“W” is for “Wimping”

“We wimp when we accept ideas but refuse to add to them.”

Keith Johnstone, Impro for Storytellers. New York: Routledge, 1999. p.114


As a core “Ten Commandment” concept, the insidious ways that wimping can infect your improvisational play have already been discussed at length here. Wimping is a fear-based response characterized by the phrase “Yes, but…” that ultimately withholds energy and reduces all-important momentum that allows scenes to climb to new unexplored heights. Left unchecked, teammates can find themselves subjected to an obstructive wimper-in-chief who needlessly stands in the way of the action, any action.


During a critical moment as a surgery takes place, the surgeon (Player A) turns to their assistant (Player B):

Player A: “Hand me the scalpel…”

Player B: “Yes, but…”

When the Fear Strikes…

1.) Don’t rationalize, feel. When faced with an unanticipated offer or scenic direction, the temptation can easily emerge to talk about the path ahead. Yes, people in the real world will discuss major life decisions and so some representation of this process can belong onstage, but both bracing scripted and spontaneous works tend to edit such chats, weave then into the journey itself, place them in the offstage unseen action, or use them to propel the characters forward into an embodied choice. When rationalizing or discussing appears as an alternative to actually experiencing characters making choices – both good and bad – the stage action becomes ineffectively replaced by stage inaction. In lieu of intellectual discussion, a typically dispassionate stakes-lowering habit, allow your character to passionately feel as these emotions are likely to inspire connected reactions that will propel them onwards.

Player B: “Yes, doctor. I’m glad my mother is in such capable hands…”

2.) Don’t obstruct, fuel. Some players can find satisfaction in the dynamic of wimping as it seems as if they are adding conflict to the scene. Yes, initially a wimping or contrarian attitude can appear to create pressure, but more often than not a relentlessly oppositional dynamic between characters actually reveals a similarly dysfunctional energy between the players themselves who are wrestling to determine where the scene will or won’t go. Now, there is clearly a place for some obstacles in our protagonists’ journeys – otherwise, they will just careen from one delightful twist of fate to another – but theatrical obstacles necessitate rather than eliminate action. Providing obstacles with incessant verbal pontificating ultimately stalls or burns action that could have proven exhilarating if it was seen without voluminous preamble. Helpful obstacles and conflict should raise the stakes and urgency with incendiary fuel rather than douse potential scenic embers with the calming waters of contemplation.

Player B: “Yes, doctor. There are only two minutes left on the clock before we must resuscitate the patient. I’m not sure we’ll have enough time…”

3.) Don’t postpone, pounce. Procrastination serves as a powerful force in most people’s everyday lives, and most of us have put off many a difficult assignment or decision. Yes, we can use our dialogue to paint vivid pictures about our turmoil and complex options, but too much postponement will likely diminish rather than elevate the moment of crisis or conflict when (if?) it finally makes it to the stage. There’s good dramaturgical precedence for the protagonist and antagonist not having their ultimate climactic confrontation in the opening beats of the dramatic action, and yet the action leading up to such moments rarely consists of lengthy static chats. The rising action consists of many smaller steps forward: it’s important that we routinely see characters moving even (especially?) if their choices eventually backfire or push their goal further from their reach. When we postpone too much and discuss our tactics at length, this can also make the eventual enactment of these previewed actions rather predictable and anticlimactic.

Player B: “Yes, doctor… you did promise that I would get to close today…”

4.) Don’t solve, complicate. When our wimping aligns with a tendency to advise or teach, the results are often even more lackluster. Yes, nice empathetic advice will make you feel good as the player, but this is actually yet another wimpy way of diffusing that ever-important potential for momentum. There is a reason that “to make matters worse” is much more common in the improvisational lexicon than “to make matters better.” Complications dynamically prolong and intensify the electricity of the story; chatty solutions usually pull out the power cord leaving just a dark screen. If this particular dynamic is a personal wimping pitfall, consider at the very least giving bad advice that will likely result in epic consequences or add framing information that makes the journey even more necessary and perilous.

Player B: “Yes, but…” (they pass the doctor the last scalpel that just moments before the audience saw them drop carelessly onto the floor…)

Final Thought

When you find yourself deploying wimping devices to stall, prevent, or explain away the action, take a breath, and perhaps explore a passionate emotional or physical response instead. Wimping is so pernicious as it not only pauses action for usually inconsequential chatter, but it also allows energy and drive to evaporate while putting little of value in its place. Feel, fuel, pounce, and complicate.

Related Entries: Commandment #8, Conflict, Waffling Antonyms: Accepting Synonyms: Blocking, Negating, Postponing

Cheers, David Charles.
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© 2023 David Charles/ImprovDr

Connected Game: Yes Party

Published by improvdr

A professional improvisational practitioner with over thirty years experience devising, directing, performing, teaching and consulting on the craft of spontaneous (and scripted) theatre and performance.

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