conflict from the start of a scene. These are the usual conflicts that are uninteresting, and have been played out a thousand times. These are the scene starts where the teacher is angry at a student, a boss confronts his/her subordinates about a botched job. These kind of conflict at the top often also results in a high-low status game where one player gets into defensive mode for reasons they didn’t ask for. Imagine this opening line:
“You forgot to bring the _____ (map/compass/food) for our camping trip? You suck!”
Would that really inspire your partner?
Don’t pull conflicts out of nowhere just to have conflicts. They tend to be unimaginative.
But there are good conflicts. I think the amount of conflict in a short- to medium long scene is ZERO (no conflict) or ONE (one central battle). More than one conflict tend to stall the scene from going anywhere. Pick your one battle.
That’s why I advocate waiting a little bit into the scene to find your conflicts. When you play into the scene, you make choices which inspire you about your character and your point of view. And because you are inspired by your point of view, you would be more happy to defend it. (At least for a little bit. Take the loss if you must).
In short, how do you not be averse for conflict? By choosing conflicts which inspire you.
Here’s a few example scenes from my own sets. I use my own because I know where my choices come from. These are mostly from harmless conflicts to serious ones. I hope these show that you can play with conflicts and have fun.
Aree & Anki — Blackened Fish
This is mostly a fun conflict. I chose a character who is obsessed with Masterchef Hawaii. I love food, so this was an inspiring choice for me. My obsession with Masterchef Hawaii gets me in trouble with Anki’s character, who eventually left me. But it’s still fun to play!
Aree & Paul — Share-a-Wish
This mostly comedic scene launched off with conflict right away, on line number 2. Yet we kept going with the same conflict for 10 minutes. Paul’s and my character have polar opposite philosophy on whether you can share a wish on a single coin or not. But we sensed the joy in each other’s holding on to their philosophy and we kept poking holes at each other’s logic.
Aree & Luana — Female Protagonists
This was a satirical piece on gender reversal about males hitting the glass ceiling. I opened the door to Luana by saying “I feel men are under-represented in your book.”. Because I chose that point of view myself, Luana’s character cleverly went into an attack mode because I braced myself to be attacked. This was a conflict about society but siphoned through the characters. Still fun!
Aree & Rosanne — Voice of the People
This was also a satirical piece about minorities having to chose a politician who is not ideal but at least the lesser evil. The thematic mood of the scene is frustration, and the conflict is not Person vs Person, but Person vs Society. Note that Aree’s and Rosanne’s character are not conflict with each other, but the scene revolves around the conflict. This was not a “fun” scene per se, but it really tickles my interest — I was very inspired!