Scott Morehead recently began coaching my Playground team. He shared a secret that helps him improvise. “If my character does X, what else does that mean about him?”
For example, if his character is miserable at his own birthday party, what else might be true about that kind of person? What might he drink and eat? How might he drink and eat? What might his hobbies be? What kinds of things would he say?
If you establish your character as an intensely rabid sports fan, how would he react on a date? On a job interview? On the beach? You don’t need to pluck that behavior out of thin air. You’ve already established something about him. Use that!
My Achilles’ heel is that I often spend too much time bogged down in plot. Nobody cares about plot. They care about characters. The other issue is that one person can’t control a plot. They can control their character. So Scott’s method makes a lot of sense.
We often make improv so difficult by thinking that we need to generate a huge amount of information. We don’t. We just need to make a character choice and find ways to highlight those characteristics, no matter if you’re in a lifeboat or in the Old West or at a bris.
A good way to envision this is to think of the Muppets. Miss Piggy is a narcissist. You can think of her in a million situations and she’d find a way to turn the attention toward herself. Statler & Waldorf are judgmental jerks. Sam the Eagle is patriotic. Beaker is skittish. They resonate because they are such clear representations of parts of our personalities.
So start your scenes by declaring something about your character, then use that declaration to help you navigate the scene.
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com