It’s happened to me every Thanksgiving for the past four years: a group of us sit down to come up with the most hilarious skit of all time. Three people share their ideas, and the other twelve groan internally and go along with it.
Teachers, extroverts, and youth group leaders all seem to think that skits are fun. Which they are—except when everyone hates everyone because writing skits in a group is a pain in the royal caboodle.
Because spontaneous group skit-writing happens often (and rarely do we get away without hating everyone), I offer up some advice for writing skits in groups that leave people excited, and not annoyed by the project.
What kind of skit are we talking about?
For the purposes of this article, a skit (also sometimes referred to as a sketch) is a short, comedic, live play thrown together by laymen.
Skits can be serious. They don’t have to be performed live as they can be filmed in one take or broken up into shots. But we’ll cover writing skits solo later.
The kind of skit we’re writing about is usually assigned by a teacher/preacher as an ice breaker or team bonding exercise. Typically there are hard constraints on props and writing time—no props, and 10 minutes to write a 3-7 minute play.
Since you have so little to work with, it can be hard to get people to engage in the act. Worse, the actors can become apathetic and refuse to help. Aka, everyone hates each other by the end of the exercise.
Hyperbole aside, skits aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Even so, they should be fun, not a tedious, mandatory work of futility.
If you can, have everyone who will be a part of the skit come up with 1-3 ideas before you ever sit down to plot out your parts. These ideas should be structural in nature. For example, some structural ideas could be:
- parodying a movie
- having all the events take place at a doctor’s office
- having the actors pretend to be puppets
As our group-written skits tend to be spur-of-the-moment anyways, if you can’t have your actors be prepared beforehand, take a couple minutes before you enter a discussion to let people come up with their own ideas.
Many skit-writing prompts will already have the structure set out. In that case, still allow your actors some time to come up with their own ideas on how to implement gags into the structure.
Choose a leader
You can have up to 4 leading roles:
- Director. This person chooses roles for the stage and decides when and where people move in relation to the “script”.
- Scriptwriter. If you have time to write out the dialogue, awesome, assign someone to do it.
- Producer. This person helps organize everyone and make sure that all ideas are being heard.
- Props Manager. This person acquires and gives out props under the direction of the director.
If you only can choose one, elect or delegate someone to be a director. The director then will be in charge of hearing all the ideas and synthesizing a plot out of the ideas.
Typically the director will also be an actor of some sort. However, in order to keep the peace and get things done, choosing one or two people to lead will help the skit-writing process.
The director now can make sure everyone has a chance to share their ideas. Many of them will overlap; overlapping ideas should be utilized.
Not all ideas will be structural, and not all ideas can be used. Actors need to understand and trust the director to choose the best ideas and to arrange them into a skit.
Once all of the ideas have been shared, the director should summarize their plot line, and start casting actors into roles. It would sound a little bit like this:
The scene opens in a dentist’s office. Patients (Jimmy, Thea, you two will be patients waiting) are holding their sore mouths. The secretary (Jon, will you be the secretary?) comes out…
Actors should be engaged and may toss in more ideas as the director is summarizing. It is up to the director to decide whether or not to incorporate the ideas.
Practice the skit
The director should verbally walk the actors through the skit at least once. If there’s time, the actors can practice acting through the skit without the director cueing them.
Finally, ask the group to title the skit. The director can then present the titled skit to the audience before the performance.
Which leads us to finally…
If things have gone smoothly, everyone will enjoy acting out the skit and no one should have any hard feelings. The performance will be over soon even if there are cold shoulders.
But what about…?
So nothing goes according to plan, and lots can go wrong if you write a skit this way. Instead of everyone hating everyone, everyone may just hate the bossy director. Or one know-it-all actor.
If tensions get high, try to remind everyone that skits are lighthearted and fun. And funny. They can have a moral, but everything happens so fast that you forget it anyways.
Feel free to ask people to chill out. Feel free to let actors improvise. Feel free to let the artist in the group vision cast.
If you give every idea a fair chance and give permission for one or two people to make the decisions that will incorporate everyone, you should be all right.
Have you ever had to write a skit on-the-fly in a group? Was it a positive or tense experience? What suggestions would you offer to those of us who have to write skits as a group? Share in the comments!