For what it’s worth, here are my improvisation preferences. I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree.
My favorite way to improvise is with one other person on the stage only. No gimmick, no game, no sweeping, no editing. No input (if you want my complete and total honesty). There’s something about two people carrying on for what could potentially be forever and discovering their relationship without an out. I love a good Harold or Nightmare or some shorter games too, but if you asked me to improvise one way, it would be a two person mono scene.
My approach to a scene starts slow. Really slow. I’m rarely the first person to speak and totally comfortable in silence. I prefer it actually. The tension created by two people in the same room without dialogue sits on my soul in a fun way. Maybe it’s a power trip. The audience is absolutely craving for you to say something. Anything. And typically my scene partner is feeling the anxiety too. When I started improvising a long time ago, I thought that the scene was better the more I talked. Coincidentally, I used to feel that way as a salesman. The two have helped each other work that out of me. Let the customer tell you how to sell them and let your scene partner tell you who you are.
I don’t have any preferences from my scene partners. Their habits and quirks and “go-tos” don’t matter to me. I’m just trying to find a character I can connect with and completely ignore their patterns… as much as I can. I trust there is a part of my brain that already knows all that shit and will serve it up to me when needed. I typically start from a defensive position if we’re going to use sports terminology. I’ll let someone else attack or initiate because I find that if my partner is able to provide the first few details of their world, I’m quite strong at building inside that world. Sometimes when I initiate a scene I can be too strong and overwhelming which immediately puts my partner on their heels. This is no way for a scene to start. I like my partner to feel confident and comfortable. I need to calm down when I’m leading the scene.
If you want to know my secret to a long scene (20+ minutes), I just have no interest in doing anything. At all. I don’t want to solve problems, I don’t want to go anywhere. All I want to do is be and exist. Similar to that of sitting in a room with your spouse or best friend with the TV on. I trust that something will happen, because something is always happening. As David Razowsky has taught me, “just by sitting and breathing, you’re doing a lot”. If this makes you less comfortable, think of it from the audience point of view. Or think of it from a “people watching” point of view. How many times have you been at the airport and watched people from a distance… for minutes at a time? What were they doing? Packing? Talking on the phone? Reading a book? It’s more interesting than you think.
I like to take breaks in scenes too. A 25 minute scene isn’t 25 straight minutes of talking. It’s certainly not 25 minutes about the same thing either. It’s going to start about one thing and if it’s successful will finish somewhere totally different. If you allow yourself time to breath and take a break, you can discover what your scene is all about. It’s hard to do if you don’t stop talking. At least it is for me.
I’d love to hear how you improvise. Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment below or put a comment in facebook… let us know if we can publish it.