Most people get stuck starting scenes in the same way, over and over. Here are some alternate ways to begin…
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Give us a Suggestion
There are jokes made at the expense of one type of improviser who asks the audience, “Can we have a suggestion for a place to start?” The audience responds enthusiastically with numerous locations. The performers take Paris.
The Improviser continued, “Can we have a relationship between the performers? Doctor, Patient. OK. How about a problem? Broken Leg. Great. What is unusual about this Hospital? It’s an animal hospital? Cool…”
After a few more suggestions the Improviser finally asks, “Can you tell us how to improvise?”
It’s a bit extreme but reminds me or improvisers I’ve watched over the years. These improvisers argue for their reliance on suggestions to start.
- “The audience wants to yell out ideas!
- The audience expects it.
- They won’t believe we are improvising if we don’t ask for suggestions.”
Do good work and the audience will come back regardless of starting with or without their suggestions.
With that said…
"TAKE A RISK GUYS!"
Here are a few ways to break the habits you might have when you start your scenes. If you’ve been approaching the audience in the same way for a long time, it might feel odd or even difficult to try something different…
Shaking up your old habits in itself might be the very reason to take a risk to start your scenes in ways you are not used to…
You are never alone. When you walk onstage you might:
- have a partner there.
- hear music or a sound effect
- the light could be bright or dim.
While the sound of birds might easily inspire you to be in a park, many improvisers fail to pull inspiration by the presence of another person.
How are they standing? What are they wearing? What is their expression?
Start without an audience suggestion occasionally. Your partner IS the suggestion
Relax and take an easy walk across the stage…
Even if your stage is just a couple of metres, if you are relaxed, that little walk will give you an idea of where to start and what to do IF YOU ARE AWARE OF YOUR OWN OFFERS! And, it will build a small bit of anticipation as to what this confident improviser is about to do.
Running to the other side of the stage may inspire you to yell out of the window, “AND CAN YOU BUY SOME BUTTER AND THOSE COOKIES WITH THE EXTRA LARGE CHOCOLATE CHIPS”
Walking slowly you might start counting every step. You stop from that inspiration and start digging for the treasure.
If you get to the edge of the stage make sense of that space. Listen to the wall and to the sound of your neighbours making love. Pull the darts out of the dartboard. Make sense of why this location is the place you MUST walk to.
Believe that there is an answer already there. It wants to be discovered and it keeps dropping clues for you. Wherever you assume you could be, is probably exactly the right spot you are.
Reach out and touch something, manipulate something, grab something…
It doesn’t have to be there. Your brain WANTS to make sense of what you are doing. It will give you an idea if you stay open to it.
Let your emotion change and it might even be easier.
My hand grips tightly and my emotions are enthusiastic. Without intellectual thoughts, I move THE SPOON to my mouth and taste the soup. I accept the offer my body has made. I add to it with the most obvious details and yell thanks to my grandmother. “IVE LOOKED FORWARD TO THIS EVER SINCE I KNEW I WAS COMING FOR A VISIT, GRANDMA!”
ADD YOUR BODY… kneeling to the ground as you open two hands is going to inspire a million different things than if you reach upwards with the same shaped hands.
Your body has a memory. It KNOWS the shape of things. It knows what positions it was in when it found a coin behind the sofa, when it reaches for a hug, when it tentatively touches the hand of someone you hope to know better, etc etc.
Your body knows where it is. Get your brain out of the way and let your hands lead the way.
This will be controversial. It’s not the end of the world to PLAN where you want to start once and a while. You aren’t planning an entire scene.
In your daily life you often find inspiration in REAL WORLD locations that are never brought to the stage.
Let that be your happy little starting point. Surprise your partners by pulling an idea from your off-stage life.
WARNING: If you are using a planned locations, characters, or ideas… BE PREPARED TO DROP ALL OF YOUR PRE CONCEIVED IDEAS once you begin.
Your “PRE-PLANNING” can be a gift to your partner. It’s not meant to be a safety TRAP that you hold onto for control. The second your partner embraces the offer you set forward, look for all of their offers and bend your idea into what they want… and GO WITH THEM!
A little bit of planning is simply a conscious way to bring the ideas inside you onto the stage. You do it all the time unconsciously, so let yourself enjoy the interests and passions and ideas that you, as an artist, want to explore further. (Just don’t get stuck to them when they are meant to inspire and not restrict your improvisation)