In a perfect world, every improv scene would feature at least two interesting characters.
Too often, there’s only one. Or none.
I’m guilty of this as much as anyone. If someone is playing a great character, I’m inclined to be the straight man. But why rob myself of having fun as my own unique character?
When I think about this, my mind automatically gravitates to “Casablanca.” Nearly everyone in that film is a razor-sharp character. The main story is a love triangle, but all around that triangle, you have a million interesting people. Renault. Sam. Ugarte. Ferrari. Then there are the sub-supporting characters like Carl and Sascha. Even they are fun to watch!
So why do we often populate our shows with such dull humans?
I recently coached a rehearsal in which I had two performers begin a scene. When it was time to edit, I instructed the players on the sideline to “tag out” the less interesting character. The more interesting character would remain, beginning a fresh scene opposite someone new. The goal, I said, was to stay on stage as long as possible.
As the exercise unfolded, I noticed the players coming in with more detailed characters than they normally played. That was my goal. But far too often, people would jump in and play straight against the goofy character.
Do we think there can only be one interesting character per scene? What about Looney Tunes or the Muppets? Every character in those worlds is unique. No one is just a cardboard cutout.
Especially as I prepare myself for an upcoming audition, I am mindful of this. Just because I step on stage to encounter a fascinating character, I’m not condemned to be boring. If anything, I must also be fascinating. I should be a character so unique, the audience is sad when the scene is edited. And if I can’t do that, why am I an actor to begin with?
Got an improv question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com