One of the great things about teaching new improvisers is that they haven’t developed any habits. Surely, veteran improvisers have a lot of good habits, but they also pick up some bad ones.
In the first class of Under the Gun’s Level One, a student of mine tagged out one person in a scene and took his place. His initiation was something you’d probably never hear from a veteran improviser: “Hey, man. It’s me, Jake, from your rival high school.”
The line drew a laugh, probably because it’s the kind of thing you’d never hear in real life. If these characters knew each other, they wouldn’t require an introduction. Similarly, your mother would never walk into your home and say, “Hi, it’s me, your mother.”
But here’s the thing…
That initiation, clunky though it may have been, was perfectly clear. The other actor in the scene knew exactly who he was talking to. It was Jake, from his rival high school.
How many times do you start a scene and feel lost? How many times have entire scenes gone by without knowing exactly who these people were and where they were and what they were doing there? It’s incredibly common. Even veteran improvisers don’t want to be caught spelling out the obvious, so they dance around it and the scene suffers.
My former teacher Seth Weitberg once said, “Clear and clunky beats slick and incoherent.”
Take a brief moment to announce a fact about your base reality and watch your scenes regain their feet. If you don’t, you run the risk of miscommunication that will undermine your scenework. Remember that your scene partner can’t read the story with you unless you’re on the same page.
Until something is spoken or acted upon, it does not exist. Clarity not only serves your scene partner, it serves the audience. Give yourself the gift of being obvious and then you can go back to subtlety.
Got a question? E-mail me at boilingpointimprov[at]gmail.com. And take a class at Under the Gun. They’re cheap and fun!